72 hour rule for online dating?
April 1, 2011 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Online dating: how long after receiving a response should I respond?

On OKCupid; I'm male. I don't send many messages, maybe 3-5 per week & I'm trying to be selective & take time to re-read a profile and compose an "attractive" message. I don't get many responses and I understand that some women get a lot of unsolicited msgs. so they might be extremely selective.

So, someone awesome responded and I sent a message back later the same day. Just checked: yikes, only a bit over an hour. Now it's been two days & thanks to OKC's "last visited" snoop-a-matic, I know she's been on.

So a) should I have waited longer? b) will she reply? (rhetorical: I know I'm being impatient) c) how long should I wait next time?

I guess I could use the time to compose a draft response & let it sit for dispassionate review.

Recent & related: just ending communication, callous as it may seem, really is the norm and maybe really is an easier let down than "on 2nd thought not interested" message. The three day rule still sort of exists, for some people, anyway.
posted by morganw to Human Relations (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I guess I could use the time to compose a draft response

oh please don't do this -- it will be apparent, and it will probably be too long. You don't even know what you might be responding to. Chill out, go for a walk. Get away from your computer. Don't bring your smartphone. Awesome person either will or will not respond, it's out of your hands now.
posted by desjardins at 1:41 PM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

No. Do not start a potential relationship with game-playing unless you want a relationship based on game-playing. She's probably not going to respond (or maybe she's a quick-checker and does her responding at some less hurried time), but that's not because you replied right away.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:42 PM on April 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

You're thinking way too much about this. If you're the sort who camps in front of the PC or is always on the smartphone, go ahead and write back right away if you want. If you usually let things marinate, do that. She hasn't written back. That might be because she has a ton of messages, she's on a great date, or because she'll write back tomorrow. Yes, it could also be because she thinks you're desperate, but maybe The One will be charmed with your instant attention.
posted by massysett at 1:51 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Data point: I usually read messages right away. I usually don't respond until after I've thought about it a little, and that bit of procrastination means sometimes it might take a couple days for me to get around to it. The timing of my response isn't really related to the timing of the other person's (caveat: I try to respond to every message I get, and I have the impression that is not the norm). Don't stress out too much about it.

Also, what Lyn Never said.
posted by Vibrissa at 1:51 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

If someone writes to me and is interesting, I usually take about a day to respond. I will look at the person's profile and then think of a thoughtful reply, especially in the first message. I will generally decrease the time between messages as time goes on.

If I write someone first, I usually take things at the responder's pace. If it took 2 days for the guy to respond to me, I will wait at least a day to write to him. I don't want to overwhelm people.

I sometimes feel overwhelmed when people respond too quickly.

It's a tricky situation and I don't know all the correct answers. I had even toyed with the idea of asking a similar question to yours to get a general consensus of whether I'm following online dating etiquette.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:52 PM on April 1, 2011

So a) should I have waited longer? b) will she reply?

a) probably not
b) maybe
posted by empath at 1:52 PM on April 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also, I've had women on okcupid reply back to me months after my last message. Don't sweat it, there are more of them out there.
posted by empath at 1:53 PM on April 1, 2011

You're overthinking the problem. She'll reply sometime later if she wants to, and she already responded to you once so clearly she's not completely uninterested. Perhaps she saw the new message notification, went to read it, and is planning to reply later? That's pretty common I would imagine. Treat it like you would any other type of communication. Replying 30 seconds later looks desperate, but anywhere in the later that day to the few days later range is just fine until you know each better.
posted by zachlipton at 1:56 PM on April 1, 2011

I get email notice that I have new okc messages and will sometimes use the mobile site to read a new message. OKC shows that I've logged on, but I never write responses from my phone - that happens on the weekend when I can log into my home computer. But I want to check the inbox in case a date cancelled, etc.

I don't/wouldn't read anything into response times. Please don't write a response to a message you haven't seen yet. Otherwise, everything you're saying sounds good. Anecdotally, I usually have a first contact reply rate of 20-30%, I think that's fairly normal.

Hopefully you feel better now you've got a load of near-instant askme responses. : )
posted by momus_window at 1:58 PM on April 1, 2011

You don't want to consistently respond to the same person within an hour, since that could conjure an image of a guy desperately sitting around on OKCupid 24/7 ready to instantly respond to any member of the opposite sex who deigns to write to him.

But I wouldn't worry about this one message. Because, you know, it's ... just one message. You happened to be by the computer, so you responded promptly. It would be silly to hold this against you.

If I had to make up a rule, I'd say: respond 3-12 hours after getting a message. Subtext: you're not so insanely busy that you have no time to attend to your personal life, but you're also not that guy who always responds right away.

As a disclaimer, this is just my speculation based on my experience as a straight man who uses OKCupid. Not being a woman, I obviously could be wrong about how women perceive these things. Straight women generally have more luxury than straight men to filter people out based on trivial factors, so, as you know, one can't assume that straight-male thinking is the same as straight-female thinking when it comes to online dating.

But really, I just respond when I get a chance. Since I don't respond to every message within an hour (I couldn't -- I'm not constantly on OKCupid), I don't worry about how I might be perceived if I occasionally do. I assume people realize that there are random fluctuations with this kind of thing. As long as I respond within 24 hours, I don't worry about it. If I find myself taking days to respond to someone's message, I take it as a sign that I'm not actually that interested.
posted by John Cohen at 2:03 PM on April 1, 2011

(A) No.
(B) Maybe.
(C) As long as you feel like it.

Look, you don't want to send off a bad email because you wrote it quickly and sent it without thinking. But waiting extra time just to not seem too eager or available or whatever is absurd. No one who's interested in you is going to stop and say "crap, morganw is interested in me and wrote back too soon, fuck that guy," and certainly no one you want to date is going to have that reaction.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:12 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I really don't think that appropriate response time is tied to gender so much as it's tied to personality. So framing this as "will women think this" or "men think that" is misleading.

Some people like to reply to things right away, as soon as they see them. They are not the type to overthink and ponder perfect messages. They're likely to be the type to agree to meeting up as soon as possible, perhaps even that same day. There's likely a variable of interest that factors in too--if they like your profile, they'll be more likely to respond quickly. This is the kind of dater I am when I'm on OkCupid.

Some people don't like to appear too eager and prefer to take time to compose a thoughtful message that digs deeper in to someone's psyche. These are the people who are likely to have more extensive contact before meeting someone and will plan things out far in advance. If someone appeals to them, they may spend even more time planning out their response.

Obviously, there are types in between these two ends of the spectrum. And when people match in their styles, communication is easy and trying to mindread the other person is minimized. When there's a mismatch, there can be a lot of confusion and angst on both ends.

In the end, do what you're comfortable doing. If the other person responds well to it, great! If not, then who knows, it might be an indicator that there were fundamental differences in communication there to begin with, and you just saved yourself the time and trouble of finding that out some other way.
posted by Fuego at 2:14 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you did this 4 times in a row, I might think it was a little eager. Once? I just figured you happened to be online when you get the message.

Don't over think it. I know we all do it, but I constantly forget to respond for several days or just can't think of anything clever to say (or am too tired to write any kind of vaguely interesting reply). It doesn't mean I'm not interested. Some people log into dating website once a week or less. Especially on a free site like OKcupid where you have nothing to lose by being a very casual user.
posted by whoaali at 2:17 PM on April 1, 2011

If you had waited longer and she hadn't responded by now, you'd be asking us if you waited too long.

There's no way to know what she's thinking. Writing back within the hour is not gross. Formulating a well-thought-out response is not gross. Someone wandering away after just one interaction for whatever reason is unfortunately normal, online and in real life.
posted by hermitosis at 2:19 PM on April 1, 2011

One more piece of advice: avoid checking her profile to see whether she's logged on. A few reasons:

1. This has the potential to distort your frame of mind. You do not want to lapse into thinking, "So! She has the time to log on to OKCupid to check out other guys, but apparently she can't be bothered to..." (To be clear, I'm not characterizing this as your actual mindset as of now; just saying it's something to be avoided.)

2. Don't you have some websites bookmarked that you check so often it's reflexive? At any given moment when I'm online, I'm likely to head to nytimes.com, but that's not always because I want to read the headlines. Sometimes it's just "I have this computer with internet access in front of me and I'm bored, so I guess I'll go to one of my default sites." Sometimes you go to a site without even meaning to go there -- because your browser autocompleted the URL to the wrong thing, or whatever. You have no way of knowing, so try not to stress about this at all.

3. I have no idea if she's waited a couple days because she's not interested or because she wants to take some extra time to write a good message. If it's the latter, she might still intentionally log in for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with you. Since you haven't even gotten to the first-date stage yet, it's entirely possible she's actively interested in someone else ... but that you still have a chance with her. Or maybe she just got an email alert with a preview of a message from some random guy, and it's so horribly written that she wants to log in to read the message for a good laugh. Maybe she just quit smoking and logged in purely to change the smoking field in her profile to "no." Again, you have no way of knowing.
posted by John Cohen at 2:19 PM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

It would take a pattern of instant enthusiastic responses for me to be freaked out by a short response turnaround time. For example, this would be both classic and alarming:

Him, 7am - Hi you seem neat
Me, 8pm - blah blah blah
Me, 10pm, two days later - blah blah
Me, 5pm, a week later - blah

But, if you changed the 8:02 message to something like "response to blah blah blah" and sent it forty minutes later, I probably wouldn't wait two days to reply.

It's complicated. I am easily smothered. And I mostly get creepy, non-thought-out booty call messages on OKCupid. And I'm not a "you seem neat, let's go out this weekend, person I don't really know" girl.

Think about it, but don't over think it. It helps to keep sending out messages to other people. Don't focus entirely on someone awesome in the early stages.

I try to wait at least a day to compose a message, so that I have time to calm down and not say something stupid. But I let freaking voicemail greetings marinate in the same way, so.
posted by SMPA at 2:20 PM on April 1, 2011 [8 favorites]

I don't understand this rule you are talking about. What's the point? What's wrong with being excited about communicating with someone and responding quickly? Why play games? Honestly, if I knew the same was going through a potential date's mind while communicating with me, I would be extremely disappointed, because it strikes me as very disingenuous.

If this sounds overly harsh, don't take it personally, since I don't really know you, but consider it a data point when it comes to the kind of mindset that would lead you to overthink the issue as you have.

Me: mid-twenties male, also on OkCupid, send messages rarely (maybe 1-2 a week?), get responses to half or less of my messages, still got 3 nice dates in the past two months.
posted by adahn at 2:34 PM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thank you for all the responses. I marked a couple as best answers, but though this might be a bit chat-filter-ish, I was hoping for some answers from both men & women & y'all came through.

>>I guess I could use the time to compose a draft response
>oh please don't do this

I just meant I'd toss off something, but take a look a bit later for proofreading and some minor editing. If anything, the message would get shorter if I remove digressions. I am hearing the advice on not overthinking things.

Hopefully you feel better now you've got a load of near-instant askme responses. : )

I am! The first two responses came in so fast I thought I was being stalked. (hamburger)

it's entirely possible she's actively interested in someone else ... but that you still have a chance with her.

Perspective. I am gaining it. Thanks!
posted by morganw at 3:08 PM on April 1, 2011

Cultivate non-attachment.
posted by grobstein at 5:11 PM on April 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think a huge part of the reason why online dating seems not to work for a lot of people who use it is that people spend SO MUCH TIME not being themselves. They spend SO MUCH TIME thinking about 72-hour-rules, or how to compose the "attractive" or "perfect" message. They become the perfect FakeSelf, because it's what everyone seems to think they're supposed to do. Then they go on dates with people and continue that pattern of attempting to be the "perfect" and "attractive" FakeSelf, and then wait 72 hours to talk to the person again because that's the rule. At this point, one of two things generally happens: 1) the other person realizes that FakeSelf is prioritizing 72-hour rules and perfect attractiveness over actually being a real person, and realizes that FakeSelf is not attractive or perfect at all, or 2) RealSelf is like, "ew, that was a terrible date and I had no chemistry with this person" (Yes! And it was because this person thinks you are FakeSelf--but you AREN'T really FakeSelf, you're RealSelf, you're just pretending to be FakeSelf!)

FakeSelf, over time, becomes frustrated and angry at online dating, because gosh darn it, it seems like FakeSelf just puts FakeSelf out there over and over, and nothing ever comes of all that effort. Well, what FakeSelf doesn't seem to understand is that it's because FAKESELF IS CONSISTENTLY BEING FAKE. FakeSelf will never find RealLoveMatchPerson, because RealLoveMatchPerson isn't attracted to FakeSelf at all, because RealSelf is RealLoveMatchPerson's real love match. Get it?

I mean, what would it be like if you just wrote what you wanted to write to someone, when you wanted to write it? And then, what if you went out on a date and said what you actually thought and felt about things?!

I responded to the message on OKC from the guy who was being RealSelf from the first sentence. Then when we went out, he was being RealSelf with me. By the end of the night, we had already both SAID OUT LOUD that we really liked each other. I knew I would never have to wait 3 days before he would call me back. I knew I would never have to wonder whether he was playing me while he was actually into someone else. I knew I would never have to think, "is he just saying that because he thinks it's the right way to respond? or because he knows I like XYZ and wants to act like he likes it too?" I knew within a few hours of hanging out that he was RealSelf, and had a suspicion that he might be my RealLoveMatchPerson too, but I also knew that that meant I would have to be RealSelf in order to find out. Being RealSelf, however, isn't the thing that takes all of the energy and effort--it's being FakeSelf that does. So do the thing that's easier, stop wasting your own time, and just be RealSelf from the beginning.
posted by so_gracefully at 5:47 PM on April 1, 2011 [18 favorites]

I reply pretty much as soon as I get a message - otherwise I'll forget. I basically treat the OKCupid message system like email, or facebook, or text messages. I don't use any voodoo or Jane Austenian social codes or whatever.

I also don't set any stock in how quickly or slowly anyone replies to my messages. It's really all about what they say. Also about getting to the point and asking me out rather than stringing it along for a million rounds. Just. Ask. Me. Out. Already.

Otherwise? Don't care, don't notice, and don't use any special rules for my own behavior.
posted by Sara C. at 7:49 PM on April 1, 2011

I really don't think that appropriate response time is tied to gender so much as it's tied to personality. So framing this as "will women think this" or "men think that" is misleading.

Well, even if men and women think about things the same way all other things being equal, all things are not equal with online dating. If two people are inherently the same but are in two different situations, it isn't surprising if they act in different ways.
posted by John Cohen at 9:25 PM on April 1, 2011

> do the thing that's easier, stop wasting your own time, and just be RealSelf from the beginning.

posted by morganw at 10:37 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing don't overthink this.

As someone who has been on OkC for a while now, people are often very different in real life than their profiles would seem to indicate. And its not because they are all trying to be deceptive, its just that its very hard to accurately convey who you are via that kind of medium.

So don't get too excited about anyone person.
posted by wansac at 11:38 PM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

here's my game: take 5 minutes longer than the person took to respond to you. Easy and done.
posted by sully75 at 12:52 AM on April 2, 2011

Am I the only one who finds the whole concept of dating "rules" really stupid? Why must there be rules?? You don't have special rules for other social interactions, right? If you like the person, ask them out. If you feel like responding, respond. Just be yourself, be honest, and try to have fun with it.

As to the original question, there's no right or wrong answer here. Personally, I just respond to e-mails as I have time, which is generally anywhere from a few hours to 1-2 days later, and I assume the woman in question is doing the same. Assuming you have a well-balanced life, I would say sending a response when you have the time is the best approach, just like you would with anyone else.
posted by photo guy at 9:27 AM on April 2, 2011

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