How to Navigate Dating Apps and Manage Expectations
No one likes it. Everyone is scared of it. But online dating has become a necessary evil in the world we live in. There are many reasons and theories why it’s impossible to find love the “old-fashioned” way. Some say people are too afraid to make a move especially with social norms changing. Some say people are braver behind a computer or a phone screen. And that is all true. Technology has made many things in life easier, but depending how you look at it, dating might not be one of those things.
Personally, I always had trouble figuring out whether or not someone “liked me like that”. I didn’t always have the confidence to make the first move either, but the few times I did muster up the courage to do so, I was rejected in one way or another. One guy told me he thought of me like a sister–ouch–and that he had a vision that his soulmate was Taylor Swift–keep dreaming, buddy. Another guy told me he liked me back but he was “too shy” to go on a date with me. And yet another guy just left me hanging or in other words “ghosted” me before ghosted was even a term! I also have been friend-zoned more times than I could count so dating the old way wasn’t exactly working for me.
Online dating appealed to me because the intentions are much clearer to on an app that focused on two people matching with the intention of dating… or let’s face it, at least the intention of hooking up, which is more common these days on the apps than people who go on actual dates. And there’s nothing wrong with that–if that is in fact what you’re looking for.
And just to be clear — ANY and ALL dating apps can be used for hookups, not just Tinder/Grindr, so if you’re trying to avoid matches only after one thing, I’m sorry, but you’re not going to find it.
In late 2021, I decided to give online dating my all and I know that would mean taking the good with the bad. I didn’t expect to find “the one”, but I knew I needed to step out of my comfort zone and meet new people. Little did I know that 7 months later, I would be deleting my dating profiles because I fell in love with my fiancé, Steven, whom I met on Hinge!
Before matching with Steven, I matched with and met a plethora of guys and thankfully, I had mostly good experiences, but I also learned to weed out my matches pretty easily.
Since I know many people who still struggle with the idea of dating apps or have given up on them because of disappointing experiences, I decided to write down some tips that helped me survive it all while keeping my mental and physical well-being in check.
Keep in mind these tips are geared more toward heterosexual ciswomen looking for heterosexual cismen, but many of these tips can be helpful no matter who you are or what you’re looking for!
*Disclaimer: Just because I matched with “plethora of guys” does not mean I actually met all of them or even had a conversation with all of them. Out of hundreds of matches, I was lucky if a quarter of those guys could actually hold a text conversation with me! Dating apps are a numbers game (see Tip #8) so if I wanted to get to anyone of quality, I had to keep swiping to see the potential candidates.
1. Keep an Open Mind. It’s hard to judge someone by their photo and a few prompts on a dating profile. Try not to be too picky. Plenty of men I have matched with have been more attractive in person and some less attractive in person. In a world of photo filters and editing and adding a few inches to your height on a dating profile is common, you really don’t know how someone looks until you meet them. Beyond any superficiality, you won’t know if you have a mutual attraction until you meet in person so don’t judge a profile by its photos… unless there are hard stops that you are just not into or attracted to or red flags, of course. For me, that meant hunting photos, gym selfies, and missing teeth.
2. Keep Things Lighthearted. In the end, most of us are looking for love and commitment, but you will be super letdown if you go in expecting to find 100 matches who are looking for the same thing as you. While dating apps can be used to go on actual dates, they are also heavily used for hookups and casual relationships too. You may not be looking for casual, and that’s fine, but do not take it personally when someone is only interested in sex. No, it’s not you and no, you don’t have to settle for “just sex” unless you are looking for someone to hook up with while in pursuit of love (because there is nothing wrong with that either). This is where stating intentions is super important! See Tips #3 + 4 for more on that.
3. Know What You’re Looking For. What surprised me when I first got on dating apps is that so many men that I matched with would ask what I was looking for. I wasn’t sure how to respond because I wasn’t sure what I actually was looking for then. I knew I wasn’t ready for a serious relationship at the time, but I also wasn’t sure how to word that without sounding like I only wanted a hookup. It took some navigating and some confidence before I started vocalizing what I wanted and expressing what I wouldn’t settle for.
4. Find Out What They Are Looking For. This goes hand-in-hand with #3. Don’t be afraid to ask a match what he/she/they are looking for on the dating app. It’s better to know upfront what expectations are. Believe me, expectations can save you a ton of heartache if you know them. You can manage your own expectations when you know theirs if you decide to pursue any type of relationship with that person, or now that you know what they want, and if it doesn’t align with what you’re looking for, you can unmatch and move on. Save yourself time and the headache. Beware: Plenty of people lie about what they’re looking for just so they can get what they want whether that be attention, nudes, sex, or they are just unsure of what they want.
5. Use Caution. This seems to go without saying, but it’s easy to let your guard down when emotions and/or hormones are involved. It’s best to meet for the first time in a public place, even if it’s just a hookup. I always tried to pick some place familiar to me like a favorite restaurant or coffee shop so if I found myself in a bad situation, I would know my surroundings. Also, send a trusted friend your location and allow them to track you along with a photo and name of who you are meeting.
6. You’re in Charge! This one is important. If something makes you feel uncomfortable, do not let it slide. You do not owe a stranger or anyone for that matter anything. That means if they make a comment about your body that you don’t like, touch you in a way that is not welcome, ask you questions you are not comfortable answering, you have the right to unmatch with that person, leave the date, speak up, and/or report them on the dating app you matched with them on. Don’t put up with inappropriate behavior because you want to give the benefit of the doubt to someone you don’t know. There are plenty of more options out there. Keep swiping. See #8.
7. Beware of Liars, Cheaters, and Scammers. As most people know by now, the internet is full of catfishes and scams. If you see a profile where the photos all seem photoshopped or like they’re modeling photos, chances are they’re a catfish. If you match with one of them, feel out the conversation. Usually, you can tell it’s a scam if they ask you to move off the dating app right away to Whatsapp or some other platform or if they aren’t even living in the same state as you currently. If they ask you for any kind of financial transactional help, red flags all the way. Another red flag is if they are out of state/country and/or can’t commit to meeting. Scammers aside, look out for liars and cheaters! Plenty of married people on dating apps pretend to be single or say they’re in open relationships, but their spouse has no idea they are on dating apps. Look for signs and do research! Are they only available certain times of the day and do they flake on meeting? I always recommend trying to find a Facebook profile or other form of social media of someone you plan on dating to snoop around a little and make sure there aren’t any red flags like a wife in a profile photo. It’s not stalking, it’s protecting yourself and knowing what you’re getting into.
8. It’s a Numbers Game. Simply put, the more you swipe right, the more likely you’ll make a quality match. Yes, it can be exhausting. No, I’m not saying you should swipe on everyone. But give people a chance. Sometimes the person you weren’t sure you’d be attracted to turns out to be the person of your dreams!
9. Don’t Become Pen-Pals! You are not on a dating app to hide behind a phone. You aren’t on there to make friends or have a pen-pal. If a match can’t commit to meeting you within a couple of weeks, move on! Yes, you can fall in love from afar and with words alone, but you are setting yourself up for eventual heartbreak if you are never actually going to meet. Better to cut it sooner than later when you’ve wasted so much time, energy, and so much of yourself. You deserve a whole relationship!
10. Take Breaks, But Don’t Give Up. I’ve heard it from my friends so many times… “I’m done with dating apps!” I, myself, got fed up after a guy ghosted me and I deleted my dating profiles for a few weeks, but I got back on the dating app horse and put myself back out there. Taking a break is good to recharge your battery, but don’t resign yourself to giving up. You have more of a chance of finding love if you are meeting people than you do as a person who stays at home and doesn’t talk to anyone new.
11. Have Fun! Finding love had been a dream of mine my entire life. Heck, I’m a romance author who had never been in love. But if you go on a dating app expecting every swipe and every date to be “the one”, you’re going to break your own heart repeatedly. Try to enjoy the process as much as possible. Enjoy talking to people — from the obsurd weirdos to the crude assholes — it can be very satisfying telling them off and unmatching. Through my dating app experiences, I got tons of stories out of it. I laughed, I cried, I did some bold things… it was probably one of the most exciting and adventurous times of my life… and in the end, I got what I always dreamed of and I get to share the rest of my life adventure with him.