Why Online Dating Is So Much Better Now (Kind of)

I’ve recently re-entered the online dating pool, and surprise surprise, it’s just as much a hot mess as it was last time I was here. The bare torsos, the cringeworthy cliches, the fevered search for the next quick hookup.

But something has changed. The process has gone from a desktop portal of long-winded applications and essay contests to something far more visual and visceral. In other words, something more akin to how humans date. Less of a slog, too, and a whole lot more fun. Outside of the meet-someone-at-your-friend’s-bbq option, online dating has become more human than you think. And if you’re not doing it, as far as I’m concerned, you’re not really in the game.

We all have Tindr to thank (and Grindr before that) for disrupting the old college app-slash-memoir model, and making online dating feel faster, sexier, and more fun. Yes it’s a game. But you already knew that. It’s a handheld adventure, characterized by quick glances and physical gestures (the most important being the almighty swipe).

Now everyone’s doing it—you’ll find swipe functionality on OkCupid, Hinge, even Match, the old granddaddy of online dating. And don’t forget Cheek’d, which has also gotten some attention lately. After Lori Cheek, its founder, got chewed up on Shark Tank, she emerged with a new heat-seeking missile app which leverages the power of the virtual in the real world, letting you find other single people whom you may be missing on your daily commute or anywhere else. (Check out my interview with Lori on my show, Solopreneur.)

Rather listen than read? Done.

Guess which one's me!
Guess which one’s me!

It’s Like a Little Vegas You Hold In Your Hand

Your phone is now the portal to your love life, part mission control and part slot machine, complete with colors, movement,and flashing lights. But you have little to lose, and it’s hard not to get hooked. And you don’t even have to be dating to have fun doing it. I know more than a few happily married people who serve as Tindr proxies, swiping on behalf of their single friends. They want to help their friends find someone, sure, but they also want to play.

Some daters decry this shift in online dating gamification, saying that this doesn’t give them a chance to make their case, that this makes dating all about looks and nothing else. I have to remind them that we are human animals first, we’ve always looked and responded from a gut level, for millions of years before we wondered how people looked on paper. Sure, maybe you change your mind or someone wears you down. It happens. But I trust the gut check, always have. By the way, when in the history of human coupling has anyone met via a complicated admission process, complete with test scores and extra curriculars? I’ll tell you when: Arranged marriages, and you wouldn’t have been the one screening applications.

Partnering isn’t an executive function, not at first anyway. (See: Anytime someone looked great on paper but not in person. See also, anyone who swears they fell in love at first sight.) It’s not that people have gotten more superficial in dating–I don’t even know how that’s possible. So if you’re telling yourself this story, stop.

Don’t Be an Ass Swipe

What that means is that yes, pictures do matter, and I don’t mean you have to be a beauty queen or prom king, but you must show what you look like now, and not when you’re wearing a complete head-to-toe diver suit or dressed up as Lady Gaga. Getting a butt-first shot of you belaying down a mountain is not ideal, nor is a profile picture of you and several friends–because while you know which one you are, we don’t. Because when we finally do the task of flipping through your photos to find the common denominator, you don’t want us to be disappointed that you aren’t your hot cousin.

If you’re a dude, we don’t need to see pictures of you with a beautiful lady–sure, it may be your sister, but it could also be your ex. Maybe subconsciously you want to show your cred (look at what I got, or at least had). But while that works at parties, for some reason, it doesn’t play in pictures.

An anthropologist could have a field day studying men’s online dating pictures. I already do. But it goes without saying–if you want more right-swipes, avoid at all costs the bare torso, the blurred bathroom selfie, or you holding any kind of weapon. Skip the the landscape postcards, the still life. Keep that on your Instagram feed. And realize that what you think looks cool (you in your shades looking somewhere in the distance, often comes off as cold, intimidating, or a straight-up turn-off. Instead, try the one thing that so few guys do: Smile. Right into the camera. A real smile: eyes crinkled, teeth showing, you at your warmest and most real. That’s enough to give a thumb pause, and make us think you’re someone we’d like to meet.