POV: you’re quietly crushing on a friend of a friend and finally ready to do something about it. Or perhaps you met a cute stranger last night, and you've already requested and followed each other. What happens next? If you’re feeling saucy and you generally agree with the maxim “no risk, no reward,” then you may want to consider sliding into their DMs.
Unlike a comment under someone’s social media post, which is visible to all their followers, a direct message (DM) is for their eyes only. Sending one “is a form of digital flirting,” says Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, PhD, a sex and relationships expert and professor at Cal State Fullerton. “It's particularly effective among younger millennials and Gen Z, because these are the generations that have grown up with technology and are comfortable using it in their personal lives.”
And right now, there's one particular type of DM on the rise: hitting up someone you share a mutual friend or acquaintance with (great news for anyone experiencing dating app fatigue.) “One of the most successful relationship-initiating strategies is third-party invitation, meaning a mutual contact introduces you," says Suwinyattichaiporn. “On social media, that mutual friend doesn’t have to formally introduce you, but you can both see you have that person in common, which helps open the door for a DM conversation.”
Meet the experts: Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, PhD, is a sex and relationships expert and professor at Cal State Fullerton. Rachel Vanderbilt, PhD, is a relationship scientist based in Tampa. Lauren Consul, LMFT, JD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist who sees clients in California, Florida, and Vermont. Kiara Ivory, LMFT, is a relationship therapist in North Carolina and Florida.
You don’t necessarily need a third party in common to shoot your shot. But if you do attempt to cold DM someone you’ve never met, there are more variables at play, including whether or not they accept your request in the first place. “I’d say the success rate with a stranger is very much 50/50,” says Suwinyattichaiporn. “You don’t know what their attitude is about being approached by someone they don’t know, whether in real life or on social media.”
That said, there’s no shame in trying—as long as you do it respectfully. So, what are the unspoken rules of a DM slide? What’s the best way to not only catch someone’s attention, but spark a back-and-forth worth taking offline? Women’s Health spoke to three social media-savvy dating experts for their recommendations.
How do you slide into someone's DMs successfully?
Think of it in the same way as in-person flirting: etiquette matters. “Make sure you’re doing it on an appropriate platform,” says relationship scientist Rachel Vanderbilt, PhD. “Platforms like Instagram are appropriate, but LinkedIn, never. You’d be surprised how many people shoot their shots on LinkedIn.”
In addition to keeping the DMs on personal, not professional, social media platforms, you need confirmation the other person isn’t already seeing someone. “You have to know if they’re single,” Vanderbilt continues. “If there’s even a question, it’s best to not reach out.”
Having a screen in front of you isn’t an excuse to go crazy in your opener with presumptuous remarks or sexual innuendo, either. “People might feel inclined to be more bold, but don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to someone if you ran into them at a coffee shop,” advises Lauren Consul, LMFT, JD, a licensed marriage and family therapist who sees clients in California, Florida, and Vermont.
What's the best way to slide into someone's DMs?
What you want to express is genuine and specific interest, say Suwinyattichaiporn, Vanderbilt, and Consul. Here are their biggest pointers:
Name-drop a mutual connection.
This is when having a third party in common comes in handy. “If you [have one], establish that familiarity right away. Mention the mutual connection’s name. Something as simple as ‘You know Miranda? I know her too,’ can work,” says Suwinyattichaiporn. “As humans, we tend to have this bias like, well if my friend is friends with this person, this person must be someone of quality. It’s an unspoken recommendation.”
Consul agrees, noting that even a loose tie offers a level of comfort. “We’re wired to connect with people and feel like we’re part of a group,” she adds. “It’s like when you’re abroad and you run into someone from your home or city or state, you’re like, ‘Great, let’s connect.’ Because there’s a sense of familiarity and connection. Utilize that.”
Be specific (without being a creeper).
Whether you’re sending a direct message to a friend of a friend or a stranger, the note you want to hit is personal, not alarming. If they recently posted a photo or video taking their pooch to Starbucks for a puppacino, ask how the dog liked it. Did they visit a restaurant that’s been on your radar? Ask if they’d recommend it. “Pick something that says, ‘I’ve looked at something recent, I noticed this about you, and this isn’t a message I’m sending everyone,’” Consul advises.
Also, there’s a difference between replying to a recent Instagram Story and bringing up someone’s high school graduation photos from 2013. “It’s striking the right balance between showing interest and being invasive. Don’t indicate any kind of deep dive. Even if it’s been documented on their social media, it feels weird,” Consul adds.
Compliment them sincerely.
Rule number one, don’t comment on anyone’s body right off the bat, even with flattery. This implies surface-level intent and could potentially make someone uncomfortable, says Suwinyattichaiporn. Choose more interesting skills or accomplishments, anything from an award at work to impressive snowboarding moves.
“Be flattering and honest, but avoid focusing on appearance,” says Vanderbilt. “It can be aggressive and insensitive. This is a whole person and you should reflect that with a little more substance. If there’s something you notice they like to do, like a hobby or an interest, mention that–especially if it's something you have in common.”
Keep your questions open-ended, and the conversation flowing.
Ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer, Vanderbilt also advises. “Keep finding commonalities,” she suggests. “You can volunteer information about yourself and the things you like. If the other person expresses interest, keep expressing it back. Give the energy you’re receiving. That’s how you keep it going.”
Coming in with questions and topics can help you keep up the conversation. “Have a plan. Know what you’re going to ask in your approach, whether it's about their job that they show off on social media or a party or event you were both at,” says Kiara Ivory, LMFT, a relationship therapist in North Carolina and Florida. “If you go in with no plan or angle, being vague may not signal enough interest on your part.”
How do I turn a DM into a date?
Has the other person engaged? Great. What you don’t want is for the DMing to go on so long that you morph into pen pals. “I would say if there’s consistent conversation for at least several days to a week, you can suggest meeting in person,” says Ivory.
That said, follow their cues—you might be able to sense when it’s time to move things IRL. “Bring it up when it feels right but in a way that gives the other person the chance to take more time because they might not be ready,” advises Consul. “Something along the lines of, ‘‘Hey, I’d love to meet you in person, but don’t feel any pressure. If you need more time, let’s keep talking until you are.’ Yeah, it's a little awkward to ask, but it’s okay to call out the elephant in the room.”
What if I get left on read?
If someone has seen your DM and isn’t responding, the reason may have nothing to do with you. “Dating, initially, is not personal,” emphasizes Consul. “Don’t read too much into it. Whether it’s a stranger or someone you know through mutual friends, you don’t know what’s happening in their life. Be okay with letting it go.”
If you have been DMing and they drop off, Consul recommends one nudge only: “I would say something along the lines of, ‘Hey, I’ve enjoyed chatting with you. If now’s not a great time, let me know if you want to pick this up in the future.’ That’s an emotionally mature response.”
And no matter whose DMs you’re sliding into, keep in mind that no one’s social media profile tells their full story. “Social media is like theater. We’re all showing what we want other people to see,” notes Vanderbilt. “Sliding into DMs is kind of risky and the risk is that it won’t always work out. You need to approach sliding into DMs with an air of distance. If someone’s interested, they’ll message back. If they don’t message back, it’s time to move on.”
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