Dear Frances: How do I use dating apps?

Some students at Duke who are frustrated with the on-campus dating scene might use online dating service, like Grindr.
Some students at Duke who are frustrated with the on-campus dating scene might use online dating service, like Grindr.

Dear Frances,

I am a senior #Prattstar at Duke. I haven't really dated seriously before, and have found that school and friends have taken up most of my undergraduate experience. I want to get some dating experience before I graduate, or maybe even meet someone really special. This week, I finally downloaded a dating app, but I don't actually know how to use it. Help?

-Clueless Casanova

Dear Clueless,

Dating apps have become an undeniable part of the social landscape for horny and/or lonely young people. If you don't have a profile but want one, here’s what your mom didn’t tell you about how to navigate our brave new dating world.

Because I started my Chronicle career as an actual journalist—how far we’ve fallen—I would like you to know that I thoroughly investigated your question. Not only did I ask not one, not two but three of my friends how they would advise you, I also (re-)downloaded Tinder, Bumble AND Her. I am nothing if not committed. And as someone who has dated people—in real life—of multiple genders and across multiple dating apps, I am qualified to answer your question.

First: setting up your profile. Be yourself! Oh, but avoid selfies, because having a photo taken by someone else suggests that you have at least one friend or family member, which is an attractive quality. And don't write too much in the bio section. But don't write nothing. I like to just put a joke about myself in the profile, and that’s worked out fine. Keep in mind that, especially at a school as small as Duke, people you know in real life are going to see your profile, so don’t put anything that would embarrass you when you look up from your phone and make eye contact with a classmate you just swiped left on. Then again, dating is inherently embarrassing! It just is, and that's fine! Admitting that you want something, even by downloading a stupid app or four, is an act of vulnerability, and vulnerability, especially at Duke, can feel silly and embarrassing at times. But that's life! We never stop wanting!

Now, on to the top four apps: Tinder, Bumble, Her, and Grindr.

Tinder: Tinder is probably the most widely-used dating app among college students. You have the option to "swipe right" for yes, "swipe right" for no, or swipe up to "Super-Like" someone; pushing yourself to the front of someone else's deck of profiles and giving yourself a little blue star when you appear to them. Avoid "super liking" strangers; it comes off a little strong. On the other hand, don’t play it too safe either. One of my friends said that if you see someone you know and you're interested, always swipe right because you can't lose: if they swipe left then they don't know you've swiped right, but if they swipe right then you both have. This is apparently "the game theory trick stag hunt"… or something. I argue that the discomfort and ennui of seeing them in person after neither of you message each other for three days is a definite possible loss, but if you have a stronger stomach for that type of thing: there are no possible downsides. The stakes here are really quite low!  And remember, we're leaning in to discomfort and vulnerability! (Just not too much!)

Bumble: Bumble is kind of the same as Tinder in that you “swipe right” for yes and “swipe left” for no, but with the added gimmick that matches disappear if no one messages within 24 hours. This is supposed to get you past the discomfort of who’s going to message first and encourage you to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak, but I think in reality it leads to a lot of expired matches and an inbox filled with hollow questions or just “hey!” The same rules still apply: message if you’re interested, ask them a question, or comment on the interests in their profile. Avoid leaving it at “hey!” or “hi!” or, worse, something gross.

Her: Her is like Tinder but with a more challenging user interface, and also there are no men. Tradeoffs! If you don’t have a cat as one of your photos, you probably need to find one, otherwise no one will message you. Queer women love to talk about their cats, or yours. This is not a euphemism. Ask her about astrology, maybe?

Grindr: Grindr is mainly geared toward gay and bisexual men, so I had to phone a friend for this one. Every single person on Grindr is braver than I am, because Grindr gives you no option to sort or filter whose profiles you can see, or who can see you. This means there are a lot of anonymous profiles, with pictures of just men’s chests, or like, a sunset. I asked my friend, a star Grindr user, his advice for people thinking about downloading it, and it was: “1) don’t do it. 2) don’t do it. 3) but if you wanna get laid, do it.” In that order. Do with that what you will!

Despite the differences in color schemes across these apps, I think my friend on Grindr has landed on a truth that unites all of us, queer and straight. The great equalizer: dating apps make us feel a little terrible.

Ultimately, I can’t think of anyone who has established a meaningful, lasting connection with another person through a dating app. Actually, I wrote this and then one of my fellow editors said he met his last two girlfriends on Tinder... but it remains to be seen how the current one is going to work out. 

It’s almost as though the gamification of our unending, lifelong search for an intimacy that will finally make us whole leads to no actual increased fulfillment, only the illusion of increased choice and possibility as we infinitely swipe and scroll through a never-ending stream of hopeful faces like our own. 

So, sure, download the app(s), but keep your expectations low and communicate clearly. Maybe go outside, instead? I suspect most meaningful connections will always occur through knowing someone as a three-dimensional human being first, and as a potential romantic or sexual interest second—then again, that's no fun at all!

However you decide to begin to date, in life, as on Tinder, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and be honest about what you don't, but be prepared to accept rejection gracefully. Be kind; recall that there is a real person on the other side of the screen (I mean, unless it’s a catfish or a bot. Don’t send any money.) And be safe!

Frances Beroset is a Trinity senior and the editorial page editor. Her advice column runs whenever you ask a good question. Email her at so she doesn't have to make up questions based on fragmented Facebook messages from friends next time.


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