Swipe Smart: Tips for Dating Mindfully Online

Businessman using smartphone against dating websiteIt’s been just over three years since I first signed up for online dating. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about dating, and dating online in particular, that have helped me keep my sanity even when I wanted to give up forever. Here are a few of my tips for doing online dating well:

Online daters are people too

Even if I’m looking at a shirtless bathroom selfie or a completely misspelled profile, I try to remember that I’m not just looking at statistics or a screen — I’m connecting with a person.

Once, I matched on Tinder with someone who turned out to be checking the app to see if his ex-girlfriend was using it. It would have been easy to write him off, but we ended up having a conversation about the hard parts of life — I had recently been through a breakup and could relate. We weren’t a romantic match, but we connected meaningfully (if briefly) as people.

Ask good questions

When I first start talking with someone online, I ask a few basic questions to get to know them a little, but almost immediately, I ask what it was about me that stood out to them. Their answer almost always tells me something about them and helps me make a decision about whether I’d like to pursue things further.

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For example, if the answer to that question is all about my physical appearance (online guys have told me everything from “you have beautiful eyes” to “you look bang-able”), I’m ready to move on. But if he tells me that he likes that I’m a writer or a Harry Potter fan, or that he prefers restaurants to bars as well, I’ll often want to keep the conversation going.

Be smart and safe

When I arrange a date, I start by telling someone where I’m going to be and promise to check in for safety. Even if I feel comfortable with someone, I always limit our interactions to public places for the first few dates.

One person I met online recommended a few first dates that might have been fun but involved hiking or walking in parks. He was immediately apologetic when I mentioned that I don’t meet people alone for the first few times. Getting on the same page in that situation made our first date (at a hockey game) that much more comfortable for me.

Pay attention

Once I’m on the date, I pay attention to how I feel in the other person’s company. I notice whether conversation is easy or forced, if we’re laughing or serious. It’s normal for me to be nervous, but if I’m still wanting to be at home watching Netflix after an hour, it’s likely that we aren’t a match.

I once had coffee with a man who seemed like he might be a good match on paper, but his answers to my questions were vague. When we ran out of things to talk about roughly 45 minutes in, I cut our conversation short for both our sakes. (This is why, if possible, I like to meet for coffee rather than a meal — if things aren’t going swimmingly, I’m not stuck long!)

Know when to let go

Over these years, I’ve learned that the kindest thing I can do is to let the other person know as quickly as I do that things aren’t going to work out. No matter how kindly you say this, it still hurts, but I’ve found that the simplest, most direct way is best.

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Once, I agreed to a dinner date with a guy who lived about half an hour away. He was fairly late for dinner, but I felt bad about his travel time. As dinner progressed, I found him to be difficult to talk to and arrogant. The next day he wrote to me, hoping for another date, and I told him that I wasn’t interested as kindly as I could; he simply unmatched me.

Enjoy the experience

I may not have found a spouse online (yet), but I’ve had wonderful dates with interesting people. The online space has helped me meet people outside my social circles, people with different schedules than mine and people who are new to the area.

It’s also helped avoid awkwardness. Knowing that I don’t have to constantly run into them, or even see them again, has made it easier to take a risk on a date. Plus, it’s clear that we both have interest in meeting someone — it’s right there on our profiles.

But perhaps most importantly, the sheer volume of people and the distance have helped me to practice connecting with other people and become more comfortable communicating my preferences and personality. For these things alone, online dating has been worthwhile for me.

Cara Strickland

Cara Strickland is a food critic and freelance writer based in the Pacific Northwest. She writes about food, faith, relationships, and singleness for a variety of publications in print and online. You can find more of her work at carastrickland.com.