The Dating Coach

Match Game 

Online dating requires skill. Here’s a simple guide.

By Allie Roodman  December 28, 2023

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This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

At my peak, I was going on four dates a week. It was the summer of 2021, and I’d just come out of a five-year relationship. I turned to dating apps to rebound from the terrible breakups. The purpose of this sprint was threefold: 

  1. Exploration: to discover what was out there and use the information to inform what I was really looking for. 
  2. Validation: With my 30th birthday looming, I needed reminding that yes, I was still a desirable partner. 
  3. Practice: Enough said. 

My experience varied far and wide that summer. As you can imagine, I got a lot of great stories. More interestingly, I learned how to use dating apps. I know what they’re good for, and where they fall short. 

Much has been written on the latter point. Journalists, academics, and other professionals deep dive into the shortcomings, social impacts, and behavioral ramifications of dating apps. Here are a few tips on how to maximize your dating app experience. 

Your profile 

Your profile is the digital first impression. Unlike the real world, you can’t rely on natural charm, inexplicable chemistry, pheromones, or other intangibles humans have used to attract a mate for millennia. Everything boils down to the pivotal profile. The reality is, most people spend between three to seven seconds on a profile before swiping left or right. So, it’s in your best interest to put some thought into it. If you’re serious about seeking a relationship, you’ll need a more holistic approach. Don’t just dump hot pictures of yourself into it. Remember, we’re talking about dating with the intent to be in a relationship. “Hookup culture,” on the other hand, is an entirely different ball game — thirst trap away. 

Last summer, I polled my network on Instagram and found some common do’s and don’ts for creating a great profile. Below are tips and themes that came up repeatedly. It is important to proclaim that love is subjective, and there’s no real right or wrong here. At the end of the day, be yourself. 

The recipe for a great profile 

The photos: you alone; you dressed up; you with friends or other people; one picture showing your personality. If you’re serious, be serious. If you’re silly, be silly. Also, include at least one image with your whole body showing. You don’t have to show skin but you must show your full self.

Don’t: duck face; use a snapchat filter; use a selfie from the car /gym, or bathroom. 

The words: an activity you enjoy doing; a talent or hobby you have. 

Fill out the entire profile. Provide captions when appropriate. For instance, if one of your photos is a picture of abstract art — which I don’t recommend — let the viewer know in the caption if you made the art. Or, provide some information as to why it’s included. 

Breaking the virtual ice 

Congratulations, you’ve swiped right and matched someone. Now what do you say? What do they say? What the heck do you talk about? Just remember, if either party is interested, the conversation will pick up naturally. 

The jury is hung for women on “Hey sexy,” or anything of that nature in an opening message. Most women I spoke with don’t like it, but it bears mentioning that a handful do. On the one hand, some women feel like it’s personal and too forward. There are no hard rules and some women are into it. A safe bet is opening with, “Hey Allie!” 

The cynic is the person who says right out of the gate, “I don’t want to be on here,” or “I don’t know how to do this.” Newsflash, none of us do, and no one knows. Putting it out there, while relatable, isn’t exciting. 

The riddler is cute in grade school. But as adults, we have more important things to do, like taxes. Don’t hit us with a riddle, too. We’re busy. This kind of opener may never get a response. 

One time a guy opened with an obscure blueberry emoji. I had to look it up to see what I was missing. I know what an eggplant and a peach emoji stand for, but three blueberries doesn’t compute. Maybe the message wasn’t supposed to be sexual. Maybe it was supposed to be completely random: a way to start up a conversation or grab attention. Regardless, it was confusing. I messaged back a strawberry, because, fruit, right? Never got a response. 

Nosy people ask about something very private, personal, or political, and it’s usually a no-no in early conversation. This can work, and has worked, so long as it’s so absurd that both people understand it’s a joke. If you’re not joking, this is obviously a bit much and too weird. 

The overly eager person says they want to grab a drink right off the bat. While it’s annoying to turn matches into pen pals, being in too much of a rush or really blunt isn’t the right move, either. Make a bit of an effort and when it feels comfortable “the ask” will feel natural.

I love sarcasm, it’s a fun way to flirt. Unfortunately, a lot can be lost in translation over text. If you overuse sarcasm before meeting, even with the preface that you’re a sarcastic person, you risk coming off as an asshole. I recommend staying away from it. 

It’s great to connect with someone who feels open to talking. Long messages get tiring and feel draining. It’s okay to get into a deeper conversation on the app, but don’t let it drag on. Try transitioning to an in-person meeting. Write something like, “I’d love to talk about this more over drinks/coffee/a walk!” 

The double messenger approach sometimes works if you want to show genuine interest. If someone doesn’t respond to your latest text, the next one should be brief: “I’ve enjoyed talking to you,” then ask them out directly. Never get angry at someone for not responding. There are too many unknowns and variables at play. Maybe they got busy, or are no longer interested. Getting mad isn’t the way to go. 

Overall, a simple “Hey Allie” is a good way to open. You can follow by referencing one of the photos or asking a question based on one of the prompts. Be genuine and sincere.

Whether you’re a seasoned app dater, or it’s a New Year’s resolution to put yourself out there online, hopefully something here will help your journey. 

About the Dating Coach Column

Allie Roodman is a 31-year-old millennial trying to navigate the modern dating landscape, one bad date at a time. She uses her own experiences to help others find love in her day job as a matchmaker. She is figuring it out as she goes, just like the rest of us. Connect with her on Instagram: @allieroo

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