IT’S A LONELY TUESDAY NIGHT. You just got off work, and are cuddled in bed with your laptop and your trusty bottle glass of wine. As you binge-watch a season of The Office you’ve seen three times through, you wonder, do I have to do this alone? Well no, you don’t. Whip out Tinder and get your thumbs ready to swipe. There’s been much ado about how this addictive dating app is heralding the death of romance in dating, but the truth is Tinder can be fun if you play it right. Get out your notepads, because I’m about to drop some straight knowledge on you.
Step 1: Know what you want
The first step is to decide how you want to go about “tindering.” The app is typically used for hookups, but there are a few biographies that say something to the effect of, “When you’re ready to be with a real man who will treat you right, let me know.” (But that’s a little serious for just a swipe).
Don’t expect that to be every single person. For every gallant knight in shining armor there are about 20 guys asking if you have a gag reflex. Call me old-fashioned, but I at least want to be able to have a conversation with someone I might get intimate with—emphasis on the might.
Regardless of whether you want a mindless hookup, a friend with benefits or a full-on relationship, be honest. If someone asks you what you’re there for—and believe me, it will come up—don’t try to act cool and say you want a hookup when really you’re searching for your soulmate. (If you are, I suggest not using Tinder but rather something a little more serious and user-friendly such as Bumble or OkCupid).
Step 2: Sell yourself
A picture can say a thousand words. If you only have one blurry picture of you in the dark, don’t expect many matches. Pick pictures that show off your assets in the least-obvious way possible—please no washboard ab selfies or bikini mirror selfies. Don’t be basic, and pick your most banger photos.
Show off your activities, your hobbies and that you’re a genuinely interesting person while simultaneously looking good. Have at least three pictures, the more the better, to give potential dates a good idea of you. It sounds obvious, but if there are multiple people in your pictures, at least have one alone so others can figure out who the hell you are at that keg party. Personally I’m not patient enough to guess by the third picture.
Next comes the bio. Ah, the ever-daunting blank space that is a sales pitch to sell your personality to a hot stranger. Whatever you do, don’t leave this blank. Not only is this super-lame (plus people might think you’re a bot), but it gives no indication of how to start a conversation with you. If you want to be super simple, put where you work, go to school, and/or a fun fact about you, such as your undying love for Mexican food.
My favorite bios are personal, witty and completely original. Don’t just copy that quote from The Office that everyone loves and leave it at that. Put something weird but charming, that’s totally idiosyncratic. Good luck!
Step 3: Swiper no swiping!
Okay, it’s time to binge swipe. Seriously, turn on Netflix and swipe to your heart’s content. Everyone has a different technique. I’ve read for guys its best to like everyone and see what they can get, but I don’t agree. The whole point of Tinder is to actually talk and meet up with someone, so why like someone who you aren’t going to talk to?
You should swipe right on someone who seems fun to hang out with. Swipe right on the people that (if they say) are looking for the same sort of relationship, or non-relationship, that you’re looking for. You only have a limited amount of likes, so if it’s a particularly lonely night, use them wisely.
Step 4: You’ve Got Mail
Once you have a few matches, or run out of likes, head to your inbox. Assess your newfound matches. Start (or respond to) a conversation with anyone you want to talk to.
But what do you say? There’s nothing wrong with a simple (though boring) “hey,” but it’s even better when you comment on what they’ve written in their bio—this is why the bio is important. You can comment on their place of work, where they’re from, where they go to school, some sort of connection that can start an engaging-enough conversation. If they ask you for your spirit vegetable and the sauce you’d dip it in, by all means start a conversation with “Broccoli and ranch.”
So…anything? No, there are some limits. Don’t say just one word, but don’t send a life’s story. Two to five lines are ideal. This message is not too long to profess TL;DR, but it’s long enough to show you’re interested. If you can’t think of anything to say, even a corny dad joke can tell you a lot about a girl’s sense of humor.
How do I keep the conversation going? Ask questions. As a journalist, this comes a little too easily to me, but this shows you’re interested in them. Hint: Usually asking “Why” or “How” questions gets you a lot more of a reply than the simple “What.” I like to ask guys to tell me a really weird fact about themselves. This tells me a few things: one, something about them you can’t simply get from “Where do you work?” and two, what they are like. This question can be an indicator of whether they’re exciting, goofy or (shudder) boring.
One essential question to ask is why they are on Tinder. Do this before you get their number. Whatever the answer, respect it; if it’s not the same thing you’re looking for and there’s no middle ground, it’s not a match and you’ve got to drop it. It may suck, but you can’t (and shouldn’t) change someone into doing something they’re uncomfortable with, and it saves each party from pain and confusion in the end.
Step 5: Can I have Your Number?
Once the conversation has been going on for a while and you’ve decided you could potentially want to meet up with this person, ask for their number. A good line that hasn’t failed yet is “I don’t go on this app much, you should text me.”
When you’re texting, get to know them. You can decide whether you want to actually meet up or not. It’s ok if you decide you don’t want to, but it’s better to be honest rather than try to ghost them. (I say try because sometimes people won’t take a hint.)
You can have some great conversations through text, but at some point it can start feeling like a chore, or it can create an attachment beyond what’s reasonable for a stranger. Text for a week, max. After this point if you’re not comfortable meeting up (in public), move on.
If you still don’t have a clear picture of what this Tinderella may look like, ask for their Snapchat. It’s more casual than “sending a contact photo” (we know you just wanted a picture) and gives a better idea of what this person looks normally, instead of in their carefully chosen banger photos.
Step 6: Meeting Up
Meeting up is the greatest uphill battle, with conflicting schedules and dissipating interest standing in your way. But if by some miracle you and your match find a time to meet up, go for it. So…wanna Netflix & Chill? If you say this, please have an available Netflix account. I know this is innuendo for doing the deed, but first you have to endure those first 20 minutes of pretending-to-watch-the-show (but really you’re frantically panicking about if it’s awkward or not) before getting into anything. If you do just want to fornicate, make this clear to the person coming over before they make the drive. It’s best to learn the other person’s intentions during Step 4.
Now, if you want to go on a real date, pick somewhere fun that you can talk and hang out at. Nothing too fancy (it’s a first date for crying out loud) and you’re meeting someone for the first time. Everyone’s nervous in this scenario, so just do something fun and laid-back. Some of the best dates I’ve been on were sitting outside at pubs or visiting the butterfly center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
You’re not going to meet up with every single person you match with on Tinder. But hopefully you’ll find what you’re looking for, and successfully conquer the masses of Tinder. Happy swiping!
Originally published in Houstoniamag.com on July 6, 2016.