I personally build the best, healthiest relationships when I put my whole self out there. I’m not simply an autistic trans person who lives with mental illnesses like complex PTSD, anxiety, and depression — I’m someone with a great capacity for joy and love. I’m not defined by any one word or experience. Not even “queer” can define or encapsulate me.

I’m obsessed with Carly Rae Jepsen and the Mamma Mia movies, and Taco Bell, and ice skating. I tweet too much. I practice tarot and astrology and never shut up about it. I’m constantly writing and reading and talking about my favorite poetry. (Yes, I’m a queer stereotype, thank you for noticing.)

I make puns and I’m earnest in ways that help people open up to me as their truest selves. I’m not thinking about building a “brand” or a “persona.” Which is one of the reasons dating apps and online dating can be frustrating and stressful. I’ve met people whose profile states that empathy is important to them but 2 hours pass and they don’t ask me a single question. I dated a woman who said she was looking for a serious partner and freaked out because things were going too fast by the fifth date when I made her a picnic. You know, that kind of thing.

People can say anything online. It’s easy to project an authentic self without having to be that person offline. Where does that disconnect lie and why can it be so complicated to hack the dating game? Why is it so hit or miss?

The people I talked to for this article reminded me that the main thing we hate about online dating is the main thing we hate about in-person dating: It’s hard to meet people. Whether you’re on a dating website or not, finding someone who matches your vibe, is on the same wavelength, is attractive to you, is attracted to you, wants the same things you want, and is willing to put in the same energy and effort you are is tricky. That’s a whole lot of requirements. It’s asking for a significant amount of alignment from the universe, in my opinion.

And for people who’ve continued to date during the COVID-19 era, getting to know someone involves assessing their own personal risk levels as well as making efforts to take the necessary precautions. Some have succeeded. Others feel they’re flailing.

We talked to a handful of people, including single parents and recently divorced daters, about how they make their intentions clear, and how they make the most out of dating apps. We’re hoping their answers help you change the way you use these spaces.

But it’s important to remember there’s no “right” way to use dating apps or to find dates and intimacy in online spaces. There’s only what works for you, and what doesn’t, and ways to make the most out of the experience.

Ready? Time to dive deep, and find the swiping style that might suit you best based on some advice and experiences from generous strangers.

Renée is a 27-year-old from Chicago who mostly uses Tinder. Overall, their experience has been positive. “I tend to use dating apps when I’ve just moved somewhere in a search to build community. I make that clear in my profile and I search for people with shared interests or people with whom I feel like I could hold an interesting conversation. I’m happy if our chats result in making an acquaintance, a friend, and/or a partner so it’s easier to feel like the time I put into using an app was worth it,” says Renée.

Many queer and trans folks who spoke with Greatist about dating agreed they prioritize building community over sexual or romantic relationships, especially in small communities or less crowded dating scenes (in the kink community, for example, in Chicago). They use dating apps, mainly Lex or other smaller ones, to seek out friendships and intimacy rather than any one specific kind of partnership.

“I’m very fortunate to have never matched with anyone overwhelmingly rude, creepy, aggressive, et cetera. I’ve only met a few people I’ve matched with in real life, but out of those I’ve had a couple dates, made a couple friends. Although, why there isn’t an option to see everyone but cis-het dudes I’ll never know,” they say.

To attract the “right people,” they say that they primarily include these things:

  • that they’re looking for friends and dates
  • that they’re looking for QTBIPOC (queer, trans, Black, Indigenous people, and people of color)
  • all of their pronouns
  • the fun things they enjoy and the food they like so their profile isn’t too overwhelming or serious all at once

Renée works hard to be intentional in dating. As a scientist, they’re focused on improving equity in science and healthcare, and have put a lot of time into adjusting their perception of the world, unlearning biases, and the like. “So I try to make that intentionality clear in my profile because I want to have people in my life that are also doing good work and that are going to push me to be a better version of myself (and vice versa),” they say.

Maren, a 30-year-old from North Carolina, is newly divorced and has had mixed success with dating apps. But having minimal expectations is key, they say. “Going in just having the opportunity of meeting new people, getting to know what makes them unique, and figuring out how we may relate to each other (if at all) is best,” Maren explains.

“Not to be too much of a nerd, but I’m concerned [with] a hedonistic paradox with dating apps… that if you seek out pleasure/happiness for yourself, then you will fail to actually find it. It can often lead to seeing those you date in a self-preoccupied way that distorts your perception of them, which is not grounds for a good hookup or relationship, at least in my experience.”

Their go-to dating app is Tinder, mostly, and at times OkCupid and Hinge. To attract the “right people,” they say that they primarily include these things:

  • that they’re trans
  • that they’re polyamorous
  • that they already have at least one partner

For Maren, the pandemic has put an emphasis on the importance of communication. There’s a marked difference in how they use apps now than from when they were in their early 20s, prior to their divorce, they explain.

“When I first used apps, I wish I was more honest with myself, with what kind of relationships I was ready and open to and my motivations for using the apps. This is probably something other people should do, too,” Maren says. “To some extent this may just be saying that I wish people put thought and intentionality into how they go about interacting with others which I think is also consistent with using them in the open-ended way I mentioned previously!”

“The way I put the right me out there is by not writing my own bio, either. Other than listing the above details, I have asked friends to describe me and I put quotes from them in my bio,” they say. (Which I personally think is a fantastic idea. Who knows you better than the people who love you?)

Vivien, a 46-year-old nonbinary single parent from Oregon, has felt a little disappointed by their app experience. “Many years ago, I had a few short relationships with people I met through an app. My two longest relationships were with people I met online, but not through an app,” they say. Apps have mostly brought short-term, sex-focused relationships, all of which has slowed down since the pandemic. They have a large bubble with many housemates and their young children, so meeting up with a stranger for sex ultimately seems like a huge risk right now for very little reward.

On Bumble, where they recently perused, they found a frustratingly small percentage of genderqueer folks. While on Tinder briefly in the summer of 2019, they saw a lot of profiles of cute polyamorous couples and genderqueer folks, but nothing felt quite right for the circumstances they felt they needed to make a move.

Something that Vivien doesn’t love about dating apps is when other parents use photos of them with their children as “bait” of sorts to imply how family-focused they are, or use their children as cute conversation topics to avoid themselves.

But they’ve also realized that as a divorced, half-time single parent, they simply can’t be seriously interested in someone who doesn’t have kids or who hasn’t spent a lot of time around kids. “With a weird parenting time schedule, it can be frustrating (or often impossible) to find days and times that match up with other parents’ schedules. Sadly, that means I’ve missed out on meeting some cool folks,” they say. “I wish personals apps were more focused on helping people get to know each other and less focused on helping people hook up.”

They don’t have a go-to dating app, but they have used online spaces to meet people, like social media. To attract the “right people,” they say that they primarily include these things:

  • that they’re trans
  • that they’re a parent
  • that they care about politics, gender, and fandom

Trying to find what they’re looking for in love, they say their advice is this: “I’m very upfront about my interests and enthusiasms.” Ultimately, while they haven’t yet found what they’re searching for, they say, “Hope springs eternal, so I’m usually looking for real intimacy.”

I fell into my current partnerships by accident when we messaged each other on Twitter late one night. But if you don’t use Twitter like a dating app, consider looking into some of the following apps.

Best for…
HERBest for lesbians, sapphics, and lesbian-aligned people. Her was created by and for queer women.
CoffeeMeetsBagelBest for people who just can’t. CoffeeMeetsBagel guides you through each stage of the dating process, like giving you easy icebreaker questions to try out.
HingeBest for finding a serious relationship. Hinge’s motto is “Designed to be deleted.” It also has a user-friendly format that’s — dare we say — fun to use.
LexBest for queer and trans people looking for community and intimacy rather than dating or hooking up.
BumbleBest for straight women who want to avoid unwanted attention from lurky dudes. On Bumble, women message first.
TinderBest for casting the widest net. You know about Tinder. It still has the most registered users of all dating apps.
GlimmerBest for finding intimacy and friendship as a person with a disability. Glimmer’s mission is all about creating a “safe, welcoming, and accessible place for people to be open.”
ShipBest for people who value their friends’ opinions. Ship’s gimmick is letting friends in on the vetting process.
BLKBest for Black folks who want to connect with other Black folks. BLK also has a handy feature that lets you “rewind” if you swiped left too hastily.
GrindrBest for cis men looking for cis men. Although, Grindr prides itself as being bi, queer, and trans-friendly as well.
OkCupidBest for getting to know people in-depth. The OkCupid format lets users give (and receive) lots of information about one another.

At the end of the day, what’s most true about fumbling around while looking for the “right” people or just having fun until you fall into something good is that it’s not a blame game. It’s not personal. It’s not the internet. And it’s not in apps vs. in-person dating. It’s simply the experience of being human, and asking to love and be loved. There’s nothing more complicated than that, and nothing more beautiful.