Digital dating: A millennial’s primer

Please, don’t send naked photos of yourself before we’ve actually met
Swipe left? Or right? Did I get ghosted again?

Illustration by Vince McIndoe/Debut Art

I had left the bar and was halfway home when I received a text message from my date, meant for someone else:

“I met Tinder Girl for a drink. Horrible.”

“Thanks,” I wrote back. “You texted Tinder Girl. I feel the same way.”

My date and I had met for a drink, and within the first few sips, I knew I’d made a dreadful mistake. We had an intensely painful conversation until we finished our drinks. It was another horrific first date on a string of first dates that had plagued me over the past few months.

I’d listened as a med student explained feminism in painstaking detail to me, an ardent feminist. I’d burst out laughing when a restaurant manager described his seductive powers, telling me he thought of himself as “a modern day shaman.” I’d met an interesting criminal prosecutor, but then didn’t hear from him for months.

Dating today is a numbers game, with dozens of apps and websites to help you. On Tinder I use photos I feel represent my personality—or what I want it to be:

Here I am holding my dog. Here I am reading an essay to an audience. Here I am at the gym I never visit.

People commonly use group photos in a misguided attempt to look popular, but this is a horrible idea. I recently had the displeasure of having someone “match” with me, only to ask if the friend in the photo with me is single. Now I post only selfies—or pictures in which I am clearly the most attractive person.

While other dating websites and apps practically let you write a novel describing yourself, Tinder limits you to 500 characters. This is refreshing. I hate writing long profiles, and I abhor reading them—especially when they close with, “Don’t message me if you don’t read my profile.”

I usually write a few bullet points describing myself:

  • Cat hater
  • Not religious
  • Atlanta native
  • Hot sauce enthusiast

I’ll end with a sentence or two about what I like and what I’m looking for.

After that, I’m connected with hundreds of potential dates. I wade through pictures of guys holding babies that aren’t theirs, guys holding animals they’ve killed, and guys petting tigers. I swipe right on the picture if I’m interested and left if I’m not. If we both swipe right, my “match” and I can message each other and set up a date. Most matches don’t end up in a date or even a message, and if you do message each other, most text strings go nowhere. A series of hi’s, how are you’s, and any luck on here?’s fade into silence when one party “ghosts,” or cuts off contact without explanation. It’s a side effect of Internet dating—people too busy to go out looking for dates are often too busy to date.

A lot of messages I get are rude, stupid, or pornographic; when I give out my number, half of the guys follow up by sending me a shot of their junk. Here’s a tip: An unsolicited dick pic is not what I’m looking for. Not that straight guys have it much better: A number of their matches turn out to be “bots” or people posing as women in an attempt to direct them to porn sites.

Atlanta is a big city, but when you’re single and looking, it can feel small and incestuous. Dating within your social scene often means dating friends or swapping partners. Online matchmaking gives me options outside my physical grasp by connecting me with hundreds of potential mates. My friends and I trade hilarious stories of mismatched connections, but I’ve also found wonderful people whom I never would have met otherwise. Sometimes this leads to romance, sometimes to friendship, and sometimes nowhere.

Despite its flaws, Internet dating is a convenient boredom killer. I can vet potential dates in any free moment: in the checkout line, waiting on a friend, in the bathroom. Looking at it as a form of entertainment, not a surefire matchmaker, keeps me from getting my hopes up or feeling burnt out, and—as with meeting people IRL (in real life)—I appreciate it that much more when I genuinely connect with someone.

For a generation that grew up with the Internet, online dating has lost the stigma it once had. A few years ago, when I started dating a guy I met on Tinder, I told people that we met when he installed cable at my house. Today meeting someone on the Internet seems just as common—and no more shameful—as connecting offline.

Clearly, dating today bears little resemblance to my parents’ courtship. While many couples still enjoy conventional dates, more millennials are forming relationships on their own terms. Instead of going on traditional dates, potential couples “hang out” or “hook up,” with no one actually discussing his or her intentions. This arrangement affords more freedom but can end badly. Two summers ago, when I caught the guy I was hanging out with hanging out with someone else, I threw a tantrum worthy of a Real Housewife of Atlanta.

But not every date or hookup encounter ends in disaster. Even if dating now lacks the formality of generations past, there is definitely an etiquette. A friend of mine offers sage advice: “Better safe than sorry. Don’t get emotional from the beginning. Have fun. Be honest.” More people reject the traditional template of how a relationship should look and are following their individual needs. Customizing one’s own brand of commitment—a hookup, a partner in crime, friends with benefits, a husband—doesn’t change what we all ultimately seek: happiness. If people are honest with themselves and their potential partners about what they want, they can avoid messy encounters and find something personally fulfilling—whatever that may look like.

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This article originally appeared in our February 2016 issue.