Social Distancing & Online Dating: First Message Do’s & Don’ts

There’s a lot of pressure put on online dating first messages, and for good reason. Because many dating apps don’t give you a lot to go on, someone’s first message can leave a disproportionately large impression. Plus, you may meet so many people on dating apps that you don’t  feel the need to carry on a conversation with someone who messaged you a single emoji.

Funnily enough, first messaging in a time of social distancing has gotten even more interesting. People are now putting a lot more thought into what they’re sending, in large part due to having a lot of extra time on their hands! Creativity is very much the order of the day.

Whether you’ve been on dating apps for ages and are yet to see the results you hoped for, or you’re just about to download your first app and want to put your best foot forward, here are some essential online dating first message do’s and don’ts. We’ve tried to make them lockdown relevant too… 

Online dating: first message mastery

DO: Read their profile first

There’s nothing worse than receiving a message from a match that references something you mention hating in your profile. And there’s really no excuse for this level of sloppiness at the moment, especially when we’ve got a bit more time to spare.

That said, clangers can happen. Here’s an example from my personal life. I don’t drink, and I received a first message from a match that said, “Happy Margarita Monday!” It’s not a big deal and I wasn’t offended, but the fact that he couldn’t read my profile before messaging (or make the connection) was a turn off and made me not interested in responding.

Even if there aren’t any deal breakers in someone’s profile, reading their bio can help you match your message to their tone, which will likely lead to a more positive response. For example, if someone’s profile is very brief, you may fare better sending a brief message. If someone’s profile goes into detail about what they’re looking for, you can feel more confident sending them a detailed first message.

DON’T: Make assumptions

It’s easy to make assumptions and inherent judgements on people’s dating app profiles because that’s all the information we have on them. However, unless they explicitly state something in their profile, you should avoid making assumptions that might offend them. For example, don’t assume a girl whose profile includes lots of provocative photos is looking for a one-night stand. 

You also don’t want to message a guy on Bumble saying, “you must be a player with all the girls in your photos.” Maybe he has six sisters and only really gets his photo taken at family events, you never know! Try to send an online dating first message without passing judgements or making assumptions that may offend a potential date.

DO: Make it personal

Part of the fun in dating is feeling special, and when someone is receiving a bunch of generic messages like, “How are you doing today?” or “Happy Monday!” it can get boring quickly, and eventually they may not feel inclined to respond. As mentioned, use the time you have at your disposal wisely here. Create something a little more unique and make it relevant.

Reading someone’s profile will help you craft a message specific to their interests. For example, if someone mentions that they’re into working out, you could ask them what home workout routine they’ve perfected during lockdown. If they mention they’re vegan, you can share your favourite vegan carrot cake recipe so they can have a go at baking it! You see, there are loads of avenues to explore on the creative front (even at this challenging time!).

DON’T: Make a comment on someone’s appearance

When you swipe right on a beautiful human, it can be tempting to simply message them something like, “wow you clearly hit the gym hard and it pays off,” or even just a heart-eye emoji. While this is certainly flattering and most people wouldn’t be upset at receiving a compliment, messages like these don’t really lead to good conversations. 

Best case: your match thanks you for the compliment and gives you a compliment as well, and then one of you has to switch gears to another topic that lends itself to more banter. Worst case: your match doesn’t respond because they assume you’re only interested in something physical.

If you really feel inclined to make a surface-level compliment, incorporate a question. For example, “you look so fit! What is your workout routine like?” Or, “I feel like not many people can pull off that kind of outfit, where does one even buy something like that?”

Of course, compliments that don’t involve someone’s appearance will nearly always be positively received. Something like, “Wow! Did you make the cookies you’re holding in your second photo? They look amazing!” Or, “It’s super cool you’re a journalist, I know that’s not an easy field to get into or work in these days.” 

If you’re a guy, try to avoid compliments comparing women to each other and the whole “you’re not like other girls” cliché. Try to avoid saying something like, “It’s really attractive that you’re so into sports, most girls I date prefer watching The Bachelor.”

DO: Ask a question

Of course, no matter what your message is, incorporating some kind of question into your online dating first message is always the best policy. Ideally, a question that requires more than a basic yes/no answer. At a basic level, this keeps the conversation alive and interesting. At a more abstract level, this makes your match feel that you are actually interested in getting to know them. It also allows them to feel comfortable asking the questions that they might want to know about you before accepting your offer to have a drink via Zoom (and hopefully one day in person!). 

DON’T: Send one word (or a solo emoji)

To all the girls on Bumble, I am talking to you here. To be fair, I totally understand why many women send a single emoji as their first message on Bumble, an app where they are required to send the first message. Gender roles have made it so that in our culture, the man is traditionally the one pursuing the woman. I appreciate this, but if you’re choosing to use Bumble, commit to shifting the traditional gender dynamic!

Likewise, if you’re a man and you think a woman is going to respond to you saying, “hey there,” when she has 10 other men filling up her Tinder inbox, you might want to think again.

Better messages = better dates

Of course, sending a better, more personalized first message will make your match more likely to turn into someone you meet in real life. But another benefit is that by forcing yourself to not send low-effort online dating first messages, it actually forces you to only message people you are extremely interested in. 

This obviously helps you stay focused on your online dating journey and actually build real connections rather than having surface-level conversations with 20 different people —which can lead to online dating burnout or unhealthy dating app habits, something well worth avoiding when we’re already coping with coronavirus lockdowns. 

So, follow these tips and you will be on track to sending better first messages, have better conversations, and ultimately have better dates!

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