The New Thing People Are Doing With Their Dating Apps

The end of dating as we know it, or a smart idea?


The first rule of the internet used to be “practice absolute anonymity.” The fear — and I assume this holds true for anyone with young kids to protect, plus my dad, who is convinced the Internet is just one big credit-card-stealing, identity-theft trap — was that an axe murderer would find and kill you.

The internet we know today, however, is but a balcony upon which to fan out intimate life details as though they were dollar bills and we were making it rain. We give out information on the web like that scene in 10 Things I Hate About You when Joseph Gordon-Levitt and David Krumholtz dump kegger flyers from the top of the rafters to the entire student body.

This holds especially true on dating apps, where the standard bio format is as follows: age, sex, location, Instagram.

Raya, a scene-y dating app filled with variations on that guy who brings his acoustic guitar to parties unsolicited, uses Instagram handles to vet applicants. Once accepted, your handle and those of your potential matches are baked into each profile by default, right under “name.” There is a section that shows your matches’ most recent Instagram posts, and they can see yours. It’s weirdly intimate. When I joined last year I assumed the point was to prompt conversation. Later, after partaking in significantly less conversations than I had on Tinder or its competitors, I was told that “no one really used Raya to date, but to get more Instagram followers.” In this context, where everyone’s profile was packed with a series of professional headshots, it made sense.

A few months later, while swiping through Bumble, there it was: an Instagram handle. Followed by another one, and then another. It soon became just as common to see as height or “that’s not my kid.” I found out many of my friends — guys and girls alike — also have theirs listed, which prompted an informal investigation.

Of people surveyed (and as always, I grill friends, casual drinking companions, randoms within close bar proximity, former hook ups and your mailman), their reasonings behind the Instagram-add fell into two camps: those who did it for the followers, and those who did it for transparency.

The crew who told me they did it for the followers said they noticed a modest jump. None seemed weirded out that listing their handles meant any random, terrifying human who came across their dating profiles, not just matches, could view their Instagrams. The general response was, “my Instagram is public anyway, so what’s the difference?” They don’t post anything endangering, job-threatening or otherwise incriminating. Those with private profiles granted requests for entry at their discretion. Though their intent was not to be famous or even recognized, they seemed to embrace the “discovery” aspect of the picture-heavy social-media platform. Besides, everyone wants more likes. That’s science.

Next we have the group who did it for transparency. Those in this category felt that their Instagrams offered a better overall picture of who they were than that of their dating profiles. “Everything is on there,” one woman said. “What I look like, who my friends are, what my interests are, my politics. It also lets everyone know that I’m weird.” This group — many of them seasoned dating-app users who were fatigued by the small talk and vetting process — had a take-it-or-leave-it attitude when it came to their true selves. They said this moved things along and, as I had assumed was the case with Raya, prompted better conversation. Also, because you put your handle out there for the taking, it welcomes creeping and eliminates that awkward in-person moment where you have to pretend you don’t know every single detail of your date’s Puerto Rican vacation.

I went into this story fairly cynical. “Let’s add one piece of evidence that suggests no one is actually looking for anyone, dating is outdated and all of us are narcissists.” Half-true, I guess? My outlook was restored by those taking new approaches to meet someone — or the one. We are not hopeless. I still regard all internet strangers as potential axe murderers, of course, but at least romance isn’t totally dead.

Illustration by Maria Jia Ling Pitt. 

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  • Alice

    I think if I added my instagram handle I would scare away 90% of guys because my stories are 85% cats, either mine or strays that use me as their soup kitchen.

    • Lorraine Yu

      sounds like an account that I would follow

      • Alice

        I posted my instagram handle in response to another commenter, would love to meet fellow fashion and cat enthusiasts!

    • Adrianna

      Um what’s your instagram handle. Because 85% of the accounts I follow are cat-related

      • Alice

        There are so many good cat instagrams! Mine isn’t 100% my cat but I’m: alicegraceless

  • Adrianna

    I don’t think it should matter whether or not people link their social media accounts to their profiles. What should matter, however, is that we take instagram for what it is – a curated series of photos and captions.

    This cultural discussion of online dating is mind blowing to me because I did online dating back when you were ashamed to admit it. In high school I hooked up with a guy from Xanga after we chatted on AIM for three years. The first guy I hooked up with second week of college was a guy I “met” on Facebook. I had a volatile on-off situation with a guy from Craigslist.

    These are all things I still generally don’t admit, because it wasn’t “normal” to date like this back ten years ago. I slowly learned that the issue with all of these relationships was that the online persona did not match or fully represent the person in front of me. But I struggled to process it, because I felt all alone

  • Justyna

    Giving someone an insight into your life (e.g. Instagram) can open a can of worms. I wouldn’t necessarily mind someone looking at my photos because they are out there but a lot of other information can also be found which isn’t always ideal (especially when it comes to dating scene).

    I had a pretty bad experience when I went on a date, it wasn’t a successful one, social accounts weren’t exchanged but the guy still managed to find me everywhere, followed, spammed and used every single horrible (swear) word possible to offend me and harass. These days even the idea of adding my Instagram handle to my dating profiles scares me and to be totally honest, I am pretty scared of using dating apps in general. It takes me weeks to actually get out of my comfort zone and go for a date (which boys definietely don’t like), I have only been on 2 dates since and it’s been over 6 months now.

  • Sasha

    Hi ! You should read this interesting article tackling another important way we handle relationships today- Long distance relationships,

  • Christian Vergara

    Great post! 👍🏾