Dating can be a bit like shopping: You try on potential partners to determine if the fit is right, if you complement one another, and whether to invest. Also like dating, singles have to figure out where they’re going to do their shopping — but instead of weighing the pros and cons of the mall, online shopping, and thrift stores, daters are choosing from options like apps, matchmakers, and social events.
Instead of diving headfirst into every available dating route, below you’ll find experts and happily-coupled folks offering insight and advice about the intricacies of each option, based on your routines, preferences, and personalities. “It’s more about what does your actual life allow for,” says the Queer Dating Coach Ariella Serur, “and how can you meet people honoring what your life actually allows for.”
Perhaps the most accessible form of dating, apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, OkCupid, Grindr, and Match give daters a pool of nearby singles whose profiles are open to peruse. Thanks to life during lockdown, they have become incredibly popular as a means of meeting new people from afar.
The key to dating apps, says Edna Zhou, a 32-year-old who met her partner on Hinge, is to avoid thinking about every chat or meetup as a “partner audition” and rather as an opportunity to find someone new and potentially exciting. During a 48-hour trip to Chicago three years ago, Zhou went on a last-minute Hinge date before her flight to Denver. The date went so well he met her again the following weekend, and they’ve been together ever since.
“If you are the type of person who is really curious about other people and, like, loves chatting to strangers at the bar or on Twitter, then you’d be better suited for the work that dating apps take,” Zhou says. “But also, I think it requires people who are more sure of themselves and what they want, because people can definitely be awful or misrepresent themselves, and if you’re not in a place where you don’t take those interactions personally, it can really wear you down.”
Serur says a good portion of her clients feel burned out from dating apps, thanks to ghosting, lack of follow-through, misalignment of values, and homophobia and transphobia. If the apps are painful for you, delete your profiles and focus on another route for finding a date.
A bar, a concert, a rec league sports team, a volunteer group — anywhere people congregate is fair game for finding a date. Sure, there’s a level of boldness that comes with approaching a stranger, but it’s a viable route if you’re a person who frequently finds themselves in social situations where you’re constantly chatting up new people, Serur says.
Stacy Fernandez, 24, needed a loving push from her friend — literally and figuratively — in 2018 when she first spotted her now-boyfriend, Ramon, across the room at a rooftop club in Brazil. But her extroversion paid off: Although she was dating someone else at the time, Fernandez kept in touch with Ramon, and they eventually got together earlier this year. Meeting in person, she says, quickly gave her a sense of Ramon’s personality.
“I’ve done plenty of online dating — not that online dating is bad, but you have this back-and-forth, this cat-and-mouse thing, for a week or two weeks where you’re talking and you’re trying to get their vibe,” Fernandez says. “Meeting in person cuts out that one-week, two-week thing and the whole, Will I actually vibe with them in real life? It answers that question immediately.”
Work Or School
Perhaps your schedule doesn’t allow for much in the way of social events, or maybe you just moved and don’t have a solid network in your new city. You can still find romance with those you do regularly interact with at work or school.
Of course, power dynamics are at play in these scenarios, and you should tread lightly if a bad date or breakup would create tension. For work situations, first scour your employee handbook to see if interoffice relationships are permitted. Although it may be tricky to truly determine whether your colleague has a crush on you, take a close look at their social cues, only ask them out once, and be clear there is no pressure to date you. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to avoid pursuing your boss or any direct reports — and at the end of the day, if splitting up would derail your career path or force you to leave your dream job, it’s best to keep romance out of the office.
Having a set day (or days) and time for when you’ll see each other makes these situations great for getting to know someone before asking them out, says 23-year-old Erin Dickson, who met her partner in class on her first day of college. You’re also in the position to see how they interact with others and solve problems — all good things to know before dating someone.
Friends & Family
The people who know you best are uniquely suited to mine their own networks for potential dates. This route is ideal for those who may find the idea of approaching a stranger in a bar daunting and hold their friends’ opinions in high regard.
Serur advises letting your inner circle know you’re looking to date, explain the qualities and/or dating situation you’re looking for (casual, serious relationship, etc.), and telling them it’s OK to set you up. However, it’s important to be intentional with which groups of people you’re targeting for a setup. “Friends and family could work for some folks, but in my circles, working with queer clients, what if you don’t have a lot of queer friends? It’s not super likely that your straight friends will set you up with a queer person,” Serur says.
For a professional setup, consider a matchmaker. Although all matchmakers have their own approach and process, they’ll often work with clients who are seriously looking for a long-term relationship and will connect them with other clients who share similar values and traits. Depending on where you live, the market for singles may not be as robust as matchmaking reality shows would have you believe, says matchmaker Jasmine Diaz, so it’s important to be patient.
Matchmaking is a longer-term commitment — Diaz says she works with clients for six months to a year — and singles must be comfortable stepping into the unknown and relinquishing some control when it comes to their dating life. “Essentially what you’re doing is outsourcing this area of your life to someone who knows more,” Diaz says. “I definitely think a person who is ideal for this is absolutely in a space to receive good information and insight.”
For the extremely online, digital communities can be just as rife with connections as IRL ones. Finding a date on social media is as easy as sliding into someone’s DMs, and while the practice sometimes gets a bad rap, messaging a mutual on Instagram — crucially, someone whom you actually have rapport with — can be an effective way to break the ice. “You might have more data to send a DM to someone who you’ve been following on Instagram to connect with them further than the data you’d have seeing a stranger and you want to go up to them,” Serur says.
According to John Romano, 43, who met his wife of 12 years on Myspace in 2005 (yes, they were in each other’s Top 8), finding a date on social media allows you to learn more about the person’s mutual friends, interests, and communication style. Any personality type can find success on social media, he says. “I know it sounds strange to think of, but talking through messaging can be much less apprehensive than going to a bar and trying to work up the courage to talk to someone,” Romano says. “The key is to be honest about who you are online so that you’re not creating a persona that doesn’t exist in the real world.”
Whatever route you choose, remember to remain authentic to yourself and to have fun. “Create a dating life that can be sustainable and enjoyable for yourself, especially if you are someone who is looking for a relationship,” Serur says. “If any of these methods are painful for you, don’t do that.”