Welcome to Seeing Someone, the Cut’s new biweekly dating column. Join Randa Sakallah of Hot Singles NYC as she answers all of your questions about falling in and out of love. Got a question for Randa? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. (And read our submission terms here).
I feel like I’m not dating anyone because I’m not (for lack of a better word) thotty enough on social media. I don’t like to share my Instagram with a date until after we’ve established a rapport IRL, because I don’t want them to form an opinion of me based on it. I’m not starkly different online, but it still doesn’t encompass me as a person, you know?
On the other hand, I have friends who have fallen in love, or at least smashed a couple times, because someone slid into their DMs. No one has ever, never, not once slid into my DMs. And, on top of that, no dude has ever responded when I’ve slid into his.
What’s wrong with me? Is this about me not being hot? How do I become one of those hot-but-chill Instagram girls who can use it like a dating app? Should I even be making social media this relevant to my love life? Why isn’t anyone sliding into my DMs?!
The DM slide — a practice dating back to the dawn of social media, yet something we still struggle to master. How to open? How to respond? It might seem trivial, but I spend a lot of time talking to people about dating, and you’d be surprised how many of us are panicking over the state of our DMs.
I get what you’re saying about your social media not representing you fully. When I started my dating newsletter and community, Hot Singles, it was partly to give people a more holistic way of representing themselves online. But even though Instagram is an ad-infested wasteland, most of us still spend a ton of time on it, so I think it’s worth at least looking into how to use it as a dating app. I also happen to know quite a few people who do just that, so I went to them for help.
Everyone I spoke to remarked on the importance of Instagram Stories when it comes to flirting with someone on the app. Emma, a journalist who often uses Instagram for work, said that responding to Stories is the virtual equivalent of “meeting someone at a party, and you’re not really sure if you are going to kiss, so maybe you put your hand on their thigh.” In other words, you can get “a sense of the vibe.” Then when you ask them out, maybe a few weeks later, you’ve already built a rapport.
Nariman, 28, has been dating my friend Terri for two years now. They had heard of Terri through the grapevine (“there are like six Black people in tech,” Nariman noted), and after finding her on Instagram they started responding to her Stories. Terri typically posted about her travels and whatever TV show she was watching. Nariman made sure to “affirm her content as good and give her something to respond to,” like asking for her opinion on the cast members of Love Is Blind. Eventually their persistence paid off, and Terri started responding in earnest.
So, InstaThoughtful, if a cold slide isn’t working, you might try warming up a potential crush by responding to their Stories. If they don’t completely ignore you, keep at it — Nariman said they messaged Terri four or five times before Terri really took notice. This isn’t to say a more direct approach wouldn’t work, but Stories are a low-stakes way to test the waters.
And if you’re rejected? “I have to remind myself that I don’t say yes to everybody who asks me out,” says Rachel, a Brooklyn-based comedian and prolific Instagram-DM slider and slidee. The benefit of asking someone out on Instagram, she notes, is that it gives your crush “a little space” to respond.
Instagram can also extend a connection with someone you’ve met elsewhere. My friend Nikhil created an Instagram with the sole purpose of keeping in touch with a cute girl he met at a party. The two of them sustained an AIM-esque correspondence for six months, during which he asked her out nearly a dozen times. She rejected him each time but kept the conversation going. Eventually, when she was ready, she asked him out to dinner, and they’ve been dating ever since. Instagram is shitty for a lot of reasons, but it’s actually pretty good at keeping prospective suitors in your orbit; perhaps the DM slide you’re looking for is from someone you’ve already met.
What if you want to abandon Instagram altogether but still use the internet to date? There are plenty of other places you could meet somebody online. During the pandemic, four couples emerged out of Interintellect, an online platform that facilitates Zoom, Discord, and IRL events in the style of the French salon. Alma, an L.A.-based musician, attended her first event on Zoom in the summer of 2020. At the end of the discussion, everyone exchanged Twitter handles, and David, the event’s host, messaged her under the guise of asking for feedback on his hosting skills. Now they’re engaged to be married.
You’re asking about social media, InstaThoughtful, but I think you should take stock of where you’re spending your social hours in general. If Alma’s story is any indication, I don’t think offline or online matters so much as putting yourself in spaces where you’re most likely to connect with other people. Instagram can be a great medium for some, but if you’re less aesthetically inclined or don’t feel like posting to your story all the time, perhaps another online community or platform would be better.
As for posting thirst traps, none of the people I spoke to believed that this was the key to love, or even a hookup. “Obviously you want to connect with people that you think are hot, but you don’t need to post a certain kind of picture to convey that,” says Emma, whose Instagram presence is marked by colorful photos of food and fashion alongside mirror selfies and group shots with friends. She met her boyfriend by sliding into his DMs.
I won’t dispute the value of beauty — physical attractiveness matters because it’s usually how you make a first impression, especially on Instagram. That said, I think a lot of people overestimate how much their looks impact their ability to find a relationship, especially in the dating-app era. On Hot Singles, I ask, “What makes you hot?” in every interview, and while lots of people make jokes about their height or nice asses, the responses tend to celebrate personality traits, like “mad mommy energy” or “zero fear of embarrassment.” I don’t know how symmetrical your face is, InstaThoughtful, but I know that there is something that makes you hot. Channeling that into your online presence might help you land some DMs.
Finally, we should take some basics into consideration. Is your username, in the words of my friend Dora, so “deeply random” that there’s no shot of anyone finding you? Is your profile on private so people have to request to follow you? Do you rarely post Stories, waiting for people to reach out cold? Rachel calls her one friend “like the hottest person I know,” but she rarely gets courted on Instagram because her profile has just “one really blurry, awful picture of her, and she looks like a Russian bot.” Food for tho(ugh)t.