A good communicator will use “I statements” and avoid blaming you for something they did, Dr. Brown says. In other words, they take responsibility for their actions. If they come home late and forget to let you know, leaving you to worry, they might say, “I’m sorry for not calling you, and I was wrong to not consider how it might have worried you” vs. “You’re too sensitive” or “You always overreact.” (In turn, you can respond with, “I understand you may have gotten sidetracked at work. Just let me know going forward so I don’t worry. I care about you and I forgive you.”)Communication isn’t easy for some people though, especially if they grew up in a home where expressing feelings and concerns wasn’t taught or respected, says Dr. Brown. That’s why another green flag is the acknowledgment of communication struggles and a willingness to work on them.3. They make you feel like you’re on a team—or at least like they have your back.Although you’re separate entities with individual lives and interests, feeling like you’re on a team when you’re with someone is a great sign of a healthy pairing. “You work together and support each other, and neither person dominates decision-making,” says Dr. Green. “You collaborate to navigate life stressors, and there’s generally a feeling of equity in the relationship.”If you come home and tell them you’ve been laid off, they comfort you as you work together to solve the issue (by, say, respectfully agreeing that they’ll pay the bulk of the bills until you find a new position). If you’ve recently started dating or it’s early in the relationship, this teamwork may be “as simple as feeling valued when you’re cooking a meal together, helping each other with routine tasks, or sharing in the responsibility of planning a weekend getaway,” says Dr. Green. The gist: You feel like they have your back and care about your needs.4. They give you space to be yourself—and bond with other people.No one, even people who are madly in love, should be together all the time, according to the experts we spoke to. In fact, part of loving someone is wanting them to have their own interests and goals outside of the relationship, Dr. Green says. In other words, the two-become-one cliché is actually a red flag.An example of a green flag, on the other hand: “There’s no jealousy or resentment when you spend time with the other important people in your life, and you don’t feel guilty for taking time for yourself,” says Dr. Green. Instead of pouting or making passive-aggressive comments about your life outside the relationship—your friends, family, hobbies—someone worth your time will “enjoy seeing your growth and passion toward other people and pursuits,” says Dr. Green.Do they encourage you to keep your standing Friday TV night with your best friend? Tell you how much they admire you for taking improv classes? Give you zero grief for canceling plans so you can support a family member? Those are all green lights—er, flags.5. They have healthy relationships with others too.Whether we’re talking about close friendships or family ties, having healthy connections with other people is a promising signal you should pay attention to, Rachel Riley Fancher, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Fancher Psychology & Assessment in Skokie, Illinois, tells SELF. This not only shows that they’re able to effectively communicate under a variety of relationship circumstances, she says, but that their entire life doesn’t revolve around you (see green flag number four). You want a partner who has other relationships and other things going on, but is willing to make space for you in their life, Dr. Fancher says.
Another way to tweak your usual routine to increase your odds of meeting a match? Commit to regularly making a little room in your schedule for new experiences—even if it’s only a few hours each month. “Set a goal to do something you normally wouldn’t every other week or every month, say, where you could potentially meet someone in person,” Chlipala suggests. “Whether it’s attending a networking event, an alumni group outing, or meeting up with friends at a festival—the idea is to make a point to say ‘yes’ to more opportunities than usual.”Look (and act!) like you’re open to meeting new people.Both Chlipala and Johnson agree that open and welcoming body language is key to being approachable. If you’re out and about listening to Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” on repeat with AirPods in, you’ll probably look like you’re busy and don’t want to be bothered (which, fine, in this case, is probably accurate). However, being more in the moment and aware of your surroundings can both communicate to others that you’re open to conversation and allow you to notice (cute!) people around you—people you might want to talk to. Chlipala says that people have become so reliant on apps and the comfort of being on the other side of their phone, they often fail to capitalize on the opportunities in front of them.Earbuds and headphones aren’t the only way to close yourself off to possible romantic connection. Talking only to your friends at parties and keeping your head in your phone on public transportation or in a checkout line can send the “I’m not interested” message, too, says Johnson. That’s not to say you can never get lost in a true crime podcast on a walk, or that you always have to be open to chatting up strangers, but being aware of the vibe you’re giving off may help you increase your chances of finding a mate in the wild.From there, start with low-stakes small talk.You don’t have to chat with strangers about the weather (though, to be fair, climate change makes for stimulating conversation), but exchanging pleasantries or witty remarks when the opportunity arises can be a great way to meet new people and get more comfortable interacting with someone you’re attracted to. Regularly striking up conversations is about developing the mindset of looking for opportunities to make a connection wherever you go, Chlipala explains. Sometimes that might pan out into a date, sometimes (most times, even!) it won’t, but you won’t know unless you try, she says.“It’s important to honor where you are with your comfort level, though,” Chlipala says. “If the idea of talking to someone you find super attractive makes your palms sweat, practice with a stranger, acquaintance, or colleague—someone you feel neutral toward—until you get more confident.” This can look like a playful comment about a snack in someone’s cart at the grocery store, or asking a friend of a friend what dishes or drinks they recommend at a restaurant bar.Work through your fear of rejection.Being rejected by an avatar on an app can be less painful than getting turned down by a real-life human, so brace yourself for the fact that dating in person might sting more than you expected it to. But also remind yourself that you will not be every person’s brand of fun, just like not every person you meet will be what you’re looking for. If a fear of rejection is holding you back from in-person connection, Chlipala suggests building up resilience by continuously putting your situation in perspective.
Yes, there’s a free version of Match—but you can’t initiate messaging or reply to anyone except Premium subscribers, so it’s probably only worthwhile if you pay. The idea that paying members are more serious about dating isn’t necessarily true anymore, given all the great free dating apps that exist nowadays, though. As Dineen says, “You may just be paying to hook up with someone.” Still, the service boasts more than 25 years in the online dating game, so success stories abound (including a wedding in which this writer was a bridesmaid, for what it’s worth).Best for: Music fans who want a partner to go to shows withIf you’re a person who swoons over a carefully curated playlist, this might be one of the best dating apps for you. With music lovers in mind, Tastebuds allows you to match with people based on musical interests and exchange songs with them. Bonding over your mutual love of K-pop or metal concerts might just be the spark that ignites a lifelong connection.Best for: People who dream of DMing with Charlie PuthKnown as “Tinder for famous people,” Raya is a membership-only app with a pretty intense waiting list and application process. The app doesn’t have any free features; if you’re accepted, it costs about $20 per month. Whether or not you’ll find love is anyone’s guess, but there’s a chance you’ll spot someone semi-famous if you swipe long enough.Best for: Those seeking compatible taste in everythingAn online dating mainstay since 2003(!), OkCupid’s evolved a little since being acquired by Match Group. There’s a swipeable app now, and users can only see messages sent by people they’ve actually matched with. OkCupid established itself on its data-based matching formula, which means you can answer a lot of granular questions about your interests, beliefs, and life goals—all on the free version. The company shares fascinating human-nature insights pulled from questionnaire data on their blog, too.Best for: Those who crave in-depth dating profilesThis app is designed to create “meaningful connections” among users. So, instead of unlimited swiping, the app releases a batch of “fresh bagels” every day at noon. In theory, the limited number of options encourages more discernment than a traditional app, and user-created icebreaker conversation prompts—think “If you could get one hour of your life back, which would it be?” or “Describe your personality in three emojis”—are meant to push you beyond “Hey, how are you?”Best for: LGBTQ singles seeking an alternative to GrindrHornet is an app that centers queer people looking to date other queer people. The interface is pretty intuitive, letting you browse and match easily, and as an added bonus, you can send profiles to friends (whether they’re on the app or not), which allows you to play matchmaker and discuss profiles with your group chat before you match.Best for: People who want their friends to play matchmaker
Hi! I’m Zahra, SELF magazine’s executive editor and the host of our wellness advice podcast, Checking In. In this week’s episode, we’re talking about something very close to my heart as a former love and relationships writer: How exactly do you go about dating at this precise point in the pandemic? Our listener question this week comes from Loree, who says this time of massive isolation has only emphasized how much she’d like to take her dating beyond just being digital. She’s also feeling like getting back to dating in person is finally a bit safer due to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. But she’s also understandably feeling pretty anxious about the newfound level of trust that’s involved in dating these days. Loree describes herself as very cautious when it comes to COVID-19 safety precautions. Beyond wondering how to navigate dating in general right now, she’s also questioning how to trust that potential partners are being careful enough for her comfort levels.To give Loree some guidance, I first chat with Patia Braithwaite, SELF’s senior health editor. Patia covers a wide range of dating topics, along with really important personal growth themes like how to set boundaries and learn to trust yourself. Patia also calls herself a “professional single person at this point” and has some really excellent tips from that perspective (including one dating tip I thought was particularly genius, but you’ll have to listen to learn what it is!).Then I chat with Traci Medeiros-Bagan, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California. Traci works to help clients feel like their “most whole” selves when it comes to, well, everything, but especially their relationships. Traci offers Loree some stellar tips on exploring the roots of her anxieties so she can push herself to get back out there without pushing too much. Traci also explains how to handle the fear of rejection that can be extremely real and persistent when you’re communicating about your boundaries to someone you might really like. New episodes of “Checking In” come out every Monday. Listen to this week’s episode above, and get more episodes of “Checking In” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or wherever you listen to podcasts.Show NotesPatia Braithwaite is a writer and editor who joined SELF in May 2019. She was previously the wellness editor at Refinery29, and her freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post and VICE. She lives in Brooklyn. You can read Patia’s work at SELF here, and follow her on Twitter @PdotBRaithw8.Traci Medeiros-Bagan is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California. They work with adults who identify as QTPOC, non-monogamous, kinky, and/or those that are a part of the adult entertainment industry, along with supporting straight and cis-identified clients struggling with shame, alternative relationships, and supporting QTPOC loved ones.You May Also Like: Pandemic Dating Is Hard—But Hasn’t It Always Been Difficult? 9 Ways Non-Monogamous People Are Dealing With the Pandemic How to Deal If Being Single Has You Worried About “Biological Clocks” and Timelines 16 Quarantine Date Ideas That Are Actually Really GreatI Book Club with Bumble Matches—Here’s What I’ve LearnedRoad Test: I Tried Hinge’s Virtual Date Night KitIs Your Rebound Relationship Actually Harmful?Yes, Your Situationship Breakup Is Real16 Intriguing Dating Apps to Try If You Want to Meet Someone NewEverything Isn’t a Red Flag—Here’s How to Tell the Difference8 Cute Date Ideas to Try If You’re Tired of Staying Inside
Until April, I hadn’t gone on a “real” date in well over two years. “Real” meaning sharing food, drinks, or an activity with someone I’m actually interested in versus that one early-morning walk I went on with a dude from an app who mostly talked about himself. A variety of factors contributed to this pause: feeling jaded from a decade of cringeworthy dates, burnout from work, and—oh, right—a global pandemic that made in-person dating dangerous.Of course, as a result of the pandemic, dating experienced a major shift during the past year. Many of my friends enthusiastically embraced socially distanced and virtual dating. They talked about how nice it was to have a reason to take time to get to know someone and build trust before considering next steps (a switch from our 20s, when we might’ve shrugged and skipped to the physical), and many built relationships. I was happy for them but avoided arranging meet-ups for myself. I was tired. Dressing up and trying to charm someone was the last thing I felt ready to do.Still, another pandemic winter alone reminded me that sometimes, cats aren’t enough for company. I craved companionship and touch, or at least, some sort of connection with a person not in my pod. And then two events neatly coincided: I received an announcement of the launch of a Virtual Date Night Kit from the dating app Hinge, and my friend introduced me to her nice, cute friend who lives in another city.I was a little surprised that the kit was only now just launching, given that we’re over a year into the pandemic, but the concept of a premade date makes sense given the popularity of virtual dating. According to Hinge, two out of three of their users say they’ve felt a connection with someone they met via video, and one out of three are into the idea of becoming exclusive with someone they met totally virtually. I wasn’t sure where I fell in those camps, but how could I criticize what I’d never tried?The opportunity to test and review the kit and get to know this guy my friend kept talking about as someone I’d get along with appealed to me. Maybe I was late to the virtual-dating (and, hell, dating) game, but I figured that at minimum, we’d both have an amusing story, and hopefully, a new friend.I texted him, and thankfully he was game. I explained how the kit works: The “date planner” (me, in this case) orders the kit and sends the other person a redeemable code for their own kit, eliminating the need to learn your date’s address. The kit itself is a nicely packaged box that includes the ingredients to prepare three different cocktails (or mocktails), as well as curated questions to spark conversation with your date. Once you both have your boxes, cue the date!From the get-go, we faced a bit of trouble. The redemption code didn’t work, my date was charged for the kit to his credit card, and I wound up needing his address to send the kit on my end. This might have been an issue because I was using a press pass, not buying through the Uncommon Goods site. Regardless, this led to an awkward week of texting back and forth most days to check in on the package. Not exactly the flirty banter I had in mind, but my date had a good sense of humor, joking that maybe this runaround was all part of Hinge’s master plan to force us to talk.
The year was 2020, and we were all inside much more than usual. I—destined to weather the COVID-19 pandemic alone in a studio apartment—did what many other bored singles did: I started swiping on dating apps. In truth, I didn’t begin swiping during the pandemic. I started swiping more. The extra alone-time increased my dating app devotion.It’s well-documented that I’m a bit of a dating app agnostic. Even though dating has always been tough for me, the beginning of the pandemic brought unique challenges: I refused to meet anyone in person. I looked like an ungroomed monster, and I didn’t have anything exciting to share with matches. It was hard to answer simple questions like, “What’d you do today” with more than just one or two words. (“I cried.”)As weeks turned into months, I had an epiphany: If I can get my matches to read with me, they’ll stop asking me how I’m spending my days. So, I asked a match to book club, and, much to my surprise, he obliged. We settled on Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House without establishing a clear end date. But after hearing Machado discuss her “choose your own adventure” chapter on a podcast, we agreed to read that section together. If one of us got there first, we’d wait for the other. Now, over a year into the pandemic (with two successful Bumble Book Club experiences under my belt), I’m here to share what I’ve learned.Before we go further, I should state the obvious: The weather is changing, and vaccine distribution is encouraging. So you might think non-traditional dating ideas are irrelevant. They’re not. Until vaccines are widespread, it’s wise to adhere to social distancing protocols. This means you might want to take things more slowly than you would’ve before the pandemic. And, even if you’re open to meeting up IRL, reading together can help establish common ground.Below, you’ll find a few things I learned in the very haphazard process of getting cute people to read with me. I hope the information serves you well.1. You should like your match (at least a little) before you read with them.Reading a book together (or binge-watching an entire television series) is a time commitment. The upside is that it gives you something to talk about when conversations get stale. But that’s also the downside: If you really commit to this idea, you theoretically have to speak to this person while reading an entire book together. That’s why I’d suggest you only read with a match when you’re sure you’ll like this person for at least a month (it’s probably not the time to read Moby Dick or Infinite Jest).Even when you adore someone, reading a book isn’t a guarantee that you’ll keep interacting. Sometimes situationships end before the book does. One of my favorite matches ended things in the middle of the book we were reading, and it was tough to continue alone. This brings me to my next point…2. Pick a book you’re comfortable talking about with a stranger.Let’s say—hypothetically—that you’re reading a stunning experimental memoir that chronicles the demise of an abusive relationship. In many ways, this is a great book club pick: the chapters a short, and the levels of examination are perfect for vibrant discussion (there’s queer theory, pop culture references, and a meditation on memoir construction). But, if abuse, trauma, and dysfunctional relationships are triggering for you or your match, reading a book with those themes can be intense. Try to keep that in mind when you’re deciding.3. Don’t lie about your tastes.I know that when you’re deciding to book club with a hot fellow reader, you might want to show off your literary prowess. But if historical fiction isn’t your thing, don’t spend weeks of your life suffering through a book you hate. There’s a strong chance that, even if you love romance novels and your match is into cybersecurity, there’s a genre-bending book that you’d both enjoy. If not, you can have fun making and refusing suggestions.4. Reading reviews together can be cute.Once you figure out genres and writers you’re both into, you can surf bestseller lists and check out reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. If you’re feeling particularly courageous, you can mask up and head to a bookstore to get recommendations from booksellers or flip through pages on your own. You can also swap funny reviews and banter about the book or (playfully) try to convince your match that you should, in fact, read the Bridgerton Series together based on the positive reviews. Consider choosing the book part of your courtship.5. Get creative about how you structure your book clubs.In most book clubs, you decide on a book and set a date to discuss it, but when you’re reading a book with someone you speak to regularly, it’s hard not to let the book seep into your normal discussion. While you’re free to run your Bumble book club however you see fit, I think checking in about the book and saying things like “omg, let me know when you get to chapter 6” are entertaining ways to read together. It’s also not unusual for me to text about the book, then talk about it, then pull it out of my bag and wave it around on a socially distanced outdoor date. You might even schedule hangs to read the same book together via video chat.6. Book clubbing with someone you’re into can be surprisingly emotional.The first time I book clubbed with a match, I cried (in therapy, thankfully). Is that dramatic? Yes, I’m very dramatic. But when I was a kid, I spent a lot of my time alone reading in a tree (like a weirdo). Reading a book with someone cute was surprisingly intimate. I’ve done it a few times now—and while I don’t cry anymore—it does feel like I’m sharing a part of myself that I don’t often reveal. If you’re a book lover, then a Bumble book club might be more heart-stirring than you’d suspect.7. And impromptu book club discussions can reveal a lot.In my Bumble book clubs, we discussed the works throughout our reading journey and then discussed the end (at the end). This meant that a lot of our discussions took on the same vibe as chatting about good TV. But you can discover a lot about someone based on the characters they hate (and the ones they identify with most). Sometimes, the conversations start with plot, move into symbolism, and end up with something like, “Well, in my situation…” These winding conversations that help us unearth our hidden feelings are why I’m a big proponent of book clubbing—you can learn a lot about each other (and yourself).8. Don’t try to sound like anyone other than yourself.Much like there’s pressure to fib about your book tastes to impress your match, the best book club conversations are the ones where you’re authentic. If spotting motifs and musing about word choice is part of your regular reading routine, then, by all means, talk about that, but if you’re a plot and character person, focus on those things. When you’re trying too hard to impress the other person, you’re missing an opportunity to figure out how you feel about this book (and your newfound reading partner).9. A perfect book club partner isn’t necessarily a perfect life partner.This last lesson isn’t easy. After a few great conversations with someone, it’s easy to imagine a future where two copies of the same books live together in harmony on a shared bookshelf. But the sad reality of life is that a careful and thoughtful reader isn’t automatically your IRL match. Sometimes a book club is the beginning of a long romance, and sometimes, well, it’s just a book club. I hope you enjoy the arc either way.Related: