Love & Tinderness: The Opening Message

Want a 110 percent response rate to your online dating messages? Jess Bernhart gets (kind of) mathematical about writing the perfect opener.

I like to imagine there’s a backstory to my lamest Tinder messages. When I receive a message at 3 a.m. that says “‘sup,” I try to think it’s the culmination of a night’s agony rather than a general lack of care. I picture the sender lying in bed in a sweaty tangle of sheets, determined to labor until he’d nailed down the golden ratio of intrigue, wit, and sincerity. But the task was too daunting, and before arriving at that artistic blend, he sandbagged himself with doubts and typed “hi.”

It’s hard — I know. As a virtual dating assistant, I write scores of opening messages every day across every platform imaginable. OkCupid estimates that the average response rate of man-to-woman first messages is 27 percent, a pretty meager return on an investment. This perceived failure, I imagine, fuels the cycle of low-effort and boilerplate messages, which in turn lead to even lower response rates, which cause guys to disinvest further. And so on, and so forth. It’s basic self-sabotage as protection against the cruel possibility a woman won’t find your best effort all that compelling. But the fact of the matter is almost anything a fella could write would perform better than “hi.” Even “yo.” Even “holla.”


Statistically, men do bear the burden of sending the first message. While women and men are pretty much on par when it comes to liking, browsing, and holding conversations, straight women are 3.5 times less likely to send the first message compared with straight men. (In queer communities, these numbers are far more balanced.)

So, straight guys, this one’s for you.

There are Golden Rules to sending the first message, but I won’t insult your intelligence by going through them in-depth. Ask a question. Reference their profiles. For the full gamut, simply Google “how to write online dating message” and wait for your computer to burst into flames, because there is nothing to which the Internet is more dedicated than helping you find a piece of ass. Let’s get a little more technical.

Rule No. 1: Show baseline literacy. Net-speak like “ur,” “rly,” and “wut” are turn-offs, but properly deploying the Queen’s English actually increases your response rate. Correctly spelling words like “don’t” and “won’t” bump response rates to 36 percent and 37 percent, respectively. (Consider casting your entire message in the negative to really exercise those contractions.) And men who use “whom” get a whopping 30 percent more contacts than those who don’t. I don’t even think you’d have to use “whom” correctly, because honestly, who (whom?) really knows how.

Rule No. 2: Get your GIFs out. Sending a GIF on Tinder increases the likelihood of getting a response by a solid 30 percent, and conversations that include GIFs last almost twice as long as those without. To make this shooting fish with a semi-automatic in a very small barrel, here are the 20 GIFs raking in the best responses..


Rule No. 3: Don’t “neg” them. For the blissfully unacquainted, to “neg” someone is to insult or diminish, while pretending to compliment or engage. An example of a neg recommended by the Internet: “Growing up there was a kid in my class who always wore a weird green sweater, and we used to tease him about looking like a giant booger. I swear this sweater (touch arm lightly) is the same color!” The tactic was popularized in the mid-2000s by “pick-up artists” and the bestseller, The GameBut it’s not the mid-2000s anymore. “Friends” is no longer on NBC. Gwen Stefani has three kids. Get over it.

Rule No. 4: On the flip side, don’t compliment her, either. Telling a woman she’s “very pretty” drops your success rate to 25 percent. “Beautiful” gets a 22 percent response rate and “sexy” bottoms out at 18 percent. Similarly, don’t puff yourself up. A lot of online dating advice tells men to play the super-confident alpha male, but using self-effacing words like “awkward,” “sorry,” and “kinda” bump response rates to almost 40 percent.

Of course, none of this is a substitute for genuine interest, connection, and personality. But let’s run the numbers. Start with an opening message that includes “won’t” and you’ve already got a 37 percent chance at a response. Throw “whom” in there for an additional 30 percent, and if you’re on Tinder, toss in a GIF for another 30. You’re now at 97 percent. There’s almost no chance she’s not writing back. But wait, there’s more! Randomly apologize for something to get a 13 percent boost, and you now have a 110 percent response rate. You are getting responses to messages you haven’t even sent yet! Let’s not dwell on the math here ... this is excellent news.


My final advice is this: if you are a straight woman, start sending messages. According to OkCupid’s research, everyone aims high. On average, men contact women are who considered 17 percentile points more attractive than they are, while women contact men who are 10 points above them. How these attractiveness points are calculated is a dark interior mystery. But suffice it to say, if he contacts you, he’s probably less attractive. If you contact him, he’s probably more attractive. Couple this with the fact that women are 2.5 times more likely to receive a response than men, and presto-zappo, by sending the first message, women can have conversations with men who are better catches, and hopefully, better fits.

So guys, next time you’re lying in bed in a fit of creative fury, skip the compliments and throw in little self-doubt, and you’ll see more messages in your inbox. And ladies, pour yourself a glass of wine, set your standards with the annual fireman’s catalogue and a few screen grabs of George Clooney, and get messaging.