Your turn or mine?
January 10, 2015 11:32 PM   Subscribe

Straight women of MetaFilter: do you message first in online dating? If not, why?

There are many descriptions of the online dating experience that many women have, but I haven't been able to find anything as it relates to why women don't make the initial contact. I'm trying to figure this out for both my own sake (as a straight, single male), but also to see if women's experiences can be enhanced (via a new product).
posted by bonje to Human Relations (40 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I messaged first occasionally while I was doing online dating, but, many women who are seeking male partners are so overwhelmed with the number of messages they receive that they don't bother messaging men.
posted by superlibby at 11:44 PM on January 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

There's a huge cultural weight at play here. "Traditionally" it has been the man's job to ask a woman out; this is so entrenched that the Sadie Hawkins Dance is an explicit exception to this social "rule."

Women who asked men out first have historically been seen as fast, loose women. Many of us, while not sharing that viewpoint, are mindful that a given man in this equation is an unknown quantity, and so we choose to avoid the potential pitfalls of being seen that way.

Personally, while I accept and understand the above, I have never hesitated to message first. I'm an outgoing, up-front woman and I used it as a screening mechanism: if a guy was going to be put off by my approaching him instead of the other way around, we were already a bad match.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:01 AM on January 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

I had a lot of attention using dating sites but if I liked a profile of someone who wouldn't necessarily see me due to location/ being further away- but
In a city I regularly visited then I used to message men with a quick "hi, I liked your profile, feel free to get in touch" along with something related to something written in their profile. But maybe one out of ten would ever write me back. Meanwhile I was getting many many messages from other men. I felt men seemed to know what they wanted and had filtered me out for whatever reason.
posted by catspajammies at 12:33 AM on January 11, 2015

(I know you asked straight women, but since I message men too...)

I do message first but a man has to have a pretty amazing profile for me to bother, whereas I'd message any woman I felt looked vaguely interesting. I'd say my response rate is still pretty low when I message first.

I do get lots of messages every day from men but most are easily dismissable 'hi sexy u bootiful' rubbish, so that feels like a weird reason why women wouldn't message first to me because it doesn't take much effort to ignore those.
posted by theseldomseenkid at 12:57 AM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Did not message men while using dating sites. The reasons why, from most important to least:
1. Too many inbound messages from men, including quality men I was interested in, to have time to answer them all. Much less have time to start new threads myself.

2. Looking for a confident, assertive man who finds me (or at least the way I present myself online) attractive. If he visited my profile and didn't message me, we're probably not a fit. (You can see your recent visitors on the site I used, so if I visited his profile he could see me).

3. Awareness of a myth/perception that women who message first are of lower quality/more desperate. Also aware that subconsciously, most men like to pursue and feel like the girl is a little out of their league, a "catch" for him. He has to message first for that narrative to hold.
posted by amaire at 1:37 AM on January 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'd message someone I thought was amazing but generally as the men on dating sites seemed to throw out messages to anyone they vaguely fancied, I figured if they hadn't messaged me then they wouldn't be interested anyway... pretty much as others say above.
posted by KateViolet at 2:13 AM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Like the people above, my inbox was full of messages from men, but if I initiated contact with men, half the time they didn't respond. So initiating didn't seem worth the work. Look at it this way: would you rather have two birds in the hand, or one bird in the bush?
posted by feets at 3:05 AM on January 11, 2015

I ignore my inbox and only message men who look interesting to me. I've had lots of great dates and two great relationships through this method.

When I've asked the people I dated what they thought about being messaged first, they just said they were flattered and it was nice to not have to do all the work. They said "some guys" might find it strange, but they themselves didn't. I wouldn't want to date a guy who got insecure about not being the first to write.

I should note, I also wrote plenty of messages to guys that went unanswered.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 3:16 AM on January 11, 2015 [11 favorites]

It's been a couple of years, but I feel strongly about this! I messaged first a LOT.
  • Sure, it does put some guys off, but anyone that would be put off by my messaging first is really really not going to like me in person.
  • OKCupid (which is what I used) had some sort of cheery statistics popup when I signed up saying something like "hey, glad you signed up! Just FYI when people close their accounts we ask if they're dating another OKCupid user, and women who sometimes message first tend to end up with higher-rated users than women who don't". So, y'know, might as well go along with the statistics.
  • The vast majority of the men I sent messages to replied, so it was actually a really pleasant experience: look around for people I find interesting, send a message, see what they say. Given how terrible a lot of the messages I got were, "browse around and contact people that seem interesting" was a lot more fun than "sort through terrible inbox messages".
Obviously this won't be the case for everyone - I'm lucky in that the people I thought were interesting are people who liked being messaged. But I mostly enjoyed online dating, and that's obviously not the case for everyone; I think "being a woman who sends first messages to men (and likes the sort of men who won't be put off by that)" is one of the best possible experiences of it.
posted by severalbees at 5:03 AM on January 11, 2015 [16 favorites]

Want to second that many women don't message men first because in the "real world", women usually don't ask men out. Whether that is right or wrong is your call.

And now for anecdata: I got a lot of initial messages from guys and I also messaged guys first. The guys I didn't like who messaged me I didn't respond to, and I assume the guys who didn't respond to my initial messages similarly didn't like me. So, it worked out just fine no matter who started the messaging. I also messaged my fiancé first!
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:10 AM on January 11, 2015

And oh, based on women above saying that they don't necessarily get replies when they message men first - it's definitely very possible that my memory of my experience is skewed; maybe I sent so many messages that I didn't notice or remember the ones that went unreplied to!

But that's fine, right? If you leave with the feeling "oh look I found interesting people and I wrote to them and they wrote me back, how nice" then it's a good experience, regardless of whether there were other guys you've forgotten who didn't reply. It's almost an argument for sending more messages, so that you're not unduly bothered by That One Guy You Wrote To Who Seemed So Great But He Never Wrote Back, Why Not, Why Wouldn't He Write Back?
posted by severalbees at 5:12 AM on January 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Beautiful women are fending off a ravenous horde so probably don't feel the need to bother, and less aesthetically pleasing women get put off very easily when their initial message is rejected after a number of times.
posted by h00py at 5:32 AM on January 11, 2015

IANASW (I am not a single woman), but I was messaged first by a woman on a dating site fifteen years ago, and we've now been happily married for thirteen years. YMMV, but I say go for it.
posted by maxim0512 at 5:35 AM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've messaged men first, and they've always responded. Of course, I've only done it three times, but that's because I'm excessively picky and have only seen three men I wanted to talk to. (Hey, be nice, the Over 50 crowd on OK Cupid is full of some really, um. . . interesting. . . people!) I usually don't because I usually find some major deal breaker when going through their answers to questions. Dating is hard, y'all!

On the other hand, the two actual relationships I've had from dating sites were both the result of them messaging me first. Not sure if that's significant or not.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:04 AM on January 11, 2015

My experience was similar to severalbees. I had much better luck dating guys that I sent the first message to than dating guys who sent the first message to me. It helped to be very selective about who I wanted to talk to. They had to look like interesting, kind people who shared similar values. That tactic worked really well, and I ended up in three long-term relationships. In fact, that's how I met my current gent almost five years ago, and we're gonna keep each other.

Every guy I sent messages to said it was flattering and a relief to have someone take the initiative. And to dispel the myths, the guys I messaged first were incredibly confident and what's more, they liked confident women. None of them assumed I was low-quality or desperate. They assumed that we're all busy adult human beings trying to be straightforward and not play games. Again, similar values. I would not have pursued someone with those outdated beliefs because it's much easier for me to not date sexist jerks.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 6:30 AM on January 11, 2015 [16 favorites]

Dating sites have worked best for me when I message men. The inbound message are often low-quality "Hey sexxy u smoke," from men I'm not interested in, who have little in common with me, who just want to hook up and who rarely appear to have read my profile. Those I delete.

I look for guys who actually seem to be good matches, and message them. I send a short note and forget about it, and if they write back, great. If they don't, I'm not sitting around waiting on them because I've sent 5 or 6 messages and gotten 3 or 4 responses.

I had good luck with guys I messaged - it led to memorable dates with good conversation, and sometimes relationships.
posted by bunderful at 6:39 AM on January 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

I sent out messages to guys first a lot of the time. I see nothing wrong with that and if a guy is going to view you as less attractive for initiating contact, then he's not a guy you want to date.

FWIW, I responded to several guys first message and no meeting ever came of it. It was the same scenario with guys I messaged first. However... I met my now husband by messaging him first. We've been together 6 years now. Be brave and message first!
posted by Attackpanda at 6:47 AM on January 11, 2015

I message first now and then, but generally I don't. Both online and in life I've found that things don't generally go past the first date (and generally not the first or second message) if the man isn't the one who is the initial aggressor. I really don't like it, but without exception it has been true for me. I find the best way to get messages from men I may be interested in is to look at their profiles (they can see I viewed them) and then to rate them highly so that we "match" if they also rate me highly. This will yield me way more messages from men than if I just send a message and is much lower time and energy investment for the results.

I've also run into the problem of me messaging first as being interpreted as me looking for casual sex even though my profile clearly doesn't reflect that. More than once I've gotten replies to the effect of "hey girl you free tonight? Do you live near x neighborhood? I could come over to your place sometime after 10."

So basically I've never had a really successful outcome to messaging first and being a bit of an introvert I find it exhausting so I just don't bother. I go on plenty of dates so it doesn't seem necessary to change things up.
posted by whoaali at 7:16 AM on January 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

I tend to mostly ignore my inbox, which I find overwhelming to keep up with, and just message guys myself. 99.9% of them respond and we end up going out. It's worked really well and has led to a couple of long-term relationships and several friendships.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:21 AM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Because it's not what men want, all protestations to the contrary.

I've been online dating on and off for 8 years (mostly off), and my favorite story is this: A guy whose profile EXPLICITLY stated that he did not message first, and all women must message him first, clicked "I like you" on my profile. A green light if ever there was, no?

So I sent him a friendly message, referencing content in his profile.

He never responded.

And that's the strongest variation on a theme: social conditioning and pressures may convince men to say "I'm fine with being approached by a woman first" -- and maybe for anything super casual, that's true. But for anything longer term, men want to make the initial choices first. Biology gonna biology, man. Ain't nothing for it.
posted by gsh at 7:30 AM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just to add something--I think this might depend on location, too. The two places where I've used online dating and messaged first were NYC and SF, and I've been messaging guys who are (like me) very liberal. No one's ever batted an eye at the notion that I asked them out or initiated things. It's just a non-issue. The relationships either develop or they don't, naturally, after that first meeting, and contrary to what "The Rules" might say, my asking someone out has never seemed to make anyone less interested. With a different type of guy, maybe that would be the case.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:00 AM on January 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have messaged two men. The first one, I dated for a few months, almost a year and it was an awful experience. The most dishonest person I've ever met, I was obsessed with him and I am very glad that it's over. I messaged another guy recently when i started online dating again, and he always answers in a friendly manner, but he never initiates conversation even though I'd love him to. All of our conversations have been very interesting and 'deep' and he asks me questions. I said hello to him today (third time I've initiated with him, he has never initiated) and he answered but didn't reply when I asked him how he was... could be because he is ten years older though! I don't usually message men first because I like to know that they are interested in me which they can show by initiating a conversation.
posted by akita at 8:12 AM on January 11, 2015

I do message first, though not as frequently as I receive messages, for many of the reasons listed above. If a man has seen my profile and doesn't message me I assume he's not interested (so I'm more likely to "like" someone, which gives them a chance to see my profile and choose whether or not to write). I will message someone who looks awesome, but not people who are just okay because enough "okay" people message me first that I don't need to try to compose a good intial message/ risk rejection. Some men see it as a little desperate; I'm not interested in guys who feel that way, but it might make me hesitate if a guy doesn't sound awesome.

Weird personal reason, but I also have some degree of face blindness and live in a small city, so there is a not small chance that I actually am acquainted with but don't recognize someone I message. Which is awkward.

If I am actively looking for someone, rather than more casually feeling like it might be fun to date someone new, I am much more likely to initiate.
posted by metasarah at 8:30 AM on January 11, 2015

Adding my voice to the chorus of XX-chromosomed people who message the guy first. In fact, despite being a rather shy person, I've initiated almost all of my long-term relationships, both those stemming from dating sites and from real life. Like many people have stated above, if this turns the guy off then he's not someone I'd want to be with, anyways.

My current partner, who I've been with for many years and am still crazy about, was actually rather surprised at how forward I was on the dating site. I messaged him and said hi or something to that effect, he wrote back a hello, and in my follow-up I asked him out on a date. I guess he'd been used to dragging out the online-only portion of the courtship for a long time. I always figured, the faster you meet someone IRL, the more quickly you discover whether they're right for you. It worked for us.
posted by whistle pig at 9:02 AM on January 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

There is a dating site HerWay which only lets women initiate contact.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:22 AM on January 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

The first time I was on the site (about 7 years ago) I did the messaging and had little success. I've found I'm not only more attractive at 28, but I stopped doing any initiating and it actually works out better for me now.

To give you an example, according to my inbox I have 200 unread messages. I created my profile December 28th.

While the caliber of messages I receive are gawd-awful for the most part, I, like some of the other posters here appreciate initiative from men. The problem is that the good, thoughtful messages sometimes get overlooked thanks to all the horrible "Hi sexy, you want to come over now" messages. C'est la vie.
posted by camylanded at 9:23 AM on January 11, 2015

Oops, I just checked again, and I guess sometime since I first heard of it, they've switch to a new model where women have to whitelist individual men to make their profiles visible to those men, but it no longer says that men cannot send the first message. So, that might be a data point for the viability of a new product designed around women initiating contact.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:24 AM on January 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all fantastic responses and exactly the kind of anecdotes I'm looking for. Special thanks to the pointer to HerWay.
posted by bonje at 10:07 AM on January 11, 2015

I messaged my current bf first because he came up on one of those people you may be interested in emails. He wasn't super active on the site but we messaged back and forth for a bit before we met in person. Seems to have worked out ok as that was over 4 years ago and we are making plans for our future together.
posted by Nolechick11 at 10:59 AM on January 11, 2015

Someone I know worked on Siren, a dating app that also encourages women to make the first move. It allows women to manage their visibility so they control who can see them (and thus who can message them). This article explains it more in-depth.
posted by O9scar at 11:37 AM on January 11, 2015

I would message a guy whose profile I liked, just because it was so rare for me to see one that I liked! Maybe if I saw from my "visitors" that he had already looked at me, I might be a bit less inclined but probably not. They may just be like me and sometimes spend time browsing profiles without really looking at them and therefore not really eliminating them. Also, I would never want to date a guy who had some weird preference for "making the first move" so it works out.
posted by Blitz at 12:12 PM on January 11, 2015

I'm a straight man, and I know you only asked straight women, but I think I have something relevant to say here... I've received a lot of initial messages from women on dating sites (and sent a lot of initial messages). I've been in relationships that started from her sending the initial message to me. I've also been in relationships that started from me sending the initial message to her.

In my experience, which gender sent the first message made no difference — at all — to how things went once we met in person.

I was still the same person, no matter who started the messaging. There wouldn't have been any reason why such a trivial detail about our initial online interactions would've affected any of the stuff we did in real life.

So, you should do whatever you want. If you're satisfied with the initial messages you're receiving and don't feel the need to add any initial messages of your own because all the men you'd want to talk to are initiating things with you, then great — don't send initial messages. But if you want to have some more control over who you talk to on these sites, go ahead and send some initial messages.

You'll still be the same person no matter what.

It's 2015, not 1955.
posted by John Cohen at 12:25 PM on January 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

Another straight guy, horning in (hopefully not messagesplaining?) to add my vote for a messaging free-for-all.

Us fellas certainly don't have the worst of it in terms of online dating (little-to-no rudeness or stalker-type behavior), but when you're actually trying (i.e. crafting funny, personalized, perceptive notes), always messaging first can be a bit of a slog. YMMV, but I think a lot of us really enjoy the change in dynamic. In my case, specifically, I never thought of the women who messaged me as being desperate (unless their messages were actually desperate, I guess); their initiative was simply a nice relief, and a bit of an ego boost. Rather than knocking them off my list, I was more likely to bump them to the head of the line.

Both of my most recent long-term girlfriends made the first online move, and I'm so glad they did. These were people I might not have noticed, but who ended up being great matches. The assumption that guys should (or should want to) lead on contacting actually kind of reinforces the problem of all the "hot"/"popular" ladies getting all the attention. Why? Because, given the effort involved, most men are going to be inclined to expend said effort on the most superficially-enticing prospects first. The most extensive/flattering photoset, or the most appealing/non-challenging mix of cultural references, etc. Going on the offensive can help separate you from that pack.

Hell, my current gal (three years and counting) didn't even have a legible picture, let alone a flattering one. I literally would never have given her a second look. In fact, I think OKC had probably excluded her from my visible pool, for that reason.

Yeah, some guys will react badly/ignore your advances. But you can take comfort in the (made up, by me) fact that your rejection ratio will be far lower than the average message-first man's. Or to put it another way...

My response ratio, messaging first = 15:1 (dates, but no long-term girlfriends)
Women's response ratio, messaging me first = 5:1 (from my girlfriends' perspectives, almost literally 1:1)
posted by credible hulk at 1:35 PM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

As a straight dude I'd like to encourage women to make the first indication. I don't do "cold calls" very much; I figure it'll just get lost in the mountain of messages I'm led to believe everyone with a vagina gets daily.

I will answer a message, and I'll send a message first if you "rate me highly" (in OKC terminology)

If we're thinking of ways to tweak how dating sites work, how about if I can search by "who's looking for me"? That is, not by the criteria I select, but by who's got search criteria set that my profile matches. I can set say, an age range for example, of 35-60 and see everyone in that range, but then when I click some, I'm not in their age range. Seems easier if I could see all the people whose age range I'm in and then see if anyone looks interesting to me second.
posted by ctmf at 2:34 PM on January 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

When I was doing the online dating thing, I didn't message guys first much. When I did, often I got replies along the lines that I wasn't their type or something like that. So I found it a bit pointless to bother messaging guys as I did get a fair number of incoming messages from guys approaching me first anyway.

Instead I spent a lot of effort tweaking my profile and settings to improve the type of guys sending me messages, aiming to making it easy for a certain type of guy to find me very approachable. I had a minimum character limit setting, so if they wanted to message me they couldn't just get away with "hey ur sexxy" kinds of responses. Though it reduced the volume of messages received, the guys that did message me were definitely far more compatible.
posted by lizbunny at 3:59 PM on January 11, 2015

I don't message men first, for two reasons:

1) I've always had the impression that all men except the very shy ones want to be the aggressors and that women who initiate will be seen as desperate. (Many replies from men here are indicating that I'm wrong though!)

2) I'm not one of the women whose inbox is constantly flooded with messages. For one thing, I'm not very photogenic, and for another, I'm in my mid-thirties. (I get a lot of attention when I meet men in real life because I look young and therefore neither of those issues is a factor.) So, I've tried messaging men first, many times, but I almost never receive a reply. I'm assuming it's because I don't appeal to that many men online to begin with. So I feel like it's not worth wasting my time.

What I've found works a bit more often is viewing a guy's profile and then waiting. Sometimes, he will message me (or he'll "like" my profile, then I'll "like" his, and then he'll message). But I've never had any luck at all writing the first why put in the effort?
posted by sunflower16 at 4:06 PM on January 11, 2015

Hate to add another straight male response to the pile but, yeah, several serious relationships including current one started with the woman asking me. I was flattered and pleased. Maybe we're talking averages vs. exceptions, but plenty of us like it.
posted by ead at 4:39 PM on January 11, 2015

Sorry, I was assuming you were a woman — I glossed over the parenthetical where you said you're a man. I would've written my comment differently if I had noticed that. (Frankly, I'm not sure how this question is relevant to men.)
posted by John Cohen at 8:59 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have done two rounds of online dating. The first time I didn't message men for fear of coming on too strong and dating advice from my friends and dating books. I found that I was dating a lot of men I didn't click with. The second go round I chucked caution to the wind and made myself look for and message one man I actually liked each day. When I ended up going on dates, these were MUCH MUCH MUCH more likely to be men with whom I had something to talk about.

I read somewhere that men mostly filter out women by appearance, whereas my method was to filter by match rate and how they answered a bunch of questions that I considered to be total deal breakers, then beyond that to choose who I actually messaged most on whether they seemed like a kind, intelligent and socially well adjusted person based on their profile. Also filtered against conservatives, objectivists and rabid atheists. In my mind my method was a lot better than whatever method the people messaging me previously were using. Then I'd sort of let it go and let them message me back if they wanted and arrange dates if they were inclined. Anyway, after meeting about 4 different guys using method 2, I met my current boyfriend, who is completely awesome and we hit it off.
posted by mermily at 6:08 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Back when i did online dating every one of the dates I went on was with men I messaged first. (I'm a woman.)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:50 AM on January 13, 2015

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