If you feel sick at the idea of putting your personality, relationship goals and entire worldview into succinct and non-horrific words for the purpose of being swiped by a complete stranger on a dating app, then congratulations, you are human.

A 2020 study by Western Sydney University found that dating app users report higher levels of stress and anxiety than non-users. Other studies have found a correlation with social anxiety, body image issues and depression. A survey of 1000 Tinder users found that they had significantly higher levels of “appearance comparison and body shame” than people who don’t use apps. This seems to be equally true for men and women. The study concluded: “for self-esteem, male Tinder users scored significantly lower than either male or female non-users.”

These apps continue to be hugely popular, though, because – broadly – they work. Among the US single dating population, 32% are on apps. In the UK, the dating site eHarmony has predicted that by 2035, half of all relationships will have started online. Side note: I am personally not a part of this revolution, in case my husband – who I met before such apps were invented – is reading this. But I am fascinated by this psychological battleground as a place where people face some of their biggest confidence challenges and where many give up before they’ve even got started.

How do you get what you want out of these apps without losing your sense of self, or the will to live? The bad news is this: if you are going to engage in this process, it pays to summon maximum genuine confidence. And that can feel like hard work and/or a massive cringe. The good news? Millions have indeed engaged in this battle, wear the scars, and know how to engage with this process without wanting to throw up or run away. Here is how …

  1. Fear not the ice breaker
    The words in your profile are just to create a connection, that is all, says Vicki Pavitt, a relationship and dating coach: “The key is to celebrate your strengths and embrace your unique qualities and quirks without fear of judgment or trying to please everyone. Take any pressure off yourself to write the perfect profile and see it as the ‘ice breaker’ that creates the initial connection between you and potential dates.”
  2. Be specific
    “We may be tempted to keep certain things hidden on our dating profile to appear cool and protect ourselves from rejection,” says Pavitt. “But ‘playing it cool’ blocks the connection we seek. So if you have an unusual hobby, funny quirk or guilty pleasure, own that and talk about it in your profile.” If you love cooking, include your favourite dish. If you love music, mention the last gig you went to. Give specific examples wherever you can and look for the same in others.
  3. Plan in advance to guard the time you devote to online dating (part one)
    “Lots of online daters experience dating fatigue,” says relationship therapist Annie Lavin. “To cope with this as a newbie or a veteran, go slowly, set the time boundaries for when you decide to swipe (such as 20-minute time blocks up to three times a day) and be conscious during those 20 minutes. Try to connect with how you feel, rather than robotic swiping.”
  4. Police the time you spend on the app (part two)
    From a friend who most deserves the moniker Dating App Queen (who shall remain anonymous): “Set your expectations. People don’t use the apps like messaging apps any more. They are busy living their lives. Go on once a week or a couple of times a week. Don’t make it your primary messaging app. Always remember that you are basically talking to people you don’t know.”
  5. Share your intentions upfront
    “When I help clients, I encourage them to share that they’re looking for a committed relationship in their profile,” says Pavitt. “This can help filter out people who don’t share your intention, saving you time and energy on incompatible partners. Using a prompt like ‘I’m looking for a relationship with somebody who shares my love of __’ can convey this. Be assertive about what you’re looking for to help potential partners recognise themselves as your match (and share what you DO want v what you don’t).”
  6. Say why you’re there
    Dating App Queen puts this more bluntly: “It’s good to have a place where people are open about the fact that they’re looking to date. That’s why apps are not a waste of time. But this doesn’t mean the same to everyone. Ask why someone is there. Are they there for a relationship? For a monogamous relationship? Are they up for a short-term thing? Are they into casual sex? Into something kinky? It sounds like a lot but it is really helpful to ask what people are there for. Some people are judgmental if someone says they only want something casual. But we all just want someone who matches us and you don’t want to end up messaging with someone who is into something sexually that you’re not into. You can only find that out by asking questions and being very honest yourself.”
  7. Don’t be afraid to be boring in interactions
    You don’t need to overshare or tell your entire life story in a series of never-ending messages, says therapist Andrew G. Marshall, author of The Happy Couples Handbook. “Anxiety can make us hide our vulnerability or get over protective. Just as bad, we let all our defences down too quickly and discuss whether we want children (and how many) before we’ve even talked our favourite TV shows.” Binge TV was designed for a reason: to give us something to talk about with people we don’t know very well. Use it.
  8. Don’t waste your confidence on endless online interactions
    Dating App Queen recommends a “pre-date” date. “The reality is, you just don’t know if they’re your type until you meet them. Make the effort to meet up for coffee. It makes so much more sense to get to that stage quickly, rather than spending hours and hours messaging someone and forming this idea of them that might not match up in real life. You can waste so much time engaging with people you won’t click with in real life.”
  9. Remember this is a vulnerable process
    Be kind to the different parts of yourself, says Marshall. “Take a leaf out of [the psychotherapy model] Internal Family Systems: the idea that we have different parts of ourselves. Imagine they are all round the board room table. You might want to let ‘Anxiety’ give a presentation but not be CEO. But if you lock it outside, it will only bang on the door and demand to be let in. Be kind to each character around the table; some have been hurt and need TLC. Perhaps you might want ‘Confidence’ or ‘Extrovert’ to answer messages but remember there is also Core You. Just because someone doesn’t respond positively is no reflection on him/her/they. It is probably about the other person and what they imagine they are seeing – rather than about you.”
  10. Keep it mindful and manageable
    Dating App Queen: “The whole thing is a huge amount of admin. Treat it as a side project that you dip in and out of. I used to be on there all the time and have multiple dates a week. It was frenetic and very much not a mindful pursuit. Now I chat to one or two people at a time. That adds up ten to twenty text messages over two weeks which might or might not lead to a meeting. Don’t put a lot of truck on it. Always say: ‘Let’s just go for coffee.’ It’s not Pride and Prejudice. You just need to find out what people are up for.”