How To Respond When People Ask What You're Looking For On Dating Apps & Not Feel Awkward

by Annie Foskett

I once spent too long casually dating someone I not-so-casually liked. At first, it was casual. On a scale of one to love, I was at a three: down for a third date. Then, he told me he wasn't looking for a relationship. So naturally, I caught all of the feelings and spent six months torturing myself until he moved away. Oops! When the next guy I dated asked me, "What are you looking for?Because I'm looking for something serious." I clammed up and said, "I don't know." It's hard to say you want a relationship.

Such is the hypocrisy of my life: I tend to want what I can't have. (Very much in therapy, don't worry.) It's become more normal for strangers meeting via a dating app algorithm to ask each other, "What are you looking for?" before ever breathing the same air IRL. Now more than ever, I understand the desire to find out if the person you're about to spend a Wednesday night with is looking to smush bodies with you or "significant other"-you.

But, um, what if I don't know what I'm looking for? Also, what are all of the options when it comes to answering that question? Can I say, "Someone who will share their french fries with me?" The good news is that replying to this question is actually not all that complicated. Here's how to do it.

First, Uh, Decide What You're Looking For

I mean, duh, it's important to figure out what you're looking for in a relationship (or non-relationship). This makes perfect sense in my brain, but in reality, I am constantly telling myself I don't want a boyfriend even when I really do. I don't know if it's because I listened to "Independent Women, Pt. 1" by Destiny's Child too many times, am afraid of vulnerability, or just want to be the "chill girl down for whatever" (which, spoiler alert, never results in me being chill). But it really is important to ask yourself: "What do really I want?"

Is it a naked friend because you just got out of a relationship? Cool. Own that. Is it an actual partner? Definitely commit to that. Are you not entirely sure yet, but you want to take things slowly? Say that. Which brings me to...

If You're Not Sure, Reply Honestly

On dating apps, I take an early ask of "What are you looking for?" to mean one of two things: either this match is about to tell me he's exclusively looking to get balls-deep, nothing more, OR that he is looking to get figuratively balls-deep into a full-feelings relationship. Either way, this match has a certain thing they are looking for. If you don't have any idea what you want with this specific person because you don't even know if they shower regularly yet, it's OK to say "I don't know."

I spoke to relationship expert and founder of SpoonmeetSpoon Meredith Golden who confirmed, "It's OK not to know." She explained that "dating someone and seeing how you feel about them can help you determine which way you want something to develop. Even those who 'know' what they want can change their minds." Phew, indecision is chill.

Caveat: maybe don't say "I don't know" just so you can get the sex and then get out of things.

If You Want A Relationship, Say So

I know, I know. I can't share my feelings like an adult woman, so why am I lecturing you on sharing yours? Well, because every time I have pretended my desire to a real relationship didn't exist, I've ended up wasting a lot of time. When I have pretended to be cool with diet-dating where feelings hover in the air but are never fully committed to, I have ended up heartbroken and alone. (I know, so dramatic.)

If you're messaging a cutie on the apps and they ask you, "What are you looking for?" you can be honest about your desire to find a real relationship, without scaring anyone away. You need not say, "MARRY ME?" Instead, you can say, "I'd like to find a relationship with the right person." Or, "I'm looking for someone to go on dates with." You can also say, "I'm looking for something real." (A little cryptic, but I dig.)

If You Want Sex, Tell It Like It Is

Here's the good news: a lot of people want sex, and sex only. If you're one of them, you're in luck. That said, there are other people out there who want to take you out to dinner because they'd like to get married someday, so it's important to be honest about your wants and needs. Stringing someone along on half-romantic dates just for the sex that happens at the end of them is not a great look.

You'll usually be able to tell early on if someone is just looking for a nice old hookup. "If all your conversations are related to hooking up or sexual exploits," you are probably just going to be hooking up, Golden says. If it's at all unclear though, be honest and reply, "I'm looking for something super casual right now," or "I'm looking to have fun." Both are nice, ambiguous ways to say "I am DTF" (or at least DTDFMO... yes, just brought back "dance floor make-out").

Again, I want to restate Golden's advice and remind you that it's OK not to know how to answer this question. If you do have a particular idea of what you want in mind, then be clear about it. If you're not sure, it's OK to go with the flow.

I'm in the middle of a 51-date experiment for a podcast at the moment, and every time I go on a date I wonder, "Should I tell him about this experiment?" I've settled on being honest whenever a date asks about it, because I have no nefarious intentions and really do want to meet someone I can date. Our parents/teachers/coaches/responsible adult acquaintances were all right: honesty is one hundo percent the best policy.

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