How to Navigate Dating Apps: Etiquette and Advice From the Experts

If you’ve been single in the last decade, you’ve likely dabbled with “hot-or-not” dating apps once or twice. And if you didn’t swipe for love, you probably signed up for Plenty of Fish, eHarmony, or maybe even FarmersOnly. And if you’re still standing, congratulations! Dating is more convenient and more complicated than ever. While most people practice good etiquette while engaging in day-to-day interactions — holding the door, saying “please” and “thank you” — some of that same courtesy goes out the door in the digital realm. (See: The beloved “U up?” direct message after midnight.)

Beyond dealing with bad manners, is there a way to game the apps? The algorithms and features play in your favor — more or less. Think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure game: how you set up your profile and who you swipe on determines your outcome. Still unsure of how to proceed? We’ve got some helpful dating app insights and pointers from a couple of relationship experts, Stanford-educated psychiatrist and author of Speaking in Thumbs: A Psychiatrist Decodes Your Relationship Texts So You Don’t Have To, Mimi Winsberg, M.D., and Dawoon Kang, Co-founder and Chief Dating Officer at Coffee Meets Bagel, to set you up for your best dating yet. 

Figuring Out What You Really Want

Dating Apps
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There has to be a reason you’re downloading (or re-downloading) that dating app on your phone. Mindfulness is about being aware of how you feel, what you want for yourself, and being present in the moment. Practice dating mindfulness and start by asking yourself these important questions: what do you hope to gain from these dating apps? What kind of relationship do you want? Can you date someone with different political views, lifestyles, etc.? What personality traits do you value in a person? Asking yourself these crucial questions will give you a better sense of direction and help you set dating goals for yourself. It’s too easy to flip back into autopilot while using dating apps, which could lead to missed opportunities and negative thinking. 

Relationship & Identity Terminology 

Whether you identify as LGBTQIA+ or not, it is vital to know identity terminology and relationship types. We all have our preferences and simply taking the time to learn about these terms is essential because it could help you develop better connections and relationships. You don’t want to be that person that asks within the first couple of messages or on a first date what the other person’s identity or sexual orientation means — it isn’t polite. There is emotional labor and discomfort that comes from having to explain your identity that only LGBTQIA+ folks can understand. Relationship types are good to know too. If you’re someone seeking a serious relationship, the last thing you want is to develop feelings for someone looking for something strictly casual. People looking for monogamous and non-monogamous relationships are mingled together on these dating apps. You must make your preferences known in your bio to have a much smoother experience. 

Effort & Expectations 

No one becomes an Olympic figure skater or master chef overnight — the same applies here. Like anything, the time, effort, and expectations you put in and have will help you get the most out of your dating experience. It’s all too easy to feel hopeless, disappointed, and frustrated. That’s why it’s essential to figure out how much time you want to spend on these apps. Pouring all your free time and having high expectations can harm and affect your perception. “I tell people that the satisfaction you will derive from dating apps is inversely proportional to the expectations you have going into them. By letting go of expectations, it becomes easier to take a fun and adventurous approach to dating apps and embrace the notion of meeting people, even if those people don’t turn out to be your ideal life partner,” says Mimi Winsberg, M.D. There is no singular path or timeline to finding a partner on these apps. Some may have it easier than others, but that isn’t necessarily your fault. What matters is the effort you put into initiating conversations and allowing yourself to be faced with the unpredictable nature of dating apps because all your work will manifest into better connections later on. 

Avoid These Major Red Flags

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Have you ever heard of love bombing, breadcrumbing, and ghosting? All of these are major red flags in dating. While avoiding these red flags altogether is difficult, catching them early on will save you from harm. Love bombing is the act of showering someone with affection, flattery, attention, and compliments earlier on in the talking stage or relationship, with the intent of having the other person become dependent. “Love bombing is often a sign of a less secure attachment style, and at worst, can reveal controlling or narcissistic traits. The problem is, for someone who has wanted a relationship for a long time, it can feel good to have someone paying a lot of attention to you and making sweeping promises. I suggest approaching love bombers with caution,” says Winsberg.

Breadcrumbing is similar, but the person never follows through on plans nor engages in a proper conversation. “If you feel like someone is love bombing you, tell them that their over-affectionate behavior makes you uncomfortable. Or if someone is stringing you along with breadcrumbing, call them out on it. If they aren’t willing to hear you out, cut your losses and devote your energy to someone who’s actually ready to date,” says Dawoon Kang.

Ghosting is a heavily debated topic in the dating world, but the consensus is that it’s “generally negligent, and perhaps even cowardly. Yet sometimes, people can leave you with no choice but to ghost, such as when they won’t accept a kind but clear expression of lack of interest. In general, I think the best practice is to extricate firmly and kindly. Don’t leave room for interpretation, but don’t say something to hurt feelings explicitly. If you want to leave the door open for friendship, you can,” Dr. Winsberg expresses. Everyone will experience ghosting a few times while using these apps, but try to understand that it is not your fault but rather a reflection of who the ghoster is as an individual. What you can do to avoid ghosting someone is to respectfully communicate to your match that you are no longer interested in them but that you wish them well. 

Boundaries, Safety, and Consent

Dating Apps
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Part of self-care and personal wellness is putting three of these at the forefront of your love life. Establishing boundaries early on will help you get the most out of your connection. Doing so allows whoever you’re dating to know what you’re comfortable with and how you want to be treated. If the other person is on the same page as you — it’s a win-win!

Safety and consent should always be on your mind too. With how fast everything moves online to in-person, it can quickly become scary if we let our guard down. “Trust your instincts. When meeting someone for the first time, meet in public and have means to exit if you need to. That can just mean carrying a phone. Be mindful of odd requests you may receive over text on an app, and there is certainly no need to share personal information if you are not comfortable doing so before meeting someone in person,” Dr. Winsberg says. Remember: no means no, and consent is sexy. 

Be Authentic and Don’t Forget to Practice Self-Care

As cliche as it sounds — be yourself and have fun! Take off that serious face and allow yourself to showcase your personality through fun selfies and your bio. It will help others get a glimpse into your world. Staying true to yourself will also help you connect with like-minded people with similar interests or hobbies.

The reality is dating is oh-so-slow. Be patient — there will always be plenty of people to swipe and connect with. Don’t forget to go offline and pause your profile every once in a while to practice self-care. Embrace authenticity, unpredictability, and vulnerability. You’ll learn so much about yourself and others along the way.

Dr. Winsberg’s Dating App Do’s and Don’ts 

Dating Apps

Do put some time into writing your profile, share things about yourself that reveal what you like, and give the other person some fodder for questions. 

Don’t put photos of many other people or landscapes in your profile. People want to see pictures of you.  

Do use the text exchange as a way to interview people without coming across as an interviewer. 

Women, do keep your texts short (men don’t process long texts well.) 

Men, do keep your compliments metaphoric rather than literal. Women would rather hear something creative than, “You’re hot!”

Do go in with an open mind, and try to keep expectations low. Bring your best-self into the equation, and take some time to reflect on what you are really looking for.