By Poorna Bell
I could set my watch by the regularity with which I scream at the dating apps on my phone, asking why they are so terrible and why I bother using them in the first place.
It happens like clockwork, every three months when I hit a slump after matching with people who silently squat on my profile, saying nothing and never asking for a date. Are we just playing a long, boring game of chicken to see who will make the first move, I wonder? Do any of us even want to go on dates? What are we all doing here then?
Fed up, I recently cleansed my apps of these matches and started from scratch. I decided that perhaps where I had been going wrong was not investing enough time in my opening line. And, perhaps, I should overcome my heteronormative conditioning and make the first move rather than wait for a guy to kick things off.
I spent a week crafting messages that made me snort with laughter. I picked out details in their profile to discuss. Still, the results were dire.
At worst, the men just unmatched me, wasting my comedy gold. At best, I got a response and then…silence. The only people who seemed to want to reply or initiate messages were the fuckbois. You know the type — either they make reference to their penis/sex drive around the third message or mysteriously have a phone that won’t let them communicate on any platform apart from Snapchat. Yes, Snapchat.
“Are we just playing a long, boring game of chicken to see who will make the first move? Do any of us even want to go on dates? What are we all doing here then?”
Instead, I decided to invest my time in Bumble. With its woman CEO and feminist ethos, it is less lizard-brained than the other apps from the get-go. The set-up of Bumble is such that after you match, the woman has to make the first move within 24 hours or you unmatch. So you have no choice but to sharpen your opening skills.
If you try and get away with “Hey, how’s it going?” Bumble gives you a proverbial rap on the knuckles. As soon as you start typing in “Hey” it prompts you to try a stronger opener, and provides suggestions. These suggestions are best described as something from Fawlty Towers meets Love Island. They include: “If you were a ghost who or what would you want to haunt?” and “Which TV family is most like yours?” It feels awkward AF. While dating is about that delicate dance of impressing the other person, I refuse to believe that this robot dialogue has ever actually worked on human beings.
How important are opening lines anyway? Do we really have to suck it up and play along?
Hinge doesn’t have suggestions for opening lines. Instead, the app requires you to put some personal details out there in the first place by filling out answers to a selection of stock questions. You have to offer prospective dates more than just a picture and your location.
I have to say, this does make it easier to find something to talk about. Hinge spokesperson Jean-Marie McGrath tells me this is no accident.
“On Hinge, there are no opening lines because each member has to like to comment on a specific part of someone’s profile to show that they’re interested in getting to know them better,” she says.
“How important are opening lines anyway? Do we really have to suck it up and play along?”
McGrath says the most successful questions to have on your profile are: “My biggest date fail…”; “We’re the same type of weird if…” and “Dating me is like…”
For me, though, it still feels a bit contrived. And so I decide to subvert the Bumble opening line rules by sending a match the following message:
“Was going to use one of the suggested opening lines but they are TERRIBLE so will stick to are you happy or sad that summer is over?”
My match replies quickly. He agrees that the suggested lines are overused, replies to my summer question — and then disappears.
Twenty-eight-year-old illustrator Alex has been experiencing the same thing. “I can’t see any pattern at all,” she laments. “If I’m starting the chat, I’ll either work with something off their profile or go simple like, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ But most of the time there’s no response. Even when they start the chat it often ends after just a few messages.”
I asked Sam Owens, relationship coach and author of Anxiety Free if there’s any point to all this. She said that the problem with using rehearsed lines is that, unsurprisingly, they can feel a bit fake. “Starting a conversation with a stranger that is contrived hardly screams authentic. People want to get a sense of who they’re connecting with online and, ironically, an opening can create more confusion than clarity about who you’re connecting with.”
The problem, then, is also how we converse online. Unlike an old-school dating website where users provide a lot more personal information, giving you a stronger sense of who you might be dating, apps often don’t hold the same information about their users.
Most of the time, I’m going on the person’s name, age and location, which means the margin for error when it comes down to working out who they actually are and what they actually want is HUGE. On Tinder in particular, very few people do a decent profile, so you have no idea what awaits you should you actually end up on a date.
That said, Sam doesn’t recommend overthinking the opening line because “it can create awkwardness, be perceived as sleazy or simply inauthentic. Remember that you might have 99 things in common but the other person may not get your humour without your tone of voice accompanying it; and you have no idea if they’re having a bad day or a bad month of online dating, so they may not be as receptive on that one day to what you have to say.”
So what does work? Personally, I find it helpful to release some of the pressure placed on the opening line. I acknowledge that “Hey, how are you?” is lazy, but similarly there’s no point agonising over what you think is a hilarious joke because there’s a high chance it will fall flat.
Anyone who is halfway interested or, at the very least, serious about going on a date will make the effort. So when someone unmatches me or drops off, I have to learn to take it less personally and view it as natural selection.
Ruth Walker, a 32-year-old PR manager, met her fiancé on Bumble two years ago. She was incredibly nervous about her opening line to him so she found a GIF of the Titanic breaking in two and wrote: “Well, that’s an icebreaker.”
I may just steal that because they’re getting married in March.
Originally published at https://www.refinery29.com.