What I Learned Working 5 Years as a Dating App Coach

Relationship Strategy
rangizzz/Shutterstock/Oren Aks/Thrillist
rangizzz/Shutterstock/Oren Aks/Thrillist

Name any group of individuals who may one day want to seek one another out for companionship and sex, and I guarantee there's already a dating site for them. Sea captains? Check. Morticians? Check. Bronies? You asked for it.

Actually, there are more than THREE THOUSAND dating sites and apps out there. Crazy, I know -- but consider yourself lucky if you can get away with having just OkCupid, Tinder, and Bumble on your phone. In my capacity as an online dating consultant, I receive endless notifications of godawful messages from some of the most godawful users across some of the most godawful dating apps ever conceived. All just to make your dating life better.

You're welcome.

I wish I had an easy answer for what it means to be an online dating consultant. Most of the time, it means I'm helping companies make their dating apps less shitty, or in the best-case scenario, I'm telling would-be founders to pick a different idea to work on. No, seriously, we don't need a 47th Tinder clone.

I also consult for individual daters who need help either getting into relationships, getting out of relationships, opening them up, and occasionally closing them again. As it turns out, relationships are pretty complicated.

Relationship Map
Franklin Veaux

But none of that really captures the magic of what I get to see on a daily basis. I want to show you some of the most elegant, beautiful, mesmerizing, and excruciatingly painful morsels that I've come across during my last five years as an online dating consultant.

And yes, before you ask, I actually get paid to do this.

Online dating is a messaging game

I see a lot of bad dating messages. Like, a lot a lot. So many that in 2011 I actually made a website dedicated entirely to those terrible messages. But it's not all bad! I also see a lot of GLORIOUS replies to the world's terrible messages. Some of the messages are so comically bad that they actually border upon, dare I say, poetic. Like this one, which I'm lifting from a FOUR-STANZA love poem:

The quivering wings of the winter ant
wait for lean winter to end.
I love you in slow, dim-witted ways,
hardly speaking, one or two words only.

Funny, interesting messaging is hard to find

For the sake of my work, I've had to try out literally hundreds of dating sites and apps. I've even had to attempt dating across apps that are definitely not intended for dating (sorry, Yelp!). Sometimes, it works out surprisingly well. Other times, it makes me want to repeatedly bash my head against a wall. I become irrationally excited when people send me their online-dating messages and date stories. Some individuals are just unbelievably talented when it comes to messaging. Here's an example of an emoji- and food pun-savvy friend of mine moving from Tinder to texting to meet-up to follow-up without missing a beat.

Emoji Texts
Steve Dean/Thrillist

Emoji game on point. But her food puns were the stuff of legend. My favorite of her's was this exchange she forwarded to me:

Her: I'm home.
Him: Me too :) I had an eggcellent time. Sleep well and we butter hang out spoon.
Her: Fork yeah. Sleep Sprite, donut let the bedbugs bite.
Him: I can't win this bottle. You're too eggspert. Too eggsperienced. Good night.
Her: I yam the food pun queen, after all. Buenos noches.

Creative asks in profiles yield better messages

In my years experimenting with different types of profile text, I've discovered that incorporating creative asks into your profile can lead to receiving much better messages. A profile without much text will likely result in some combination of boring, useless, and generic messages (or creepy ones, if you're female). Add in something fun and unusual -- like a request for a nerdy biology joke in the form of a haiku -- and you'll be surprised at how willing potential suitors are to let their creative sides shine.

The game is rigged with gender discrepancies

In my tenure, I've received fewer than 10 overtly sexual messages from non-spambot women. That's five years spent on more than 150 dating apps as a male user. Contrast that with one day in 2013 when I created a female profile on a dating app and received 100 messages in the first day, more than 25 of which were overtly sexual, and several of which made aggressively sexual/violent threats.

It's difficult to properly draw conclusions from these experiences, though. Are men more desiring of sex? Are men more willing/shameless about sending sexual messages? Maybe men are less at risk of having their sexuality exploited and therefore less aware of how threatening an overtly sexual/aggressive message can be perceived? Or (I dread the thought) maybe men have actually had success with such messages 1% of the time, and the resultant variable schedule of reinforcement is enough to reinforce and solidify this behavioral pattern? Thoughts?

Dating = social networking

Overall, my experience across so many dating apps has taught me one very important thing: the world of dating is increasingly fusing with the world of social networking. We log into our dating profiles using Facebook. These same dating profiles are now, in many cases, public in search engines. There are even live events dedicated to making fun of people who don't yet realize this new reality in which the things we say on the internet can get publicly rebroadcast in real time.

As a result, it behooves us all to be more aware of the day-to-day realities of interacting with one another in this modern, interconnected world. Yes, to a certain extent, this means being prepared for internet trolls and creepers. But for all practical purposes, a little authenticity and a sense of humor will go a long way.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Steve Dean is an online dating consultant, speaker, and digital matchmaker who writes about dating, relationships, and how to get connected to amazing jobs and careers. Help him help you at Date Working, connect with him on Patreon, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or follow him on Instagram and Twitter: @stevemdean.