Online Dating First Message Tips: Opening Lines that Work

A woman sending an online dating first message while outside with sunglasses.

I’ll just come right out and say it: Most first messages on online dating sites are terrible. They’re lame, impersonal and just make you feel, well, kind of icky. The immediate thought is Oh, he must say this to everyone or Great, she didn’t even read my profile. I don’t know who invented pickup lines and publicized the notion that they’re a catalyst to romance, but I wish we could all recognize there are better places to start that aren’t thinly-veiled catcalls. Nobody likes being fed a line, period. So I came up with some online dating first message tips that can help you get more responses and get that much closer to meeting someone special.

Online dating can make you feel vulnerable. You’re putting yourself out there and inviting people to pass judgment on your hobbies, interests, and looks. So when you get a message that disregards the special things that make you who you are, it makes you feel disrespected.

I get it, though. If you rely on pickup lines, I kind of see where you’re coming from, and there’s a chance that you mean well. It’s easy to succumb to the pressure of pickup lines, because they’re just that—easy. We see the “cool” guys effortlessly use pickup lines in movies, to great success. We read listicles about the funniest and most clever and most sure-fire things to say when you want to ask someone out. But in reality, no matter how winning a line seems or how many times you’ve practiced it, the line usually falls short. The good news is there are better ways to go about it.

I’m suggesting we say “no” to pickup lines and “yes” to opening lines. There—that already sounds a little friendlier. If you want to make the first move or send the first message while online dating, more power to you. But don’t panic and fall back on a cheesy pickup line, or you run the risk of coming off as demeaning and predatory. Instead, let’s explore opening lines that will actually get you somewhere. These work especially well for online dating. These are specific to me, so adjust accordingly.

“Hi, I’m ____.”
It’s mind-blowingly simple advice, but oh-so effective: Just say hi. The most overlooked word in the online dating world is hi. There’s some merit behind Jerry Maguire’s “You had me at hello”—sometimes “hi” is the perfect thing to say. Simple? Yes. Effective? Absolutely. A polite introduction goes a long way and echoes something you would actually say in real life, demonstrating that you have good manners.

“I’ve visited St. Louis before, I almost went to WashU for grad school.”
Don’t you hate it when somebody messages you and asks, “So, where are you from?” or “What do you like to do for fun?” It makes you feel like they skipped the profile and just messaged you as part of their numbers game. I can’t stress this enough—actually read their profile! Commenting on something he or she wrote in their profile shows that you actually took the time to read what they wrote.

However, don’t push your luck and try to be cute. “I’ve visited St. Louis before, I almost went to WashU for grad school. Maybe you can show me the city some day.” This is an opening line turned pickup line. There’s no need to add the second part—it reads as overly cocky and confident, and negates the good of the first part of the sentence.

“What did the fish say when he swam into a wall? DAM!”
Another online dating first message tip is to break the ice with a (clean) joke. It can work wonders for clearing up any awkwardness you might feel during the first few messages. It’s not, however, an excuse to infuse the conversation with sexual innuendo. A joke could technically be classified as a pickup line, but I think as long as you tell it with good intentions, you’re in the clear.

“You look great in hats.”
I can’t tell you how thrilled I would be to receive this message from a potential match. It’s more specific than the expected “You have nice eyes” go-to compliment. The person might genuinely have great eyes, but try giving a compliment that’s a little quirkier and tailored to what they show in their photos. It will show that you actually absorbed information and remembered the details of what they presented to you in their profile. It also serves as a conversation starter—for example, if the person was wearing a baseball cap, you could ask if they’re a fan of the sports team on the front.

“Hey, your profile caught my eye. I think we have a lot in common. Do you want to meet for a drink tomorrow and see if we hit it off?”
The formality of the initial message exchange can be a little slow at times. If you’re genuinely interested in pursuing someone, why beat around the bush? Instead of exchanging polite banter back and forth, sometimes it’s just better to go for it in person.

Now, it’s time for you to try these online dating first message tips for yourself! Remember, it’s not just what you say—it’s also how you say it. Pickup lines are intended to give you confidence, whereas opening lines have confidence—and respect—baked in. And the simpler, the better. Ask yourself, Would I say this to somebody’s face? Or Is this how I want our “how we met” story to go? If your first message comes from a top 10 list or it’s something your friend “swears by,” chances are it’s a pickup line that will fall flat.

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