The Complete Guide to Dating App Etiquette

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When you’re a bad dater, it eventually catches up with you. No one wants to have all that bad karma following along in their wake. We designed a detailed guide with everything you need to know about online dating etiquette. 

The infamous “Rules” book may no longer apply in today’s world of online dating apps, but there are still serious do’s and don’ts you need to follow if you want to have any success at online dating. 

You can call them the commandments of online dating, and we’ve rounded them up here for you. These tips and tricks will not only earn you a swipe right, but they’ll get you a date IRL, too. And if things don’t work out, people won’t have anything bad to say about you.

Whether you’re using Coffee Meets Bagel or Match.com, you can follow this guide to blameless online dating.

Setting up your profile

A lot of people engage in short-term thinking when it comes to their online profiles. They throw something together, brain-dump all their baggage into the bio section, or upload barely anything at all. Neither of these is a good approach. Instead, follow these pointers for a rock-solid bio.

Do not lie.

This is the cardinal rule of online dating, but remains a rampant problem on many apps. 10% of all online dating profiles are completely fake, and that doesn’t include the “white lies” people use on their profiles. The most common things people lie about in their profiles include their physical appearance (men add up to 3 inches to their height, while women trim off about 10 pounds from their weight), their age, job and income status, whether or not they have children, and their lifestyle. If you're someone who prioritizes knowing your online date went to a prestigious school or has an impressive job, The League might be a good fit for you. 

Many people use their online dating profile to present an idealized, fantasy version of themselves. While this is tempting, don’t do it. You’re setting your date—and yourself—up for failure. At best, the person won’t be interested in you. At worst, they won’t be interested in you and they’ll think you’re a horrible person. 

Be positive.

While you shouldn’t lie, you should present yourself in the best light possible. Lying would be taking a photo of just your head to hide the fact that you are very overweight, while presenting yourself in the best light would be sharing a photo of yourself in an outfit that makes you look great. Remember that people are looking for all sorts of people online, and there is someone out there (multiple someones, most likely) who will be interested in what the real you has to offer. 

Keep that positivity up throughout the rest of your bio. Instead of focusing on what you don’t want and sharing your previous baggage, talk about things that make you happy and the kind of person you’re looking for. (Although for people who prefer to bond over hating the same stuff, Hater might be the right dating app for you.) 

Limit your photos. 

Adding a ton of photos can actually work against you. The more photos you have, the more opportunities you give people to find something they don’t like about you. Limit yourself to a handful of photos. 

In addition to limiting the number of your photos, also be careful what you show in your photos. These photos are representing you, so make sure they’re doing a good job of that. You want at least one photo that clearly shows your face (this should be your first photo), and one of your full body. If you don’t show your face or body, people will think you’re lying and they’ll swipe left. 

Beyond that, use your photos to demonstrate your hobbies and interests, such as a photo of you hiking with your dog or traveling. For example, Match Group, who owns Match.com, found that 62% of men and 74 % of women want a partner who shares their travel interests. These photos can give people an idea of what to message you about. 

Make sure your photos don’t give the wrong impression.

You want the focus to be on you, not other people. So, avoid group photos and even photos with your friends (especially if they’re more attractive than you). Likewise, avoid photos with anyone someone might assume your dating. This can be intimidating for other daters and turn them off. 

Finally, use recent photos (less than a year old) that aren’t overly edited. There’s nothing worse than showing up on a date and seeing the other person’s face fall. 

Write a short bio.

No one wants to read your life story, but if you have nothing in your profile, you look boring (or fake). You might mention what you do for a living, or share your favorite hobby or movie. Give people something to connect with. 20 to 50 words should be enough (that’s shorter than this paragraph). Dating apps like Hinge even give you prompts like "Teach me something about," "Next vacation I want to go on," and "I know the best spot in town for..." to help you flesh out your profile. 

Sending your first few messages

Once you match, it’s time to start talking. According to a study by Plenty of Fish, 74% of daters say conversation is the #1 indicator of chemistry, so this part is important. Here’s how to keep the conversation going.

Make it personal.

While online dating is a numbers game, it’s going to be an unsuccessful one if you just message everyone, “Hey, what’s up?” 

Identify something in the person’s photo or profile that can serve as a conversation starter. Ask them a question about it. You’ll make it easier for them to respond, while also giving them the flattering feeling that you are genuinely interested. 

Never send just an emoji as your first message (and above all, avoid the peaches and eggplants). An emoji is lazy. You’re basically just telling the person that you exist, instead of asking them something interesting about themselves. Who’s interested in that?

Be responsive…

The days of waiting 3 days to call someone after you get their number are gone. The world of online dating moves fast. If you don’t respond within a day, the person will assume you are either uninterested, or no longer actively using the app. On apps like Bumble, you're only given 24 hours to respond to a first message. 

If you’re interested in someone, make an effort to respond to their messages within 24 hours. If possible, mirror their behavior by responding as quickly as they do.

…but not desperate.

As we just reviewed, if someone doesn’t respond, they’re either a) not that into you, b) not that into dating, or c) otherwise unable to respond. Many people are at work, living their lives, or going on other dates. They’re not on the app 24/7. 

So, give them time to respond. If you send another message 30 minutes after your first one, you run the risk of seeming desperate. That’s not to say you should be afraid to send a second message.

According to data from Hinge, if you send a second message, you’ll get a response 30% of the time. Just make sure you wait almost 4 hours to avoid seeming creepy: 

dating app etiquette

Talk like you would in real life.

Since you're behind a screen, you might feel more comfortable than you would in real life; don’t lean into that. Don’t overindulge or share deep personal secrets about yourself if you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so with someone you just met in real life. 

Likewise, don’t say overly creepy or sexualized things you would never say in person. And don’t send overly creepy or sexualized photos, either (you know which ones we’re talking about). Those photos are one of the top reasons people get blocked on dating apps. 

Be clear about your intentions.

People use dating apps for all sorts of reasons: to find a romantic partner, to hook up, to make friends, or to simply live out their cheating fantasy

dating app etiquette

The best way to find out what your match’s interests are is to ask them. Share your intentions, too. If you’re not looking for the same thing, it’s time to stop talking. 

Scheduling the date

After some friendly flirting, it’s time to transition things offline—to a real date. Here’s how to move the conversation towards meeting IRL. 

Chat a little bit before scheduling a date.

While the end goal is to meet in person, it can be a bit off-putting to start out your convo setting up a date. Use the person’s profile information to chat about your mutual interests first. This gives you a chance to see how your personalities mesh, before you waste your time meeting a person you won’t get along with at all.  

If you’re feeling gutsy, consider doing a pre-date video call. Some people loathe chatting on the phone, but this gives you yet another chance to see how you “click” before you have to meet in person. International dating app Badoo even has a video chat feature for users to try out with their matches. 

Set up an in-person date soon.

While it can be nerve-wracking to finally meet in person, the whole point of online dating is to meet up in the real world. Only catfish enjoy hanging out online more than IRL. Depending on your schedules, set up a first date within a few days to a week or two after you first start talking. If this makes you nervous, you could try a dating app like Happn, which matches you with people you've crossed paths with. 

If you wait too long to set up an in-person meeting, you could end up losing interest, or worse, start to fall in love with the idea of a person—before you see what they’re really like and how your chemistry vibes. 

Handling rejection

Unfortunately, rejection is a natural part of online dating. In fact, it’s the more common experience—dating is a number’s game, remember? 

Whatever side of the rejection you’re on, here’s how to handle it with grace every time.

What to do if you lose interest before setting up a date

If you lose interest before you set up a date, it’s socially acceptable to simply stop responding to a person. Most people will get the idea. If you’re dealing with someone especially persistent, be upfront and let them know you’re no longer interested. Be kind but direct. If they continue to bother you, it’s okay to block them.

How to cancel a first date

If, however, you lose interest after you’ve already set up the date, you must cancel. You cannot ghost or stand someone up if you’ve agreed to meet in person. 

Make it clear that you are canceling because you are no longer interested; not because you came up with a scheduling conflict. It’s unkind and manipulative to lead someone on. They may ask why, and you can tell them if you want, but you don’t have to. Something along these lines should suffice: “Sorry to do this, but I have to cancel. I’ve met someone else/I’m taking a break from dating/I’m not feeling the chemistry/[fill in the blank with your reason here]”

How to leave a date early

Let’s say you meet up for the date. If, over the course of the date, you already know you’re not interested in pursuing things further, feel free to end the date early. Be kind and courteous, but clear. Let the person know you’re just not feeling the chemistry, and while you really appreciate meeting them, you don’t want to waste anyone’s time, so you’re going to leave. Then get out of there!

How to reject someone after a first date

If you’re not feeling it after your first date, keep your fingers crossed that it’s a mutual feeling. In that case, you may enjoy the best-case scenario: a mutual ghosting. 

Whatever you do, do not reach out after the date for any reason—not even to thank your date. If the person is interested, this may give them the wrong idea that you are, too. Only respond if they ask you out again.

When that happens, be honest and let the person know you’re no longer interested. This may feel less pleasant than ghosting someone, but it’s the right thing to do, and with time, you’ll feel more comfortable doing it. Be kind but direct and firm; you want it to be clear that you are not interested, so they can stop wasting their time pining over you. 

How to deal with being rejected

If you get rejected (and chances are, you will), don’t take it personally. You have no idea why the person rejected you, and honestly, it doesn’t really matter. You want to find someone who likes you back. Stop talking to that person (unless you’re both interested in being friends), and get back to looking for someone new. 

Dive in to online dating

Now that you’re a dating etiquette pro, it’s time to get out there and start dating! Save on signup fees and discover the best dating apps, ranked by ease of use, cost, and presence in top cities.

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About This Article

Amelia Willson

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