Despite being more popular than ever, online dating still remains a potential minefield for social etiquette and self-esteem. The “rules” of online dating are, for the most part, unspecified and unspoken and prone to change without any seeming warning. What seems like a simple, intuitive choice can make the difference between a happy first date and echoing silence in your inbox. And with the constant deluge of hook-up aps like Tinder and Grindr, alternative dating sites like Coffee Meets Bagel and Why Don’t We and non-standard sites like MeetUp, the do’s and don’ts of online dating get more confusing and convoluted than a Choose Your Own Adventure edition of House of Leaves.
But that’s why I’m here: to help you cut through the Gordian knot of online dating mysteries. I reached out to the NerdLove readership on Facebook and Twitter to answer some of the most perplexing frequently asked online dating questions.
FAQ: What Is The Etiquette on Checking Your Date’s Online Profile?
One of the more difficult issues that people frequently wrestle with is: what are the rules when it comes to interacting with a match online, before you’re in a relationship? Is it OK to track them down on Facebook before you’ve met? What about following them on Twitter? Is Googling them an invasion of privacy or simply a way of doing your due diligence before you meet? And how do you handle things when you can see that your date is still active on Match and OkCupid? When you’re meeting someone in person, it’s easy enough to deliberately ignore the fact that they’re probably seeing other people. When it comes to online dating however, it’s not hard to “accidentally” notice that UCLAGal84 has been logging into her account even after you’ve gone on a few dates. It’s even understandable that you might feel a little offended that they’re clearly1 looking at other potential options. Sure, intellectually you know you’re not exclusive and it’s far too early to even think about it. But still… it stings.
Of course, the big question is: are they flirting with other people? People log into their profiles for a number of reasons: to clear out old messages, to read messages from people who’ve written to them and say “no thanks”, to continue conversations with people they were talking with before. Many sites have active forums and blogs as well as matchmaking services. OkCupid spent years positioning itself as as social network as well as a dating site. And yes, they may well be logging in to search for or flirt with other people. Is it likely that they’re on there for reasons other than to meet other people? To be honest: no. Probably not. But the fact of the matter is: unless you’ve snagged their password,2 you don’t know. All you’re doing is needlessly increasing your anxiety over this person, a person who, let us be frank, you barely know.
I completely understand the impulse to check and the anxious fear that they might decide to ditch you for this other person they’re meeting. However, constantly checking their profile (and showing up repeatedly in their visitor’s logs) isn’t going to prevent them from seeing other people. And to be perfectly frank, if they do decide to explore things with somebody else, it’s just an indicator that you two weren’t all that compatible in the first place and it wouldn’t have worked out anyway.
Besides: just because they’re talking to – or even going out with – someone else, it doesn’t mean that they’re not going to decide they’d rather pursue a relationship with you. For all you know, that flirtation or date could be the moment that makes them realize how much they like you.
Until you’ve both agreed to disable your profiles, it’s best to simply pretend that you can’t see theirs. Out of sight, out of mind.
FAQ: What Do You Do When Nobody Is Visiting Or Responding Your Profile?
It’s bad enough when you’re sending out message after message and getting nothing in return. That sting becomes especially humiliating when you realize that your profile isn’t attracting any traffic whatsoever. That empty “recent visitors” entry seems to mock you, a confirmation of every fear and insecurity you’ve ever had and a sign that you’re simply doomed to be alone forever.
But before you decide that you’re a social pariah, doomed to the unfuckable corners of online dating, take some time to do some revisions.
The first thing you need to do is get some new photos. Photos are the first line of interest when it comes to dating profiles; if nobody is visiting your profile, then the odds are that your primary photo is simply not eye-catching enough. It may be awkwardly cropped, making it look like you’re trying to hide an ex. You may not be visible in the thumbnail. You may have more than one person in the photo, leaving people confused as to which one is you. Or it simply may be a bad photo. As I said earlier, the best primary photo is a clear shot of your head and shoulders. Your potential matches want to know what you look like! Don’t make it harder for them. The more they have to work, the less likely they are to click through. You may want to consider having some photos taken by a professional; they can help ensure you have a sharp looking profile photo.
Next, check your vital statistics. There may be a setting or two in there that is causing you to not show up in people’s searches. Most people filter for age, gender, height, build, and location at the bare minimum. Leaving out any of that information guarantees that you won’t show up in their searches.
Following that, make sure you’re not repelling people with some common mistakes. Revising your profile is a good idea in general, but if you’re getting next to no (or any) visitors and responses, then something in there is likely turning them off. If you’re on OkCupid, consider ditching your questions and starting over to help increase potential compatibility scores.
If all of this still doesn’t work, then it’s time to start doing some A/B testing to try to narrow in on the problem. Start by adjusting your details, one at a time. Give yourself an extra inch or two (but not three) in height or shave a couple years off your age. Set your build to “average”. This is the one time I’m giving you permission to fudge the truth a little; this is being done in the name of science. Give yourself a couple of days with each new setting and see whether that affects your response rate before changing it back and testing the next setting. This is one of the few times it’s worth shelling out to boost your profile’s prominence on the site; the higher visibility makes it easier to test the changes to your profile.
Another thing to consider: look at who you’re messaging. How compatible are you really? Are you aiming strictly at people for their looks, rather than what you have in common? Are you messaging people who don’t live within a reasonable distance? Note: reasonable is going to vary depending on your location. In Manhattan, an unreasonable distance is frequently someone who lives in one of the outer boroughs or New Jersey. In parts of Ohio, it may be within a certain commute’s length. As a general rule of thumb, if it would take you more than 45 minutes to reach them by car, odds are good they’re not going to be interested in dating you. Travel time is a factor; having to plan an extra hour and a half to two hours on the road for a date is enough to dissuade a lot of people.
Finally: consider the site. You, for whatever reason, may be a poor fit – whether it be demographic, personality type or lifestyle – for the site you’re on. Some people do better on Match than they do on OkCupid or Plenty of Fish. Others do better on Christian Mingle or Coffee Meets Bagel. It can take some trial and error to find the right place – and the right profile – for you.
FAQ: She Didn’t Write Back. Now What?
A lot of people want to know what they should do when they don’t get a response from someone they’ve messaged. More often than not, they want to know if there’s some way to prompt the other person to reply and give them a shot.
The thing is: no reply is a reply. It’s “I’m not interested.” If they’re not into what you have to offer, there’s no amount of nudging, prodding or whinging that’s going to change their mind; at best, you’re going to continue to be ignored. At worst, you’re going to get blocked and reported. Nobody has ever been successfully nagged into liking somebody else. Similarly, no woman has ever been successfully convinced that maybe she was wrong for rejecting someone by the argument of “Fuck you bitch, you’re ugly,”.
If you’re wondering why women are more likely to ignore a message instead of saying “Thanks, but no thanks”, you can thank the assholes who yell at her for turning them down.
There are a number of reasons why women won’t respond in online dating and many (if not most) of them have absolutely nothing to do with you. She may have just started seeing someone else. She may be taking a break from online dating. She may have set filters on her messages that exclude some factor that you have that you can’t control for. Your message may have hit the dating site equivalent of “We’re sorry, this person’s voicemail is full.” Most dating sites have a limit on the number of messages you can keep in your inbox (and use a larger inbox capacity as a way to bait you into paying subscription fees). Women on average tend to receive more unsolicited messages than men do and those add up quickly. One friend of mine gets more than 150 messages per week – that’s half of OkCupid’s capacity for a free profile.
Straight talk time: every introductory message you send on a dating site should be fired and forgotten. Don’t try to read the tea leaves over how long it’s taken them to get back to you or not; not everybody is on your schedule. Either they’ll be interested enough to respond, or the won’t. Getting caught up on whether this person or that person has responded or not does nothing but cause you grief for no good reason. This is why read receipts are a bad idea; knowing that someone read your message and hasn’t responded is only going to make you wonder what you might have done wrong. Message them and move on to the next person. If you hear back from them, great. If not, no biggie, time to message someone else.
And just FYI: if they were going to respond to you but hadn’t yet, poking them about it is a good way to change their minds.
FAQ: How Much Effort Should You Put Into Your Messages?
I’ve said many times that online dating is a number’s game and that you should be casting your net as widely (but accurately) as possible. Of course, if you’re playing the active role in online dating, this means crafting and sending messages to people who catch your eye. In the name of efficiency, how much effort should you be putting into each message? From a strictly time-saving perspective, doesn’t it make sense to use the same, broadly applicable message over and over again?
As tempting as a copy-pasta message may be, women aren’t stupid and they’ll see straight through it pretty damn fast. There’s nothing that says “You didn’t make it past my photos” quite as clearly as a message that has obviously been shotgunned to every woman within a ten mile radius of the sender and that just means that you’re never going to hear back from them. It screams “anyone will do” instead of “I like you, specifically.”
As I’ve said before: I’m a fan of using a template for first-contact emails- something that provides immediate structure but can be easily customizable for each person you’re interested in. It’s important to show that yes, you have read their profile and there are specific things about them (that aren’t just their photos) that intrigue you and made you want to contact them. If you can’t find something in their profile to relate to, then odds are that you shouldn’t be messaging them in the first place.
But whether you use a template or freestyle it, you want to put in more effort than just a one-line (or worse, one word) message. No effort is just insulting.
Remember: the whole point of that first-contact email is simple: you are trying to start a conversation and get them to visit your profile. That’s it.
FAQ: What Do You Do If They Don’t Look Like Their Profile Pictures?
Straight talk: there’re fakers out there. Many people – men and women both – will play fast and loose with the truth; they may shave a few years off their age, add a few inches to their height or downplay their build. This, frankly, is so common that it’s to be expected. The other thing – the bigger lie – that they’ll do is use deceptive photos. Sometimes it’s as simple as being an out of date picture. Other times they may have done a little digital cosmetic surgery; the camera may add five pounds but Photoshop can take off twenty.
Now let’s be clear: when given the opportunity, people will make sure to show off their best sides – they’ll pose a way they know shows themselves off to their best advantage. Makeup, hair styles, flattering light… we all take the opportunities to make ourselves look our best. That’s an accepted part of online dating. I’ve yet to see a single dating profile with nothing but photos of themselves when they’ve just rolled right out of bed.
It’s when people look significantly different that it becomes an issue.
I’ve had this happen to me on more than one occasion: people who’d radically misrepresented themselves online, ranging from using photos that were over a decade out of date to using somebody else’s photos entirely. Yes, that happened; she insisted that it was her way of proving a point of the connection of the soul rather than just the physical.
This is one of the reasons why the standard first meeting with someone from an online dating site is a short (usually 30 minutes to an hour) pre-date date at a coffeehouse; you’re performing your due diligence on the person you’re meeting and seeing if the intellectual and emotional chemistry you have online is matched by a physical connection in person.
So what do you do? Well, you need to ask yourself an honest question: how much does this difference matter to you? Yes physical attraction is important to a relationship… but is the difference between the picture and reality so dramatically different that you couldn’t possibly be interested in them now? Are looks the only reason that you were planning on meeting them or were you interested in their personality too?
If you’re so traumatized by the apparent deception, you could always just bail without saying another word. But to be perfectly honest, I find this to be a coward’s way out and a shitty thing to do to somebody unless they have blatantly lied about who they were. This is one of the benefits of the pre-date date; unless they are so very different that it’s literally impossible for them to have been the person in the photo3 , it’s hardly the end of the world to have a cup of coffee and then take off after a half-hour. In a worst case scenario: you’re out 30 minutes and three bucks. In a best case scenario, you may find that there’s something about them you like anyway.
But honestly: once you’ve spent some time going through profiles and meeting people, you’ll start getting the hang of averaging out what people look like based on the sum of their photos and telling who’s trying to hide what and how. The number of out and out liars is small enough that if you meet more than one then you’re having an especially bad streak of luck.