How To Have More Meaningful Online Dates, According To Experts

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

If you're single and dating, chances are that you've been on your fair share of online dates that can best be described with one word: mediocre. Sure, bad dates are inevitable, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to have a meaningful date with someone you met online. But what's the difference between a date that's meaningful and one that's mediocre?

"I think everyone has a different interpretation of meaningful, but in general, I think that a date stands out when you feel like you've learned a lot about someone in the short amount of time that a date provides," Amica Graber, a relationship expert for the background checking site TruthFinder, tells Bustle. "Maybe you discovered that you share a similar sense of humor, or the conversation was a rapid-fire exchange, rather than an hour's snoozefest. Many things can be meaningful, but getting a generous glimpse of someone's personality is really the goal of any first date."

And, while it's nearly impossible to guarantee you'll never have a bad date again, many dating apps are now doing their part to set you up with more quality matches from the get-go — the most recent example being Hinge's new feature, "Most Compatible". Its goal is simple: to get you off the app and onto a great date. How you ask? By using their Nobel Prize-winning algorithm and advanced machine learning to curate one match per day who they think you're most likely to click with IRL. And miraculously, it's actually working for users who tested the feature: according to their data, members were eight times more likely to go on a date with their Most Compatible match than they were with other Hinge recommendations.

And Hinge isn't the only dating app to get on board with helping their users find great connections. Tinder recently debuted a similar feature called Tinder Picks — available as part of the paid Tinder Gold membership — which curates matches that their algorithm thinks you'll particularly like. The catch? Right now it's only available in a handful of countries — and sadly Tinder Picks hasn't hit the U.S. yet.

Either way, though, it's still great news that many popular dating apps are coming up with new features that are focused on helping users meet better, more quality matches online. Because honestly, there's nothing more frustrating than looking for love only to keep going on nothing but mediocre, obviously dead-end dates. No matter what apps you use, you deserve to have meaningful dates with your online matches — here are seven expert tips for making the most of a date... and hopefully making a love connection in the process.

1. Plan More Unique Dates

If all your dates revolve around dinner and drinks, try mixing things up by planning more unique, experience-based dates instead — you might be surprised how a new environment changes how you date.

"Plan dates that include experiences," Alexis Germany, dating coach & lifestyle strategist, tells Bustle. "Sharing an experience together can help you learn more about the other person and is less awkward than staring at a complete strange across the dinner table all night. Some great date ideas include a cooking class, a wine and paint class, a competitive activity like bowling or even a dance class. Having an activity to focus on makes for a more relaxed environment so you can really get to know each other."

2. Ask Important Questions

If a date is all small talk and awkward silences, it's hard to feel like you made a meaningful connection — which is why you should come prepared with some good questions to ask on a first date that can help you really get to know each other.

"The quickest way to determine if someone is compatible with you is finding out what their baselines values are," Graber says. "Avoid interrogating your date, but think of some issues that you care about and find a way to gently introduce them into the conversation."

3. Don't Play Texting Games

As tempting as it can be to spend weeks texting a match before you finally meet up, it's actually in your best interest to stop e-flirting and meet IRL sooner rather than later.

"Play by the rule of five: you get five texts before you arrange to meet for coffee [and] if you haven't met up by the tenth text, it's time to move on," Graber says. "Don't allow yourself to get swept up in dating games, where someone leads you on but never materializes in real life. Online dating should be used as a tool to meet people IRL. Some people use it as life-support for their ego. If someone can't get it together to meet for coffee, they're probably not looking for a meaningful connection."

4. Avoid Booze And Meet During The Day

When you're in a dimly lit bar after having a couple cocktails, it can be difficult to determine whether there's really a connection with your date, or if your enthusiasm towards them is only thanks to the alcohol.

"Yes, alcohol is a great way to mute those first-date nerves, but it can also impair your judgment and make it harder to connect on a meaningful level," Graber says. "At the very least, stick to two drinks max. If someone is just interested in hooking up, they're probably not inclined to go for a booze-free daytime adventure. If you suggest hiking and they counter with drinks at 10 p.m., you can probably do the math on what they're looking for. Save dinner and drinks for another date, when you've already met them and feel more comfortable."

5. Don't Go Out With Everyone You Match With

While it's good to get out of your dating comfort zone and meet up with people you might ordinarily overlook, that doesn't mean you should feel pressured to go out with every single person you match with.

"Avoid going out with every person you match with," Germany says. "Take some time to have a conversation to determine if this person is worth going out with. Appreciating your match’s physical appearance is not a good enough reason to go on a date unless you are only in search of a casual fling. If you want something more you need to establish a baseline before making a date. Bonus points for having a phone conversation prior to meeting."

6. Let Go Of Unrealistic Expectations

If you expect every date to have soulmate potential, you're going to wind up disappointed more often than not. Instead, don't put too much pressure on your dates — think of them merely as a chance to meet a new person and see what happens.

"Go in with the goal of having a good time," Caleb Backe, health & wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "Don’t enter the first date feeling a pressure to form a connection. You’ll both enjoy the date more when you’re relaxed."

7. Set Up A "Micro-Date" Before The Real Thing

One simple trick for feeling like your dates have more meaning? Use a short, simple "micro-date" as a way to vet people IRL before devoting your time and energy to a traditional date. By the time you go on a "real" date, you might already feel the beginning of a connection forming.

"Truthfully, you never know who you’re meeting until you show up for the date," Meredith Golden, a dating app ghostwriter and dating coach, tells Bustle. "I like to suggest a micro-date for a first meeting. Meet for a cup of coffee or one drink to see if there’s a connection. If this goes well, then advance to a traditional date."

Of course, there's no way to ensure that your dating life is free of duds, but by making a few small changes to how you date, you can work towards having better, more meaningful dates — which will hopefully lead you to a real, lasting connection with someone.