Dating Sites and Apps 101: A Guide for Newbies
More than 1,500 dating apps and sites are used by 30.4 million Americans. Thirty percent of U.S. adults say they have used a dating app, and a whopping 75 percent of American online daters ages 18 to 24 are on Tinder alone.
There are plenty of fish in the online sea, it's just a matter of where you want to go fishing.
How do you decide which dating site is for you? There's a lot to think about as dating apps and websites differ in many ways. For example, some encourage you to provide all kinds of information about yourself, whereas others focus on pictures only or silly quips. Messaging protocols vary between each experience, as does the price you pay to subscribe—although some platforms are free, others require a monthly or annual fee.
With so many factors to consider, how do you even pick a place to start? And what are you committing yourself to once you're signed up?
Let's walk through a couple of key questions and we'll get you closer to an answer.
What do you want from online dating?
Are you looking for the occasional hookup? A casual relationship? A lifelong partner? Anything is possible when you use a dating app or website, but every platform is not equal for all options.
Check out Grindr and Tinder for hookups (although I know people who married partners they met on Tinder, so keep an open mind). Bumble works for both hookups and long-term partners. Hinge is geared more toward working professionals in their late 20s and 30s and may be more appropriate for people seeking a more permanent relationship. Match.com, Zoosk, eHarmony and many others—some for specific religious faiths—attract a slightly older crowd more interested in finding a long-term partner.
Having said all of that, though, individual dating sites may not attract specific crowds as there is no hard-and-fast rule about who signs up, and you might find who you're looking for in the least expected place.
What's on your profile?
Profiles change from platform to platform, but here's a brief summary of what you can probably expect to be telling people about yourself:
Basic info. This will be your name, age, city of residence and so on. As a general rule of thumb, be as honest as you'd want a potential partner to be.
Photos. This can be one of the most impactful parts of your profile. There are few rules here, but you'd be wise to upload five to seven photos, depending on the limits of the platform, of course. Pics with one or two friends are good, solo shots are ideal, but don't rely on selfies—people want to see the whole you, not just your head. Include natural setups rather than posed tableaus, perhaps at the beach, exploring a city on vacation or playing with your pet. You don't need professional-quality photos, just pick the ones you like best, the images that present "you" just as you are; perhaps get a close friend to help you choose. One final word: Only post photos that reflect what you currently look like and not some prized image that captured a moment 10 years ago when you looked a little like a movie star. (You'll thank me when you get a smile of recognition as you catch the eye of your first date.)
Your bio. You may be limited by a maximum character allotment. Pack in information to provide an accurate representation of who you are, what you do and what you like. For example: "Journalist. Avid reader. Dog lover. Traveler. (Very) amateur baker. Wine enthusiast." Descriptive and witty bios can be huge draws, but don't feel pressure to be funny. Honesty and authenticity shine through, so just be yourself.
Additional info. You decide how much other information to share. Include only what you're comfortable with sharing. Again, no pressure. Relationship goals, for instance—whether you want casual dating, serious relationships and so on—can be a telling indicator to help someone decide if they will be a good match for you.
How to get started
Often described as "swiping" (though not all dating platforms have this feature), the next step is to start looking through eligible partners. Typically, you'll start by viewing a prospective partner's photos, name, age, bio and, frequently, other relevant information such as casual or serious interests, occupation, faith and fun factoids.
Don't feel like you're being shallow if first impressions of photos affect your judgment. We're biologically wired to be attracted to certain individuals over others, and that's what makes each of us unique.
Then again, don't rely solely on photos. Consider other factors, too. Is this person within your chosen age range? Do you care if they drink or smoke? And, most important of all, do you have the same goal relationship-wise? If someone desires a life partner and you just want something casual, that might be the best reason to "swipe left" and move on.
The key is to be perfectly honest with yourself about what you want and don't want, and define your own criteria. There are a lot of fish in these waters; keep swimming until you see what you're looking for and then don't hesitate. Swipe right.
To people entering the world of dating sites and apps: Have fun, be safe and go with your heart. Be open-minded. After all, the point of these platforms is to meet people you might not encounter otherwise—take advantage, and happy swiping.