The A-Z of Dating in the Digital Age

From URL to IRL: a foolproof guide to living and loving on the apps

Words (+ experiences): Rosie Goddard, Sabrina Scott and Max Lazarus | Illustrations: Lucy Rose Currie

Aaaaah February, the month of love: a time for couples to over analyse the actions of their significant others, and for those of us without significant others to over analyse the life choices that have led us to this point. 

What better way for us to celebrate than by delving into one of the 21st century's most noteworthy creations: the dating app. With Bumble, Grindr, Tinder and Hinge replacing 'real life' as the meeting point for millenials, it only makes sense that we, the experts, put together a toolkit to help you navigate the new minefield of social norms, nuances and appropriate online-to-offline etiquette so that you too can find true love. 

Disclaimer: all screenshots are our own, and have been kept anonymous because obviously shaming isn't cool.

(If you're reading this because we matched on an app and you're running a background check… it was nice knowing you.)

Let's get started!

You've moved the conversation onto WhatsApp but the problem is, you're suffering from massive pre/post-date overanalysis syndrome, and this stranger's name is now lingering in one of 2019's most sacred spaces. Our solution to this? Archive that conversation. Not only will this built-in feature work wonders for your peace of mind, it acts as solid security to ensure you don't send the 732 screenshots (taken for your friends) back to the subject. When they message you again, the chat will instantly reappear. Sorted.

B is for Batting Average

Odds are that only 1 in 10 swipes are going to be a match, so get off your high horse and get swiping. Fact is, your pool of potential partners come from the people you can start conversations with, so what are you doing being selective at this stage in the game?

C is for Crickets

Noun. Another term for an unexpected, deathly silence mid-conversation, accompanied by the sound crickets. Both url and irl.

You've hit them with a banging line (or a bit of risky maneuver), and either way you're expecting an immediate reaction. Stress is at an all time high, and you find yourself languishing the arctic silence that follows pressing 'Send'.

Whether that period last 5 seconds, 5 hours, or forever, you're hearing crickets. Sometimes these moments pass and sometimes, these things just aren't meant to be, so accept those crickets and move on. It isn't necessarily over though: refer to, 'D is for Double Text'.

C is also for Catfish

Catfish doesn't only describe when the person on the other end doesn't exist, it's also for when your match is totally misrepresenting themselves. Using photos from 2010, back when they were peaking and not disclosing the face tattoo or the corn-rowed chest hair.

A Double Text is when you send a message or reply to one, you don't get a response, and then you send another message or try to strike up another conversation.

It's time to read the room – this interaction just wasn't meant to be. Conversely when the other person does it, you will feel a fleeting surge of power – enjoy this while it lasts.

We know what you're dying to ask: if I don't get a response does this mean I write this person off for good? Most of the time, yes, but we all have those moments when we're not ready to let something go. If you want to send a DT, be warned that you might be filled with instant regret. Therefore to lessen the shame, we suggest a noncommittal nudge: something that implies you're keen to carry on the conversation without revealing too much of your crazy. Try going for something like: "I miss what we had". It's light, self aware and works every time. Ok fine it worked once. Refer back to 'C is for Crickets'.

As in, never use them. It's too much, too interested, too keen, too hectic. Are any emojis appropriate ever? Only if you're a dad.

The same goes for punctuation. Absolutely no full stops; commas are for literal psychos; a question mark is basically a marriage proposal and exclamations – well now we're entering stalker territory. Backspace them all immediately. Your goal here is to appear effortless and nonchalant, as if you just happened to stumble across their message and took 2.5 seconds to reply. They don't need to know that you've actually been consulting your subcommittee for the past few hours and have workshopped at least three different responses to 'Hey, how u' in your drafts. 

(A note on drafts: 2 out of 3 writers suggest a draft before typing live into the actual chat. 1 out of 3 writers thought that this was genuinely batshit behaviour and what's wrong with sincerity but now also realises why this whole Tinder thing hasn't been working for him.)

Ultimately, emojis and punctuation are all or nothing, and by the same token you have to type in a way that feels authentic to you. For our only approved version of emoji usage, reference the above image – an emoji-only conversation had by one of our writers for a period of a month until she decided she absolutely did not want to meet. Not a single word was exchanged. 

Sabrina Scott top tip: "I like to throw in a couple of spelling mistakes to suggest that my message was very spontaneous. Of the moment, if you will."

F is for First Date

Congratulations – you're off the apps and you're going to meet face to face. Such an important step. Welcome to Stress City: the less prosperous sister metropolis to Smooch City. Now where to go and what to do. Don't do dinner and don't do movies (this is wasted money on what could potentially be wasted time). Go somewhere social with enough ambiance to facilitate some flirty banter but far enough from your beaten track so that you don't bump into anyone you know. 

When it comes to paying, we're big fans of splitting the bill. No power struggles today thank you very much. Some girls see a guy not willing to cover the bill as a deal-breaker, and each to their own. Luckily that's what financial analysts are for. 

A good first date doesn't necessarily mean smooching, but rather quality time spent with min awkwardness, and with a human who is not a financial analyst. If it went over 2 hours, then odds are the date went well. Don't stress about no smooches, hold out for date no. 2 because these things can take time (unless you're Sabrina. Or Rosie. Or Max. Fine we all love to smooch).

Tips and tricks: turn off your Wazzap notifications, because your subcommittee WILL be bombarding you for updates. In fact, stay off your phone. You can only go on your phone when you're in the bathroom, or if they're in the bathroom. 

Make sure you vet the folders on your phone before you decide to show them a funny meme, otherwise, like one of our members, you may accidentally scroll past 5 photos of the person you are on the date with, initially screenshotted for the approval of your subcommittee. Same goes for showing them something on Instagram. Next thing you know their handle is top of your recently searched list. No coming back from that.

Above all else beware of the First Date Glow. This occurs when your pre-date stress is replaced by post-date euphoria due to lack of awkward silences and the fact that they weren't a serial killer. You slowly promote them to god-like status in your mind and write your lives together, only to arrive at date no. 2 to realise that they are absolutely not your people. Refer to 'N is for Not Our People'.

G is for Ghosting

It's a horrible thing to have happen to you, and it's a horrible thing to do. If you haven't interacted beyond a few messages, then you've got no obligation to reply. But if you've spent some time conversing and implied that you're keen to meet up or worse, have met up, then it's not nice behaviour at all. Be the decent person and pop them a genuine text letting them know you're not interested instead of breadcrumbing. Something along the lines of: "Hello <insert name here>, was good to meet you the other night. You're great, but I don't think you're the Ross to my Rachel. Have a great week and good luck finding love." This was well received the one time it was used.

HOWEVER, if the person might be a murderer (see 'R is for Red Flags'), then you have our explicit permission to ghost them immediately.

H is for Hinge

Aka the mother of all dating apps. Why? It uses an algorithm to connect you with friends of friends of friends, i.e. people you would most likely swipe on anyway. 

The more you swipe on people who live in a certain area, dress a certain way, or listen to a certain type of music, the more these people will crop up on your feed. In fact, the app is so much better than any of the others on the market that one of our members may or may not have spent an hour on the phone to Google because their Google Play store wouldn't allow them to download the app. They still don't have it, Google claim the case is an enigma, and we are outraged on their behalf. We also have a Hinge success story in our midst, lending immediate credibility to every single tip in this article. 

We really feel for all of our single friends living a Hinge-less life in South Africa, so we started an AVAAZ petition on your behalf.

This one just has a pic of a woman holding an iguana.

In the fickle world of online dating, you have about 1.5 seconds to make a good impression, so you need to let the person know how hilarious you are straight off the bat. While it's important for some people to be honest about their dealbreakers to avoid wasting time and non-starters, you don't want to take things too seriously. We're only talking about your future happiness, after all. Case in point: on Bumble or Hinge, when answering (for example) what your Pet Peeve is, think of something funny. Saying "queue jumpers and slow walkers" really is a nothing statement. Refer to 'R is for Red Flag'.

A thorough background check on the person you could potentially be meeting up with is not stalkerish, it's just good sense. This is partially to identify red flags and catfishes, and partially because you're a really good person, and you know that dating apps don't always tell the full story. Just beware of butter fingers. Accidental Instagram likes can kill a romance before it's even started. 

You'll always have that one person lingering on your match list who you keep around for your self esteem. They reply too soon, they're far too keen, and you have zero intention of ever meeting up with them. Remember this late at night when you're feeling down, and maybe a bit horny, and you think to yourself, "Why not?". Have your fun, but never book a room at the Last Resort Hotel Motel Holiday Inn. 

M is for Match

Congratulations, you've got a match. But relax, you're not married quite yet. Your journey down the aisle has only just begun. Snap decisions are rife at this point in the game, so if you aren't bringing your A-game to the table, this won't end in holy matrimony.

Step one: don't message right away, you've got up to 2 days to craft the perfect message with your sub-committee.

Step two: very very importantly, STOP IMAGINING YOUR LIVES TOGETHER. You haven't even stepped off the date-train and into Smooch City yet and you're already thinking up dog names. Get chatting, see if there's a rapport and let it flow from there.

N is for Not Our People

There's one way to work out very quickly whether someone is the right person for you. Ask yourself whether you'd be happy for them to chill with you and your friends, and if the answer is 'No' then we don't really have to say any more. That being said, you shouldn't limit your options – go on dates, get out of your comfort zone and chat to different people. If you're starting to doubt the interaction, ask yourself the above. One of our authors spent a period of time chatting to a leading member of the London BDSM + polyamory community and was very close to becoming a card-carrying member herself before realising that this life just simply wasn't for her. From Dungeons to dungeons (an autobiography by Sabrina Scott).

What not to do: "Hey cutie", "Hi, what's up?", "You look like you could ruin my life", "Wow you're the most beautiful person I've seen on here", "Oh, you're from X, that's so cool". This is your chance to get creative – hit the drawing board and make a big impression. We're not prescribing how or what to say, because to each their own, c'est la vie, que sera sera, but you're never going to start that lifelong romance with just a friendly greeting. Unless you're stupidly hot. In which case you can probably stop reading now. 

To put it bluntly: the apps are a market, and you're a piece of meat, whether you like it or not. If you don't make sure you stand out, your potential future partner might swipe right past on their quest for love.

Simple test: read through your answers and if 99.9% of the population can relate to your love for "pizza, long walks, music, beers, travelling, thinking, breathing, existing", then take it out. Change that bio from: "An adventurous guy, looking for an adventurous girl, to go on adventures with" to "I'm a lizard". Sorted. 

Sometimes we've swiped yes on people ENTIRELY based on their professions. When it works, it can trump any picture, any bio and even (dare we say it) a weak opener. Keep this in mind when listing your profession, cos it might just be your hottest of hot tickets to Sex Town.

2 in 3 of our writers have found the following combinations to be absolutely irresistible: Artist at Gallery, Photographer at Freelance and Creative at Studio, while 1 out of the 3 writers feels it's important to point out that if the bio says "Freelance Creative" at <insert abstract location here>, they're simply unemployed. 

As with everything on the apps, take this with a pinch of salt. Of course, "Owner at Business" sounds sexy initially, but when you find out that their business is an artisanal toilet plunger company, it's not always a welcome surprise. Luckily this is also a good way for you to spot those pesky Financial Analysts. 

Our list includes but is not limited to:

o Too many photos of the person in sunglasses

o Too many b&w photos

o All photos with friends

o Answers/bios with the words: "Going to a wedding in 3 weeks time, looking for a date"

o Answers/bios with the words: "I'm really bad at these things"

o Answers/bios with the words: "Looking for a girl/guy so we can get the hell off this app with" (stop acting like you're too good for the apps).

o Financial Analysts

o Above all: trust your instincts when you spot a red flag. Because people who suck work hard to hide that they suck.

S is for Screenshots

For your mates, for your family, for your wedding powerpoint presentation. These are vital. Do good by your WhatsApp group(s) and let them live vicariously through your adventure. 

As for nudes and dickpics – never ever send an unsolicited nude pic. These things should never be a surprise. Once received, do NOT share them with the group (unless they're unsolicited). That's you holding up the biggest red flag in the world. 

S is also for Support Staff

Behind every iconic opener is a subcommittee of loyal friends willing to read the 79 000 drafts of your message. They're your harshest critics and your biggest fans, and they will tell you to your face if you're being crazy, or if you need to rethink your responses/bio/life decisions. Be sure to include members of the opposite sex and differing sexual orientations in the subcommittee, and for round-the-clock support, friends in different time zones are a must.  

After enough Crickets, it's time for Tickets. When you've handed in your ticket at the ticket booth, it's over, finished, done. Know when to call it quits and don't drag anything out that doesn't need to be. If they haven't messaged, if they're not getting back to you, don't be bleak – this isn't a reflection of how amazing you are, because online dating doesn't give the full impression. Just hand in that ticket and move on rather than double texting and letting loose your inner offended freak.

U is for ubrevs

It's a massive turn off when someone is using so much text speak that you can barely understand what they're saying. We get it grandpa, you're cool. When is it funny? When is it ironic? Where does one strike a balance? IDK.

Always approved: WYD (what you doing), WYS (what you saying), HBU (how about you) – great abbreviations for when you're attempting to appear very chilled out.

W is for WhatsApp

We suggest moving off the app and onto WhatsApp right before the first date. Move too soon and it's a lot harder to cut someone loose once they can track your online/offline status. But just like with red flags, don't be afraid to block a freak. Once on WhatsApp, the same rules apply re emojis.

Above all else – don't invest a lot of time into chatting to someone who you haven't even met yet. A lot of the funniest people we've chatted to on these apps have ended up being big dull duds in real life. Big dud energy is a real thing.

There's literally no way of preparing for a weird voice. Don't jump onto voice notes before the first date, that's very creepy neighbour. Just prepare yourself for the possibility that your 10 out of 10 stone-cold stunner might open his mouth and sound like Beckham pre-vocal training. This isn't catfishing. It's just a thing. 

X is for Cut

If they say something problematic, if you find out they're also chatting to your best friend at the same time as you (this has happened to 2/3 of our members TWICE), if you think they might be a catfish or you find out they're a financial analyst posing as a DJ, CUT THEM LOOSE. Life's too short and there are plenty more fish in the sea. Seriously, we can barely see through all the fish.

X is also for Ex

As in someone you went on a date with, it didn't work out and you'd prefer never to see them again, but the world works in mysterious ways and now you're at the same bar/pub. Don't do that horrible Cape Town thing of pretending you didn't see them/don't know who they are (unless they were genuinely shit to you or they're on another date). Give them a casual hug or an awkward wave and then die silently in your seat like a normal person. 

Puppies, Machu Picchu, Platform 9 and Three Quarters, Lion's Head, Bird nest in Company Gardens, David Attenborough and Louis Theroux, fluent in sarcasm, holding babies (and then in the bio saying, "it's not mine"), traveling, hiking, adventures, food, wine, EVERYONE LOVES THESE THINGS. Do not use them, they're done.

"Oh sorry I didn't get back to you I was just sleeping" or in other words "The conversation wasn't scintillating enough for me to break my bedtime curfew". As trusty an excuse as diarrhoea or period pains when you don't want to come across as rude, but you've realised that this person isn't going to be your husband or wife. 

So there we have it, your trusty guide to online dating and the beginning of our careers as relationship psychologists. This one's on us, but moving forward, we won't be able to hand out such wise words for free.