The Anatomy of a Good Tinder Message

Ah, Tinder. Shallowest of shallow dating apps. Devourer of time, energy and brain cells. Cesspool of tiger-obsessed weirdos, hostile Felipes, and “Netflix and chill” jokes. So terrible, and yet so enslaving.

I’m currently in the throes of a full-blown Tinder fixation, which happens to me from time to time. The gameified rush of swiping left and swiping right turns me into a rabid date-seeker, desperately flipping through my available matches for anyone who seems not-awful. And even when the motivation to find partners is removed, I still find Tinder fascinating on a sociological level. Look how far we’ve come, us clever humans, that we can find companionship and sex just by flicking our fingers and staring at colorful images on a tiny screen.

But although I’m enthralled with Tinder, I still kind of hate it. And the thing I loathe most about it is that the people on it are boring. Or, rather, they’re generally not good at demonstrating how interesting they (probably) are.

Sending an initial Tinder message isn’t like walking up to a stranger at a bar. If we met in real life, the content of your greeting would be less important than its delivery, your attractiveness, and my mood. A simple “Hey, how are you?” at a bar could turn into a rollicking conversation if I found you cute, I was in a talkative state of mind, and we had good conversational chemistry after that opening line.

On Tinder, however, “Hey, how are you?” is boring. I get several messages like that every week. And though I could glance at your profile again when you message me, I might not. The content of your message is all I have to go on. So if it’s bad, I’m probably not gonna talk to you. Like, at all. Not even in weak pleasantries, the likes of which you might get if you “Hey, what’s up?”-ed me while I was grumpy-drunk at a bar.

Before I go any further, a caveat. This post might make it sound like I never initiate conversations on Tinder, or that I expect men to be the initiator in all cases. Neither of those things are true; however, that is how it’s gone down in most of my Tinder chats. Blame it on patriarchal gender roles or the Dickonomics of Tinder; men tend to drive the action on this app, and on most online dating services.

Since that is the case, I, as an active female user of Tinder, am by default an expert on what kinds of messages I do and don’t like to receive. Months of boring conversations and uninvigorated openers have sharpened my sense of this. Here are the three things I think you crucially must do when you send an initial Tinder message to someone you think is cute:

  1. Compliment them. Choose something specific about them that you genuinely like, and tell them that you like it. Assuming you’re looking for something more than a hook-up, it’d be smart to compliment something non-physical, like a personality trait that comes across in their bio or a hobby shown in one of their photos. If you can’t think of anything to compliment them on, well, why did you swipe right on them, then? Surely there was something about their pictures or description that appealed to you.
  2. Prove you’ve read their profile. Reference something from their bio or photos. If your message is so generic that you could copy-and-paste it to many different matches, you’re not trying hard enough.
  3. Ask a question or two. If you don’t, they’ll have nothing to respond to! Try to avoid boring, commonplace questions like “How’s your week going?” or “What are you up to tonight?” You can ask those later, once you’ve got the conversational ball rolling. To start, ask them a question they’ll be excited to answer – maybe something about one of their passions or interests.

Those are the three basic building blocks of a solid Tinder initiation. Bonus points if your message is also funny, properly spell-checked, and hints at an activity or interest that might make for a good first date if the conversation goes well.

To illustrate how and why a first message’s construction is important, I’ve pulled a few examples from my own Tinder inbox. They’re not pretty, but hopefully you’ll learn something from them.

imageThis dude had clearly read my profile, but maybe only the first sentence of it. I understand that it’s exciting to encounter a sex blogger if you’ve never met one before, but when guys take this tactic with me, it makes me feel objectified and reduced to this one small detail about who I am. And while he did ask a question, it’s a bad question: it only warrants a quick yes or no, and the answer is already in my profile. When you ask someone a question with the intent of starting a conversation, it should require more than a few words in response, and it should be a question you don’t already know the answer to. Finally, he complimented me, but it’s a generic compliment without much substance. I already know he finds me attractive, because he swiped right on me; now I want to know what else he finds interesting about me. And if the answer is “nothing,” then we’re probably not a good fit.

imageSome guys try to initiate convos in gimmicky ways like this, and it just doesn’t work. It makes me feel like you’re a con man and I’m the mark. It’s also an insult to my intelligence: this dude and I both know he isn’t really messaging me to get my help remembering the name of a movie he once saw, so why pretend that’s what’s going on? Online dating can feel so contrived anyway; it’s best to be genuine. Tell me about yourself and ask me about myself, instead of constructing this strange excuse to talk to me.

imageThis is an example of the kind of message that would go over better if it was spoken out loud at a bar or a party, but doesn’t work well in a medium like Tinder. More than half the messages I get are some variant of “Hi,” “Hello,” “What’s up?” and so on. These messages are boring, require the bare minimum of effort to send, and show zero indication of why the person finds me interesting. I’m only motivated to answer this kind of message if the person’s profile is very intriguing to me, which is rare.

imageI get the sense that this guy was probably just looking for a hook-up. If that was his goal, then his approach was a good one: he complimented me on my physical attractiveness, and later asked me straight-up if I wanted to “have some fun” (i.e. hook up). I didn’t answer because I was looking for something more relationshippy. Keep in mind that your messages can and should establish some sense of what you’re hoping to get out of the interaction. I find physical compliments unsatisfying on Tinder because, duh, I already know you’re attracted to my photos; now I want to know why you might be attracted to my brain. But if sex is all you’re after, a physically-based compliment could be a good way to subtly communicate that.

imageThis message is a question, and an interesting one, so it’s got that going for it. But I didn’t reply because the message contained no indication of why I should find this guy interesting. I’m not on Tinder to educate people or to have philosophical discussions; I’m on there to meet people for dates and/or a relationship. So, while it’s great that this guy wants to learn about the poly lifestyle, I’m gonna need a little more than “I don’t understand this thing; please explain it to me!” to get me interested in talking to someone.

imageThis message could have been copied-and-pasted to literally anyone, if he replaced my name with someone else’s. It’s fantastic to get a message from someone who shares my interests, but if that’s the case, I’d love to know what those interests are! All I could really reply to this is something like, “Oh yeah? Like what?” and that’s not the kind of message I’d be bursting to send. Be interesting and specific. Craft your message so I’m excited to answer it.

imageThis is a cool opener. It’s simple, but I like it. Asking someone about their passion is an easy, accessible way to capture their attention and get them talking. This guy could’ve improved his message, however, by relating the question back to himself so I’d be interested in answering him rather than just answering the question. For example, he could’ve mentioned a favorite journalist of his and asked if I’d heard of them, or he could’ve told me what led him down the road to his passion. Providing more information for the person to respond to is always better than not providing enough!

imageThis is the first message I received from the guy who is now my boyfriend (!!). It caught my attention because it’s straightforward and instantly proved he’d read my profile: he’s referencing my bio where I mention that I like old movies, celebrity impressions and Scrabble. He’s given me some information I can respond to (“Why The Wizard of Oz?” “What are your favorite board games?”) and pointed out some commonalities between us that might make me want to talk to him. He potentially could’ve improved this opener by complimenting me, but pointing out shared interests is a type of compliment – it means, “Hey, that thing that you like? I like it too, because it’s a good thing!”

What are the best first Tinder messages you’ve ever received (or sent)? Do you find that some approaches lead to actual conversations more often than others? I want to hear about your Tinder experiences in the comments section!