Is This Instagram Behavior Sketchy Or Chill?

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
You've probably heard that "it goes down in the DM," but what is "it" and what exactly "goes down"? Trolling, sure, but also sometimes flirting. Look, you're probably going to use social media to research your online dating matches anyways, so if you like what you see, going straight for the DM just skips a step. But take caution, for this move isn't as simple as it seems: People are sensitive about their DMs, and sliding all but requires that your moves be smooth, so it demands a little more effort than just a double-tap or swipe right.
Ilana*, 24, who lives in New York City, met her boyfriend because he slid into her Instagram DMs. As the story goes, she listed her Instagram handle in her Bumble dating profile, and he found and followed her. "He slid into my DMs like three times, but I didn't see them," Ilana says. She doesn't remember exactly what the messages said, but she thinks it was some form of "Hey" with the hugging emoji. "So finally I answered being like, 'Sorry I never check these things!' and we started chatting." They've been together for the past 10.5 months.
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This low-lift, friendly message worked for Ilana's partner, but you could just figure out something that you both have in common and lead with that, says Michelle Hope, a sexologist in New York City. "Use their interests and align it with yours," she says. People put photos online so other people see (and comment, and like) them. DMing a photo of them at the finish line of a running race and asking, "Hey, I was running that race too, what was your time?" makes sense and shows you already have something fun in common.
One perk of DM-sliding is that you can skip a formal greeting, because the person can just look at your profile and see who you are, says Samantha Burns, LMHC, a dating relationships expert. "Just jump right into a comment or question," she says. Your thoughts about a link they tweeted or event they put on their Instagram story will make more of an impression than a generic, "Hey, what's up?" And if you want to send a sexy photo, just think about it before you do, Hope says. Even though basically everyone has and sends sexy photos, your recipient might not be expecting it from a total stranger right off the bat — you decide whether that's a good thing.
Barring the possibility of fate, Ilana's modern love story might have been successful because she and her partner are both pretty open and active on social media. Ilana used to model, and her partner has some 15K followers, so in a way it was sort of a game-recognize-game moment. "Knowing him now and looking back on it, it wasn't creepy at all," she says. If someone has a private social media profile, they might not be as receptive to a DM, because they don't expect strangers to see their profile, Hope says.
If your goal is an IRL meet-up, Hope recommends having three message exchanges before you ask them out, and be prepared for rejection. "I have to warn people that there's a probability this person [is dating] somebody, so you have to be upfront," she says. And even if you do meet up, they might not be exactly how you pictured them based on their social accounts, although that's a risk you take in any online dating scenario. And don't give away any more information than you would on your social profiles until you meet in person or feel comfortable enough with them, she adds.
Ilana says she thinks DM-sliding can be better than "traditional" online dating, because her conversation with her boyfriend-to-be felt more organic and less stilted than it would have in the confines of a dating app. Was she creeped out? "It was def weird that he was so persistent, but that's just how he is with everything," she says. "But hey, look at us now." The moral: Always check your DMs; you never know who might slide in.
*Name has been changed to protect her identity.
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