Here’s some unsolicited dating advice: go for the quirky photo, set up the date without ever leaving the app, and if you want to meet someone IRL, skip the bar and head to an interesting event.

Those are just a handful of the gems DC-based matchmaker Erika Ettin shared with me during our weekday meeting in her Chinatown office.

With a degree in economics, Ettin often tries to apply science to the art of finding love.

“Can you guess what message receives the highest response rate on a dating app?” she asks.

I signal her to tell me. “After a completely unscientific study, I found using emojis to say ‘pizza or sushi’ got the most replies.”

Lesson #1: never underestimate the power of emojis.

“People say DC is the worst place to date, but those people don’t put in any effort,” says Ettin. “It’s not the city, it’s you.”

We asked Ettin about the new dating landscape, her favorite dating apps, and how to date smarter. Here’s what she shared:

How has tech changed the modern dating landscape?

“Technology has changed a lot. This is an overgeneralization, but I think men are getting mixed messages. Everything is changing and I see more men who are confused.

They’re wondering do I pay? Or does she want to go dutch? They might go on one date and a woman insists on paying. Then they go on another and the woman wants to be treated.

So what’s the solution? I say no matter what, always go for chivalry.”

What are some of the best dating apps you recommend?

OK Cupid

“I take my own advice and I date online. Dating is a deeply personal thing and everyone has different needs. But I like OK Cupid a lot. It has a fun vibe and being the math lover that I am I think it’s impressive that it was started by mathematicians at Harvard.

They analyze their own data and that makes me put more faith in their algorithm than I do with other sites.”

The League

Elite dating site The League is popular among high-brow professionals. And with good reason. “I really like that The League is so curated,” says Ettin. “They hand-select people on the site and there is always a benefit to that personal touch.

I also like that they have events and groups you can sign up for. For example, they have a wine lovers or dog lovers group that you can join and meet people in. I think The League has had a ton of success in DC because of how exclusive it is. If you’re serious about finding a relationship it’s definitely worthwhile.”


“This app is both convenient and creepy. It is a location-based app that is so granular it tells you how many times you and a match have crossed path.”


A top dating site among women, Bumble continues to grow in popularity. “I like that Bumble gives you a 24-hour clock. If you don’t write within those 24 hours you lose your match. And if the match doesn’t reply in the next 24 hours, that match also goes away.”

“There are different sites for different people. If you’re looking for a religious match you might go with Christina Mingle or J-date. But for most of us under 40-year-olds in the city looking for someone relatively close and on some sort of career path, these are the best bets.”

Coffee Meets Bagel

“This works similar to all the others but it gives you just a few matches a day. There is so much competition out there– this keeps it at a minimum.”


 Hinge also shows you a stream of nearby users whom you can either like or reject. But what sets it apart is that profiles are much more detailed, allowing you to also like specific parts of their profile. Most users choose to like others’ answers to prompts, especially if these answers stand out from the usual one-word answers.

Hinge is slowly becoming more popular among singles who don’t want to stray away from dating apps that target those looking for something casual. The app aims to build genuine connections based on shared interests, not just looks and initial chemistry. In fact, it’s also one of the best DC dating apps according to Beyond Ages, a city with a huge single population. So if the singles in DC give it their seal of approval, you might want to as well.

Exclusive Apps 


Bound is an IRL dating app for people in tech. Potential members must apply to join before gaining access to the app and in person events. What sets this app apart is the in person experience. Their events are loosely based on speed-dating, but you can bring your friends and enjoy a more relaxed, guided experience in spectacular locations .


Raya is the celebrity dating app that kicked off the exclusive dating app trend. No screenshots are allowed on the app, and even mentioning who you’ve met there can land you in hot water. Let’s just say, your privacy will be respected there.

What’s the biggest mistake we’re making while dating online?

“I call texting the death of the first date. Set up the date on the app. Just meet and if you like the person great. If you don’t, you know ASAP and can move on.

Also, stop posting pictures of yourself with other people. Post photos of yourself alone.

I recommend an interesting photo that generates conversation. For example one of my photos is me on stage with a microphone and a That’s How I Roll T-shirt.

DC Matchmaker Erika Etin

Most apps limit the number of pictures you can use and that’s a good thing. If you have too many photos people tend to look at the one they like the least and lose interest. At the very most, post up to 5 photos.”

I saw a dating profile photo of someone brushing their teeth. I thought it was gross. What say you?

“You remembered it, didn’t you? You have to stand out or you risk being forgotten.”

What should we be writing in our profiles?

“When you’re writing your profile– the quirkier the better. Say who you are and be positive. Writing something like ‘players need not apply’ just comes off as negative. It’s also a little bitter. There’s a positive way to say everything you don’t want. For example, say ‘looking for a relationship’ instead of ‘not looking for a hookup’.”

What’s the best way to start a conversation and get a response?

“The text that gets the most response was a pizza emoji or sushi emoji with a question mark. People love emojis.”


How does one know which dating app is right for you?

Find the dating app that works for you is a critical part of a successful dating experience. But don’t despair, the search is incredibly easy. Simply ask yourself these questions to find the “one”: What is my budget? If your budget is on the low end for an online dating app,, Plenty of Fish, or OKCupid may be a good fit. Am I looking for a serious relationship or just someone to talk to? Asking yourself these basic questions are the start to finding the exact right fit for you when it comes to the right dating app.

Any last words of wisdom?

“Everyone wants to meet on an airplane or on jury duty. But in the end who cares how the heck you met?

When it comes to dating online or dating in DC everyone has a love story or a horror story. The thing I hate is when someone has a bad experience and everything is based off that one, epic experience. I’ve had my fair share of both. No matter what, I say keep trying.”

Photography by Joshua Ness