Perfect your icebreaker and don’t overshare: the unwritten rules of online dating | Up your dating game

Dating experts say that tailored messages are far more effective than one word opening lines.
Photograph: Yaroslav Danylchenko/Stocksy United

It’s happened to nearly everyone who’s tried online dating (what other kind is there these days?). You scour a potential paramour’s photos for a spouse surreptitiously snipped off the sides. You thoroughly vet their profile to make sure they’re not a bot, or claiming to be looking for a “partner in crime”, and – bonus! – they’re exactly your type on paper.

You angle for a match, and feel that familiar buzz of excitement while you wait for a reply … which is when they drop their killer introduction – “Hey” – and you’re left with a nagging sense of dating déjà vu.

Brevity might be the soul of wit, but according to research by dating app Inner Circle, a whopping 91% of online daters have received a short but not-so-sweet, “Hi”, “Hello”, or “Hey”, by way of introduction. And most of us have also found it a total turn-off: messages lacking creativity have a lousy 12% response rate. Because when an opening gambit is five characters or less, where on earth are you supposed to take the conversation next?

“‘Hey’ is the easy option, but it’s a poor conversation starter, because it makes it really hard to reply with anything other than a ‘hey’ back,” says dating expert Charly Lester. “Instead, it’s important to show that you’re interested in the other person. You’ll easily be dismissed if people get the impression you’re saying the same thing to everyone.”

Far more popular are opening lines that show the sender has thought on their feet and captured that sense of spontaneity that makes online dating so exciting, rather than lugging the same tired lines from app to app.

Although a few people confessed that “Fancy a date?” was enough to entice them, the majority wanted matches to show they’d dug deeper than their profile pic. You don’t have to go overboard, though (“My nan has the same curtains as you! What are the chances?” is probably a step too far). And you don’t have to agree with your match’s likes and dislikes, either – there’s little point in creating an online persona that’ll be exposed as soon as you meet.

I once landed a date when I queried a guy’s love of beetroot (which is gross, obviously) by way of a hello. The resulting chat showed we had the kind of spark that would translate into real life, and made for a much more exciting run-up to our date than sticking to niceties. Tailored messages such as these are also a great way of flexing your personality and standing out – which, in a crowded market, is essential.

“The first message you send should be more about them than you,” says Lester. “If you’ve gone to the effort of actually reading their profile and asking them a question about it, that will be the message that stands out, and the one they put more effort into replying to. I know one guy who’d make up a limerick based on the person’s profile, which is a really funny idea.”

It’s hard to think of a better ice-breaker than a personalised limerick, but anything that involves some effort and sparks a conversation is a winner. My now-other half’s introduction was: ‘You like Papa John’s pizza too? What’s your favourite topping?’ which, while not exactly poetry, at least spoke of a future free of arguments over which takeaway to order.

If this all sounds a bit too daunting, Inner Circle is offering a helping hand and encouraging more creativity by banning the word “hey”. Use any variation of “hello” as your opening line, and the app will autocorrect it to a cheeky chat-up line.

To make sure your match isn’t turned off faster than the TV when your mum catches you watching Naked Attraction, the site is working with wordsmiths of all ilks to get the tone just right. Think of it like a digital Cyrano de Bergerac giving your love life a helping hand. Now all you’ve got to do is land that first date …

So why not try more than hi? Sign up to Inner Circle, and get one month’s full membership for free

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