Swipe Right

7 Online Dating Tips from Bumble's Sociologist

Dr. Jess Carbino breaks down the dos and don'ts of swiping.

By Abby Ledoux May 30, 2018

One in three couples who married within the last year met online. That's a fact that Dr. Jess Carbino especially appreciates—not only did she, too, meet her fiancé online, but she made a career of understanding the science behind swiping.

As a 23-year-old sociology PhD student in L.A., Carbino found herself navigating the "brave new world" of online dating both personally and professionally, and she grew fascinated by "how individuals presented themselves," she says. "How did they show who they were through their photos and their bios? Was it meaningful?" She considered that in her dissertation, studying how society evolved to embrace a fundamentally new mechanism of pursuing modern relationships. She took that knowledge first to Tinder, and then to Bumble, where she now serves as the Austin-based app's in-house sociologist and distills research into marketing strategies.

Bumble is oft-hailed as the "feminist dating app" for its structure that requires women send the first message to a match. "They set the tone for the conversation, and they have the ability to drive the conversation in a manner they wouldn't otherwise have if a man was making the first move," Carbino says. "That's really helpful in an age where women have a lot of insecurity about their safety."

Now, with hundreds of apps out there and 40 percent of Americans using some form of online dating, Carbino believes there are more ways than ever to find a match. Based on her data, she shared best practices with Houstonia for those still swiping.

Do: Smile in your profile picture.

Dr. Jess Carbino

It’s simple but often overlooked: “You’re 14 percent more likely to be swiped right on if you smile, because you are signaling to people that you are open and receptive,” Carbino says. It’s also important to face forward in profile pictures as we infer a great deal from someone’s eyes. You might also consider limiting your selfies—while there’s no statistically significant effect, Carbino’s qualitative research has shown “individuals find selfies to be quite unappealing,” she says.

Don't: Mistake choices for options.

Online dating is a numbers game, but Carbino refutes the notion that it leads to people being overwhelmed with choice. “You want a lot of choice–you don’t want just two people. This is the person, ideally, you will spend the rest of your life with,” she says. An example: If you’re swiping on 100 people on a given day, you may swipe right on 10, match with five, go out with two, and only like one. While there may be 100 choices, only one or two may actually be worthwhile. “People need to reframe the idea of choices being viable rather than just options,” Carbino says.

Do: Meet in person sooner rather than later.

Should you deem a person worthy of getting to know better, Carbino suggests moving things offline “as quickly as possible”–within a week of matching, if you’re comfortable with it. “When you’re talking to somebody online, you’re able to construct an identity of who you think they are. … You want the reality to be matching more with who they are in person rather than the reality of something in your head,” she says. “Also, just don’t waste your time. You don’t want a pen pal.” 

Do: Google your dates.

“Bumble has photo verification tools, but it’s always good to do your research and make sure the people you’re going out with are who they are purporting themselves to be,” Carbino says. While she cautions against giving out sensitive information before you know the person, she does think it’s reasonable to ask a potential date for their last name. Always meet in a public place and don’t be afraid to enlist the help of those around you—like bar or restaurant staff—if you ever feel unsafe. “A lot of people in certain situations who don’t feel comfortable find it helpful to have someone who can help extricate you,” she says.

Don't: Ghost.

First of all, there’s some variance in the definition of ghosting. If neither party contacts the other after a first date? Not ghosting, Carbino says. If one party writes to the other and gets no response? “I consider that ghosting and I consider that rude and impolite,” she says. Though the term is new, the phenomenon is not—rather, Carbino posits that it’s simply easier to do it now. “People are very cowardly and don’t want to hurt or offend people, and they’re not able to articulate something kind and compassionate and simple.” But everyone is owed that decency, and if you’re not interested, don’t leave the person hanging and simply hope they figure it out. Instead, Carbino suggests the following: “Thank you so much, I had a really nice time with you, but I just don’t think we’re compatible. Best of luck to you. That’s all you have to say! It was a single date.”

Do: Be up-front about what you're looking for.

While Carbino believes most people on Bumble are looking for a relationship–85 percent of users, to be exact–finding a match comes down to communication. If you’re concerned about someone’s intentions, “put it in your bio: I’m using Bumble to find a relationship,” she suggests. “I don’t think anyone is going to be surprised by that.” Still, that’s not an endorsement to broadcast, say, I’m looking to get married within the next six months and have a child in the next 24. “It’s all about framing and context,” Carbino offers.

Don't: Assume swiping means you're shallow.

“Swiping online is very similar to the type of decision-making we do on a daily basis, which is heavily rooted in evolutionary biology,” Carbino says. The same judgment calls our hunter-gatherer ancestors made in the field are present when we cross the street to avoid someone suspicious or swipe left or right on Bumble: In all instances, we’re splicing small bits of information together to form a rudimentary snapshot of who someone is, and a lot of that information is gathered within seconds. “We learn a lot about somebody from a photograph,” Carbino says. Tell that to your mom the next time she accuses you of judging a book by its cover.

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