Ask Gen Z

Gen Z Tells Us How To Avoid Becoming A Dating App Pen Pal

“Switch immediately to a plan.”

Sarah Janetti next to an "Ask Gen Z" text sign
Courtesy of Sarah Janetti; d3sign/Getty Images

In Ask Gen Z, youngs answer our burning millennial questions about internet culture, dating, and what's actually cool right now. Here, Sarah Jannetti (she/her), 22, of the viral Clubhouse NYU Girls Roasting Tech Guys, talks how to *actually* meet up with someone from a dating app and if group dates are ever a good idea.

So, a few weeks ago you matched with a total hottie. They had multiple well-lit, single-person, non-selfie photos, a cute and decisively non-cringey bio, and an age/height/location ratio that worked in your favor. In short, you found a winner. Now, all you have to do is… well, meet them.

According to a 2021 Hinge survey of 2,000 global Hinge users, 51% of singles are currently experiencing FODA or “fear of dating again” following quarantine. After sitting alone in your bedroom for months and making bread for fun, it’s natural to be nervous about putting on an actual outfit and meeting up with an internet person for coffee. So nerve-racking, in fact, you may find yourself texting them for an elongated period of time to put off actually meeting up.

That’s where Sarah Jannetti comes in. One of the hosts of the viral Clubhouse “bar simulations” NYU Girls Roasting Tech Guys, Jannetti helps singles connect with each other over the web. With seven of her besties-slash-co-hosts in tow, Jannetti’s a pro at pumping up nervous people and planning fun, casual first dates.

“Meeting somebody in a context where you feel comfortable and you’ve thought about what you need is really important,” Jannetti tells Bustle. “What you need is not what everyone else needs, so it’s important to self-evaluate and be self-aware.”

For Jannetti, dating is all about the process. You don’t need to stress out about what your friends will think or what will happen four months from now — you just have to go out and try to have fun.

“Any time you go on a date, it’s a good experience, whether or not it’s a ‘success’ story,” she says. “You learn something about yourself and the way you interact with other people.”

And if you’re struggling to bring a new connection from apps to IRL, Jannetti has all the tips you need.

Can you establish early on that you want to meet up with someone?

The more time you’re talking to someone before making a plan to meet up, the chances you don’t end up meeting increase drastically. Most of my friends prefer to have a little bit of small talk, make sure the person can banter a little bit, then switch immediately to a plan. That’s the best way.

Some people just want to talk. Some people are definitely on dating apps for attention and validation. But if your goal is to meet someone, why not start that process as soon as possible?

Tips on locking down a first date?

Have a prompt that’s [easy to respond to] — “I know the best place in the city for...Tacos,” or something. Then if somebody thinks you’re cute, they’re definitely going to say, “Show me where the best taco place is!”

Another thing, if you have something that’s kind of crazy or outrageous as an answer to a prompt when somebody asks you about it, you can say, “Let’s discuss over drinks,’ or ‘I’m usually better talking about this after a margarita.” It’s a fun and flirty way to transition from the conversation to meeting in person.

And then you have a great first date topic too, if it gets silent you can say, “Wait, so we met because we wanted to talk about this thing.”

How many chances do you give someone to change or cancel plans for the first date?

The first date would be once for me. Maybe twice if it was like the craziest scenario, like they had a family emergency. It’s all about the apology and the reason they give you behind canceling. They have to suggest another time or give you their availability.

The work thing I absolutely hate. You’re not going to get hit with a project an hour before the date, and if you are, well, I don’t want to be dating somebody like that.

Respect is given through information. If you can be as upfront with somebody at the beginning of the date about your time expectations, that’s all the respect you can ask for or give.

Is it ghosting if you’ve never met someone in person? If you’ve been texting someone, but you realize you don’t want to go out, how do you end it?

Probably just fizzle it out. I don’t think you can send an anti-ghosting text or sentiment if you haven’t met them in person yet. Or you could say like, “Hey it’s been really fun talking to you, but I honestly don’t have the time to talk to somebody right now,” or “I’m getting more of a friend vibe from our conversation.”

Do you suggest a pre-date FaceTime?

I like a pre-date call. I feel like with FaceTime you’re staring at each other, or you’re starting at yourself, and you don’t get the click that you need. It can be a little awkward.

Because I created this room on Clubhouse, where we were having people meeting IRL over audio, I feel like I’m more inclined to meet somebody in that way. You can learn so much more about them, talking in 30 seconds, than you can in a couple of premeditated texts. It’s interesting how my opinion on that has changed, but just in hearing their voice or seeing how they organically chat, you’ll be able to get a good read on how you’ll banter.

I one time had a phone call with a person who I was going to go on a first date with, and we talked for two and half hours on the phone. Then our first date was really nice because we had talked before and knew each other, and it wasn’t super weird.

What are some good, easy first date ideas when you’re meeting someone for the first time?

My best first dates are during the day. It takes a lot of pressure off of the date. Getting coffee with somebody is a really cute first date, or getting brunch. Then you can easily go walk around afterward and it’s not weird, and you don’t feel as much pressure, like, “OK, it’s night time, are we going to kiss in the street?” or whatever.

Any big-time first date no-no’s?

It all depends on the person. I’ve had great first dates where I overshare, but they also overshare. I think on a first date saying, “Want to go meet up with my friends?” is a bad idea — it shows they weren’t 100% committed to you for the night, like they had plans after.

Perfect segue, what do you think about group settings for first dates?

This is a great question for me because one of the other NYU Girls and I set up a double-dating Hinge profile. We went on a couple of dates a week, and we met tons of people and had a really nice time. But we did not have a single romantic relationship in the end. I don’t think either of us even kissed or had a second date with anyone. It was too friendly.

There’s a big difference too between someone you’re talking to on an app inviting you to their friends’ party versus thinking you’re going on a one-on-one date, and then being hit with the friend pivot.

If they’re like, “Hey do you want to come to this party?” you can say, “Is it cool if I bring a friend with me?”And that way you’re in a way more comfortable setting, and you’re not surprised.

Inviting someone you’ve been talking to on an app to a party actually sounds like it could be cute.

It depends on the person. Somebody can make you feel really special in a crowd and others can’t. It’s one of the more important things to not only give you attention, but to give attention to your friends, and show genuine interest in getting to meet them. That’s the best litmus test.

My friends hated my ex, so now I like to bring people around my friends as soon as possible so they can evaluate.

When do you get a vibe check on a new person from your friends?

Before a first date, I would maybe ask my friends that are yes-men about it. A first date is so low-lift, I don’t think people should put so much thought into finding the perfect person or asking their friends about them.

The pressure on first dates has to be loosened. It’s fun to meet new people, and most of the time it’s a confidence booster.

What’s the proper amount of creeping on someone before your first date?

I always look at somebody’s Instagram, knowing friends who you have in common is really important. Creeping on someone’s friends and their exes, that’s a little too much. First name, last name, and Instagram is all you need.

If you don’t know their last name, and they give you their phone number, my friends and I use this website called Spy Dialer where we will reverse-lookup their phone number to find out what their full name is so we can then find them on social media. If they don’t have an Instagram, that’s a green flag. That’s great.

Is there any coming back from sending your date screenshots of your conversation or their dating app profile that you meant to send a friend?

Definitely. I love owning a mistake. If you can show a little humor and self-deprecation, somebody will respect you so much more than if you try to make up a weird lie about it.

Make fun of yourself and acknowledge it. “Well now you know I’m into you, oops, lol.” You just have to be confident in that scenario. It’s fine. Just make it funny and cute.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.