by Molly McGinn

Let me guess. It goes something like this:
You install that new dating app. Kick it up and swipe. Flip through pics.
“Why is that dude posing with a gun?”
Swipe left. Swipe left.

“What’s with the trucker hats and duck lips (are duck lips still a thing)?”

Swipe. Swipe.

Swipe right. A match!

Then, they ghost. Or you ghost (you know you’ve done it). They use more emoticons than actual words, you say. They misspelled something. Or they just want to like, text. Forever. Ugh.

[pullquote]That’s a whole lot of newbies. And we’re still in the awkward phase.[/pullquote]You uninstall the apps. Put the phone down.

Spend the rest of the day hiding, on a Netflix binge.

Sound familiar?

Look — just because you use Instagram and can show your mom how to use that cool new Snapchat filter doesn’t mean you know how to app date. And there’s an uptick in app dating use.

“The share of 18- to 24-year-olds who use online dating has roughly tripled from 10 percent in 2013 to 27 percent today,” a recent online post from Pew says. “Today, 12 percent of 55- to 64-year olds report ever using an online dating site or mobile dating app versus only 6 percent in 2013.”

That’s whole a lot of newbies. And we’re still in that awkward phase according to Rebecca Newton, a Durham-based expert in online human behavior. But we’re getting better.

“Pretty soon, you’re going to have kids whose parents met on apps,” Newton said.

Until then, we need a little help. So this Valentine’s Day, we pulled together a few experts. A sex therapist. A relationship therapist. An online behavior expert. Plus, a few real-user tips from various genders and points of view.

Interestingly, no matter who we’re searching for, all of us in the app-dating community have some similar gripes. We want to be treated with kindness and respect. We don’t want to be confused about who you — the potential object of desire — really are. We want something real. Which begs the question: Why do so many people act a fool on these things? Who knows.

So reinstall Tinder, or Bumble, Scruff or whatever gets your groove on, and remind yourself, this isn’t about dating; it’s about joining the human race. Love isn’t a thing you lock down. It’s a thing you become.

Swipe.

THE APPS

If you’re gay, straight or queer, the old saying rings true: There’s an app for that.

Bumble

Just like Tinder, but made for women. Easily hackable for same-sex searches. Connects to your Spotify and Facebook accounts. When there’s a mutual match, women have 24 hours to make the first contact. The paid version has a bunch of nifty features, like time boosts allowing more time if that 24-hour period runs out.

HER

If you’re a lesbian and love trucker hats or duck lips, this fairly newish app for the LGBTQ community is more than just a photo gallery — it also shares articles and info about local meetups.

Jack’d

A dating app for gay men of color who want to find other men of color, and is a little more geared towards finding a relationship, rather than a hook-up.

OkCupid

A great option for a wide variety of seekers because it’s so customizable. Trans and poly couples like it for that reason.

Plenty of Fish

Sits somewhere between OkCupid and Tinder. For the folks who want a little more personality information than Tinder, but not as much as OkCupid, which features some pretty lengthy profile and personality questionnaires.

SCRUFF

The bear equivalent of Grindr. The founders set out to make it a safer experience for gay men travelling in countries where homosexuality is illegal and authorities used the apps to trap gay men.

Soul Swipe

Let’s not call it “black Tinder” because that sounds really ridiculous (even though that’s what everybody calls it).

Tinder

Every new dating app is some sort of Tinder copycat in terms of user experience. You can find thirsty singles within a certain mile radius, or if you travel a lot this is a great way to connect with people in the immediate area.

(Read more by clicking Page 2 below.)

THE EXPERTS

Practice Safe Sex

Rebecca Newton, expert in online behavior based in Durham

The online dating world is not much different from the offline dating world. Most of us are happy, positive, well-intentioned people looking for companionship or, perhaps, someone special. The good news is approximately 94-96 percent of online behavior is safe and “normal.”  And the okay news is 4-6 percent of “questionable” online behavior includes a wide range of potential to probable issues.

These issues range from completely innocuous trolling to sociopathic stalking. The not so good news is — online and offline — the percentage of high-risk behavior sits at about 2 percent of the population. In other words, the majority of people are well-meaning, good citizens on and offline. But that pesky, annoying 2 percent could make your life pretty uncomfortable.

Here’s a simple guide to staying safe online:

What would your grandmother do? Though offline etiquette isn’t what it once was, there’s a place (and great reason) for respecting the old dating rules. What happens online mirrors the offline world. What would you do face-to-face? Do the same in a virtual space.

Keep it public. Meet in a populated, safe, public place for your first few dates. Have your own transportation. Always tell a friend where you are and keep your phone on (and charged) during your date. Consider using the app Circle of 6.

Get to know them. Get to know someone before you tell them too much personal info. In particular, don’t disclose your place of work, your home address or neighborhood, your family member’s names or friends’ full names until you know who they are.

Time is on your side. We’re impatient to meet “the one,” but 2 percent of the online population will include predatory people. There’s no need to approach every person you meet as a predator, but take your time and pay attention. A balanced person will not push you or want to rush into a serious relationship.

Trust your gut. Most of us know when something doesn’t feel right. Pay attention and follow your gut feeling. It could save you a ton of problems later. On the brighter side, if your guts are happy, you could have a wonderful ride ahead of you!

Talk to your therapist

Candace Folden, therapist who teaches a nine-week course called “Becoming a Love Magnet” in Greensboro

It can be quite challenging to get a good read on someone from just a profile and, quite frankly, even after a few face-to-face dates. So how do you know you are not wasting your precious time going down a dead-end street?

Do their words and actions match?

I see people in my practice overlook this very simple question far too often. And I understand why. When we are attracted to someone, or believe there’s potential, we don’t want to see that there may be red flags. So we tend to ignore them, or excuse them.

If someone is consistently saying one thing and doing another, it’s a red flag to be sure! If they tell you they will call you by a certain time to make plans and they don’t, their words are not aligned with their actions.

Of course, people are human and may honestly forget or have a legitimate reason not to follow through. But if you observe a pattern of this behavior, reconsider investing any more of your awesomeness in them. What they are showing you is that they lack the self-respect to honor their word. And if they don’t respect themselves, they sure as heck won’t respect you.

Oversharing does not equal emotional intimacy

Look, we’ve all been there. You start talking to someone or maybe you are on your first date. The chemistry is there, and the conversation lasts for hours and hours. You discuss everything from your hopes and dreams to your childhoods and how many children you want. You both pour your hearts out to each other and reveal all your secrets because you know this other person is your soulmate, your kindred spirit, the one you have been waiting for all your life. Things are hot and heavy until they (most likely) crash and burn.

So what’s the problem? Real, sustainable relationships take time to develop (despite what Hollywood would have us believe). Your heart is a precious gift to be given to someone who will take exquisite, tender care of it. And you can’t know how someone will care for it after one or two exchanges. Very often, the only thing giving away too much of yourself too soon reveals is a lack of boundaries and an underlying desperation to connect to someone out of fear of being alone. Be leery of people who are overly self-revealing too quickly. And if that person is you?  Don’t beat yourself up. Commit to healing yourself so you can have the relationship you deeply desire.

Tom Murray, sex therapist in Greensboro

As a sex-positive sex therapist, I’m all for doodle-bopping! I encourage sex and support people to develop healthy sexual behaviors with themselves and other consenting adults. We yearn for skin-to-skin, sexual contact. Given a number of societal factors, dating/hook-up apps serve an important function for many people.

Occasionally, these encounters will lead into a longer-term relationship, but for many, this isn’t what’s wanted.

As a relationship expert, I see it all the time: Texting provides an artificial sense of intimacy with numerous implications. Keep in mind that 90 percent of communication is everything but the words. Humans rely on many other communication variables (such as tone, pitch, inflection) to collect information about the other. Phone calls and personal meetings can help you to make better decisions when finding that special someone.

Because of the total lack of context in apps, it’s easy to rely on fantasy to fill in the gaps. And because we want to be wanted and desired and because we want to be successful in our dating pursuits, we default to filling in the gaps with information that serves those purposes. You can’t help but to imagine that the person is the one for all of the reasons that your imagination has created.

Within the context of healthy, mutually consensual sexual encounters, people are encouraged to find what works for them while taking relevant precautions.

  1. In order to get a healthy dose of reality, it’s important to bite the bullet and get offline and into life. Meet the person sooner rather than later. If meeting for coffee isn’t an option, start with a phone call.

2. Tell someone what’s happening. Let them know where you’re going and with whom.

3. Don’t be shy to take self-defense classes. You might even meet a LTR (long term relationship) there.

4. Bring condoms in order to minimize the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

5. If something doesn’t feel right, leave. Go with your gut.

6. It’s okay to have a regular hook-up. It gets rid of the awkwardness of meeting someone new, while also supplying you with the sexual encounter that you want.

Andy Eversole, 37

Musician based in Greensboro

Looking for: Women

Favorite app: Tinder

First, I am so glad I didn’t find out about dating apps until my mid-thirties.  If this had been around in my twenties, that would have been a whole lot of trouble. Second, there is no substitute for learning the skill of approaching and talking to someone you are attracted to in public. The “crash and burn,” as well as the successful approach are both character builders.

  1. A simple, flattering profile picture of just you is important. Snapchat dog, crown or fairy filters look ridiculous. Genuine smiles or pictures snapped in mid belly laugh go a long way.

2. Converse. If we match, and I ask you a question, respond and ask a question of your own. If I have to ask too many questions to keep the conversation going, it feels more like an interrogation. No fun.

3. A drink at a bar or coffee/tea date is ideal to get to know each other. This feels much more relaxed and informal with not so much built in expectation.

4. Hold off on the “tell me more about yourself” questions until we meet. Some banter back and forth to get a vibe is great, then let’s meet up.

5. Offering to pay your share of the bill on the first date is gold. I will never let you do it, because it feels good to buy you a drink or two and enjoy the conversation. On the other hand, for the guys out there, if you can’t afford to buy a couple of drinks for your date, then you shouldn’t be dating. You should be working.

(Read more by clicking Page 3 below.)

Karen Sommerfeld, 51

Writer in Greensboro

Looking for: Men

Favorite apps: OKCupid and Bumble

One thing I like about online dating is it’s so efficient. You can be trolling for men while cleaning your oven — your profile is out there all the time, so it’s like you’ve actually left the house!

I have never cleaned my oven.

Having been on these sites on and off for five years now, there are a few things I enjoy about the men online, and some I don’t.

  1. Do actually provide detail in your profile. “Want to know, just ask” is so off-putting. We’re on a dating site. That implies that we’re asking about you. Just tell a little about what you like to do on weekends or what’s important to you in this world so I can get a handle on whether I can handle you.

2. Go ahead and have a little personality in your photos. It’s always a selling point with me. I beg you, no bathroom mirror or front seat of your car shots. Or the gym selfie. Just don’t.

3. When you write me, a reference to my profile to show you’ve read it goes a long way.

4. When you write me, a reference to sex goes a long way… towards me never, ever giving you a chance.

5. Whenever you write that you’re looking for a woman who “takes care of herself,” I assume you mean desperately perfect and I will never write you.

Emil Eichelberger, 25

Social worker in Winston-Salem

Looking for: Open

Favorite apps: Tinder and OkCupid

Being trans and dating apps/sites don’t always go hand-in-hand simply because (up until recently) a lot dating apps hadn’t taken into consideration the vast number of genders and sexualities that exist in the world. I have had both positive and negative experiences being trans and trying to navigate online dating.

If I could pass along advice to anyone who is not trans but is also not closed off the idea of meeting trans folks via dating apps, it would be the following:

  1. Don’t assume. Making assumptions about a person’s gender or sexuality can kill a conversation quick.

2. There is a fine line between curiosity and rudeness. Before proceeding, if you’re not sure, ask yourself, “Would I ever ask someone who is not trans this question?”

3. Be respectful. Asking simple questions such as, “What pronouns do you use?” is a good place to start.

4. It’s okay to want to learn, but not every trans person on a dating site or app is there to be an educator.

5. Finally, and above all else, keep an open mind.

Neferte King, 24

Writer, Greensboro

Looking for: Men

Favorite app: OkCupid

I’ve been online dating for about three months now. At a bar, sometimes it’s just awkward trying to strike up a conversation with a stranger that you’re attracted to. Then you catch yourself playing eye games with them to see if they’re mutually interested.

Online dating gives me buffer time to think about how to approach someone and an idea of the type of person they might be based off of their profile. I’ve met some studs, some duds and some studs that turned out to be beautifully packaged duds. Even though my biggest challenge has been weeding through guys and their intentions, I have had an easier time finding potential dates. Sometimes it can be just as frustrating as dating in the real world, but it can also be weirdly entertaining.

Here are some tips:

  1. Be engaging. Act like you’re interested. Ask me questions about myself, answer the questions I ask you, and try to find common ground between us. Give me something to respond to without it all being about you.

2. Stop calling women “beautiful” or “sexy.” Be polite. Ask me what my name is and call me that instead of corny pet names. Do not start a conversation with, “Hey sexy, how are you?” And if we’re of different races do not ask me to be your “(insert ethnicity) Queen.” Being excessively flirty is tacky and annoying.

3. Use an unconventional opening line to make it fun. Instead of the usual “hello,” say something quirky! Or ask a curious question. It’ll break the ice and I’ll be more willing to let me guard down and talk.

4. Do not ask for more pictures. If I already have a few pictures on my profile and they’re all visibly clear, do not ask me for more pictures. Try to get to know me first, and be patient. Maybe we’ll meet in person one day.

5. If you land a date, don’t be late. You’ve been talking to a chick for a couple of weeks and now you figure you should meet face to face. Awesome. Just don’t be late. Furthermore, look and smell clean. Make sure your hair and beard are neat. First impressions are important.

LaBorris Poole, 26

Banker in Greensboro

Searching for: Women

Favorite App: Plenty Of Fish

I’ve had my share of good and bad experiences with online dating. Not really bad experiences such as being on an episode of “Catfish” (thank God) or being bamboozled out of money. So maybe the word “bad” isn’t a good word for it. More like annoying or frustrating. Yeah, those words fit better. So personally, here are five tips I suggest to women for online dating.

  1. Having an attractive profile picture of yourself is great… but can it be of only you? I’ve stumbled across many profiles with group pictures. Multiple pictures. Which one are you? Doing that could mean that you’re not only advertising yourself — but also your friends — on your profile.

2. Engage in conversation, especially if we match. I hate forcing a conversation because I’m the only one asking questions, actually trying to get to know you a little better. Communication is key for any type of relationship. Show me you’re just as interested in me as I am in you.

3. Keep it real. I say this because you shouldn’t feel forced to respond to every message a guy sends you. It’s okay to not be interested in a guy, and it’s also okay to tell him that. Politely tell the guy that. If he still insists on bombarding you with messages, make the “Block” button your best friend.

4. Please, please use correct grammar. I’m not saying you need to use APA or MLA format while typing, but hey, we are all grown here. Misspelling words and abbreviations is so elementary. $pellin w0RdS lyke dis iis veryy [email protected]’ n a HugE TURNOFF! (See?)

5. Have fun! Enjoy it; meet new people. There’s nothing wrong with casual dating. Don’t take it too seriously or for a joke. Weigh out the pros and cons. Most importantly, be patient.

Rakeem Person, 27

Founder of OnlyOneVoice, a consulting service for writers and performers Searching for: men (but he’s in a relationship now)

Favorite app: Jack’d

I’ve been online dating for about six years. Sometimes they became long-term relationships or a short series of emotional roller coasters. I was never big on random hookups with people I had no intention of dating. Nine times out of 10 there was the glimmer of possibility for a real relationship. The problem was always around communication; being both open to honesty and actually telling me the real, instead of forcing me to draw conclusions based on a series of questionable events. I’ve been in a beautiful relationship for over three years now, and we met on Instagram. I was just looking for a friend and I got an excellent one, plus so much more.

  1. Stop asking if I want to chill, dude. I know what that means. And you do, too. Say what you really mean or have a good day.

2. Compliments are nice, but in excess it just begins to feel a little desperate, especially if there is no real conversation between the “You have sexy lips” vomits.

3. Exchange numbers only if you have had a real connection with the cutie that caught your eye.

4. If you’re just looking for a hook up, be honest. I’ll figure it out anyway. You aren’t as clever as you think.

5. Once you have my number, and the chemistry is sparking, go ahead and ask me on a date. Something simple. Yogurt bar. Coffee. Park. Any place you can actually get to know someone.

Molly McGinn is a writer and musician in Greensboro. She’s 42. Her favorite dating app is Bumble.

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