Why do people disappear in the middle of otherwise promising conversations on online dating sites?
March 4, 2011 6:38 AM   Subscribe

When I email people on dating sites, half the time they just disappear and stop responding, even if it seems like it's going well. What's going on?

I am a guy in his 30s in NY. I often email women on OKCupid and start a conversation that seems like it's going well -- we are sending interesting, funny and flirtatious emails back and forth, we have definite things and common and stuff to talk about, they may have added me to their favorites -- and then they disappear and stop responding. I'd say this happens around half the time, sometimes at the point when I suggest meeting in real life for drinks or coffee (usually after 3 or 4 emails), other times nothing in particular precipitates it. There's nothing unusual or awkward about the emails, and its not a situation where I reveal my name and anything bad would show up if they Google it.

What's going on when someone does this? Is there another strategy here I'm missing to convert meeting someone online to meeting someone in person? Are we supposed to engage in some kind of "internet relationship", emailing for weeks and months first? Do they just want online pen pals or something? Am I wrong in asking to meet up too quickly?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Online dating is a numbers game; many people flake out along the way.

The best way to circumvent this is to arrange a phone call or in-person meeting as soon as possible. If the person isn't receptive just move on.
posted by dfriedman at 6:41 AM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sometimes I flake out because it just doesn't feel right. Sometimes I flake out because I am too busy to respond -- and it's annoying to do it all in OKC anyhow -- and by the time I am a little freer, I feel like it's been too long. This is probably idiotic, but there you have it.

It happens to me, too, of course, that people just disappear. It feels unpleasant, but so it goes.
posted by jeather at 6:44 AM on March 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am going to give you the full benefit of the doubt and believe you when you say there's nothing awkward or unusual about the emails. There is just something tricky about that moment where a person is trying to decide, "Okay, do I REALLY want to go meet this person in real life?" And often the answer turns out to be: "eh."

On dating sites, even after you've written back and forth a few times, the obligation to continue is practically nil. You can stop responding at virtually any time. Because these conversations aren't REAL conversations (though they may feel that way to you). They just a sort of bee-dance to inspire the other person to imagine what you might be like in real life. They'll either become curious enough to find out, or they won't. Sometimes it's because they decide they really aren't attracted to you. Other times, someone else swoops in and does a more elaborate bee dance, and so their attention is distracted away from you.

"About half the time" seems about right, in my book. Don't take it personally -- I mean, it is personal, but that's how attraction works. When we first encounter someone's picture and description online, we project a lot onto them and fill in the blanks with fantasy. As we get to know them a little better, we may begin to suspect that they're not who we're looking for at all. NEXT!
posted by hermitosis at 6:49 AM on March 4, 2011 [20 favorites]

Sometimes they just aren't feeling it.

Although, if it's any consolation, it's happening to us women all the time too, so it's definitely not just you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:52 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's emotionally easier to cut off communication suddenly than to go through the effort of "winding down" the conversation, apologize for taking your time, explaining what went wrong, and opening yourself up to remarks and criticism.
posted by Nomyte at 6:52 AM on March 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

- realised they weren't that into you.
- decided to start dating someone else and stopped corresponding with other people.
- decided to take a break from online dating.
- went on holiday or were otherwise unable to keep up the emails.

Mostly the first one though. Generally I would rather just stop receiving emails from someone than get one saying "Can we stop emailing now, I realised I don't like you very much".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:55 AM on March 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

It happens all the time. Seriously. It happens to women, too, although maybe not as much. I think in addition to what jeather said some women go onto dating sites for a boost of self-esteem... it's an affirmation of your desirableness to get messages from men, and even to flirt back and forth, without much intention of following through. When you want to meet, they drop it because they just wanted to online visceral thrill, or they were just testing the waters, or they just aren't emotionally ready to follow through.

I don't think there's much you can do to screen them out. I would definitely recommend that you that pursue the IRL meeting at 3 or 4 emails, so you can cut your time involvement to a minimum for those who end up flaking out.
posted by kimdog at 6:57 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

For some people, it's easier to just cut communication than to write a definite, explicit letter stating, "you seem alright, but I don't really feel like talking to you anymore." It's not the best habit, but it's a common habit, and it's an understandable one. The relative anonymity of online dating makes this sort of cord-cutting very easy. Don't take it personally.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:17 AM on March 4, 2011

This is SOP on OkCupid. They either started dating someone else, or they liked you enough to keep emailing with you, but not quite enough to commit to meeting you in person. Hell, I've had women flake out on me after they were the ones who suggested meeting. But you're not doing anything wrong; this is just how online dating works.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:18 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

What's going on when someone does this?

Could be anything. Maybe they are just flaky, maybe they are currently sort-of dating someone else they met online, maybe they are just busy, etc.

Is there another strategy here I'm missing to convert meeting someone online to meeting someone in person?

I didn't do it very often, but if I waited a week and sent a short "Hey, haven't heard from you in a while so you might not be interested, but just wanted to say I (still) would like to go out for [date] with you." I actually got a response most of the time, although some of those people were just flaky and I would have been better off messaging someone else.

Are we supposed to engage in some kind of "internet relationship", emailing for weeks and months first?

No, most people who actually want to go out on dates don't need to keep it online for so long.

Do they just want online pen pals or something?

Possibly, who knows. Unless you also want a pen pal then it doesn't really matter.

Am I wrong in asking to meet up too quickly?

No, that's the best way to do online dating in my opinion, the first real life meetup is very important for figuring out if you are actually compatible so it needs to be not long after the initial contact in my opinion.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:21 AM on March 4, 2011

I'd say this happens around half the time...

Honestly, I'd say ignore it and concentrate on the half that doesn't flake out. It would be one thing if this was happening a majority of the time, but half the time? Fogetboutit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:26 AM on March 4, 2011

Another thought: if you were at a party, and you wanted to duck out of the conversation, it's easy to say, "I need to go to the restroom" or "I'm going to refresh my drink" or "sorry, I have to take this call" or whatever as a way to duck out. The "epistolary courtship" of online dating doesn't really offer this way of face-saving for either party.

Also, you should meet in person sooner, not later.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:27 AM on March 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

If the girls in question are above average in attractiveness, they will have messages from multiple dudes at any given time (see their blog; men as a whole message the top 30% of the most attractive women at something like 3-5 times the rate of the other 70%). That girl will always have a potential date lined up if she wants. If you're getting multiple replies that don't materialize into dates, chances are you are a backburner option for that girl and she has more interesting people in the queue at the moment.

Also, some people really do just like to flirt for the ego boost. A minority of the women you're exchanging messages with may never intend to meet anybody for an actual date.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:28 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's because there are no consequences for the person who does the cutting off. People would do this all the time in real life if they could. In real life, social conventions force you to acknowledge and talk to people around you as a formality. Not so online. POOF. Done. Now you don't exist (to them). No remorse because no visible consequences and thus no guilt or repercussions. It's easy.
posted by Askr at 7:29 AM on March 4, 2011

If the girls in question are above average in attractiveness, they will have messages from multiple dudes at any given time (see their blog; men as a whole message the top 30% of the most attractive women at something like 3-5 times the rate of the other 70%).

No, this is not true. The OKCupid blog has no way to know which women are "most attractive." OKCupid gets this information from the ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 stars given by users, but those ratings are for the whole profile, not just "attractiveness." Also, it's largely based on people using QuickMatch, in which the only thing that matters is whether you give a 1-3 rating or a 4-5 rating. It's only natural that women (and men) with higher overall star ratings get more messages, since both of those facts are caused by more people being interested in them.

Are you in New York City or just New York State? Oh yeah, you're anonymous, so you can't answer that, but it's important. If you're in NYC, the simple explanation is that any reasonably attractive woman around your age is likely to be receiving so much interest at any given time that she just won't be able to continue every conversation. You're lucky this only happens "half the time." If it were happening every time, it'd make more sense to wonder if you're doing something wrong, but I don't think this is a problem. Focus on the half of women who are continuing the communication; don't dwell on the others!
posted by John Cohen at 7:51 AM on March 4, 2011

I used to flake out sometimes when I was OKC. Usually it was when a message dialogue went on too long without any meetup, either because the guy didn't ask or I didn't see a natural opening to. And in the last instance it was just before I was hiding my account when things went from casual to exclusive with my current boyfriend. I'm pretty sure it's not personal.

My only advice is that if you want to meet someone, ask them out on a date within around 3 messages.
posted by Kurichina at 8:28 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nope, there's no other strategy. 3 to 5 emails is well within the normal range of time to ask for a face to face meeting (you could do it sooner, but 1 or 2 is kind of soon; some wait much longer, which is good if that's your thing but not necessary.)

Maybe they're flakes, maybe they're not interested, maybe they got back with their boyfriends, maybe they're married, maybe they're just looking for an ego boost, maybe they're busy, maybe they have too many emails, maybe some other guy is a 6'-4" fighter pilot.

Nothing you say indicates you're doing anything wrong. Keep trying.
posted by massysett at 8:58 AM on March 4, 2011

Yes to kurichina. Yes to a couple of them finding someone else - not half. Also - and this is why I used to just disappear - you probably have said something that didn't sit right with the other person. You not noticing it does not mean it didn't happen.

I can give you 10 examples off the top of my head - each time the guy had no idea he'd done it. Usually it was so offensive/annoying/innate/boring I didn't bother telling him because it wouldn't have made a difference in the end.

The few times I tried saying "hey, thanks, but not interested anymore" I was completely attacked. Got repeated emails calling me a bitch, etc. Again, I can give horrifying examples of how not well guys took that email.

Your best bet is to stop having email conversations and meet sooner. By four emails, I'm over it unless there's a reason we can't meet. Reduces the chance of saying something innocuous that turns someone off or pushes a tentative yes to an enough-already no ... on both sides.

I'd actually be really interested to read the emails to see iwhere it went wrong. I think there are four very specific things guys do wrong dating online - and that's after the four critical profile mistakes. (I can't speak to women's errors, I haven't dated them.)
posted by crankyrogalsky at 10:10 AM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can think of a few reasons I've done this:

- I was pretty on the fence about whether I was interested enough to even reply to the first message after reading the guy's profile and was no more interested after exchanging a few messages.

- I reread the guy's profile more closely and found some things I didn't like. Happens a lot on okcupid because of the public answers to questions. Amazing how many guys believe in creationism and are against gay marriage or in some other ways their values conflict with mine. Another thing that happens is I reread something and realize it's fairly subtle code for something I'm not interested in. When there are tons of references to not wanting something serious right away or getting out of a relationship or just wanting to have fun, etc that combined with other things can lead me to believe the guy is actually looking more for casual sex than a relationship.

- This will sound harsh, but sometimes I will look far closer at a guy's photos and realize that he looks significantly different in each one or they are all fuzzy and taken from far away or they all have him wearing a hat and sunglasses and ski equipment (you get the idea), which means if I go out with the guy he is probably not going to look anything like what I imagine. This has unfortunately happened to me at least 50% of the time so I'm pretty wary of it at this point.

I actually think asking someone out after 3 or 4 emails is ideal. I'll often drop off communication after a certain point if I feel like the guy is never going to ask me out.
posted by whoaali at 10:22 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Actually John Cohen, the OKC blog post I cited does not mention where they got their attractiveness ratings. and there is a feature of the site now that allows people to rate your photo only (called My Best Face or something like that). The blog did not say if it was Quickmatch only, where profile content would be a confound. They made it sound like they considered photos only, in isolation of everything else, but they really didn't write anything about their methods so I can only give them the benefit of the doubt that they controlled for profile content somehow.

And the basic idea is still probably valid; the most attractive women get bombarded with messages and it probably does have everything to do with how hot they look in their photo. Do you think they're all getting 10+ messages a day because they talk about their love of Proust? I think not. They have an abundance of choice and so they can afford to maintain a second string of less desirable guys that they only follow up with seriously when they eliminate several of the more interesting/attractive guys they got messages from.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:32 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Agree, it's a numbers game. The point at which you're asking them out , three to four emails, is perfect. Just keep trying and remember people are flakes.
posted by boobjob at 10:56 AM on March 4, 2011

Don't sweat it. I actually got positive responses from women because I was polite enough to send emails saying I wasn't interested or that I'd just met someone I really liked and I don't play the multiple dating game. Basic reply I got was thanks for being so upfront and honest because most guys just quit communicating. So I'd say this is pretty normal behavior on OKC and most other online dating sites.
posted by white_devil at 11:28 AM on March 4, 2011

I think there are four very specific things guys do wrong dating online

I would be interested in this if you're willing to share...

To answer the post, I think being on the fence has been my biggest reason to disappear the few times I've done it. I think the woman contacted me first in most of those cases, and while I felt flattered enough to respond initially, for a few different reasons I didn't become interested enough to continue. A couple of people wrote me very long messages that felt like a chore to read and then answer; a couple more were far enough away that a real-life visit seemed unrealistic; and in a couple of cases I'd already suggested meeting for coffee, which was accepted but sort of unenthusiastically, so I didn't bother writing back to confirm a date and time.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 11:41 AM on March 4, 2011

I do this for two reasons.

1. The emails have gone on for a while and there's been no concrete suggestion of meeting. I'm not on OKCupid for penpals, sorry. I'll do the legwork if I'm really crazy about the person. But if I'm on the fence, and they never say anything, I usually just drift off.

2. I've been messaging with a few different people and someone else has made the jump from "person I've exchanged a couple emails with" to "person I am enjoying the crap out of in real life". Unfortunately, I am wired for monogamy. Even if the other thing isn't technically exclusive, honestly I just don't have the energy to continue pursuing other people if I already have someone in my life who I'm having fun with.

The reason I drift away rather than talking it out is that I think it's important to remember that exchanging a message or two is not a commitment. If I start treating all online conversations as A Big Deal That Comes With Strings And Obligations, I start to get pretty messed up about other aspects of dating. And it's more important for me to protect what remains of my fragile sanity than for me to protect the feelings of someone I've never met.
posted by Sara C. at 11:42 AM on March 4, 2011

Online dating encourages abruptness and the general anonymity leads to terse replies/no replies and this bit of rudeness. But the bottom line is to not take it personally, because people flake out. But this sort of thing bothers me too. Whatever happened to manners and replying to calls/emails/messages/etc that are sent?

I understand ignoring messages from people you've never communicated with, but I also find this sudden drop off from people with whom there was actual back and forth correspondence to be rude and immature. Better to let someone down than to flake out and leave them wondering. It's laziness on their end, in my opinion.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:03 PM on March 4, 2011

cmgonzalez - if you get a memail, do you get pissed off if you reply and they don't sustain the conversation? Do you think that's rude? How are two strangers exchanging informal messages or emails meant to wind down the conversation? How would the ideal person on OK Cupid handle this? Are they different? Why?

The bottom line, for me, has been mentioned here already - what am I supposed to do, send a bulleted list of reasons you don't turn my crank? Or just a curt "Don't want you, sorry?" That seems a lot more rude to me than just ducking out when it becomes clear that it's not meant to be.
posted by Sara C. at 12:16 PM on March 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Online dating is a challenge and can be very frustrating. But...just know that it can work and you just have to stay tough. I met my wife online. Love her to death and we are pretty dam perfect together. That being said, I did online dating for years. And I ran into the same problem you have. I think your best bet here is to start asking out people sooner then later. Perhaps you're dragging things along a bit. By the 3rd or 4th email it's definitely time to set up a meet up. Nothing really gets accomplished until you meet in person. So focus hard on being quicker(not too quick) about setting up a date. If you keep the date casual...coffee, lunch, icecream, something easy going and in a public place your chances will be greater of getting a yes. And remember, as other people are saying, it's a numbers game. Just keep emailing people. Eventually you'll start meeting people in person. Sometimes you'll click, sometimes you won't. Most of my dates never led to 2nd dates. And the ones that did rarely led to 3rd dates. But a couple did...and one was a home run. So stay positive and be diligent. Good luck!
posted by ljs30 at 4:34 PM on March 4, 2011

This is just one of those things that sucks about online dating. You're probably not doing anything wrong, and apart from trying to suggest meeting earlier (maybe 2 emails instead of 4?), I can't think of any suggestions. Just keep going, give yourself a break once in a while, and don't get discouraged!
posted by J. Wilson at 5:29 PM on March 4, 2011

I've done this, for many of the reasons mentioned: the person said something that made me uncomfortable with further communication, I realized I didn't have anything in common with the person, I got really busy and didn't have a chance to answer, or I started dating someone and didn't need to be on the site anymore.

I met my boyfriend on plentyoffish.com and actually disappeared on him before we met. We had exchanged a few messages, but then my life got really super busy and I wasn't on the site for a couple months. I saw he had sent a message during that time but didn't have a chance to read it. When things calmed down, I sent him a message explaining what was going on (I had just gotten a new job and was also on my Jaycee chapter board - those two things ate up lots of my time) and that I still wanted to talk to him if he was willing. (He is a very sweet guy and I didn't want him thinking he had offended me or that I was blowing him off) He was still willing to talk to me, we met shortly thereafter, and we've been together ever since.
posted by SisterHavana at 5:53 PM on March 4, 2011

Sara C. - It's also like how when you apply for a job and they never reply to tell you you've been rejected. So you just wait and wait. I'd much prefer a curt "We decided to go with someone else" form letter than to be kept waiting indefinitely for word.

Conversations come to a natural end and there are ways to wind them down gently and with respect. Better than just disappearing, especially when things seemed to have ben going well (or after what seemed like a great interview).
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:27 PM on March 4, 2011

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