If I had a quarter for every time I got asked “What’s the secret to online dating?” I could retire.
If I could encapsulate that information into a handy-dandy one-paragraph answer, I would be forced into early retirement.
Happily (for me, anyway), the truth is that there is no magic bullet. There are all sorts of approaches that will work for all sorts of people–and, unfortunately, that won’t work at all for others. Such is the case when you’re dealing with messy, multifarious human beings.
That said, in terms of the messages you write, there are some approaches that are almost guaranteed to make you crash and burn repeatedly, and others that are far more likely to get your foot in the proverbial door. This list of do’s and (mostly) don’ts is the closest you’re going to get to an Online Dating cheat sheet, so feel free to take notes.
DON’T be the online equivalent of a catcaller
HIM: Hey hottie
Me: Really? Two words? I didn’t even merit a complete sentence?
HIM: U R priceless. What R U looking for?
Me: Someone who can be bothered to type out actual words?
HIM: So am I ur type?
If your opening line sounds like something that would be yelled out the window of a passing car, punctuated by a wolf whistle, anything you say after that is automatically suspect and likely to be met with annoyance, or more often, simply deleted.
Also, NO LOLSPEAK. You are not a cat. You have all the necessary letters and prehensile appendages at your disposal. Use them.
DON’T be a spam-bot
A hopeful once sent me this message:
“Hiya. I was going to cut and paste some pre-typed email, but thought I’d just say hi instead. You must get a gazillion emails a day, but I found your profile.. and you’re very… well, I guess the rest is obvious. Ok, photogenic, and you seem fun and interesting, very interesting… “
Then, just below, he accidentally cut and pasted *the exact same message* addressed to two other chicks. OOPS.
But even if he hadn’t made that egregious error, I wouldn’t have responded in any case. Why? He gives me absolutely no specifics of any kind. The entire message is a vague generalization that could be made about any woman in whom he might take an interest.
The rest is obvious, indeed.
DON’T be a dick
ME: You’re cute and all but I’ma need more than one word.
HIM: Hi there.
ME: Le sigh
HIM: Yeah, you just kinda seem internet cliché Burning Man boring.
ME: That the best neg you could come up with or are you just a genuinely unkind human being?
Look, I’m not against negging. It’s actually a useful tool, particularly when dealing with someone who is obviously inundated with messages and bored to death of compliments. But a neg, if done correctly, does NOT make a person feel badly about themselves or make them genuinely angry. A neg should be a good-natured tease that will make the PIQ laugh and put you both at ease.
Because they require a playful delivery, negs are nearly impossible to pull off online. So, unless you are an expert, don’t try this at home. But here are a couple of examples of online negs that got positive results:
“All black at the beach? You must be from Seattle. ;)”
“Do you always dress like a sexy Muppet to go dancing, or only on special occasions?”
A good neg invites someone to make light of their own foibles and gives them a comfortable feeling like you’re already friends and there’s no reason to stand on ceremony.
A neg is NOT, and should never be an excuse to be hurtful and cruel. There is no excuse for that kind of behavior. Period.
DON’T lead with your dick
I have so many examples of this I could fill a book. But here’s one of my all-time (least) favorites:
“I wanna lick it front to back all night long baby”
The specificity of this image makes it extra barftacular. But it doesn’t need to be this graphic to gross me out. Really any opener (or even worse, photographic evidence) that makes it obvious that you are SUPER eager to get laid is an insta-turn-off.
Look: I like sex. A lot. Possibly even more than you do. But here’s an analogy that might help you understand what it’s like to get unsolicited sexytime messages (or worse, pics).
Let’s say you’re super into tennis. You love the game and you’re really good at it. You would love to find an equally skilled partner to play with, and are actively looking for one.
One day, you’re walking by a tennis court, checking out the scene, when suddenly someone throws a tennis ball at you. Hard.
The ball-tosser follows this up by expressing disappointment that you didn’t simply hit the ball back. When you protest that you weren’t prepared, didn’t have your racket at the ready, etc., the tosser gets up in your face and goes into a vividly detailed description of just how sweaty he wants to get while playing with you, how sweaty he wants to see you get, etc. When you look horrified, he changes tactics and tells you how desperately he needs the exercise, how skilled he is as a player, etc.
Yeah. It’s like that.
DON’T make it painfully obvious you didn’t read a word of their profile
“You don’t seem like the type, but what the hell. Have you ever considered being with a couple?”
Uh… I’m openly bi, and poly, and currently dating at least one couple, and all of this is clearly stated in my profile. If I don’t “seem like the type,” who does? *DELETE*
Another annoying phenomenon along the same lines, the would-be suitor who writes “Tell me more,” as though my lengthy profile was not informative enough.
DON’T put the cart before the horse
“We have a very high match percentage and would obviously make a great couple…”
I’m gonna stop you right there. Just because a computer algorithm has determined that we have a high percentage chance of compatibility does NOT mean we would make a great couple. Chemistry can’t be determined online, and the fact that you don’t seem to be aware of that makes me wary of you.
Furthermore, your eagerness to jump straight to coupledom makes you come off as rather desperate and low-value. It also puts undue pressure on me to decide RIGHT AWAY, with only your profile to go off, whether or not *I* think we are destined to be together. And that calculation is unlikely to work in your favor.
Finally, it’s rather insulting to assume that you and/or a computer know better than I do who I should be dating. Yuck.
In short: I’ve never met you, and your assumption that we are made for each other makes me less inclined to want to meet you.
I won’t re-print any of the unsolicited novels I’ve deleted, unread, from my inbox. I will only say that the time it took me to delete them was more than I could spare.
Again: I don’t know you. I am not yet interested in hearing all the painful details of your last breakup, your tortured childhood, or your chronic depression. Frankly, I’m not even interested in reading five fucking paragraphs about all the awesome stuff in your life, either. Because, seriously? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
DON’T treat a person like a personified fetish
I’ve got a few examples for this one:
Luvmilf: Damn your fine, no way your almost 40!
Luvmilf: Naw, I’m only 24. But don’t worry, I’m into the cougs.;)
Oh, so you’re not just a milk fetishist with poor spelling skills? Good to know.
Also, pro-tip: women who just turned 37 aren’t keen on hearing that they’re “almost 40.”
Along those same lines:
Lovinclubbin: Sorry to bother you Miss, but I notice you seem to have misstated your age on your profile. You should probably fix that before someone believes you’re actually over 30.
This clumsy attempt at a compliment was made even clumsier by the fact that two of my girlfriends received the same message from the same dude.
Just don’t bring up a woman’s age. Especially if she’s over 35. For any reason. Ever. Older women are too wise to fall for the old backhanded compliment trick. If you really want to bag a cougar, try treating her like a person first and a hot, experienced woman second.
Anal-Fetish: Wow, what a beautiful… face!
What an unfortunate choice of usernames. And opening lines.
And speaking of unfortunate usernames, confidential to “Ilikeuglygirls”: you are doing it wrong.
Look, I get that online is the perfect venue to find people whose proclivities line up with yours. But even if you’re on a fetish-specific website, it is simply unwise to treat someone you don’t yet know as a person like a fetishized object.
There are, of course, even more atrocious examples of this phenomenon, but I will spare you the gory details.
DON’T make inappropriate/insulting/illegal propositions
One would think this would be obvious. But alas…
HIM: How much?
ME: For? I have many services to offer…
HIM: Sex… kinky. Maybe fuck my ass w a strapon too.
ME: Sorry, you don’t meet my minimum manners requirement.
HIM: LOL. Never met a whore with manners. Oxymoron, no?
ME: No. It is part of a whore’s job to be pleasant to be around. Look, microdick, you’ve got one thing and only one thing right: with an approach and attitude like that, no one’s gonna fuck you for free.
The sad part is, that last line was probably used as masturbation material. So if you’re looking to get free abuse, then this is the approach for you!
No. Just no.
Now on to something less flagrantly douchetastic, but far more insidious and ultimately more deadly:
DON’T be dull
Recently, I got three messages in a row that were nearly identical. None of them were particularly heinous on their own, but taken as a group they signaled an irritating trend that I would like to help curtail right here and now.
Here’s the general template:
“Hi, I’m [name]. How are you? How’s your weekend so far? I’ve been [activity intended to impress]. Message me back if you’d like to [typical first-date activity] sometime.”
Look, I get why this approach seems like a good idea. The fellas who are sending these messages probably think it comes off as friendly, conversational, and straight-forward. They probably think it puts me at ease because they aren’t blatantly hitting on me. They are wrong, on all counts.
Messages like these set my teeth on edge for several reasons.
- 1. They are Presumptuous.
I didn’t ask for your name. I didn’t ask you what you’re doing this weekend. I don’t particularly want to share with you what *I’m* up to, or how I’m feeling, seeing as I DON’T KNOW YOU YET. You’ve intruded on MY cyberspace, and here you are burdening me with unwanted information already. Not a good sign. And not a real conversation, either. More like a schizophrenic in an elevator, carrying on an impassioned two-way exchange with himself.
Not only is the conversation one-sided, it’s insipid. These dudes are not saying anything genuinely intriguing, they’re just making the most useless sort of small-talk. WITH THEMSELVES.
If this is a preview of our first pre-date, just shoot me now.
I guarantee you these guys could care less what I did this weekend. Or how I’m feeling. Or any of the other inane chit-chat questions they toss my way. And why should they? WE DON’T EVEN KNOW EACH OTHER. And those kinds of questions aren’t going to do a damn thing to change that. Even if I just happen to have an amazing answer that could spark some worthwhile conversation, I have no real motivation to share it, since I’m totally unconvinced that they actually give a fuck.
Now, does that mean that you should write to a gal and say, “I want to have sex with you”?
That may be more honest, but it’s still all about you and what you want.
And on that note, my final DON’T:
DON’T make it all about you
“I love strong women. I could really use someone like you in my life.”
Oh really? Tell me more about what I can do for you, person I’ve never met and to whom I owe nothing.
How about telling me what *you* have to offer *me* instead?
Which brings me, at last, to the DO‘s.
DO read the damn profile
Yes, the whole thing. If it’s too wordy and you can’t get through it, that tells you something about how the conversation would go in person. It also tells you something about how verbose your own profile should be (NOT VERY). In any case, if you find yourself skimming, or bored, or turned off, just move on. If, on the other hand, you find yourself *more* interested, not less, after reading the whole shebang, move on to the other DO’s.
DO let your natural curiosity guide you
Find something in the profile and/or photos that sincerely intrigues you. (If there is honestly nothing you want to know more about, then this is clearly not the right person for you. I don’t care how hot s/he is, it’s just not going to be worth your time.) Better yet, find three things you want to know more about.
DO play guessing games
Make conjectures about the things that intrigue you. If you’re right, bonus points for ostensible psychic ability! If you’re wrong, s/he will feel compelled to set the record straight. Voila! Instant conversation.
For example, you notice that s/he mentions a fondness for sushi, you might say,
“I’ll bet you roll your own.”
If you can’t come up with a clever conjecture, questions are an acceptable substitute so long as they are specific and borne of genuine interest.
DO get specific
This goes for your profile, too. If you aren’t offering specifics that someone could comment on or ask about, then you are handicapping others’ ability to approach you.
Intimacy is in the details. When someone sees, and celebrates, your quirky specificity, that’s when you feel seen, understood, and appreciated as a person. And that’s what connection is all about.
DO be intriguing
Don’t just talk about the person you’re writing to. Be sure to say something mysterious/intriguing about yourself, too.
“I think I just discovered the world’s greatest karaoke duet.”
DO NOT give details. Wait for the PIQ to ask.
DO make it entertaining
If your message holds my interest, makes me smile, think, or better yet, laugh out loud, I figure there’s a good chance you’ll do the same in person. If not, then… not.
The beauty of online dating is that it’s the perfect venue for sharpening your social skills, running experiments, etc. The more you try, the better your chances, so just keep finding people who intrigue you and writing to them. Worst case scenario, you’ll learn a little something about what *not* to write.
Which brings me to my last “DO”
DO learn from your mistakes
If you get a negative response, don’t let your pride get in the way of the golden opportunity to learn and improve.
If you get no response, most likely one of three things happened
- 1 – S/he didn’t feel the need to. Meaning your message didn’t do its job of creating connection and curiosity. Learn. Move on.
- 2 – You weren’t her/his type. It happens. Move on.
- 3 – Any number of reasons that have NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. Stop dwelling and MOVE ON.
Are you sensing a pattern here?
Look, rejection sucks any way you slice it. But here’s the thing: it sucks on both sides. S/he doesn’t want to reject you any more than you want to get rejected. S/he wants you to be amazing. S/he wants you to be valuable.
And there it is, the real secret to online dating success:
Have something to offer that you genuinely believe is of benefit to the kind of person you would want to date. And let that value shine through in everything you put on your profile and every message you write. Do that, and you can’t help but attract the right kind of person into your life.
- Special thanks to Neevita for her contribution of, and commiseration over, OKC horror stories.