For years, opening Tinder felt like walking into a party where I knew nobody. I’m shy. And a simple “hey” from a match had the power to alarm my system and fire up the nerves. What do I say? Is “what’s up” too 2003? I became overwhelmed with options and unsure how to play it cool when I was feeling anything but. Eventually I’d mirror their “hey” and toss my phone to the opposite side of the couch, where I could avoid their next message indefinitely.

Much like a preheating oven, I’ve always required time to warm up. Dating on an app felt intimidating. What if my wit wasn’t quick enough and all my matches were wooed by more outgoing daters, armed with sassy one-liners and engaging pickup lines? I was nervous about rejection and reserved about my weirdness, so I left my profile blank and let four pictures depict me: a girl who looks down when she smiles and bakes pies. 

But while being shy can have its challenges, I’ve learned it isn’t a handicap, even when dating online. Yes, it’s a world that seems to favor the outgoing, but shy people like me can meet their match with these effective tips from dating and relationships coaches and fellow reserved types.

1. Take your time.

Unlike walking into a party and being faced with the pressure to hop into a conversation, Tinder allows you to take your time. Tyler, 30, used to be worried that because he was “uncomfortable and timid” with responding to matches, he came off as “pretty boring” in his chats and therefore, he didn’t end up going on many dates. It wasn’t until he realized that he could take a beat to figure out what to say that he found success in chatting with matches and scheduling dates.

The online world gives you the opportunity to craft your chat in a very relaxed way. Take as long as you need to do that so that you present yourself in the best way possible,” says Fran Greene LCSWR. Not all “heys” need to be met with an instant retort. You have the power to take your time (within reason). And in that time, perhaps you’ll even find your nerve to add on to your “hey.” 

2. Be vulnerable in your profile.

It helps to own your shyness in part because, chances are, the person you’re talking to can relate. “Everyone has different levels of social anxiety,” says Greene. “Showing your vulnerability is attractive. It makes you [seem] approachable, likeable, and real.” It’s ideal to be unapologetically you, and that goes for wallflowers as much as anyone else.

“[Shy people] do great with other shy people. So saying you’re shy and giving a shout-out to other shy people is a plus, because it attracts the right crowd. They can make a joke out of it,” says intimacy and relationship expert Ken Blackman. As for what to type, Ken recommends a line in your profile along the lines of: “Ideal date night: library.” 

Speaking of crafting your Tinder profile, it’s important to remember that being shy is just one part of who you are, Greene says. It’s good to share that, but it’s also worth talking about the same things anyone does — your interests, what you’re looking for, fun facts about yourself, etc. For a shy person, finding commonality among others is key to being comfortable enough to open up.

3. Ease into initiating conversation.

Amelia, 27, doesn’t send the first message “because it sucks so bad when you do and they don’t answer.” She calls the lack of response “an odd form of rejection.” And the fear of it holds her back from reaching out to anyone in an effort to lower the odds of her “hey” floating in a blank space. 

There are two aspects of shyness to be conscious of: the crazy-making thoughts, and the physical sensations of anxiety,” Blackman says. Nerves and anxiety are common among shy people and can hold them back from making a move.

“Shy people are least comfortable with totally open-ended conversation,” Blackman adds. “They do better when there’s a known topic or commonality. So if they make a point of [Liking] people who have common interests — or even just things they’d be curious to hear about — it will be easier to get the conversation going.”

This worked for Tyler, who was once too shy to open up or start conversations. “I found that looking at someone’s bio and asking specific questions about them made people engage much more.” As he got more replies and learned more about the people he messaged with, he also became more comfortable setting up and going on dates with them. Net, net, it’s a cycle.

4. Dial down the pressure around the first date.

Not every conversation you have is going to materialize into a meetup. But when it does come time to move to an in-person hangout, palms may start to sweat. First-date nerves are a near universal experience, because they put you in a position where you’re expected to open up. Shy people may feel this most acutely. 

When it’s time to nail down the specifics of a date, take the lead. “Suggest a place that you feel comfortable meeting — an area where you live or a familiar place,” says Greene. The more comfortable you are, the faster you’ll warm to what can be an awkward situation for even the most outgoing people.

“The environment matters to me,” says Lauren, 28. “I don’t want other people to eavesdrop and be aware that I’m on a date. I like a beer hall where people go to converse but the volume isn’t too loud or too quiet.” 

And if you’re timid about elaborating on the facts of your life on a first date, focus on the other person. Most people like to talk about themselves, so let them. “Curiosity is a superpower,” says Blackman. “Just for a second, let go of the need to impress and ask a question. Keep being curious. At some point, something will resonate, and then you’ll have something to share that relates.”

5. Stick with it.

It may seem hard to be yourself in social situations you typically shy away from. The one solution to that, according to relationship experts, is to keep on dating. In other words, practice. 

“The answer is repetition,” says Blackman. 

Yes, you will get rejected. And yes, rejection sucks. But you also owe yourself a pat on the back for taking the risk to put yourself out there. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll get with the flow of dating. “I found that the more time I spent on Tinder the easier it got,” says Tyler. “If someone Likes you, then you’re halfway there.”