In many ways dating apps streamline so much about dating — you can select and filter who you want to see, it provides an opportunity for you to clarify for yourself and others what you’re looking for, and in an ideal world people can clarify before you even meet them whether they’re a top/bottom/someone who thinks mint and chocolate taste good together and therefore unfortunately not a viable option for you. However, there are some things dating apps cannot change — for instance, you are still going to need to speak to the other person if you wish to eventually have sex with them. It’s a hard knock life, etc.
Maybe the best way to psyche yourself up for this is through baby steps: “all you have to do is say hi!” This is true, and if that is what it takes for you to get yourself to message someone, you should absolutely do it! However, the truth is “hi” (or its variants, “hey” and a contextless gif) is kind of a tough sell; it doesn’t give the other person a lot to work with, and really kind of just moves the ball as far as initiating an actual conversation into the other person’s court. Much like how a bio should be written with the goal of giving a hottie something to react to, a first message should be easy to reply to and easy to move the conversation forward from! What does one say to “hey” aside from “hey,” or on a sunny day, “hey!” I ask of you.
Widely beloved first-messager and Autostraddle writer Molly told me her tried and true combo is “Hello + introduce yourself + compliment + ask a question,” noting that it projects self-confidence and also makes your interest in the other person clear, which are great goals for a first message. “Be specific with the compliment,” she told me, “make it something about their outfit or bio or haircut to show you’re paying attention. Finally, ask them a question about themselves; again, I like to be specific to the bio or photos, because it shows you’re not just spamming a bunch of babes with a copy/paste.”
This is excellent advice and I would urge you to follow it! Largely, though, in the same vein, let’s think about the goal of a first message: to start a conversation, and get the other person to respond; once you’re both present and accounted for, you can start seeing if anything actually even goes anywhere. With that established, here are five ways you can try sending the first message that show you’re actually trying.
What are you reading/watching/listening to?
Almost everyone on earth is doing one of these things every day! It’s telling about them as a person without being too personal to reveal, shows interest in them, and will also be good for you to get a sense of whether what they’re into seems weird or dumb to you. Best of all, this question has many natural followup questions that can lead into a full conversation — oh I haven’t heard of that band, how did you get into them? I love that author! Have you read this other title by them?
Ask for a rec
People love to feel knowledgeable and like their taste is admired and respected; it also creates a sense of trust to have helped you with something, and for you to have admitted early on that they know more about something than you. They mention they like horror movies? Ask them what you should start with! They like to read? Ask what book you should bring on your long flight next week! Obviously there are limits to this, determined by the difficulty involved on their end – if they are gonna have to do two hours of research to tell you what kind of seed you’ll need to attract Northwestern Warblers in your backyard, that is probably not flirty and fun. But a question that asks them to tell you about something they like and care about and indicates you’ll take it seriously and check it out? Hot!
If someone has shared a low-stakes yet controversial take in their bio — avocados are bad, actually! They love pineapple on pizza! They hate pineapple on pizza! They thought Buffy and Angel made sense on Buffy! — it could be an opportunity lightly! playfully! flirtily! engage them on it in a way that is angling for Banter, the way that hip rom coms have taught us we should identify our one true love. “Buffy and Angel! I am, respectfully, horrified. What about when…” This can be an easy way to start talking to someone, and also a good way to tell if you have any kind of overlap or chemistry with someone, at least over text; does the back and forth flow? Are you laughing? Is the other person getting too competitive and taking it too seriously and therefore not fun? There you go.
However, much like other rom-com activities like carrying large cue cards across a city and orchestrating a secret declaration of love with them or having beachy waves every single day, playful banter is actually pretty hard, and if you are feeling unsure of this option or like you aren’t confident you can do it without coming off as argumentative, I would encourage you to honor that feeling! That is fine, there are other things you can say.
If “hi” is the absolute bar on the floor of first messages, the followup is “How’s your day?” This is a good question to ask a close friend or coworker or something, but much like with the question “how are you,” when a stranger asks you there is almost no way to respond to it other than “fine!” The things that are happening to us on a day to day basis are frequently boring, often not under our control, and sometimes embarrassing. We don’t always want to talk about them with strangers! However, asking about future plans is something that’s under the other person’s control, and also probably aspirational and cool. “How’s your summer been” is likely to get a “fine;” “do you have anything you’re excited about for this summer?” might get you to a discussion of a farmers’ market or, idk, plans to get a commercial vehicle license. You’re off to the races!
Although all of you have been previously instructed to actually fill out your bio, thereby giving other people something to actually say to you, many of you are still reluctant to do so, OR have done the thing where you just put one quixotic and mysterious line (“eyebrows of an angel, septum piercing of a sailor”) (what??? does that mean?) which may potentially make you seem hot and above it all, but is also virtually impossible to respond to. Luckily, Kayla has got you covered already with her comprehensive yet approachable guide to sending the first message on Tinder, which often takes the approach of basically, well, an icebreaker. Borrow one of hers (I’m partial to “do you have a favorite Fast & Furious movie?”) or follow along in the same spirit and create your own.
Is there any guarantee any of these will work? Absolutely not. Can you at least say you tried, and maybe get into one or two good-natured arguments about casting on the L Word? Yes, for sure. Tell us your favorite/least favorite first message strategies!