The Introverts’ Guide to Online Dating

Laura’s avatar

If you’re single – and especially if you’re an Introvert – you’ve probably had at least one friend/parent/neighbor/stranger tell you to try online dating. And with good reason: according to a recent study from Stanford University and the University of New Mexico, nearly 40% of heterosexual couples and 65% of same-sex couples in the United States say they’re meeting through online dating services.

For Introverted personalities, online dating can seem like a perfect fit. Rather than elbowing our way through crowded parties or shouting over the music at a bar, we can browse potential matches from the comfort of our very own homes – possibly in our pajamas, with our pets nearby for moral support – and take as much time as we need to craft messages to people who catch our eye.

But that doesn’t necessarily make online dating fun or easy. It can be downright harrowing to put together a profile. (Should I admit that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is my favorite movie? And do my teeth look weird in that picture?) And think about having to banter with a perfect stranger over chat or text messages. (Is it weird if I use proper grammar? What are we supposed to talk about, anyway?)

And all of that’s before you even meet in person.

The good news is that being an Introvert does not make you “really bad” at attracting partners, and it doesn’t mean that online dating has to suck. How do I know, you might ask? Well, I’m very much an Introvert, and I’ve been on nearly a hundred dates (I know, I know) with people I met through dating sites or apps. In the beginning, these dates felt very much like a chore, but over time, I found ways to tailor each step of the process to my Introverted personality trait.

So, here’s my best advice on how you can bring your full, authentic, beautifully Introverted self to your online dating adventures – and maybe even have a good time doing it.

Online Dating for Introverts: A Step-By-Step Guide

Step 1: Make a Profile

When I first decided to try online dating, I did so in typical Turbulent Mediator fashion. I’ll just put together a profile and see what happens, I told myself. I don’t have to actually meet anyone. Probably no one will want to meet me, anyhow.

Secretly, however, I very much hoped that at least someone would want to meet me – and so I resolved to make the most perfectly appealing profile ever. I chose the most flattering photos I could find and described myself in a generic, nonthreatening fashion. I might as well have said, “My interests are reading, hiking, and whatever else you think is cool.”

And that worked… Well, sort of. I got dozens of messages, and I went on a flurry of dates. But none of those people really got me – maybe because the real me was nowhere in sight.

Tip #1: Meet Your Own Standards

When you’re scrolling through dozens of potential matches, what catches your eye? Maybe you find yourself stopping to get a better look at a clear, well-lit photo of someone with a big smile. Or maybe you find yourself nodding along with a profile description that foregrounds someone’s hobbies and passions or highlights how close they are to their friends and family.

And what turns you off? Blurry, moody photos where the person isn’t even facing the camera? Photos that look years out of date? Grammar and spelling errors? Half-completed profiles that trail off into a long, sad line of ellipses with a few commas accidentally thrown in…,…,…,,…?

Once you’ve taken note of your personal standards, make sure you meet them in your own profile. This can help you see your profile the way a potential match might. For example, have you:

  • uploaded two or more recent, well-lit photos where you’re facing the camera?
  • checked your spelling and grammar?
  • filled in all the fields?
  • shared at least a couple of personal details, such as what appeals to you about your work or how you enjoy spending your weekends?
Sample online dating profiles, before and after implementing 16Personalities’ tips.

Many Introverts – myself included – find it uncomfortable to share details of their lives or even pose for photos. If you could get away with a three-word description and one blurry photo where you’re wearing a hat and sunglasses, I promise I’d tell you so. But that just won’t fly on most platforms. Fortunately, you can get off to a good start just by snapping a few fresh pictures and posting a clear, concise description.

Tip #2: It’s Not All about the Profile

Your profile shouldn’t be generic, but that doesn’t mean you need to cram it with everything someone might ever want to know about you. Many of us Introverted personalities feel most comfortable expressing ourselves from behind a keyboard, so it may be tempting to saddle your profile with a 2,000-word essay that starts out with, “What you need to know about me is… Unfortunately, overlong descriptions can lose people’s interest or even come across as self-involved.

For guidance, take a closer look at those profiles that catch your interest. How long are the descriptions? Are they broken up into multiple paragraphs, if the platform allows for that? Do they talk more about traits (“I am considerate and trustworthy”) or actions (“I love hitting the trail for a run after a long, stressful day”)? Seeing what works in other profiles can help you find both a length and format that makes sense for your own.

Remember this: no matter how hard you try, there’s no way to create a profile that captures your full personality. It just isn’t possible. So, don’t think you have to wait until you have your profile “just right” before you can actually talk or meet with people.

Tip #3: Highlight Your Quirks

After nearly a year of online dating, I decided to change up my photos. Gone were the über-flattering pictures taken by a friend with a fancy camera. Instead, I snapped a couple of quick, imperfectly lit selfies of me with the forty-string harp I was learning to play.

Those selfies didn’t make my hair look particularly good, but they caught some of my real personality – including a big, genuine smile. They also conveyed something I was actually passionate about. And you know what? It was those photos that caught the eye of the person who is now my fiancé.

So, here’s my advice: own your quirks. Maybe you’re learning to fence or writing a fantasy novel or caring for a family of 58 houseplants. Whatever makes you tick – even if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea – don’t be afraid to highlight it. After all, wouldn’t you rather end up with someone who appreciates your quirks rather than someone who’s attracted to a bland, generic profile?

Step 2: Chat with People

This step can be tricky. On the one hand, exchanging written messages appeals to many Introverted personality types. Interacting with someone via a screen? Sure, we can do that. On the other hand, it’s really easy to get stuck in this step, exchanging witty messages all the livelong day but never actually meeting anyone in person.

When I was doing the whole online-dating dog and pony show, I got a little dopamine hit every time I got a message. Of course, not every message deserved a dopamine hit. One guy led off by calling himself a “man of misery” and saying he was “probably not ready” to date. (Also, you wouldn’t believe how many people just say, “Hey,” and leave it at that.)

Now, as I scroll through those old chat transcripts, I can’t believe how many people I exchanged dozens of messages with but never met – whiling away hours that could have been spent reading or hiking or whatever. At the time, I chided myself for being flaky, but looking back, I can see that those people just weren’t for me. Some of them lived too far away. Some just weren’t my type. And hours of chatting weren’t going to change that.

Tip #1: Don’t Wait for Them to Make the First Move

Only 38% of Introverted personalities say that if they like someone, they “waste no time” letting them know – compared to 65% of Extraverted personalities. And you know what? Most of the time, it’s perfectly all right to wait to approach someone until we’re fully comfortable.

Alas, online dating doesn’t work that way. Most people don’t have unlimited amounts of time to chat and meet with potential matches. If you wait a week or even just a few days to send someone a message (or reply to their messages!), their inbox might already be overflowing, or they might have just scheduled a date for the only night they have free this week.

If someone catches your eye, drop them a line right away. It might not feel super comfortable, and that’s okay. Just focus on establishing contact. You don’t need to come up with the perfect opening line. To be honest, there’s no such thing as a perfect opening line (as long as you don’t just say, “Hey,” or reveal that you’re not actually ready to date, that is).

One more thing: the point of chatting with someone on a dating site or app is to actually set up a date. If, after chatting for a little while, you want to meet someone, then let them know. Beyond this point, exchanging more messages – even if those messages seem super deep and awesome – may actually dampen your enthusiasm for each other. Remember that you’re both on this site for the same reason, hoping to be asked out.

Tip #2: Show Off Your Listening Skills

According to our research, 87% of Introverted personality types say that, in conversations, they tend to be the listener. When it comes to online dating, this can really set you apart. In a world (or an inbox) full of people who want to talk about themselves, it’s a breath of fresh air to have someone say, “Hey, I see that you’re learning to play racquetball. How did you get into that?”

When chatting with a potential match, use your listening skills to draw them out. If you’re sending the first message, always reference something specific from that person’s dating profile – for example, their recent trip to France or their interest in Thai cuisine. That alone will help you stand out from all the messages that say, “Hey, how was your weekend?” It also gives the person a sense of what you’re like: a thoughtful, considerate listener who’s genuinely curious about other people.

Step 3: The First Date

Making it to this step is a good thing. But it might not feel that way right before you’re scheduled to meet, when suddenly all you want is to crawl into bed with a good book. I confess that I used to compulsively check my phone during the lead-up to a date, hoping that the person I was supposed to meet had canceled at the last minute. Alas, they almost always showed up.

Incidentally, do you know what isn’t a good way to prepare for a first date? You guessed it: compulsively checking your phone to see if the other person has canceled.

I would also caution against:

  • agonizing over your hair/makeup/clothing. (You’ll probably be most comfortable if you show up as a well-groomed version of your normal self, so don’t think you need to dress or look like someone else altogether.)
  • brainstorming dozens of random conversation topics. (You’d be surprised how hard it is to skillfully steer a conversation toward the subject of composting toilets.)
  • googling the person you’re about to meet. (It’s super awkward if you say, “Hey, I think it’s really cool you won that violin competition in 2009,” and they haven’t told you about it.)

Instead, I’d suggest that you spend any free time before a date doing something you enjoy – whether that’s reading a book, listening to a podcast, or cuddling with your pet. This can help you feel more relaxed and present during the date itself. (And trust me, that cool book you’re reading is a way better conversation topic than composting toilets.)

Tip #1: Don’t Fret about Being an Introvert

Here’s the bad news: being an Introvert means that you probably feel drained after extensive social interaction, and that can make dating seem all the more daunting. You might need to schedule some alone time to gear up for a first date, and afterward, you might need even more alone time to recover.

Ready for the good news? Being an Introvert doesn’t mean that you’re bad at dating. Introversion also doesn’t mean that you’re a bad conversationalist, that you don’t know how to have fun, or that other people don’t love spending time with you. In fact, your Introverted personality trait can give you the listening skills needed to become a truly great conversationalist who’s a joy to be around. It can also empower you to forgo some of the most common romantic ploys, such as playing hard to get.

Oh, I’m terrible at dating because I’m an Introvert. If you tell yourself this, then you’re just setting yourself up for hurt feelings. And if you assume that Extraverted personalities somehow have it easier when it comes to dating, then you’re forgetting that even the most outgoing Extravert can still get nervous, act awkward, and have their heart broken.

Remember, Introversion comes with its own gifts and is not a liability when it comes to dating. Once you’ve done that, you can improve your first-date mind-set even further by moving on to Tip #2.

Tip #2: Treat First Dates as Practice

Here, fellow Introvert, are your options: you can go into a first date with the attitude that, “If this doesn’t work out, then I’m probably doomed to be alone forever,” or you can decide to view any dates that don’t pan out as practice.

As you might guess, I strongly recommend the latter. I know exactly one lucky soul who married the first person they met online. The rest of us go on a number of first dates before we meet someone with whom we click. You can view this as a bad thing, or you can see it as a gift. Even if we mess up a whole lot of the first dates we go on, it probably doesn’t matter.

Once you start viewing dating as “practice,” you’ll probably find that you learn something from every first date, no matter how awkward or draining it may be. You might learn that you talk really fast when you’re nervous, or that you enjoy asking people about trips they’ve taken, or that you really, really, really hate bowling.

Whatever the lesson is, take it to heart. That way, when you meet someone who really does make your heart sing, you’ll already know to slow down, ask them about their travels – and stay far, far away from any bowling alleys.

Step 4: The Aftermath

Congratulations, you survived the first date!

So, now what?

The hours after a first date can be surprisingly stressful. You might mentally replay each moment in a conversation, wondering, Was it super awkward to talk about how much I love chocolate hummus? I mean, that’s a valid conversation topic, right?

Chances are, you’ll also check your phone more than usual, hoping for (or perhaps dreading?) a message about a second date. It’s tempting to wait for the other person to get in touch first, especially if they seem relatively outgoing. But even for Introverts, waiting on someone else can be really disempowering.

For a long time, it never even occurred to me that I could be the one to say, “Hey, I had a great time. How about we do that again sometime soon?” But eventually, I discovered that I actually liked being the first person to weigh in after a date. It felt bold and brave and honest – feelings that can be surprisingly thrilling for Introverted personalities.

Eventually, I even got brave enough to say, “I really enjoyed meeting with you and chatting about chocolate hummus. I didn’t feel a spark, but I’m really glad we had the chance to meet. Take care.” And, for me, speaking my mind in that way is a really, really big deal.

Tip #1: There Are No Rules, but That Doesn’t Mean Anything Goes

As you’re heading home from the date, use your Introverted introspective skills to notice how you feel. Are your hands buzzing with excitement, or do your cheeks hurt from forced smiling? Once you’ve checked in with these physical sensations, it might be easier for you to decide how you feel about the date – and whether you’d like to see that person again.

Once you’ve made this decision, be bold and brave and let the other person know, even if you don’t know how they feel. Don’t worry about the so-called rules of dating. (Is it too soon to send a message? Is there a “right” way to say this?) The truth is, there are no set rules when it comes to this stuff, and there’s no “right” way to say any of it.

That doesn’t mean that anything goes, though. Even if it isn’t super comfortable, you’re better off saying how you feel sooner rather than later. Let’s walk through a case-by-case of why that’s true:

  • You like them and suggest a second date
    • If they’re interested, they’ll be delighted when you suggest a second date. Seriously, you’ll make their day. Additional benefit: the more prompt you are with this, the more likely you are to make it onto their schedule again if they’re super busy (see Step 2, Tip #1).
    • If they’re not interested, then the worst that could happen is that they say no. And yes, that hurts, but at least you know for sure, and you won’t be left wondering, Maybe if I’d texted them…
  • You don’t like them and let them down gently…
    • If they’re interested, then your kindly worded message (to the extent of “had a nice time but didn’t feel a spark”) will spare them and you some awkwardness. Trust me – it’s much easier to let someone down gently if you do so before they’ve suggested a second date.
    • If they’re not interested, then what do you have to lose? You may as well give them the consideration of thanking them for meeting you, even if it didn’t work out.

I’m not saying that any of this is easy. In fact, I know it can be particularly challenging for us Introverts. But at least we can handle this step over a text message if we like. Just a couple of decades ago, we would have been stuck doing all this over the phone (or, if the Introverted personality stars aligned in our favor, via answering machine).

Be bold and try being the one to suggest a follow-up date (or say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” if that’s how you feel). If it doesn’t work out, then you can chalk it up to practice (see Step 3, Tip #2) and move on. Speaking of which…

Tip #2: Get Back on the Horse

Spoiler alert: some dates won’t work out, just like some relationships won’t work out.

At times, this fact won’t bother you at all. You’ll listen to some Lizzo and get on with your life. But at other times, it might bother you a great deal. Rejection sucks, and one person’s rejection can feel like a giant stamp on your forehead that says “uncool” or “unlovable” or whatever your worst fear is.

But here’s the thing: you don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you. (Ask me how I know that.) In this way, rejection is a gift. Sure, it’s a gift that nobody wants, but it isn’t the end of the world, I promise. And it doesn’t need to stop you from getting back on the horse – or the dating app – and trying again.

Swipe Right or Swipe Wrong?

So, dear reader, now that you’ve heard my top tips, do you feel more ready to jump into the world of online dating? Or, if you’re already on dating sites or apps, will you change anything about your approach? Let us know in the comments!

Further Reading

How to Tell if Someone Is Into You, by Personality Type

Three Ways Your Turbulent Personality Trait Can Mess Up a Date – And How to Fight Back

Can Romance Last?

“Online Dating [Experienced]” Survey