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A Gentleman’s Guide to Flirting on Instagram

I’m a hot girl. I know this because 1) the first step in becoming a hot girl is deciding you are one; and 2) I get told I’m hot all the time, especially on Instagram. That’s no mistake either — I present myself in my hottest form on the app. When I post, I think of it as both a public service and something akin to Jeb Bush saying “please clap.” And depending on the guy, sometimes they clap, and sometimes they send me unsolicited dick pics.

While it can be admittedly dicey, there are certain ways to acknowledge a hot pic — and navigate Instagram more broadly — that are neither creepy nor suspect and might actually result in an IRL date/hookup. But this means — especially because Instagram is the point of origin for a ton of romantic interactions nowadays — no inappropriate DMing (e.g., the aforementioned unsolicited dick pics), no negging in the comments and no ignoring the one you’re with because you’re secretly married to someone else (oops!). Allow me to be your guide…

Commenting is as good as the comments themselves.

My whole account is essentially a thirst trap, a term I use broadly and colloquially here. Urban Dictionary offers a number of definitions of “thirst,” most of which highlight that there’s a sense of desperation involved. Essentially, if one is thirsty, they’re desperate for attention, desperate for sex, or most literally, desperate for water. In this context, when a woman posts a picture of herself where, for example, she has some visible cleavage, people might criticize her as “thirsty.”

I, however, believe that desiring attention is perfectly normal and that it’s fine to appreciate a good thirst trap. And so, when I post a picture that’s essentially just of my ass in a bikini, go ahead and add a peach emoji in the comments. Some might think it’s corny, but I say boost me on that algorithm. Be careful with emojis, though. If the connotation is too sexual — I’m looking at you, eggplant emoji — it can be gross. Other comments I typically appreciate are the simple stuff like “Art,” “Incredible” or “God bless.” Generally speaking, comments that are strictly about appearance should suggest reverence.

My colleague Tierney Finster adds, “Meeting people on Instagram is totally ‘normal,’ but unfortunately, a lot of dudes make their approach really creepy or overtly sexual in a way that kills the vibe. Negging falls under the creepy category for me. For example, multiple men have commented on my stuff like, ‘I love your weird tits,’ ‘Your tits are saggy but I’m down’ or ‘Hot but get a boob job.’ What am I supposed to think? That these guys are generous?”

Another word of warning: Don’t think that even a well-executed comment means you deserve any kind of response.

Following is more than fine — even if you’ve never met (digitally or IRL).

Following someone is pretty straightforward and hard to fuck up. A girl who goes to the same college as you? Sure, you’ve got something in common. A girl who shows up on your Instagram Explore page? Go for it, though she might not follow you back. A girl another girl you already follow tagged in a photo? Okay, you share a mutual friend. A girl you saw on Tinder? That’s fine, since at that point you don’t know whether or not this person has swiped right on you as well. In all of these cases, though, don’t assume the attraction will be mutual, and in particular, don’t badger them if there’s no mutual interactions (especially those women you saw on Tinder).

For the most part, a lot of girls want more followers on Instagram. Having followers makes one feel relevant and self-important in ways that probably aren’t healthy. Every time I get a new follower at least, I get a tiny endorphin rush. (Speaking of which, follow me on Instagram @magdajtaylor.)

So, if you don’t actually know the girl but have come across her content organically, following her is just fine. It’s really the point of the app. Maybe she’ll even follow you back, thus indicating some baseline interest in mutual interaction. If you’re purely following a girl out of attraction, not really knowing her in any other context, her following you back is probably a good sign. But don’t read too far into things. I follow lots of men whom I’d never date.

It’s best never to slide into those DMs.

Yo Gotti didn’t release “Down in the DM” for nothing. Men really do treat direct messages as the primary avenue for picking up women now. Even when someone approaches me in person, I’m often asked for my Instagram handle before my phone number. Repeated attempts at flirting, starting a conversation and blatant sexual harassment are all common occurrences in the DMs. My own DMs are a goddamn war zone — more on that later. It shocks me that men will continuously reply to my content via DM, despite me never responding and not even following them back.

If a girl doesn’t follow you back, tread lightly on the DMs. You’ve got MAYBE one chance to DM her some type of basic introduction, but I don’t recommend it. An exception might be if you have some solid mutual friends. And chill the fuck out if you don’t get a response back. After all, if she’s not following you, she might not even see your responses unless she checks her message requests.

But back to the war zone that is my DMs, some particularly bad ones I’ve recently received from men I don’t follow [sic(k) throughout]:

  • “Fucking gorgeous, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” This is bad because it suggests I’m regularly told I’m not gorgeous.
  • “I’m looking for feet hand butt breast or pussy model. I pay u if I can jerk off on your boobs.” Does this need an explainer?
  • [Repeatedly replying with tongue emojis.] I get it — your tongue is either wagging or your not-so-coyly signaling that you like to eat pussy. Either way, it falls in the eggplant emoji camp.

Of course, for some girls these things might work. In fact, the person responsible for the last example tells me that he’s used it successfully to meet a woman in person. “I just started by telling them that they were beautiful & sexy,” he writes over — what else? — DM. “Then I guess that was the icebreaker. We started talking, I like what they had to say & we talk more, exchange numbers and then we took it off Instagram.” (He asked not to be identified, and since I don’t follow him back and his account is private, I can’t identify him, anyway.)

If you must slide into those DMs, do so gradually.

Or as a lot of people like to call it, “pre-gaming.” This involves liking posts, commenting, replying to stories, etc., but doing so in a way that demonstrates that you have an interest in her beyond your physical attraction to her. Congratulating her on some kind of life success (e.g., getting a new job) or expressing that you share a similar hobby are good avenues for genuine conversation. According to Nathan, a 21-year-old musician, this helps establish familiarity, thus reducing the chances of being rejected if you do ask her out. Be careful not to respond to everything she posts — i.e., only comment/reply when you actually have something interesting to contribute.

Similarly, don’t exclusively comment on her posts via DM. It makes it look like you’re hiding yourself from being seen by others, whether that’s because your comments are too explicit or you have a girlfriend/partner/wife who you don’t want seeing the comments. A good rule of thumb then is that if you can’t say it on the visible comment platform, don’t say it at all.

Related to DMs, stories are an easy way for men to initiate conversations with women. Responses to stories are also private, meaning men think they can get away with more. A lot of men abuse this fact, using stories as a means of initiating unwanted interactions. Moreover, a lot of the responses to stories are just downright boring. Things like “Hey,” “Haha” and “What’s up with your friend?” are sadly all-too-common.

Overall, stories seem to be one of the biggest areas for irritating behavior on Instagram. Though it’s seemingly a more casual way to post, people still take it very seriously. Basically, if you watch someone’s story, they’ll probably notice. So don’t watch their stories only to ignore their texts. And definitely don’t watch someone’s story if you’ve ghosted them: “I’m an adult & if you don’t want to hang, just tell me that,” says @rrjjar via Twitter. “It’s been 6+ months, and he is still watching my stories, which he never did before.”

Watch it with the likes.

After following a woman, it’s common for men to like a ton of her photos at once. The line of thinking here is that liking lots of photos translates to lots of interest. Multiply this interest depending on how old the photo is. However, unless you’re actually talking to this woman already and there’s a chance she’ll think it’s cute, don’t spam her account with likes.

Obviously, liking a girl’s recent post is good. Liking a handful of photos when you’ve recently followed her or are maybe trying to get her attention is also okay. Liking an older photo isn’t as embarrassing as people have made it out to be, especially if you’ve already established some kind of repertoire. But if you’ve never spoken to the woman and are trying to get her attention that way, it’ll probably be ignored.

If you are talking to her, like her damn posts. “In my case, guys have liked my pics before dating me as a way to show they’re interested but stop once they start dating me, which is bizarre and annoying because dude, I need the likes and attention,” says Tatiana, a writer in New York City. This relates to commenting, too — making your affection/interest public is always preferred. If you don’t like/comment upon our pics, we’ll think you’re hiding something — namely, all the other women you’re talking to on Instagram.

Flirt only if your intentions extend beyond Instagram.

If you’re serious about your interest in a woman you’ve seen on Instagram, meeting her in person should be your primary goal. “My biggest piece of advice is to expedite the time it takes for you to turn your digital flirting into hanging out IRL,” says Finster. “I hate how there’s a whole category of guys who follow me that have flirted extensively in the DM but have never asked me to hang out — even ones that live in the same city as me. Don’t actively flirt unless you intend to make good on that flirting if she’s interested. Otherwise, stay in your lane as a follower and smash that ‘like’ button as frequently as possible.”