How to use Tinder (without losing your soul)

(Note: This is a piece I wrote for another site, and I wanted to share it here as well. So many of us struggle to find meaningful connections; I hope some of you will find this useful.)

Here we are, 2019. So many technological tools for connection… and yet a large percentage of the population feels isolated, lonely, and touch-starved. We want love, we want sex, and it seems like those two things (separately or together) should be pretty easy to come by. But for those of us who are living consciously, trying to stay connected to our hearts and our integrity, those two basic human needs can feel tragically out of reach.

I’ve been using Tinder, and similar apps, for a couple of years now. In that time, I have made a few great connections. I’ve also, at times, experienced brushes with the depths of despair, both from my own interactions (or a painful lack thereof) on these apps, and from the stories and social media postings of friends who are similarly struggling.

Many of my friends are now considering signing up for the apps for the first time, and many have expressed trepidation about “how to do it.” I also know people who have tried to use the apps, but have been so unsuccessful in their goals that they have quit after a short period.

In my trials and tribulations, I have noticed some consistent “problem patterns” among users, and I have felt the difference that certain approaches can make. My intent in writing this piece is to help others to navigate the world of dating apps as effectively as possible. (I will use the name “Tinder” here, but my suggestions will apply equally to any similar dating apps.)

Ready to dive in? Let’s begin!

The first step is to get very clear on what kind(s) of connections you are seeking. Are you looking for a long-term, monogamous partner? (Yes, some people do use Tinder—successfully!—to find such relationships.) Are you looking for short-term connections? A summer fling? Multiple partners? Fun dates while traveling? A committed, but open, relationship? Whatever it may be, first identify your ideal connection in the present moment, and then consider what other kinds of connections you might also be open to.

After you are clear about what you’re seeking, it’s time to put together your profile. First, choose photos. Plan to upload at least five, so that people can see you from a variety of angles, and in a variety of contexts. Avoid sunglasses in most photos; let people see your eyes. Make sure all photos are recent. A good guideline is within the past 2-3 years. If you are self-conscious about how you look, compared to how you looked in older photos, remind yourself that whoever you are seeking is going to need to be attracted to the current you, so make sure you give them accurate information to help them decide. Make some effort to find flattering photos. If you don’t have many, maybe take some new selfies, or ask a friend to take some photos of you. Before you hit the “upload” button, take a look at each photo, and see if your facial expression is a good one for attracting the kind of person(s) you are seeking. Maybe ask a close friend or two to take a look and offer their feedback on your pictures.

Now, write your bio. Do not skip this step. Many people—myself included—make a policy of never swiping right on someone without a bio, because it comes across as aloof, arrogant, lazy, and/or secretive… as well as simply not giving people enough information about you to know whether you might be a good fit. (And for that matter, I do recommend swiping left on people who haven’t made the effort to do this. Whenever I have made an exception to my rule because the person looks so attractive or interesting in their photos, I have always—every single time—found myself disappointed in the ensuing conversation.)

The text field is pretty small. Use it wisely; don’t waste space writing things like, “Does anyone even read these things?” or “I’m terrible at this stuff. If you want to know anything, just ask.” Make the effort to be as thorough as possible, in the limited space, about what is unique to you, and exactly what you are seeking. It’s best to use positive language (“I’m looking for a long-term relationship”) rather than negative (“Not looking for hookups!”) That said, it’s OK to list deal breakers (“no smokers, please”) to respect everyone’s time. Spend roughly half the space describing yourself, and the other half describing the kind of person(s) you are looking for.

Once you have uploaded your text and photos, you are ready to begin searching for connections! As you begin, remember that each photo/bio on this app represents an actual human being: a person as real and complex as you, who is also seeking connection. Sadly, many factors in our society—including widespread trauma—can lead people to show up on dating apps reflecting less than their full, beautiful human selves. This can be painful to witness and feel as you browse the apps. But, it is an important practice to remind ourselves of each other’s humanity, so that we can enjoy the process as much as possible, and be as successful as possible in finding our optimal connection(s).

The most important principle to follow—even though it can be difficult to remember in our fast-paced, phone-addicted world—is, Don’t swipe absent-mindedly or half-heartedly. Before you open the app each time, take a few moments to close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and feel into the kind of connection you are seeking. Maybe picture someone who would be an ideal connection for you. Take a moment to really feel the way you imagine feeling in the presence of this person. Maybe imagine doing whatever things you are wanting to do with a Tinder connection, with this imaginary ideal person. Only after you have spent a few moments doing this, and have really felt the positive feelings you are seeking from Tinder connections… open the app.

As you begin to browse, feel for the energy of each person you see. Swipe right only if you feel that this person could genuinely be a good fit for what you are seeking. Also, don’t swipe right until you read their bio. There may be a deal-breaker in there, and if there is, it will be less potentially hurtful for the other person if you don’t match to start with.

Once you find a match, take a moment to look back through the person’s photos and bio. Feel into who they seem to be, and what you find attractive about them. Then, send them a message. Don’t play games by waiting for them to contact you first. This is not a power struggle; it’s an effort to find intimacy of some kind. Be proactive. Be vulnerable. Make the first move. In the message, start with a compliment about something you saw and/or read. Ideally, include both a visual compliment and a personality-based one. (“I love your smile! And it looks like you enjoy bicycling as much as I do.”) Of course, any visual compliments should be respectful and not vulgar. Keep the first message brief, but end with a question or something the person can respond to. (“What are you most excited about these days?” “Have you been enjoying this beautiful summer weather?” Or, if possible, ask something related to their stated or depicted interests, especially if those interests overlap with yours.)

If they don’t respond, try not to take it personally. Remember that not everyone uses Tinder in a conscientious way; some people swipe right carelessly, looking for matches merely as ego boosts, or simply swiping on photos they like, without looking at bios for deal-breakers. If someone doesn’t respond to your initial message, trust that they are not a good fit for you, and move on.

If they do respond, you will probably get an immediate gut reaction as to whether you might get along. When you read their message, do you feel a spark of excitement? A sense of warmth? Or a feeling of disappointment, because they didn’t match your warm, interactive tone? If you get a bad feeling for any reason, it’s probably best not to pursue the connection. You can either politely let them know you don’t think it’s a good fit (“Sorry, I’m getting the feeling we won’t be a good match. Thanks for the conversation, and I wish you the best in your search!”) or, if their response was minimal, just let it drop. Use your instinct about which is more appropriate in any given case: saying “goodbye” can be overkill if the two of you have interacted very minimally… but on the other hand, using dating apps can feel very isolating, with people starting connections and then disappearing; so a brief “thanks for this, and I wish you all the best” can go a long way—for both parties—toward humanizing the process. (Of course, listen to your gut and respect your own boundaries. If someone speaks to you in a disrespectful way, you owe them absolutely nothing, so feel free to un-match, block, and/or report anyone at any time.)

If you find that you and a match have been chatting for an amount of time that leads you to want to meet up, ask if they would like to meet up. (Again, don’t play games by waiting to see if they will ask first.) A good way to do this is to say, “I’m really enjoying our conversation so far. Would you like to meet up sometime, to see how we feel in person?” If you like, you can be more specific: suggest coffee, lunch, a happy hour drink, or maybe a walk.

If you do agree to meet up, follow basic safety precautions: Meet in a public place, maybe let a friend know you’re going on a Tinder date.

When you meet in person, treat it like any other date: Do your best to relax and be yourself. Ask questions, and listen as much as you talk. The two of you can decide from there if you are a good fit, and if you would like to get together again.

If the answer is yes, congratulations! You’ve made a Tinder connection! If the answer is no… well, congratulations, too, because you still made it through the process, and you can now go back and repeat the process, until you do find a good fit. Persistence in the process is essential, which is why it is crucial to remain connected to your sense of both your own and others’ humanity. To a large extent, dating is a numbers game. For every successful connection, there will be a few dates that don’t go as well as you had wished. For every date you set up, there will be other matches who won’t make it to the date-scheduling phase. For every match you get, there will be some who don’t swipe right back on you. So… do your best to stay present, to stay connected to your felt-sense of what you are looking for, to enjoy the process, and to honor your own, and others’, humanity as you interact.

ps. I love working with people one-on-one to help them find the kind of connections they are seeking. If you’d like to schedule a free, no-obligation 30-minute phone call to see if we might be a good fit to work together on this, please contact me to set up a time!

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