Are You Wasting Your Time With Online Dating?

I’m a big believer in efficiency when it comes to dating.

Most people are… in theory, at least. In practice, however, we have these tendencies to expend a lot of our time and energy on aspects of dating which don’t bring an equivalent level of return for your investment. They’re time sinks that slow you down and cause you no end of stress, anxiety and worry and it only makes dating harder. 

This is especially true when it comes to online dating. In fact, you’re more prone to wasting your time with online dating than you are trying to meet women by making a cold approach at a bar or making small-talk with the cute librarian you ran into at Starbucks.

Y’see, online dating can seem perfect for folks, especially people who have a touch of approach anxiety or hate the bar and club scene but don’t necessarily want to try hitting up strangers at Barnes and Noble. Why do all of that when you can meet women without leaving your house? Flirt to your heart’s content without even bothering to get dressed!

"There's just something magical about hitting on women when I'm not wearing pants."

“There’s just something magical about hitting on women when I’m not wearing pants.”

Unfortunately, as easy as online dating can be, it’s even easier to end up wasting time when you don’t have to. So you want to make sure that you’re not making these incredibly common mistakes.

You’re Using Winks, Flirts, Nudges, Pokes, etc.

Almost every online dating site out there has some form of a low-stakes “hey, so and so wants you to talk to them” notification – often given a cutsey name like “wink” or “flirt” or “send a flower” to make it seem more acceptable.
And frankly, it’s more than a little lazy.

Most dating sites let you set up a profile for free but require that you pay money in order to be able to message people. Some, back in the early days of online dating (lo those dark days of the late 90s and early 00s), were especially evil and would sell a limited number of messages; if you sent out a message and didn’t hear back, well, tough shit Charlie, you just blew a buck (or whatever the per-unit cost was). Winks, nudges, flowers, etc. were intended as a way of trying to get someone to message you, so that you could chat without wasting your hard-earned money. Needless to say, it was kind of an insult even back then; nothing screams romance more than “I’m interested in you but not enough to actually pay to join the site.”

Fortunately most sites seem to have wised up and charge a subscription fee instead, but the vestigal organ that is the “wink” hangs in there like an appendix and does nothing but cause trouble.

Here’s the thing: everybody knows exactly what it means when a guy sends one of these. It’s a way of saying “I know you’re probably not going to write back to me, so please notice me noticing you and do the hard work for me…”

So, kind of like the shy guy in class who keeps looking at you and scrambles to look away whenever you accidentally make eye-contact.

So, kind of like the shy nerd in class who keeps looking at you and freaks out whenever you accidentally make eye-contact.

What Should You Do Instead?

If you’re interested in them, send an email already!

Much like stressing about the opener, the first email is there to get them interested enough to write back. The key is to be short and sweet; the longer the email, the more likely it’s going to seem as though you’re too desperate. And besides… if you’re already assuming that they’re not likely to write back anyway, why are you going to waste even more time writing out a sonnet?

I’m a fan of the dating site email template – less of a form letter and more of a very easily customizable email that you send out in order to save time. I’ve used a longer one in my day, but over the years, I’ve streamlined it down even further. The structure is simple: Greeting, a little about what it is about them from their profile that you like, a question to prompt a response, a little bit about you, and then “I hope to talk to you soon.” Two or three lines for each section. Feel free to write out the “about me” section in advance; it’ll save you time in the long-run and it allows you to fine-tune it rather than hitting “send” and then kicking yourself because you realized you could’ve said something wittier.

So a (very generic) example would be:

“Hey, you seem like you’re cool and I wanted to say “hey.” So… hey!  Your being into $COOL_THING caught my eye… have you ever tried $RELATED_COOL_THING? But I have to know: what’s your ultimate escape from the world when you need a release? If you had a chance, what would you do to wind down after a long week? Awesome book? Planning the perfect museum heist? I’m always looking for a potential partner in crime…

A little about me: I’m $AWESOME_ATTRIBUTES_X, Y and Z… and best of all, I’m modest!

Like I said: you seem like you’re a really interesting person and I’d love to get to know you. Hope to talk to you soon,
YOUR_NAME”

Give it a somewhat offbeat subject line in order to stand out from the crowd  – I’ve always had success with “Pirates are inherently cooler than ninjas” – and send it on its way. It takes slightly longer than hitting “wink” (unless you’re like me and kept two to three variations in a text file that you could copy and paste in as needed…) but it’s also far more likely to get an actual response instead of a silent eye-roll.

You Wait To Long To Ask Them Out

This is possibly the biggest time-waster when it comes to online dating: taking too long to actually ask her out on a date.

Look, I get it. If you’re not the most assertive or confident person, you may not feel comfortable asking somebody out on a date early on. You may be trying to feel things out and get to know them. You may be trying to avoid getting shot down and want to wait until you’re absolutely sure that they’re into you. You may be worried about coming across too strong or looking too interested; after all, the person who’s less invested is in the dominant position, right? Right?

Here’s the problem with that attitude: the longer you wait to actually ask her out, the more likely it is that you’re never actually going to meet her in public. By spending so much time trading emails back and forth, you’re bleeding emotional momentum. That initial rush of interest goes away quickly if you wait too long to actually make your move; they’ll almost always start to assume you’re not that interested in them after all.

Moreover: you’re almost certainly not the only person she’s talking to. If you think she’s attractive, then other people do too… and the longer you take to actually say “hey, I’d love to get a drink with you” or “I’ve had a crazy idea: would you like to go to a sushi-making class?” the more likely someone else will.

What Should You Do Instead

Very simple: ask her out, stupid!

If you’ve been exchanging emails back and forth, then they’re interested in talking to you; take “yes” for an answer and say “You know, I think getting to know someone over drinks is better than just emailing back and forth, don’t you?” 

How do you know when to ask? It’s fairly simple: the magic number is typically when you’ve exchanged 3 or 4 emails. Watch for the length of the reply. Much like talking in person, if they’re writing long emails or asking lots of questions, they’re definitely into you; short, terse responses mean that they’re not quite feeling it.

The best thing about it, though, is that it’s a no-lose situation. If you ask and she says “yes”, then congratulations! Go out and ace that first date. If she says “not yet,” but suggests maybe another time soon? She’s still interested but needs a little more time to be comfortable. She says no? Cool, you don’t need to waste any more time with her; move on and find someone who does want to go out with you.

You’re Talking To Only One Person At A Time

Online dating isn’t like meeting people in real life. Narrowing your focus to only talking to one person – especially if you haven’t even gone on your first date with them – is a mistake.

Even if you’re a confirmed serial monogamist, narrowing your focus to only one person at a time is a mistake. You’re putting all of your metaphorical eggs in one basket and – this is key – making the unwarranted assumption that they’re doing the same. Like I said earlier: if you’re interested in them, odds are that somebody else is too… and your online honey-bunny is talking to them, too. Odds are good that they may well be going on dates, as well; not everybody is going to put all other interactions on hold just because they’re talking with one person or another.

You need to avoid pinning all of your hopes on one person, especially before you’ve met in person. Oneitis crops up in online dating all the time. Getting over-invested in one person is a great recipe for frustration and needless heartbreak.

What You Should Do Instead

If dating is akin to fishing (hence “Plenty o’ Fish”, from the stale platitude “there’re plenty of other fish in the sea…”) then you want to be fishing with dynamite. To abuse the metaphor further, you want to be tossing as much out there as you can and seeing what floats to the top. It’s one thing when you’re meeting women in person – unless you’re a graduate of the Lando Calrissian Player School, then you’re only going to be flirting with one woman at a time.

Graduate studies at Player School include how to avoid scheduling problems...

Graduate studies at Player School include date juggling and how to avoid scheduling errors…

When you’re using an online dating site, you don’t have any such restrictions. You should be talking to as many people as possible – the joys of the text means that you can carry on several different conversations at once with minimal effort. Even if someone seems perfect on paper, you have no idea how well you’re going to work out in person… if you ever get to that stage in the first place. Some people aren’t going to work out. Some people are just going to disappear off the face of the earth with no warning. Even two or three dates isn’t enough to preclude things not working out. Unless you’ve had some form of the relationship talk, don’t be so quick to cut ties with other potential dates. You never know when you might want them back.

You’re Getting Hung Up On the People Who Don’t Respond

Here’s one of the harsh truths about online dating: it’s a numbers game. The people who don’t respond to you are always going to outnumber the people who do. You will spend a lot of time feeling like you’re shouting out into the void or tossing off messages in bottles only to watch them disappear over the horizon without any hope of a response.

This is the reality of 99.999% of people who use OKCupid or Match or Plenty Of Fish or Geek2Geek or Fetlife or ChristianSingles or JDate… really, any dating site (with some notable exceptions). Yes, there are occasionally people who use OKCupid like a sex ATM. They are the exceptions, not the rule. Women have it just as bad as men do – they may get deluged by guys who aren’t their type, but the ones who are never seem to write back.

Welcome to online dating, adjust your expectations accordingly.

Ain't no rage like nerd rage, 'cuz nerds rage at inanimate objects like they give a shit.

Ain’t no rage like nerd rage, ‘cuz nerds rage at inanimate objects like they give a shit.

The problem is letting that deafening silence get to you, letting it make you bitter and resentful. And it’s easy. We all assume we’re the lone exception, that those non-responses are somehow a judgement of us as a person and that everyone else has it better or easier than we do. Sometimes that anger and resentment spills out into your messages to other people – I’ve lost track of the number of  “You won’t talk to me, you must be some BITCH!!! LOL slut!” messages that my female friends have shared with me.

Spending your mental energy angsting about every non-reply you get is a waste of your time. It won’t help you get any more responses; all that will happen is that you’ll get more and more depressed before possibly giving up on online dating altogether.

What You Should Do Instead

Look, there are untold numbers of reasons why people don’t respond to online dating messages… and they don’t necessarily have anything to do with you. They may have taken a break from dating, they may be focused on one person, they may be out of town, too busy with work, or coming off a harsh break-up. You literally never know. Sometimes it’s something fixable – your profile isn’t exciting, your spelling is off… – and sometimes it’s something that you can’t control like reminding them of an ex-boyfriend or using a phrase they hate with the passion of a thousand suns.

So if they don’t respond: forget ’em. Put your focus where it should be: on the people who are interested in you.

If you want to maximize your responses, you need to find the people who have shown that they’re into you. If someone’s visited your profile, check theirs out and send them a message if they’re your type. Do what you can to bring people to your page. Make sure to use keywords so that people searching for you can find you. Updating your dating profile photo regularly helps keep your profile at the top of searches and on the front page. If the site has quizzes or forums (like OKCupid) get involved in the community.

And above all else: keep moving forward. Improve what you can, where you can. Fine tune your profile, update your photos, and craft the perfect online dating email.

Pay no attention to the people who don’t respond; they’re unimportant and you’re wasting your time with them.

Spend your energy where it counts and you’ll be an online dating master before you know it.