Culture

A Matchmaker's Guide to Instagram Dating

A Helpful Primer on Thirst Traps, Deep Likes and Sliding into Your Crush's DMs

By Cora Boyd ·
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You may not believe me, but here's the truth: Instagram is the new Tinder.  

The New York Times has declared that the social media giant has transcended its status as a mere photo sharing app and now functions as an unofficial dating platform as well. Don’t trust this bit of “fake” news? Take it from Jessica, a 24-year-old New Yorker, whose current beau approached her at the restaurant where she works, asked for her Instagram handle and then retreated to the bathroom where he slid into her DMs, in order to tell her she looked like a famous person.

Why this sultry man opted to deliver his opener via DM instead of in person is a question we may never resolve. But his choice illustrates how Instagram works as a bridge between dating apps and in-person meetings, a sort of virtual safety net that pads the abrasive possibility of hitting on someone and getting rejected.

"I think it’s a way more effective way to get dates than Tinder," Jessica says, "because an Instagram account gives a much better idea of the person up front than a dating profile. Your interest and attraction is actually based on something going into the date, so it all feels more deliberate."

She continues: "I once went on a Tinder date with this guy and it went great. We followed each other on Insta after, but when he started watching my stories, he stopped responding to my texts. I warned him I was extra when we met! If we had connected through Instagram instead of Tinder, we wouldn’t have wasted that time."

The moral being: If you can’t handle the heat, don’t go into the kitchen in the first place.  

Like Jessica, Mike, a 25-year-old fitness influencer, has deleted his dating apps because he prefers getting dates on Instagram. (He is currently on a temporary Instagram detox, but “might slide into my DMs when he reactivates.") Mike mostly connects with women outside of his network through a combination of sliding into the DMs of intriguing women with similar interests to him, and receiving DMs commending him on his sick parkour videos.  

Mike is an anomaly in his ability to consistently convert “cold call DMs” to strangers into IRL dates (which can probably be attributed to said sick parkour videos). While this can and does happen, the odds of a DM resulting in more than just a shout into the void are far higher when you at least vaguely know your DM-ee.

Whether it be a former kind-of-flame, a friend of a friend or that guy with the hella-good hair from art history class you shared a few deep-cut Botero jokes with five years ago, Instagram keeps anyone who has intrigued you on your radar, and vice versa.

So you want to venture into some ‘gram dating?  You want to spark a dormant crush, or maybe meet some random ass drummer who doesn’t even live in your city for a tryst in Tuscaloosa (something I have definitely never done)?  

Here are a few best practices.

First, look inviting. Take a gander at your account. If you look at all capable of homicide, or if your main picture is a blurry close up of a bloodshot eyeball, change it. It doesn’t matter if you’re just really into Korn: if you’re going to do some rando DM-ing, set your profile to public. No one will respond if they can’t tell who you are.  

Next, embrace the long game and start building Insta-rapport with your person (or persons) of interest. Think of Instagram as a middle school sock hop, a space for you to engage in an ongoing dance of digital flirting, punctuated by deep likes (when you like someone’s photo from months or even years ago, as an indicator of interest), thirst traps (when you post a cute selfie or piece of content with the specific intention of eliciting a response from your Insta-crush) DM sliding and sweat droplet emojis. The general moves are already there, and things might get a little awkward, but it’s up to you to put your personal flare on the choreography and see what works.

When it comes to the pivotal DM slide, it’s all about how you hit it. Avoid opening with a comment on physical appearance. Instead, try offering a specific and substantive comment on something they’ve just posted, or ask a question that might be engaging to them based on their interests. In short, treat your person of interest like a person of interest.

And finally, don’t overthink it—just say something. Maybe they’ll be totally flattered; maybe they just won’t respond. But you won’t know unless you slide, and when it comes to claiming agency in your dating life, doing something is better than doing nothing.

What’s unique about Instagram as a dating tool is that it supplements and complements real life relationships while also providing the opportunity to connect with new people—via who we follow and the hashtags and locations we search and use—who may share your interests and aspirations. Ironically, Instagram dating is often about more than just looks. Without the security of the mutual match, Instagram rescues the exciting uncertainty that the you’re-here-I’m-here-we-matched-yolo dating app culture has robbed us of. It requires that we put in just a little more effort, that we take just a little bit more of a risk and give just a little bit more of a fuck.

Leveraging Instagram to enhance introductions we’ve made IRL and to make new online connections that are more organic than a swipe has the potential to reignite the fun and the humanity in a digital dating scene that often feels stale, scripted and impersonal. Yes, Instagram is a two-dimensional photoshopped highlight reel of people’s lives. Yes, it’s a curated illusion. But dream with me, people: I’m here. You’re here. Yolo. It’s better than Tinder. And isn’t it all just an illusion?  

Cora Boyd is a matchmaker, dating coach, and writer. Follow her antics on Instagram.

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