The year is 2020, but I’m in my childhood bedroom asking myself, “Have I traveled back in time?” Surely, I’m back in high school. I could not possibly be a 28-year-old woman in a matching lambie pajama set, marooned in my parent’s home.
“Want to work on our puzzle?” my mom calls up from the stairs. Yes, this is what it’s like being a single adult during the coronavirus quarantine.
Like many single, young women, my summer of laughing with attractive men in slo-mo over fruity cocktail drinks vanished because of the nationwide stay-at-home order. “So, what does this mean for dating?” I wonder from my twin bed.
My phone lights up with a notification. With a quick tap of the screen, I’m informed of online ballet classes, talks, cooking tutorials, makeup guides, and more. Life itself is virtual. I scrolled my phone and I thought, “If everything else is online, why can’t my dating life be too?”
I flipped through to the dating apps on my homescreen — I could practically see a layer of dust puff away as I tapped them open. “What if I really did the online dating thing? What if I didn’t wait for guys to make the first move? What if I just messaged guys, even on Instagram? What do I have to lose?”
So I did it. I started sliding into direct message inboxes left and right. Here’s what happened.
1. It’s less scary the more you do it
Shrugging my shoulders, I typed up a message to the first cute guy I found and pressed “send” before I could talk myself out of it. Sending that first message was like jumping off a diving board for the first time. As I dove headfirst into the DM-waters, I realized, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.” I clicked on more profiles and sent more messages.
A guy once told me, “It’s attractive when the woman makes the first move — it shows she’s confident.” I realized that if a guy was turned off by my boldness, he wouldn’t be my type anyway. A simple message is just that: a message.
We tend to instinctively clam up when we put ourselves out there, even in the slightest way. Our squeamish middle school selves emerge: “but if he knows I like him, I’ll die!” But being attracted to someone and letting them know doesn’t mean you’re professing your undying love. It shows that you’re confident enough to express interest and move on if it’s not returned. The more guys I messaged, the more I grew in confidence.
2. Cast a wide net
After I came down from my DMing rampage, I went to bed relishing my newfound confidence. I layed there, imagining which guy I’d be most compatible with based off of their two-sentence long bios. The next day, I was ready to be blown over by a tidal wave of message replies.
“1 unread message.”
I received one message reply — and it was from someone I already knew! Despite the lack of replies, I was strangely empowered to keep DMing new guys. I realized that DMing on dating apps is a numbers game. Because there is a high chance that they just wouldn’t reply, the pressure of sending one message is reduced. So why not shoot your shot with anyone you find attractive? It doesn’t matter if you don’t get a ton of replies, you just need a couple to make progress. Casting a wide net increases the odds you’ll catch at least some fish, rather than drag up an old shoe.
3. Social media apps are the new dating apps
I grew in boldness and experimented with the ultimate “sliding into DMs” method: messages sent via Instagram. To my surprise, my flirty DMs had a 100-percent reply rate and resulted in conversations that lasted for days. As I blew away the smoke from my gun fingers and winked at myself in the mirror, it seemed as though I had cracked the “sliding into DMs” code!
But what is it about an app like Instagram that garners more success? I realized that Instagram (and I’m sure other social media apps too) essentially replace conventional dating apps by removing the stigma of “the dating app.” It allows men and women to engage in a more authentic way by replicating offline dating more accurately. Initiation is reciprocated by mutual “following” and the waters of communication are tested out by progressively engaging in each other’s content by liking pictures and replying to stories.
4. Messages can determine compatibility
“You love movies? Cool. I don’t really watch movies or TV — I think it’s a waste of time.”
The triumph of getting a few message replies was squashed once I realized that not all conversations are interesting. The men I talked to via DM ended up in two distinct categories: boring vs. not boring. Well, that’s according to my definition of “boring,” anyway.
Prior to quarantine, I wasn’t looking for signs of compatibility through messaging because I thought compatibility could only be determined in-person. When dating, I’d push aside the glaring red flags of incompatible communication, hoping the boring conversation would improve. Spoiler: it never did.
Messaging guys during quarantine forced me to be more discerning of these preliminary conversations and to not waste time on guys I had no conversational chemistry with. I paid closer attention to the ways in which they expressed themselves, the questions they asked, their senses of humor, and overall communication style. I noted how effortless or difficult conversations were and whether they were fun or exhausting to talk to. So, I let a few conversations fizzle out and invested more in the ones I was excited to engage with.
5. Leave it if “left on read”
Online “chatting” is like a video game. You have to complete one level before getting to the next. Sometimes you think you’re doing really great on one level, and then out of nowhere, a boss pops up and it’s game-over. What I’m talking about is being left on read.
“Left on read” is when you’re consistently chatting with someone and they suddenly stop responding. They read your message but never reply. In the online dating world, this is as common as breathing.
One guy, who I particularly liked, stopped replying. I started making up excuses for why he was busy. But a voice in my head said, “When someone likes you, they can’t wait to talk to you.”
Unfortunately, clinging to a person who’s showing disinterest says more about you than it does about them. You shouldn’t have to convince a potential romantic partner that you’re interesting and worth pursuing. If they’re not even interested enough to reply to a simple message, why are you still interested?
6. Never take it personally
I’ll admit that my first reaction to having my messages ignored was, “The audacity!” Then, of course, I’d scrupulously revise my profile. I thought, “But my pictures are cute and my bio is funny, so why not reply?” or, “But conversation was good, why isn’t he interested anymore?” Once I took a bite of humble pie, I realized that there are a million reasons to not reply to someone’s message.
There are also a million reasons why someone might lose interest. They might not agree with your values; they might be pursuing someone else; they might not want a long-distance relationship; they might not feel the same connection; or they might not even think you’re cute! And that’s okay. You can’t control someone’s lack of interest, but you can control how you respond to it.
You could choose to believe that their interest is what defines you, or you could choose to believe that your worth never changes, regardless of someone’s interest or lack thereof.
Do I have a boyfriend from my adventures in DMing? No. At least, not yet. But I finally learned to not take myself so seriously and to have fun when messaging guys. I was pushed to realize that my worth and “dateability” doesn’t change just because someone hasn’t replied to my message. If anything, I’ve realized that there are endless guys to talk to.
Oh, that reminds me: I have some DMs I need to slide into.