The Trick to Landing a Relationship When You’re Online Dating

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Not everyone on dating apps is looking for The One—OK, so that’s the understatement of the century, especially for Tinder users—but I know plenty of people who put time, effort, and money into creating a dating profile on Hinge, OKCupid, or Match with the goal of meeting “the real deal.” And some of them do it successfully! But, as more and more research is showing, most people don’t. Photos can be misrepresentative, opening lines can fall flat, and in-person meetings—when they finally happen—are just as likely to be a letdown as they are to be fun and exciting. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could pick the brains of those who did somehow game the online dating system and find their true loves? That’s exactly what dating app PlentyOfFish did in a recent survey.

In a poll of 1,100 former users who married people they met online (disclaimer: these were all straight couples), there was a pattern of certain types of first messages that were exchanged between people who ended up together. The top one: Mentioning something specifically highlighted in the other person’s profile was the opener for 17 percent of couples. The second most popular opening, which 15 percent of couples used: “Hey, what’s up?” (Original!) 9 percent asked the other person about him or herself; 8 percent complimented their photos; and 8 percent brought up their interests as a talking point.

MORE: A Guide to Dating as a Single Mom Under Age 30

Cute Couple

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40 percent of the users surveyed also said they swallowed their fears of rejection—or simply realized the odds of getting something back are higher when you message more prospects—and messaged their current partner first. And 35 percent of those people were women. Perhaps in keeping with the traditional demographic of people surveyed (straight, married couples), the most popular first date choice by far was meeting for dinner, followed by grabbing drinks, going for a walk, and meeting for coffee.

To recap, here’s the successful formula for finding love online: A friendly, semi-personal (but not creepily so) first message—which you shouldn’t be afraid to initiate—followed by a first date involving a generic activity that allows for getting-to-know-you conversation in a public place. Sounds pretty basic. But sometimes, apparently, basic is exactly what works.

MORE: What to Do When Your Guy Has Problems Below the Belt