I Asked My Younger Coworkers to Teach Me Their Dating App Secrets—and Stumbled Upon a Whole Lot of Genius

Photo: Getty Images/Ezra Bailey
Remember the early aughts? As in, Fendi baguettes. Chappelle's Show. Paris Hilton. And those low-rise jeans that keep threatening to come back. My point is, that was a long time ago. Connect that era to today in your mind and you'll understand how long I've been out of the dating game. And now, on the north side of 40 and after the end of a 15-year relationship, I’m basically a time traveler from a world that doesn’t exist anymore.

On the north side of 40, I’m basically a time traveler from a dating world that doesn’t exist anymore.

Luckily, I work in an office full of 20- and 30-somethings who are serious experts in the field of Bumble-ology. And Applied Tinder Science. And...you get it. So I assembled a dating-coach dream team to guide me: associate beauty and fitness editor Rachel Lapidos, associate beauty and fitness editor Zoe Weiner, and assistant editor Tamim Alnuweiri.

We did a group chat to get to the bottom of the most confusing things about dating apps for a 40-something—here's the keeping-it-oh-so-real advice my younger coworkers offered.

ERIN: Okay, so as you know, I was in a relationship for the past 15 years, and now I’m single. It’s hardly an original thought to say that app life is challenging, but my challenges are more in the details! Like, I don’t know the social cues and what’s a faux pas and what’s considered normal. So, first question…

If someone asks for your WhatsApp, is that some kind of code for, “Will you sext with me?” Because I thought it was to make plans to meet up, and then…it took a turn.

TAMIM: I don’t think WhatsApp itself is a red flag—sometimes it means the person is an Android user (that might be a red flag) or does a lot of international messaging. If someone asks for your Snapchat that’s definitely a dick pic red flag.

RACHEL: In my experience asking for your phone number or WhatsApp is a sign they want to text. To me, it’s that they want to take the relationship one step further, to your actual texting rather than living on the app. So they want to start getting to know you more.

ZOE: Yeah, I think the unfortunate thing with online dating is that you're going to get creeps trying to sext on any form of communication.

ERIN: Okay, Bumble-specific question: How bad is it if you match with someone on Bumble and then don’t write to them within the 24 hours? I do that all the time because life gets busy! It seems insane to be forced to live on Bumble’s schedule instead of my own.

RACHEL: Yeah, life happens—you don’t have to respond in any sort of time frame. But! My concern is that Bumble might only give you 24 hours to respond to a guy before you guys unmatch. So even a "hey!" is a strategy I used to use.

ZOE: The 24-hour thing puts so much pressure on it, but it also ensures that you're not letting matches sit forever.

TAMIM: Ok, but Rachel, if a dude sent you a "hey" on a dating app, would you even respond? "Hey!" is a non-starter.

RACHEL: Oops. Ok, a "hey, how are you doing" would be better.

ZOE: And coming up with things to say can be so hard, especially when they give you nothing to work with in their profiles. But also now if you start a conversation with "hey" or an emoji on Bumble, the app basically tells you your pickup line sucks and makes suggestions for you. LET ME LIVE WITH MY SH*TTY PICKUP LINES, BUMBLE.

ERIN: Oh god.

TAMIM: Yeah but do you really want like a computer coming up with pickup lines for you?

ERIN: Anxiety trigger for a writer.

TAMIM: It makes me think of this when they try to automate or suggest things to say.

RACHEL: My best advice, though, is to be very picky in your right swipes. because that’ll leave you with fewer matches, but only guys that you actually want to talk to. So then it’ll be easier to start the convo because you don’t have to be doing it as constantly. You know?

TAMIM: Oh man, my approach is the opposite.

ZOE: ^^ Same.

TAMIM: I'm like ok, just swipe right because the chances of you talking to each other are so slim. So there's so many barriers to entry that it almost doesn't matter.

RACHEL: I don’t like to be generous with right swipes, though, because I don’t want to be left trying to talk to guys I’m not truly into, or see having a real relationship with.

ZOE: But I feel like want to give the chance of a conversation, and if they're a snooze then I can make that decision. Sometimes it's hard to tell from a profile.

ERIN: That actually totally relates to my next question...

Do you block people when this goes on too long without making plans to meet up? Or if the conversation naturally dies down and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere? Or is that considered harsh?

RACHEL: I don’t think blocking is a necessary move unless they try unsolicited sexting or get really creepy and bothersome. Usually it’ll fade on its own.

TAMIM: Yeah I don't think I block unless they're truly freaks, even by the internet's standards.

ZOE: I don't block but I'll unmatch them—it stresses me out to have a bunch of guys sitting in a conversation list that I should respond to but don't want to.

ERIN: Yes, getting "good morning" texts kicks in my codependence. I feel bad if I don't respond, then I resent them for taking up my time. Blocking or unmatching seems kinder for my personal neuroses, but it all feels kind of wrong.

TAMIM: If it goes on for too long without them making a move I'll usually try to start giving short answers and then say something like, “Let me know when you wanna get a drink,” and not respond to anything that’s not to make plans. I think the feeling bad might have to do with you being new to internet dating. The more seasoned of a veteran you become the less you care, I think.

ZOE: I think you need to do what works for you in that sense—if you want to block someone, block 'em.

ERIN: So what about the opposite thing: people who say “let’s go out tonight” when you’ve only exchanged like two messages? Intuitively it just didn’t feel right to me…is this a thing? Or a crazy red flag?

ZOE: I think that could go either way. I've had great first dates where it was like, "Let's be spontaneous and not be pen pals." But also terrible ones.

TAMIM: Personally someone asking to hang day-of is always a red flag for me. There are so many things I need to do beforehand—stalk thoroughly on the internet, figure out what I’m going to be wearing, get in the right mindset.

RACHEL: Yeah. Tbh I prefer talking for a bit before meeting IRL because otherwise it could be a really bad date. I dont like wasting my time on people who could be totally not my type.

TAMIM: It also makes me think they definitely wanna have sex that night.

ZOE: But if I'm sitting at home doing nothing, they seem decent enough and the bar is within 15 minutes of my apartment, I always figure I may as well go, have a drink, and see if they're the love of my life.

ERIN: Ah good point, Zoe.

ZOE: ...Oh Tamim, that might be why the guy I did that with the other night hasn't texted me.

ERIN: Haha.

ZOE: I just hate feeling like I wasted a week of my life texting a guy, getting excited about him, and then meeting and he's a letdown. The more I talk to people the more I build them up in my head.

TAMIM: I try to text just enough that I can tell if they have a sense of humor or if they're like a gremlin human.

RACHEL: Yeah exactly.

ERIN: To Tamim's "stalking" point: Another weird thing is there’s very little info about the person on these profiles. What do you always find out before agreeing to meet up with someone?

RACHEL: I’ve learned this from Tamim: You NEED to view their social media accounts beforehand.

ZOE: I do a Facebook stalk.

RACHEL: To judge what kind of person they are. IT'LL TELL YOU.

ZOE: And a Google search

TAMIM: I need to find at least one or two social media profiles.

ERIN: Most of the apps don't give last names, though—what then?

ZOE: There are ways to find them.

RACHEL: Dating apps make you become a better stalker.

TAMIM: Google search doesn’t do much for me but you can usually use reverse engineering to find them on social media. If you have a first name and then one additional tidbit of information you can usually find them on Facebook. Like where they went to school or something like that.

RACHEL: It’s true. I've learned.

TAMIM: And if you really can't find anything, it's cool to ask [about social media]. I've done that before.

RACHEL: Twitter, though, can be a bad one. You can find out they're really passionate about defending R.Kelly or something.

ERIN: Nooooooo.


RACHEL: No haha, just saying it’s a possibility.

ERIN: Okay, final round...any other advice? Red flags, don’t-do-this warnings? Or success stories! (I'll have to figure out the over-40 stuff on my own, like why guys list their age as 45 but in their profile say, "I'm actually 25 but I love mature women." COME ON, DUDE.)


ERIN: A lot.

TAMIM: Omg the internet is a dark and scary place. I have a lot of weird red flags: 1) No pictures holding a fish.

ZOE: 2) No pictures with drugged tigers or other wildlife.

RACHEL: 3) No photos with guns.


RACHEL: 5) Mirror selfies are a NO. As are shirtless pics.

ERIN: Haha I have a mirror selfie! My shirt's on, though.

RACHEL: Haha ok that’s fine.

TAMIM: 6) Anyone that has “swipe left” somewhere in their bio. Like “if you do/don't smoke weed 420 swipe left.” I’m going to just swipe left either way because you're an ass.

ZOE: 7) Anyone who says they like specific body types.


ZOE: Sometimes I'll report those people.

TAMIM: 8) Anyone whose bio is too long.

ZOE: 9) Anyone who has ZERO information in their bio

RACHEL: 10) If their bio is super lame, like "I love to travel and have fun."

TAMIM: 11) Also if they mention things like “I have a great relationship with my mom,”
he either has an Oedipus complex or he's a misogynist.

ZOE: ^^ I would swipe right for "travel" and "have fun" guy. I like those things!

RACHEL: Depends on how he says it, though.

ERIN: I was gonna say, I'm in favor of travel, fun, and good mom relationships. Ultimately, you'll want a nice mother-in-law! But agree, Rachel, it could be HOW they're saying it.

TAMIM: I think if you're highlighting or pointing out that you have a good relationship with your mom, it means theres something weird going on. No one is looking at men's profiles and assuming they have bad relationships with their mothers.

ZOE: The more you do it, the more you start to recognize red flags and can read between the lines of a profile (aka after years of this we all now agree that guys with fish have gotta go).

ERIN: What IS the deal with fish? I don't get it.

TAMIM: The fish is some sort of penile compensating thing, I think. It's the opposite of BDE. It makes me think they have a Napoleon complex.


TAMIM: Yeah, fish pics are TDE.

ERIN: ??? Crazy. I never would've thought that. My impression of fish pics was: Does he think I'm going to gut that and cook it? NOPE.

ZOE: One more piece of advice!

ERIN: Yes!

ZOE: if you're feeling burned out on it, it's cool to take a break. It can get really emotionally exhausting and disheartening to cycle through all of these people, and stepping away can be really helpful to not feel like you're going to lose your mind.

ERIN: Yes, and it actually does lead to relationships, too?

RACHEL: Yep! I’ve been in a GREAT relationship since July with a guy i met on Bumble.

TAMIM: The only nice decent person I’ve ever dated was from Tinder.

ZOE: Oh! And one more piece of advice that I actually got from a guy I went on one date with (and is the reason why I say yes to most first dates). Instead of looking for every person you meet to be the perfect match, treat dates as an opportunity to learn something. Because really, when else in life do you get to sit uninterrupted across from a complete stranger and ask them anything you want? The stakes are zero—you never have to see each other again.

ERIN: Well, that's a perfect place to end things. Thank you again, you beautiful, brilliant dating goddesses. I so appreciate your help!!

Another piece of app intel, from dating-site data scientists: Sporty profile pics get more likes. So lace up those sneaks—and check out our picks for the best dating advice of the year.

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