We all know the current state of online dating is a hellscape. But no matter how bad it gets, it's likely that you're still going to fill out your silly little profile and swipe on your silly little apps and go out on your silly little dates. Let's at least try to save you some time.
For the past seven-ish years, I've relied on a single question to weed out weirdos and cut through dizzying levels of pretense while dating online. It nearly always works, either to start a substantial conversation or make it clear you'd rather end things ASAP. I hit on it by accident, using it as filler for my wan Tinder bio just after college. My rationale went like this: If pop culture is one of our greatest equalizers, then it makes sense to draw on the pop-iest of all pop culture, a franchise so powerful it still holds us in its reverie more than 15 years after its last book was published.
That's right, I'm talking about Harry Potter. And the question I want you to ask is: Which is your favorite Harry Potter book and why?
This single line is at worst a harmless ask and at best a compatibility barometer. Nearly everyone on earth can answer it, and no one will ever not know what you're talking about. The key is in the follow up "and why?", which requires your match to evaluate their own taste and preferences while also incorporating each book's contribution to the overall story arc. Not convinced? Here are a few more reasons why "Which is your favorite Harry Potter book and why?" is a solid opener:
It weeds out suitors who think pop culture is below them.
Pop culture is how we connect with other people. If a date can't talk about lowbrow culture respectfully or is only interested in media they deem smart or cool enough for discussion, they're not going to be any fun. Even if you personally think Harry Potter is dumb (or dislike its author… more on that later), the wizarding world holds undeniable merit for millions; can you still engage with it even if you don't understand or like it?
It helps you discover what cultural references you have in common.
The first Harry Potter book was published 25 years ago, in 1997, and we're still finding new ways to interpret, remix, and meme it. The Fantastic Beasts franchise just put out its third movie. A recent TikTok trend spoofs the way actor Ralph Fiennes holds his wand and says the killing curse, "Avada Kedavra.” And extensive merchandising collaborations with established brands like Pottery Barn and Casetify are selling like hot cakes. You will absolutely find some common ground somewhere.
You'll quickly learn if your match is more of a bookworm or a movie buff.
Whether you love reading books or prefer to use them as coasters, it's nice to know if a potential date feels the same way. They may note that they've only seen the movies, or generally prefer to spend time listening to music, making their own clothes, or rollerblading instead. Or, maybe their franchise of choice is the Hunger Games or Lord of the Rings.
Thanks to J.K. Rowling's unimaginative takes on gender identity, you may also learn about your match's perspective on personhood and politics.
Author and proud transphobe J.K. Rowling has really made it hard to love the Harry Potter franchises without feeling some twinge of guilt or disgust. This unfortunate fact may help you weed out matches who share her views. If you note that Rowling's rants have made your time at Hogwarts a little less magical and your match balks, it's time to run.
P.S. Potterheads, here are 14 Harry Potter things to love that have nothing to do with Rowling.
What they like most about the story usually says a lot about them (and their taste).
Because "Which is your favorite Harry Potter book and why?" asks someone to move beyond basic reading comprehension and into a defense of personal preference, you can learn a lot about what they value, desire, or dislike. For example, you would not believe the number of men who are nursing a latent crush on Sirius Black (at least 60% of the ones I've chatted with. I believe this has to do with Black's baddie portrayal of an aspirational rugged masculinity).
Are they enthralled by the time-bending adventures of Prisoner of Azkaban? Did they pick up on the larger allegories around race, class, and politics that culminate in the Deathly Hallows? Maybe they just think magic is cool and don't care much about the story at all. For the record, my favorite is Deathly Hallows (I get emotional just thinking about the Battle of Hogwarts), then Goblet of Fire (that's when everyone's hormones start running hilariously rampant), and then Prisoner of Azkaban (for the reason stated above, plus the introduction of the franchise's best accessory, the Time-Turner).
Not a Potterhead? No problem.
If someone admits to never having read or seen Harry Potter, you simply ask, "What is your Harry Potter?" It's probably a question they've never been asked before, and people like talking about something they love. Win-win.
For all other needs, follow up questions abound.
There are so many ways to continue this conversation once you've cracked it open. From nerdy (What's your Hogwarts house? What spell do you wish you could cast in real life? Should Ron and Hermione have ended up together in the end?) to normie (What movie actor from the franchise did you have a crush on? Is there a book you read recently that you liked?), the options you have for keeping the convo flowing are nearly endless.
So, what do you think? Have I convinced you to use "Which is your favorite Harry Potter book and why?" on dating apps? I'm crossing my fingers (and toes) that it works its magic for you.
If it fails, you can always go back to "Hey."