Accidental penpals
May 26, 2013 11:06 AM   Subscribe

I've just started talking to this (really neat!) guy on OKCupid; I like him a lot & we seem to have a ton in common. However, we won't be in the same place until August. How do I gently steer him away from a penpal-esque situation while still keeping him interested?

I'm currently in the middle of grad school; I went home for the summer two weeks ago, and I won't be back until August. I've been dating casually in my hometown since getting back here, which is going well. However, I also checked out a few OKCupid profiles in my college town, and one of these guys sent me an initial message last week.

Since then, we've been messaging back & forth (& I'm talking LONG messages - his latest was over 1,000 words). This guy seems absolutely perfect for me: he's super-cute, we have a ton in common, and he seems genuinely interested in a serious relationship. Great! Except - we aren't going to be in the same place for two and a half months (which he's aware of, btw), and while sending long messages can be fun, I don't especially want a penpal.

So, in short, how do I avoid the penpal situation (which seems like it could lead to burnout/not having enough to talk about on an actual date/too much emotional involvement/becoming so familiar with each other that we lose any sense of intrigue) without totally cutting off contact with this guy until August? (I'm not necessarily opposed to cutting off contact, and I certainly don't have the time to write 1,000-word messages all summer, but he seems really enthusiastic & I'd like to keep him interested!)

I should note that there aren't a lot of cute, liberal, interesting guys in my college town, so I want to make sure I don't screw this one up. Also, I know that lots of people in the same situation use Skype or voice calls to ramp it up a notch; I tend to find these really awkward when I don't know the other person well. I'm much better in face-to-face interaction, so I'd like to avoid these if at all possible.

Thanks in advance for any & all advice!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This guy seems absolutely perfect for me.

Uh oh.

too much emotional involvement


This is the thing to be wary of, and you are very wise to be concerned. How about sharing that concern with him, in plain language, and ask that you two dial the wordiness way, way back till August? And then sit back and see how he reacts. His reaction will be informative. If he's sensible, he'll understand your concern, and adjust his intensity accordingly. If he gets twitchy or tries to talk you out of your legitimate concerns, be very careful.

Allow him to have whatever reaction he has, and try to shift away from this "gotta keep him interested" mindset. It's a bit manipulative. He gets to decide, just as you do, what is best for him; and if he wants something with a quicker turnaround time than you are able to provide, he should be allowed to make that choice without being strategically steered by you into meeting your timeline.
posted by nacho fries at 11:23 AM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're in grad school, come up with some fantastic, absorbing field work that you'll be involved in all summer (which, presumably, is probably pretty true - all grad students I work with, including me in the past, spend a great deal of their summer and winter breaks doing field work).

This field work is interesting, but absorbing/far away/whatever enough that you'll only get to your computer once a month between now and August (this of course is only feasible if you don't go on okcupid, and any other platforms he might follow you on).

That way you only exchange three more messages between now and August - the last of which, presumably, being you setting up your first coffee date.

Don't talk about it as "going slow" or anything like that, let him know you're jazzed to meet him in August once you're back from counting gazelle in Africa or assisting with fish surveys in Idaho.
posted by arnicae at 11:30 AM on May 26, 2013

Your first message to people in your college town should say, "Hi, I love that you're a fan of Arrested Development! So am I! I mean, THAT'S WHY YOU ALWAYS LEAVE A NOTE, right? Anyway, I'm out of town till August, but I just wanted to let you know that you seem like a lot of fun and I'd love to get coffee sometime when I'm back in Northampton."

Maybe they reply. Maybe they don't. But this is really the only way to do this without getting a pen pal rather than a date. Or worse, having it develop into this intense long distance THING and then finally meeting them months from now and you don't hit it off at all.

I tend to simply drop anyone who starts sending thousand-word replies to any of my messages, because that's not what OKCupid is for and not how I use internet dating.
posted by Sara C. at 11:33 AM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I advise strongly against trying to game the process by lying, or telling half-truths. Unless you are OK with being treated in a reciprocally disrespectful fashion, and beginning a potential relationship based on caginess and self-serving strategems.

Many, many fields of graduate study involve exactly zero field study.
posted by nacho fries at 11:34 AM on May 26, 2013 [10 favorites]

I don't see why you can't be honest here.

"You sound great, but I'm way more comfortable in person than via email. Wanna meet up when I'm back in town?"
posted by mynameisluka at 11:57 AM on May 26, 2013 [18 favorites]

Set up a visit.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:03 PM on May 26, 2013

What about being straight up with him and saying something like, "You know, you seem really awesome so far. I'm really looking forward to meet you but I'm thinking it might be more fun to experience getting to know each other face-to-face. " Or something like that?

Or else, just continue talking to him online and having fun with him. I think if you really are compatible, getting to know him beforehand online isn't going to jinx it or anything. I wouldn't stress too much about creating the perfect getting-to-know-you circumstances.
posted by mermily at 4:19 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I advise strongly against trying to game the process by lying, or telling half-truths. Unless you are OK with being treated in a reciprocally disrespectful fashion, and beginning a potential relationship based on caginess and self-serving strategems.

I'm not suggesting dishonesty, I suspect OP is already doing this kind of stuff already (and if not, and is just bored spending the summer waiting for August to arrive, I guarantee one of her field-going colleagues would love to pay her way to Africa or Idaho to help them do X, and possibly even give her a little extra $ on the top).
posted by arnicae at 10:17 AM on May 27, 2013

It's not your job to "keep him interested," nor is it something you can ever do. Just see where it goes. What's wrong with being penpals until the end of the summer? If he's your penpal and seriously pursuing other women at the same time, he's not your guy. That isn't an outcome you can control... you can just watch, participate, and see what happens.
posted by htid at 10:33 AM on May 27, 2013

Do you actually like this guy? Or do you like this guy "on paper." Because writing 1,000 word emails is part of his personality. You can't tell him not to write 1,000 words because then you're telling him not to be himself. If writing is not your style then try skype or calling or whatever. If it's going to work out between you two, it's going to work out despite yourselves, if you know what I mean. You might crash & burn over email, but in 2 months you're both still open for coffee and something sparks. Who knows. Just take it easy, keep getting to know him and see where it goes. (And realize that although you're excited about him, you don't actually know this guy at all aside from some commonalities and nice pictures.)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:57 PM on May 27, 2013

My husband and I started out exchanging emails for the first 2 months we were in contact, before we ever met. Rather than causing us to burn out, it began a conversation that has continued for over a decade. In fact, long letters were once part of courtship rituals (see LBJ).

It's fine if you don't have the time to exchange long letters all summer--fine to say so, too. But if you're enjoying writing and reading them there's really nothing bad at all with getting to know one another through letters until you can meet. In fact, call me old fashioned, but it's kinda super romantic.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:48 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Because writing 1,000 word emails is part of his personality. You can't tell him not to write 1,000 words because then you're telling him not to be himself.

This... this is happening to me, right now on OKCupid - I am moving and have been browsing profiles, and occasionally getting messages - but I won't arrive for another week.

However - if I sense some chemistry - my responses are often long - I am great at expressing myself via the written word...

Are you not actually flattered that he is interested enough in you, to devote that kind of time and attention?

As someone who writes long messages, I certainly do not expect long responses. And - most "websites" today are actually horrible for communicating - if you actually were sending email to each others real email addresses, you could start a response, type a little, save it as a draft and then add to it or finish it later... Takes the pressure off a little.

And - perhaps you don't hit it off in-person, perhaps you only end-up with a good friend, who you know really well...

Life is short, people are interesting, meet as many as possible...
posted by jkaczor at 12:23 PM on May 31, 2013

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