What It's Really Like To Meet On A Dating App


Being single in a major city is undoubtedly awesome... when you want to be single. But if you're single and looking in a big city, it can be frustrating AF. Sure, there are more options in cities — and the paradox of choice may be an issue for some — but how do you really meet new people? Whether you're new to the city or you've been there for years, like I have, and you already know all your friends' friends, their co-workers, and their neighbors, it can feel impossible sometimes. That's why so many singles (15 percent of U.S. adults, according to Pew Research) rely on using dating apps to meet people so heavily.

Happn, the dating app that connects you with people you've crossed paths with, launched in 2014 with the premise that we encounter tons of people every day IRL in major cities without actually meeting them. The app wants to offer an opportunity to meet people who live near you, go out near you, or work near you — aka the people in your environment that you probably should know if it wasn't so awkward to be talking to strangers in a city.

“The density [in cities] makes things more complicated," Claire Certain, Happn’s Head of Global Trends and Events, tells Bustle. "In a small city, everyone knows everyone and if not, it’s common to say hello.” But in a big city? People will look at you funny — and probably head in the opposite direction.

On Happn, you'll see a feed of all the people you're crossing paths with according to your preferences, which are basic ones, like gender and age range. On every profile on your feed, you'll see where and when you passed each other, along with the number of times you've crossed paths — which can be a convo starter actually ("Oh hey, we've crossed paths approximately 105 times, it's probably rude if I don't say hello at this point!"). From there, you can send them a "Charm" (kind of like a less creepy Facebook poke) or heart them. A match or a "Crush" happens when you both like each other and from there, you can chat, send them a song, send them a voice message — the rest is up to you but the idea is that you meet IRL as soon as possible. You know, before that number reaches 106.

While the stigma of online dating is gone (among younger generations, at least... what you tell grandma may be a different version), there's still confusion out there too about what actually works online and what doesn't. How do I stand out in the crowd? What should my first message be? Most importantly, how do you take things offline?

To answer my questions, I looked straight to the source: long-term couples who met on Happn to see what actually worked for them. "Most [couples who met on the app] are spontaneous, so they want to share the story with us," Certain says. "At the end of the day, that’s why we build this app."

Certain mentions how Happn brought together one couple who passed each other every single day but never actually saw each other. "He was commuting on his way to work in London by bus and she lived on the street the bus was crossing by every morning," she says. "He was on his way to work before she even left her building to go to work — if it weren’t for Happn they would've never met on the sidewalk."

Ashley and Octave, who met on Happn in 2015 after crossing paths in the Miami airport (she was on her way back from Barbados and he was in Florida for work), developed a long-distance friendship before dating and then becoming engaged. Matt and Solvi met on Happn in 2015 (June 5, 2015, a date which both of them remember btw) after Solvi messaged Matt. They exchanged numbers and went on their first date a week later, were married in early 2016, and recently had a baby boy. Below, the two couples share how their first messages went down and why dating apps users shouldn't give up.

What Stood Out About Their Partner's Profile

Sure, looks are important when you're using a dating app and they may be the first thing you notice, but someone's profile photos also tell a story. No one wants to see six selfies or polished head shots — where's the personality in that? With such a limited space in your profile, you're put to the test to convey yourself with a couple of photos, a short bio, and a profession. So what do people really notice?

For Octave, it was Ashley's colorful jumping picture in Brazil that piqued his interest.

And she noticed something similar about him. "I loved his adventurous photos (he was riding an elephant in one photo), because I adore traveling," Ashley tells Bustle. But something else actually piqued her interest first.

"I immediately noticed we worked for the same company – Ernst & Young and that we had a French connection," Ashley says. "I was able to look him up at work given his unique name and learned that we also worked in the same service line. Of course, I couldn’t get past how perfectly he fit my tall (6’4”), dark and handsome type."

Courtesy of Ashley and Octave

Solvi tells Bustle that Matt's sporty and tough look in his photos first attracted her — and his bio sealed the deal. "He also had a photo in a lumber jack shirt, and another one in a suit," she says. "Not bad! Then I looked at his bio. I really liked that it said something about being good to others and that we would be a match if I liked to laugh. Boom!"

As for Matt? "She was from Norway, had a great smile, dressed classy, was athletic," he tells Bustle. "Oh, and was downright unfair good-lookin'."

What Their First Messages Said:

While "Hey, how's it going?" is the most popular message on Happn, according to a 2016 Bustle and Happn survey of over 1,000 users, is that greeting playing it too safe or should you go with something more unique? Turns out, both approaches can work.

Ashley & Octave: “Hey fellow coworker, I see you’re learning my beautiful language…”

"He said this because he was born and raised in Paris and I mentioned in my profile our mutual employer and that I was learning French because I was moving to Paris for three months in the fall of 2015, " Ashley says.

Solvi & Matt: "Happy Friday"

Solvi sent this first message. "He replied quickly after and we started talking about our plans for the weekend," she says.

How They Felt About Dating Apps At The Time:

Think you have to be a pro at online dating to find success? Think again. Both couples expressed frustrating with the dating scene prior to meeting their partner.

Octave had been online dating for a about year before he met Ashley, "but not very successfully," he says.

I was tired of the games and felt like I was getting carpal tunnel from swiping.

And Ashley was getting frustrated too. "I was tired of the games and felt like I was getting carpal tunnel from swiping," Ashley says. "I felt disappointed that I wasn’t meeting people that I had things in common with because I’m a big believer that the quality of things you do determines the people whose paths you cross — so why wasn’t I meeting great people at my workout studio, the office, library, restaurants, coffee shops, museums, during my travels, or at church? I wanted my Hollywood “meet cute” and thought an online app based on the places I spend time may be the right thing to try."

Matt was no stranger to dating apps either, but he was learning that it was all about the right technique. "I had been using Happn for about six months at that time, and also had two other dating apps on my phone as well," Matt says. "I felt that if navigated properly, there were quality dates/potential to be had. Just required the right approach, as frustrating as things got at times."

How People React When They Hear They Met On Happn

While dating apps are common among Millennials — they may still seem odd to older generations or even younger adults who've never used them before. "I tell them the story straight and watch as their mouths drop," Octave says. "Not a lot of people believe things can happen online in my entourage!"

For the generations above us, I just keep it to the fact that we met in New York City.

Ashley says her story even inspires others. "When I explain the full story, most everyone tells me our story is like a movie and my friends have said it gives them hope in dating apps," she says.

Solvi and Matt tailor their story for the older folks, who might not get this whole dating app thing. "Our generation finds it pretty natural, and I have friends that also met their spouses on a dating app," Solvi says. "For the generations above us, I just keep it to the fact that we met in New York City and that we were lucky to "Happn" to be in Midtown at the same time!"

Courtesy of Matt and Solvi

And her husband agrees. "I find that when I tell people of a more senior generation, I will sometimes condense our story to 'we met in NYC' so that conversation will not get too muddled with technology and 'how things used to be'. When I tell anyone closer to my age demographic, they are not very surprised. I've had a couple of friends download Happn on the spot when they found out as well," Matt says.

Their Best Advice To Dating App Users

Annoyed and ready to throw your phone out the window? Looking at photo after photo, having the same dead-end conversations over and over — it can feel hopeless sometimes. But take it from people who've found success, it is possible, and it requires honesty, patience, and respect.

'Never forget that a person is much more than a few selfies.'

It might even be an attitude adjustment that does the trick. "Dating apps are a helpful resource, and can be leveraged successfully (trust me on this one), but what is often lost is that there is a person on the other end of that app," Matt says. "The failure to reply, the canceling of gets one weary. It's easier to be dismissive or rude if you've never met someone."

He also points out how important it is to be upfront with your expectations. "While it might not be a great idea to talk marriage on a first date, you also don't want to be someone else's one-night fling if that's not what you're seeking," he says. "If honesty scares someone away, were they going to be right for you anyway?"" Nope, nope, and nope.

Ashley says to have faith on your apps. "Quality people do exist on the apps," she says. "I have tons of amazing, successful friends on dating apps with honest intentions. Don’t let one bad experience deter you from meeting the right person."

And Octave puts it all in perspective. "Keep looking and don’t be afraid of the distance!" he says. "Never forget that a person is much more than a few selfies." And he's right. Even when it comes to something as new as dating apps, the Golden Rule never goes out of style.