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How to Slide Into Someone's DMs Without Being a Total Creep

DM slides don't have to be a cringey move -- if you do it right.

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You should have more to say than "hey."
James Martin/CNET

Not long ago, I was listening to a podcast about one of my favorite trashy Netflix dating shows, Love Is Blind. The host asked one of the contestants if she'd been getting many direct messages since the new season dropped. The answer was a deflated no, not so much.

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She sounded bummed. I was horrified. The thought of loads of strange dudes trying to hit me up on Instagram sounds like one of the outer circles of my personal hell -- like the punishment for years spent forgetting to clean the dryer's lint trap in the shared laundry room. Not the worst, but also not pleasant. 

This got me thinking about the DM slide, and the varied experiences my friends and I have had with them. Sometimes that random notification is a friend of a friend you ran into briefly at the store, and sometimes it's a creeper who has nothing to say but "hey."

So what are the parameters for a DM slide? Is it possible to shoot your shot successfully given the right time, place and manner? In short: yes. There are also a lot of ways to mess it up. 

Admittedly, it's hard to write blanket rules that will apply to every situation always, everywhere. You have to use your best judgment. And if your best judgment is hiking the Himalayas trying to find itself at the moment, borrow some from Love Syncs. 

And if nothing else, remember this: Don't be creepy. 

Here is Love Sync's guide to the DM slide. 

When to slide

Ideally, the DM slide is something of a last resort. It's a way to make contact when you don't have many other options available. For example, if there's someone in your extended friend group or in your weekly yoga class, who you see from time to time, just talk to them. Get their number. You don't need to resort to a message. 

There are situations, though, when that's not feasible. You might direct message someone you've met once but aren't sure if you're going to see again. Or someone who's in a similar orbit as you socially but, again, who's someone you don't have a clear opportunity to talk to otherwise. 

In any case, don't arrive at their inbox cold. If you're connected on social media with someone you're interested in, try to establish some online rapport before you initiate a private message. There should be some warmup, or some basis for why you're DMing them – build that first, then slide. (Please note that going through a bunch of old posts and liking them, or suddenly commenting on every single new post is not the way to do it.)

Otherwise, you're going to come off as creepy. And remember Love Syncs' cardinal rule here: Don't be creepy. 

Consider the other person's perspective 

If I ever find myself dangling off a stone precipice a la Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, I plan on falling into the chasm yelling, "People don't merely exist in relation to you!" Or rather: "...yoooouuuuuu."

Ask yourself if it's going to be weird, creepy, unexpected or confusing to DM the person you're thinking about. It can be unsettling to feel yourself suddenly in the tractor beam of someone's attention, seemingly out of the blue. 

Have you spoken to this person online or offline before? Do they know who you are? Do you have something in common? Do you have something halfway substantive to say to them?

Here's a small caveat -- I'm not saying you can only message someone you've met. In reporting a 2021 story about people using TikTok as a dating platform, I ran into a surprising number of examples of people who met on the platform and ended up in relationships, sometimes flying hundreds of miles to meet. Often, it all started with a DM slide. This is the exception and not the rule, though. So tread lightly. And... remember? Don't be creepy. This brings me to my next point, below.

Pick your platform

Most social media platforms offer some type of private message option. Which platform you pick will depend somewhat on where you're already connected to the person you're wanting to message. But because people are frequently ridiculous, let me spread some caution. Think about how the person uses the social media platform in question. Do they use it professionally? Casually?

Listen to me when I say this: LinkedIn InMail and romance don't mix. If someone uses their Instagram account to sell their ceramic gnome statues, THAT is why they're there. Likely not to flirt with you. Also, if your intentions are anything beyond professional or friendly, keep it off your company's internal messaging platforms. Be smart. Don't be creepy. 

Know when to back off

As is true in the offline world, sure, you can approach someone, but they don't owe you anything. If you message someone, pay attention to their response. 

Were they open and receptive? Did they message back and hold up their end of the conversation? Great. Did they ignore you or give minimal replies? That probably indicates they don't want to talk to you, which means there's one simple action you can take: back off. Don't barrage them. Don't berate them. Don't bumble your way forward with more messages. You're a visitor to their inbox; don't overstay your welcome. 

And because I will never feel like I've said it enough times: Don't be creepy.

CNET's Love Syncs is an advice column focusing on online dating. If you've got a question about finding love via app, send it to erin.carson@cnet.com for consideration.