It’s been said that Tinder is more of an “introduction app” than a dating app, which is a fair take! It’s a way to find out if you might be into someone based on a very brief, curated profile and decide if you think they’re hot based on some also very curated selfies. But is there any other way to meet people outside of bars? Well, there is if you embrace the attitude of our community editor Vanessa, who says that “any app is a dating app if you have confidence and a good selfie.” Combine that attitude with Instagram’s many features for actually getting to know what someone is like and connecting with their life, and you’re halfway to adopting a cat with someone or just sucking their face off, whichever you’re looking for.
We’ve been talking since 2016 about Instagram’s potential as a gay dating app. And that was before the advent of (herstory) Personals, before Instagram stories and DMs, before the queer astrology meme culture that lets you send your crush a meme about your water sign venus at 1:00 a.m. and hope they know it means you want to grow old with them, etc.
Who you can meet on Instagram
Hot, faraway, mostly unattainable people
This is a classic and pure thirst follow. Whether they’re somebody semi-internet-famous, a friend of a friend of a friend, or someone from a previous A-Camp, this is someone whose face is nice to look at and we all deserve that simple joy. It isn’t super likely that anything will happen with this person, and so for most people it isn’t necessarily worth expending more flirting effort than liking their selfies, though it can be fun to have a recreational low-stakes internet flirtation. On the other hand, it’s possible that someday one of you will be traveling through the others’ city, or you’ll decide to take a sexy plunge like @tenderfemme did once:
“I had been lightly flirting with a babe through comments on both of our posts for a few weeks. One day she slid into my dms, and before I knew it (three days later) I was taking a four hour drive from Philly to the Catskills in upstate New York. We ended up immediately clicking, and spent an entire weekend fucking.”
If long-distance sexy penpals or sexting is your thing, Instagram is also the premier way to find that — it’s a way to get to know and flirt with someone at a remove while still keeping it authentic, since this is their actual (internet) personality. One anonymous source reports more success with this dynamic than dating locally:
“I have asked people out but mostly it’s been with strangers who comment on my stories then I write back and it just naturally progresses from there. Or vice versa. In the past this is almost always with people who aren’t local to me and that is JUST FINE because I love sexting. The DMs just get more and more flirty and maybe some pics and that’s that. And it’s great and easy and fun and super casual!”
Hot local people, potentially attainable
Here is where the stakes of Instagram flirting are heightened! Maybe you started following each other because you have mutual friends, or they’re a local tarot reader/cycle repairperson/performer, maybe someone else you know tagged them in a photo and they’re hot (may this serve as a reminder that we all have a mutual responsibility to contribute to this ecosystem by tagging our hot friends in pictures). If Instagram flirting goes well, it could lead to you actually hooking up or dating, or at least being IRL friends or acquaintances.
For some people part of the appeal of checking out your larger queer scene over Instagram is that it makes things like Tinder feel less necessary; for a lot of people, Instagram works in concert with Tinder to make connecting with people a little more authentic. One person reported that they had been casually following a babe on Instagram already and thought they were hot; when the two matched on Tinder later, “I felt like I already knew them,” and it made connecting and later hooking up easier. Another person followed a cutie on Instagram because they recognized them from Tinder, and were already following each other and commenting on each others’ stories when they matched on Tinder later, making it easier to talk to each other and make a date. D matched with their now-girlfriend E on Tinder but they never messaged; later, when D recognized one of E’s photos on Instagram and connected the dots, “I’d also noticed that we had a couple of mutual follows on IG, which helped to kind of vet her as a decent human” and helped inspire them to message, and then plan a date.
People actively seeking dating partners through something like Personals
This is the most direct and distilled form of Instagram dating, in that it is specifically designed for Instagram dating rather than, like the rest of Instagram, being tacitly fruitful for it. Using the @personals account (and, in the future, an app!) you can see what someone is looking for — a penpal, an erotic third, a long-term partner, a mommy/mommi — and reach out if you think that describes you. Several people who met this way and are now in dating relationships of some kind reached out for this piece; generally one person posts an ad, and is flooded with new followers/DMs; one person in particular stood out or hit it off, and things went from there. Although (if you live in a major US city) it’s certainly possible to select according to who lives in your region, the trend seems to be falling for people who live at LEAST several states away from you. Never change, lesbians. As an example, @Begorgeousx0xo’s story hits most of the “met over Personals” milestones:
“I notice a girl who is always liking my post and I finally decide to snoop on her page. I find that she’s cute, tall, and on the butch spectrum, so I follow her back and like a few pics. About a week later she sends me a message commenting on the fact that I showed my undergrad class the Thanksgiving episode of Master of None. From there a conversation develops! I find out that she started following me back in April when my Personal was posted. I tell her that I think that she’s cute, that, that she looks wholesome, that she probably can’t handle me, and that I’m going to top her, she likes the challenge.
We talk for a couple weeks and I decide I’m going to go see her as a birthday trip. When I get to her apartment(where I was gonna be staying, despite just meeting her), we are making out in less than 4 minutes, which lead to amazing sex, and an amazing first visit. I bawled my eyes out at the train station when I had to leave Brooklyn (where she lives) and go back to Buffalo. I went back to see her in August and the second time was even more amazing than the first. We made our relationship official at the time and are now in a long distance monogamous relationship (something I wasn’t quite sure I was capable of). I’m actually in the process of packing to go see her on Wednesday!”
As D observes, the combination of the verbal descriptors in the Personals ad and the context of someone’s whole Instagram can make a big difference in deciding whether you want to get to know them — “I’m first attracted by someone’s words and not the way they look. So many of the personal ads can be so poetic – vulnerable, direct, hot af, witty, bold, sweet. Sometimes all at once. Then seeing their Instagram account as a whole – not necessarily just for what they look like — but getting a glance at what matters to them, what they think about, things they find beautiful, or makes them laugh — that paints a broader picture than the 40 or so words in the ad can do.”
How to actually approach people
Regardless of what you’re looking for or what capacity you want to Instagram flirt in, the process is pretty consistent: liking someone’s content and engaging meaningfully with them, especially in the stories format where you can do so privately. A follow and liking of a few recent selfies is a solid indicator that someone at least thinks you’re cute, and if you feel similarly about them, maybe you follow back! Maybe later in the week they post a story about how much they’re enjoying their refreshing craft IPA, and you respond to it asking if they’ve tried the peach saison from the same brewery, it’s really good! If they want to respond, voilá, a conversation is born, and maybe a connection.
Much like a conversation not on Instagram, it works better if you’re enthusiastic and specific and give someone something to actually respond to; “have you tried the peach saison by them?” is way easier to have an actual conversation about than just sending an emoji or telling someone they’re cute (although people do appreciate hearing that). Also much like a conversation in real life, if you want to go out with someone, one of you does have to eventually articulate that with words. And ALSO like any other conversation, pay attention to the other person’s cues — if you’re responding to every single one of their stories and they never reply, that’s a cue! Chill out! They aren’t interested, and that’s okay. Similarly, regardless of how thirsty you are (aren’t we all!), try to match the tone they’re projecting. If they’ve posted a super hot half-naked picture as a clear and intentional thirst trap, sexy emojis or telling them how hot they are is appropriate — if it’s a selfie with their mom, probably not. Read the room, etc.
If someone is long-distance, eventually you may want to make plans to meet up! If someone is local, you don’t have to be quite so intentional. It’s totally possible you’ll run into them at the party/poetry reading/protest, in which case if you’re mutuals and commenting on each other’s stuff, it’s totally normal to introduce yourself and say how glad you are to meet (and flirt) in real life. You can also engineer this scenario; when they post about an event or a location, you can let them know you’ll be there too and would be into saying hi. If your Instagram correspondence has been on the thirstier side and you’re really just looking to hook up rather than date or hang out, eventually one of you will have to be the one who invites the other over, unless you get lucky and run into them at the pride party.
The good (and bad news) is that, as you may have concluded on your own, these are largely also the steps you would take if you wanted to make a friend. This does mean if you’re interested in dating or sleeping with someone as opposed to just being friends you may have to make that explicitly, flirtatiously clear; however, it also means making friends! Hooray for friends! There are worse things than meeting cool people that you end up not dating or having sex with, and Instagram is great for that too.
How to be Instagram approachable
If you actually want to get to know people over Instagram, it helps to have an Instagram presence yourself that’s easy to engage with and talk to. Much like it’s hard to know what to say to someone over Tinder if they just have three selfies and no bio, it’s hard to start talking to someone if all they ever post is pictures of their cat or composed selfies or photos of alleys behind your apartment building with cryptic song lyrics. What do you say to that? There’s only so far you can go with heart eye emojis and telling someone their cat/dog/gecko is cute. “Be yourself” is tired advice, but the more genuine and inviting you are about your actual life and interests, the easier you make it for someone else to connect with you.
Instagram flirt extraordinaire Vanessa says she thinks the key is “a combo of interactive content, thirsty selfies, as much of your genuine personality as you’re willing to share online,” and shared as an example how someone else’s open invite through their Instagram stories for someone to make slime with them turned into a fling:
“So here’s a person who’s lived in [my city] 15 years… and yet I’ve NEVER interacted with them… [I] browsed their profile, decided they were hot and I was thirsty, and responded to the first thing they posted, which was if anyone wanted to make slime. And somehow we quickly moved from ‘wanna make slime’ to ‘where’s your mars’ to ‘wow we should hook up'”
Asking open-ended questions in stories that people can respond to, using the poll or the new question feature, sharing opinions on things or inviting discussion make it really easy for someone to reach out and talk to you!
If you’re interested in people thirsting over your pictures and stories the way you are over theirs or having more overtly flirtatious interactions with people, maybe you want to explore that more on your Insta (which will invite other people to explore it too, etc etc). If you aren’t used to posting selfies or being publicly “hot,” it feels really weird and awkward, for sure! Try to remember, though, that you (I don’t think) judge or roll your eyes at other peoples’ selfies or thirst traps; even if they aren’t your cup of tea, you probably just keep scrolling and don’t think much of it. If you felt hot today, and if you think other people on the internet telling you you’re hot is a thing you’d like, post it! Think about what posts from other people make you feel eyes emoji, and whether you’d like to experiment with doing something similar. Be honest with yourself about what you want; if what you want is a bunch of ??? messages in your DMs, but all you post is pictures of what you had for dinner, there’s some room to adjust and try new things there.
It’s obviously easier to get to know people if your profile is public, but also life is a kaleidoscope of horrors and there are certainly reasons why you might want yours to be private. If that’s the case, having a photo that’s actually of you and maybe including some basic info in your insta bio (like the city you’re in, especially if you’re flirting with people from Personals) can help people feel like they can request to follow.
Technology has brought this generation some incredible things; we can see our own apartment buildings on Google maps satellite view, FaceTime our friends and family around the world, and also view someone’s butt on an app and then use the same app to message them and let them know how great their butt is. As with so many things in life, the trick to successfully doing so is a combination of confidence, openness, and a willingness to fail or get rejected sometimes — and maybe, if you’re up for it, being the picture of a great butt you want to see in the world.