Dating questions
June 5, 2010 9:11 PM   Subscribe

dating filter: (1) What are the best, most direct, yet polite questions to ask someone during the email stage of online dating in order to get a real sense of who they are? Any suggestions? (2) How do you still come off as fun and cool on a first or second date, even though you opt for the iced tea instead of a glass of wine? (some nights i just don't want to drink)

I'm on the dating treadmill and I'm losing stamina. I meet a man either in person or online and we may converse through email or a more structured setting like eharmony and those interactions often lead to dates. The issue is not so much the picture as I haven't had too many dates with men who did no tressemble their picture. My issue is that I need to come up with a system to filter out the individuals that I'm just not compatible with and need to ask the right questions to garner the information I need to determine compatibility and preferably would like to do it during the email or phone conversation phase before actually getting together.

One more dating question while I'm at it. One thing I don't like about dating is the feeling that you have to have an alcoholic drink when you meet for drinks. Am I just being silly - its important to convey to your date that you're a fun person, and having drinks is a fun thing to do, but if I have three dates in one week, that means I could be drinking one or two at each date, hence six drinks. Some nights I just don't want to drink. Please give me a few suggestions on how to not blow a date with a nice, attractive man who wants to have a beer together, by saying something silly like, oh I don't feel like drinking tonight, I'm going to have a iced tea. my fear is he'll take it as (1) I'm either not interested in him, (2) a teetoller or (3) not fun.

apologies in advance for the inane dating questions, but I would really appreciate some insight. thanks.
posted by dmbfan93 to Human Relations (35 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't want to drink, why not suggest meeting for something other than "drinks?" Coffee, walk in the park, whatever.

Of course you have every right to not drink, I have been on the other side of the table and yeah it is a bit awkward at times.

As for the "filter," there are no magical questions. The advice I bet you get repeatedly is to just meet up as quickly as possible and find out. Yes it's exhausting and often not much fun, but that is online dating.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:16 PM on June 5, 2010

For question 1: "What is it that you love to do the most?", with the follow up of "do you do that?" would be very revealing.

For question 2: I would notice but not care if you weren't having a drink. If *every time* we dated, you didn't drink, I'd ask pretty soon. Not a deal-breaker either way, unless you get upset at others drinking.
posted by Invoke at 9:18 PM on June 5, 2010

I don't know, it seems that if a guy is put off by you not wanting to drink, that's an excellent sign that you might not be compatible. I'd be really wary of someone who judged my personality based on my choice of beverage.
posted by corey flood at 9:20 PM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh and be that person who asks repeated questions like, "You're not a [rapist/killer/nose-picker], are you?"* I got that so many times when I was subjecting myself to online dating. I understand the impulse but:

a) it's insulting
b) people who really ARE bad people are not afraid to lie about it. The only people this will ever weed out are good people who find the question itself annoying.

*it doesn't make it any better if you put "lol" after it.

posted by drjimmy11 at 9:20 PM on June 5, 2010 [8 favorites]

[DON'T be that person]
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:20 PM on June 5, 2010

Being a fun person isn't about what you're drinking. It's about you. Fun is all personality. Some people like a casual drink to loosen up a bit, but in the end, what defines you as a "fun person" is simply what you do. Booze is a means to an end in this way.

For the first question, find out what their record collection looks (sounds) like. Not only can you see where you intersect, but it's great conversation and highly revealing. Seconding drjimmy though, in that you shouldn't wait too long before meeting up somewhere. Real, in-person interaction will reveal more in an hour than several days of email.
posted by Mikey-San at 9:26 PM on June 5, 2010

I'm also gonna back corey flood here. If some dude is concerned with the fact that you aren't drinking, he's probably not your type anyway. At least, that's the vibe I'm getting from your question. You don't think it's a big deal, but you're asking how to deal with someone else's perception of it being important. That's entirely their problem, not yours.
posted by Mikey-San at 9:28 PM on June 5, 2010

Oh and be that person who asks repeated questions like, "You're not a [rapist/killer/nose-picker], are you?"

This. I laugh on the inside when I read stuff like this in dating profiles. I picture a stalker/awful person reading all the way down to this section where they finally throw their hands in the air and go I wish she hadn't said that, now I have to be respectful and go find someone else to stalk..
posted by special-k at 9:30 PM on June 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

dmbfan93: " One thing I don't like about dating is the feeling that you have to have an alcoholic drink when you meet for drinks."

"Sorry, I'm driving."
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:31 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, would you seriously want to get anywhere past a first date with a person who is so obsessed with your behavior that it actually bothers them if you don't have an alcoholic drink when you hang out? Because that would feel pretty red-flaggish to me.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:32 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Drinks are fine, but man, I really wish more people would be open to something that was less focused on "GETTING TO KNOW YOU" and had something that was more casual that would allow you to shine sideways, as it were. Rather than 'let's sit across a table and try and make small talk", why not consult each other's profiles and go, "Oh, I see you like reading! Let's meet at Used Book Store and hunt for good finds! I'll show you books I like and you show me books you like!" Or "I see you like Hiking! Let's meet at Trailhead at 10!" and then you could see if they are the type to race to the end or the type that stop every five feet to admire a new species of moss. You'll learn at least as much about them, if not more, and you'll have spent that hour or so at least doing something you like.
posted by The otter lady at 9:32 PM on June 5, 2010 [44 favorites]

One thing I don't like about dating is the feeling that you have to have an alcoholic drink when you meet for drinks. Am I just being silly .

I don't think you're being silly at all. Meeting for drinks all the time gets old (I'm in the dating trenches too). Why not suggest meeting at a farmers market? This could be a weekend morning date or depending on where you are, a weekday afternoon one.

Some of my favorite first dates have been at the market. There is no pressure to drink. You can walk around (so that takes some of the first date awkwardness when you're sitting around without a drink), sample foods (great conversation topic), people watch, sit on the grass etc.
posted by special-k at 9:36 PM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

so that takes the edge off some of the first date awkwardness
posted by special-k at 9:38 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

" I don't want to cloud my judgment with alcohol" could sound a bit off-putting, but if you bat your lashes and smile...

the knock at my door is someone coming to take my feminist card.

Seriously, if the potential Mr Right can't take an honest statement...well, why bother worrying? You could see that as the way to filter the individuals- if they think you can't be fun without alcohol, then maybe that's the filter you are looking for. If it truly make you uncomfortable, a little dissembling about having work to do later might help you feel more at ease?
As far as questions to ask- ugh. I always go on the attention they pay to my replies to the questions they ask me- do they pay attention? Do the follow-up statements show they listened to the answers? The same goes for you, in reverse- are you listening to what they say, and delving deeper into the answers? I mean, if you get the basic hot-button issues out of the way before you meet- politics, religion, cat vs dog.... then I would say you should go on chemistry from that point.
posted by Stellaboots at 9:41 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with so_gracefully. If I were on a date with you, I might ask why you're not drinking, but because I'm interested in getting to know you, not because I am being critical or because I think you're boring? What's interesting about getting drunk anyway?

Other people may not share my opinion, but I basically think everything is boring. You're boring, I'm boring, life is boring. So stop worrying about whether your Twitter followers will think your date is "interesting", and enjoy the chance to exchange ideas with another person. And sleep with them, if you enjoyed that.

That may be boring, but also satisfying.
posted by jrockway at 9:50 PM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I should really use preview. That second sentence should not be a question. Bah.
posted by jrockway at 9:51 PM on June 5, 2010

I used to take blind dates out record shopping. It was an activity, I could suss out their musical taste AND how well they tolerated differences in opinion - did they enjoy a good discussion on the merits (or lack thereof) of an artist or did they just draw a line in the sand? We would walk from place to place, which is good, it's activity, it's less awkward than standing there and trying to make small talk. Things would come up naturally as you walked and saw people doing crazy things or bad drivers or kids being kids. How does he treat shop clerks? Does he get impatient quickly? Does he slow down to make sure he matches your pace (or tries to keep up with you as the case may be)? There was a ton to learn. And if things went well I could suggest getting dinner or grabbing a coffee or something.

[I just do not get why not having alcohol is such a thing. Anyone who ever ever ever gives you a hard time for not drinking in any circumstance is not someone who you should seriously associate with. "I don't feel like it" should be IT. Anyone who buys you a drink anyway is someone you should walk away from. When I was younger it would be a HUGE RED FLAG - why are you trying to get me drunk? - now that I'm a cranky old lady I will just write people off who insist on presenting me with alcohol when I've specifically said I do not want it, even if Mr. M. is there and it's a female acquaintance purchasing the drink.]
posted by micawber at 10:13 PM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Hmm, what about online chats before you meet? You can get something of a sense of their personality that way. As far as not drinking, I don't think it's a big deal. If you want to seem like a drinker you could say you got hammered last weekend or something.

I don't think you need to worry too much about first impressions. Guys are not really that picky, I don't think.
posted by delmoi at 11:17 PM on June 5, 2010

I don't drink, and I can honestly say that I've never had a date who had an issue with me ordering a Coke instead of an alcoholic drink when we've been out. If you go out with someone who does have an issue, that person's not the one for you.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:20 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't drink--I haven't since I was 17 or so. One very minor trick that I've learned is that I look and feel more sophisticated if I order a club soda, and drink it without a straw. It's less obviously not alcoholic than a Coke or iced tea, and 'club soda' has a kind of Mad Men 50s-ness to it.
posted by dbarefoot at 11:27 PM on June 5, 2010

It seems that it is yourself who is hung up on the not drinking being an issue. You are assuming that if you don't drink then people will not think you are fun.

One method of dealing with this would be to challenge this assumption. Consider that the other person may well consider you a fun person whether or not you drink. Or even that you know you are a fun person regardless of whether you drink. Or that they should have read your internet profile which usually states if you are a drinker or not. I can state that if I were sitting opposite you I would not think (1), (2) or (3) and I doubt most men would.

In terms of other suggestions about how to navigate this. You can suggest meeting somewhere else instead of a bar. A coffee shop for example, where alcohol consumption is not the implied standard. You can simply say "I might just have a *insert non-alcoholic beverage of choice* tonight because I have to work/drive/etc". Or even better just be honest and say you don't feel like it and using this a filtering mechanism. If you are really compatible with this person surely they won't mind that you might not want to drink on a first (or second or third) date. If it is an issue for them then that tells you what you need to know.

Regarding the filtering. I guess I don't really understand what you are asking for. Only you know what questions to ask to see if a person is compatible for you. We can't tell you what questions to ask because our compatibility requirements are probably very different to yours. I guess my only suggestion is to write down a list of questions that are important for you to know before you meet someone and then ask them during the initial email contact. If the question is a little forward, preface it by writing "This may be a little forward, do you mind if I ask you ....". Consider how you would respond if you were asked the question. If you would resent or be offended if you were asked that question perhaps you shouldn't be asking it of others and accept it is something you will need to find out down the line. If someone does get offended then perhaps this is the filtering mechanism, they weren't going to be a good prospect anyway.

Keep in mind though when asking filtering/compatibility questions that people will often respond with what they THINK they are. People who say they are funny are not always funny (to us). People who are creepy stalker types generally don't think of themselves as creepy stalker types and certainly don't tell people in their conversations. So you can only ever get so much information asking questions and in email conversations. At some point (generally pretty early on) email filtering needs to give way to in-person/date filtering to get that extra "sense of who they really are" and if you are compatible.
posted by NeatBeat at 1:30 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Arranging to meet for drinks, and then not having a drink, might look a bit like going to the cinema and announcing that you don't really like films but you'll sit there while your date watches one.

Nthing the suggestion to find a date activity you are both into.
posted by emilyw at 1:37 AM on June 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Male here. I would find record shopping or browsing a second hand bookshop together too difficult as a first date. Many men find shopping stressful and I advise against it as a date activity however the idea of going to a market and buying food together to then have as lunch strikes me as a great idea. Especially as I have a low tolerance for people who eat crap food and so this would help clue me in on their food sense. On this topic, while passing up on an alcoholic drink is of course fine, anyone who ordered a coke (diet or regular) instead wouldn't impress me.

Other ideas: art exhibition openings (can spend as little as 10 minutes to 2 hours there), going to some sort of beginner level class (craft etc.), volunteering together somewhere, meeting in a park.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 4:30 AM on June 6, 2010

The pressure to drink is often internal. That is, you feel like you're dropping the ball because you aren't excited about drinking. Unless the other party is totally wrapped up in the drinking culture, this really shouldn't be an issue. (And if they are, you probably aren't a match no matter how cute & funny s/he is.)

The thing is, every time you give in to that image of yourself as "uncool" and decide to do a drinking activity (or walk around with your 'cool'-marker in your hand), your giving the wrong impression of who you are and what you want out of a guy/girl. Don't cave.
posted by Ys at 4:50 AM on June 6, 2010

The otter lady's dating venue suggestions are a gem, take that advice!

If your date has put on his best jacket and tie to meet you at the cocktail bar where they have two hundred and fifty kinds of whisky, an order ice-tea does seem out of place. But that's only because you didn't ask the mad skilled bartender for a "mock pink champagne", "morning star", "last call" or any other faboo fruit juice cocktail which would be more appropriate for the venue. ;) No, seriously, the non alcoholic thing isn't boring, do what you want, anyone judging you on that is not a catch.
posted by dabitch at 5:36 AM on June 6, 2010

Best answer: Thirding The Otter Lady. The most awkward way in the world to meet someone for the first time is over drinks and food. Instead, go to the zoo. Or some activity like the zoo. Then you don't have to deliver the download on your whole life. Instead you can talk about the animals.

In real life, you get to know people incrementally. Most of what you talk about is the here and now, not your backstory. In online dating, it's mostly about backstory. That's awkward.

Instead of telling your story, do something together. You'll find out more about what the other person is like. And no one will ask you to drink.
posted by musofire at 6:18 AM on June 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It'd be hard to find out all this stuff on a first date, but I'd find out about:
How he relates to/treats his mother.
How he treats waiters, salespoeple, and other service people in his life.
How he handles his own failures.
How he handles disappointments with others (non-romantic)

Hard to do all that on a first date, but I'd learn about all that before I gave him anything too intimate in a relationship I could not take back

For the first date you could share:
Best celebratory moments, greatest successes, passions, guilty pleasures, past hairstyles, goofy kid stuff he used to do and what's on his bookshelf/netflix queue/mp3 player.

Listen for evidence of the above questions and also:
The balance of how much he talks about himself vs others in his life
How, and if, he brings you into the conversation
His humor in describing things, especially things that might not be as easy to share
posted by cross_impact at 6:59 AM on June 6, 2010 [11 favorites]

The best, most direct question to ask during the e-mail stage is "when would you like to get together for a cup of coffee?"

Don't try to go too far getting to know potential dates via e-mail, because, as you've observed, reality is often different. The first date should be low-key, public, and provide a good opportunity for the kinds of discussions that help you get to know a person. Not so much a date as a pre-date. Meeting in a dark, noisy bar is not a good approach anyhow, apart from the issue of drinking.

I've said before that online dating is a numbers game. You've got to work through a lot of duds before you find a winner. And that can be discouraging. But you can do it a lot more efficiently in person.
posted by adamrice at 7:08 AM on June 6, 2010

instead of an ice tea or coke, order a fun drink (e.g. strawberry Daiquiri?) and then "make it a virgin". After that, it shouldn't be a big deal.
posted by kch at 7:22 AM on June 6, 2010

Others have made grand suggestions about non-alcoholic and fun dating ideas. I want to touch on the "questions to ask" part of your post.

Whatever you do, DON'T make the person you are talking to feel as if they are being subjected to a job interview or a grilling by the Spanish Inquisition. I find it really off-putting to be subjected to probing questions, or a barrage of questions, during the email/first few dates stage. Getting to know someone is a process that takes some time. It's much better to have this process unfold as a conversation - for instance, you can exchange anecdotes about fun outings you've had in the past and why you liked them so much, what your favorite music is, Steelers vs. Ravens, cats vs. dogs, etc. etc. But it's really no fun to feel "interviewed" on a date, or asked "so whydja break up with your exes?" "Why are you working at X job?" by someone you barely know, JMHO.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:50 AM on June 6, 2010

Best answer: "I do [some activity -- walking, climbing, biking, book hunting, coffee shop lurking, etc.] every Sunday morning. Would you like to go with me this week? I think you'd have fun."
posted by pracowity at 9:02 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am not sure why you are equating 'having a drink' with 'having and alcoholic drink'. It is just a convenient and short activity that people can partake in without too much investment. You are not going to know online if you click in person, so it would be exhausting to make a longer plan with someone you have not met yet. You go on a few dates a week, yes? To have to do 3 different activities that took longer with three different strangers would exhaust me even more.

Order whatever you want.

As to the questions. It's pretty basic. Get clarity on what your values are. Make a list. Also make a list of dealbreakers. Then generate a conversation about these topics. If you want humor, be funny, see how he responds. If you want volunteerism, talk about your most recent volunteering and see if he responds with his own stories. You don't have to be dry with a yes/no list, but you can guide the conversations/emails, in what direction you like.

Lastly, there is no one way to do this. Just have fun!
posted by Vaike at 3:55 PM on June 6, 2010

You might just be using the wrong dating site. I mean, are you on OkCupid? (I know, sometimes I swear I sound like a sales rep for them).

Five years ago or so (actually, at this point, it's almost exactly five years ago, as our first date was in mid-June five years ago) I sent a message to my now-wife because according to OkCupid we were over 80% compatible.

On our first date, we didn't really have to ask that many delving questions because our compatibility was so high and our shared values and perspectives were so many that after a few minutes it was honestly like talking to a good friend rather than a total stranger.

I'm not saying this will necessarily happen to you, but I do think it's more likely to happen than through eHarmony, whose "personality matching algorithm" is a joke. Not sure who designed that one, but OkCupid's was set up by a group of PhD mathematicians and its genius comes from the following dead simple compatibility calculation:
(How you answer questions + How you want your ideal match to answer) x (How your ideal match answers questions + how they want you to answer) = compatibility
The questions that you and your potential match answer on OkCupid are exactly the kinds of questions you might normally use to filter people out during a date. I was able to filter out people who weren't open to new ideas, who held beliefs I wasn't comfortable with, and who had lifestyles out of touch with what I enjoyed.

As to your second part: if you meet for drinks the expectation is that you will drink. So, meet for something else. I mean, I always liked having a meal, trite as that may be. I'd actually caution against quirky meeting contexts (I can tell you from personal experience that laundromats are the worst for a first meeting). Eating a meal is a classic, and honestly sharing 2-3 appetizers (not a bad option on a first date) won't be that much more than have 3-4 drinks if they're alcoholic.

Oh, and if you really don't like drinking at all that's just the sort of thing you can tweak based on answers on OkCupid.

I'd like to add that though meeting at a record store does seem kind of neat, I invariable freeze up in those kinds of environments. I'm really out of my depth when it comes to music, so me in a record shop would be like a 12-year old in a wine shop. I have no idea what I'm doing. My wife, who is a huge music enthusiast and absolutely knows her way around a music store would not at all have been impressed by me had that been our first date location. So just keep that in mind.*

* And yeah, not everyone is good at eating, by the way, although most people are probably more comfortable around food than music. I dated one person who had no sense of smell, and another who, get this, didn't believe in sharing food. Those dates didn't go well at all.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:47 PM on June 6, 2010

Just tell him what you told us about the drinks, in advance. "Sure, we can get drinks, but some nights I don't feel like having an alcoholic drink, so I might get iced tea or something." There you go -- no need to justify it any further. He almost surely will not have a problem with this, and he'll think nothing of it if you end up ordering a non-alcoholic drink even if you're going out to a bar. If he does have a problem with you drinking the type of beverage you're in the mood to drink? Well, then, time to find a new guy.

Seconding Pranksome Quaine that I'd find "browsing a second hand bookshop together too difficult as a first date." I often browse second-hand bookshops, but that's more the kind of thing you do casually when you're seeing someone, not on a first date.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:08 PM on June 6, 2010

I would not make the date somewhere you go regularly in case your date is, on the off chance, a freaky stalker. I always try to make first internet dates somewhere fun, like an ice cream place, but nowhere near my house. If the date goes well then I'd invite them to "regular" activities. As someone who's been on 40+ first internet dates and who has met some (not many, but some) totally weird/rude/obnoxious/malicious guys, I speak from experience. Good luck!
posted by ShadePlant at 1:24 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

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