Encourage the good guys
January 30, 2015 7:29 AM   Subscribe

To men and women who partake in online dating: how should I respond to the rare person who actually sends a nice, thoughtful message, but to whom I'm not attracted? I don't want them to get discouraged because they are actually doing it right!

I know it's not up to me to protect the feelings of strangers. And for the most part I choose to not respond at all to people that I'm not interested in. But 90ish% of the people that message are the "hey baby", "sup", "your [sic] hot", generic messages from icky creepers that I ignore. 4ish% are people that I'm actually interested in and attracted to and might respond to.

Then there are the 6ish%. The totally age/location appropriate, reasonable dudes that take the time to actually read your profile and send you thoughtful, engaging, respectful messages. But you aren't attracted to them for whatever reason and are therefore not interested.

(Yes, yes I know, attraction can grow, etc etc. But I have many times gone out with this kind of guy--a good match for my brain, but not for my loins--and I have learned attraction just does not grow for me [this is after approximately five years of sometimes multiple dates with probably 40 or so different guys]. YMMV, but this is just how it is for me, take my word for it.)

These are guys who someone else would likely find attractive--just good, normal, friendly, nice-looking guys! And I read on here how frustrated some of the good, normal, friendly, nice-looking guys get when they get zero responses and worry that they are doing something wrong. So is there a way to respond, to discourage a date with me, but to encourage them to keep trying because they are doing it right? Is there a way to do this that isn't totally condescending or unwelcome? Or should I just not bother?

You good normal guys out there on dating sites: can it be done? People who date men: have you said something that went over well?

(For demographics sake, I'm an early 30's single straight woman dating similar-aged single straight men in a large American metropolitan area.)

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
While it's disappointing not to get a response, it would be worse to be told, "You seem nice, but based on your pic and profile, I'm not interested."

So mentally give them a high-five and ignore. It really is kinder.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:31 AM on January 30, 2015 [9 favorites]

I say something to the effect of, "Hi, thanks for your nice message! I am moving forward with someone else, but I wish you luck in your search and hope you find what you're looking for soon."
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:42 AM on January 30, 2015 [15 favorites]

I would rather get a response that says "thanks, but I don't think I'm interested. Good luck!" than silence.

Women complain a lot about not getting better than "sup" / this would go a long way towards encourag a thoughtful response.
posted by jzb at 7:49 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

If I'm on a dating site and message you, it's because I want to date you. If you message me back, I assume you feel the same way. Any other message is unnecessary and potentially hurtful. Ignore and move on.
posted by Diskeater at 7:50 AM on January 30, 2015 [9 favorites]

Yeah, I've been one of these people. Let me be blunt...don't waste my time telling me I'm not your cup of tea, but I send good messages. I know I do. I do because that's who I am.

It's wasting your time, too. Move on, find your match.

Don't say you're moving forward with someone else (unless you are) because we'll both know it's a lie if I happen to see you're still on the dating website and it sucks to be actively rejected like that.
posted by inturnaround at 7:52 AM on January 30, 2015 [15 favorites]

Another vote for "ignore and move on". Trying to "encourage" somebody would, at best, send mixed signals. The relatively sane people eventually do just fine on dating sites, and I have the marriage to prove it. Don't worry about them.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:55 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's probably no true consensus, but I agree with inturnaround. That language makes it sounds like they're being rejected after a job interview. It really is best to ignore, and don't feel badly about it. It's part of online dating.
posted by girlmightlive at 7:56 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Having been on the receiving end a few years ago, I'm in the "better to be ignored than get a form letter from HR" camp.

Sorry, but good intentions don't always come across well in text.
posted by bonehead at 8:02 AM on January 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

I get where you're coming from, but the right thing to do is not respond. On receiving a reply from you, someone will think you're interested; it's worse when they read that reply and see that it's a rejection than if they didn't get one at all. Being ignored sometimes is just part of the game with online dating. You're not responsible for "encouraging the good guys," and you don't have to apologize for your preferences.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:03 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think if there's some obvious and not-to-be-taken-personally reason why you're not interested, you should still offer encouragement. A few years ago, I got a message from someone who practiced a religion I don't, and a look into his questions showed that he would strongly prefer to be with a believer. But the rest of his profile was hilarious and A+ delightful, so I did write him back and said so--adding that I thought our religious differences would eventually doom us, but happy trails, etc. His response was positive and something along the lines of "thanks, and if you ever convert, LOL...!" so I think it was okay.

Anecdotally, a lot of my male friends who do online dating express frustration with the messages they work kinda hard to craft and make witty and personal, then send into the ether, never to be acknowledged. So I think it's not a terrible idea to write back with a compliment and a "but it looks like we're not compatible." (and, on preview, do this only if you mean it, + if you can make it not sound like a form letter from HR)
posted by witchen at 8:04 AM on January 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

All my girlfriends who try to send "public service" OKC messages quickly find that

1) a lot of nice guys are not so nice after rejection

2) a lot of guys think you can argue someone into liking you
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:13 AM on January 30, 2015 [32 favorites]

I (female) got a message from a dude once in response to one that I had sent out that said something like:

"Hi! You sent me a really funny message and you seem really cool in your profile, but I'm as picky as I am single and I really am looking to date someone taller. Good luck out there and p.s. your dog is hilarious."

It was pretty ok. One of those compliment sandwiches. I wouldn't recommend telling someone he's too short for you, but the "I'm as picky as I am single" line is a good one. It's a nice way of saying "yup, I'm the asshole here, no hard feelings."

I usually don't respond unless the message is really good and there's a natural response point.

One time I did this the guy messaged back saying "I've been on okc for five years and you're the first woman who's ever written back. Thank you :) Good luck on here!"
posted by phunniemee at 8:13 AM on January 30, 2015 [8 favorites]

I would not send the message. Nor is this guy doing it the "right" way, as what he wrote did not work. Studies show its all looks online.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:21 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

When online dating, if I received a great message from someone or received a message from someone with a great profile but who I knew just wouldn't work out with me, I always responded. I thanked them for their message, because I genuinely appreciated thoughtful or entertaining messages and profiles and wanted to express this. And then I'd say what it was that prompted my response but also mention that I was sorry but I didn't think we'd be a good match for [whatever the reason was]. I was just honest, polite, kind and brief. Almost every time this happened, the person would then send me a response back thanking me for taking the time to let them know and saying that if I changed my mind to contact them again.

I think being just as nice, polite and considerate of feelings with online dating as you would with in-person dating is a good thing. Some people might not want the messages but unsolicited messages is the method of online dating, just be kind but honest.
posted by Polychrome at 8:22 AM on January 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would rather get a response that says "thanks, but I don't think I'm interested. Good luck!" than silence.

Personally, it's the opposite for me. I would rather imagine they no longer use the site, or are dating someone and forgot to deactivate their profile, or went on holiday then didn't read all their email when they got back, than know for sure, 100% guaranteed, in plain text, that no, they actually don't like my personality and/or my looks. If I wanted to get explicit rejections I would have been asking people out in real life rather than on the internet! ;)
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:23 AM on January 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

There is no reason to assume that this guy needs protection from being discouraged. He wrote you a thoughtful, pleasant message, so we can assume he has an intellect and good head on his shoulders. As such, he may be getting plenty of responses from others who value his messages and profile. He doesn't need a cheerleading response from someone who is rejecting him.
posted by incolorinred at 8:26 AM on January 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

I feel the same way that you do, and i tend to write a kinda white-lie email along the lines of "I really appreciated your message - it's so nice to hear from some one who actually read my profile and took the time write something thoughtful. Unfortunately, i don't think we're a match/i just started seeing someone. Good luck with your search!"
posted by Kololo at 8:29 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nicest thing you can do is not respond, but if you have a single friend you think would like that man, send them the profile link.
posted by michaelh at 8:31 AM on January 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

There is no reason to assume that this guy needs protection from being discouraged. He wrote you a thoughtful, pleasant message, so we can assume he has an intellect and good head on his shoulders. As such, he may be getting plenty of responses from others who value his messages and profile. He doesn't need a cheerleading response from someone who is rejecting him.

I agree, I think it's kind of condescending to do this because you want to encourage them for doing it right or whatever. Also it's not encouraging because they're not getting what they want. Thoughtful guys who write nice messages online will do just fine in the dating world without "thanks but no thanks" type messages.
posted by zutalors! at 8:55 AM on January 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

I like it when people acknowledge my efforts to be thoughtful, so I try to do the same. I can't (and shouldn't) presume to know how any online stranger perceives or defines the "best" or "nicest" way to respond. I can only go with how I'd want to be treated.

Back in my online dating days I replied to good messages with some iteration of "Thank you for the lovely message. Alas, I don't think we'd be a good match. It's too bad, you seem awesome and I do hope you find someone equally awesome." It’s a darn cushy ‘not interested.’

Adults don't have the obligation to "protect" the feelings of other adults. That seems a bit patronizing. I do believe I have an obligation to be sensitive to the feelings of a person who has put effort into being thoughtful and nice. What they do with it is their business.
posted by space_cookie at 8:56 AM on January 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would rather get a response that says "thanks, but I don't think I'm interested. Good luck!" than silence.

I agree, especially as the question involves encouraging people whose approach is above the "sup" standard.

From the reports of friends of mine who use dating site, i'm often baffled as to why some people think being rude and/or uninteresting could possibly lead to successful outcomes. By the same token, it makes sense to positively reinforce those who at least try to engage in a good approach.

Of course, the caveats Juliet Banana mentions are valid, but ignoring / blocking / whatever becomes the obvious option then.

Disclaimer: I don't use online dating sites.
posted by Gelatin at 8:59 AM on January 30, 2015

Interesting how the answers are breaking down: most of the men seem to be saying "Don't bother", while most of the women seem to be saying "I just want to be nice".

To paraphrase that saying - when someone tells you how to treat them, believe them.
posted by vignettist at 9:23 AM on January 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Wow. I would never not respond to a thoughtful message.

"Thank you for your message but I don't think we would be a good match."

And I don't respond that way to let someone down easy or in some expectation that they'll be nice afterward or for any other reason beyond I'm not rude.
posted by headnsouth at 10:02 AM on January 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

The only time I found it beneficial to write back to someone nice but not for me was when I wanted to set them up with a friend on the site.
I said something like "you seem great but not my type, but I think you would be perfect for my friend X and here is her profile info, I will tell her about you too."

Otherwise any type of response I tried to give to let them down easy turned into a Bye Filipe type situation. Not worth it for either party.
posted by rmless at 10:19 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Let's imagine an offline scene where men are approaching women.

Setting: Bookstore

How it happens in "real life":

Man, "Hey, that's a great book! Have you read any of his others?"
Woman, "No, not yet." [socially obligatory smile and then turns away]
Man's internal dialogue, ("... At least I gave it a shot.")

How it would happen in the "thanks but no thanks" paradigm:

Man, "Hey, that's a great book! Have you read any of his others?"
Woman, "No, none so far. You seem really interesting and nice, but not enough that I would want to have an elaborate discussion with you. I am sure there are plenty of other women who will love to go into this with you. Good Luck out there!"
Man's internal dialogue, ("... why in god's name did that just happen?")

As a man, I can tell you that response package #1 happens hundreds of times in our lifetime. To us, it is like a force of nature, no different than observing a cloudy day or the phases of the moon. Response package #2 only happens online and maybe a handful of times. It almost never happens out there in the world because it's clear to all those involved that it's a bright, shining display of narcissism. The anonymity of the internet enables the rejector to do whatever they want to allay their guilt without seeing the repercussions on the pursuer's face. You think it's "cushy" but its not.

posted by incolorinred at 10:29 AM on January 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

Ignoring a kind, thoughtful, and considerate ask-out online feels as rude to me as walking away, silently and without eye contact, from a person's polite, complimentary ask-out* in person.

But apparently the mores of online dating are that we should be abominably rude in exactly this way at all times; so no, you should not reply in any way. It's a drag, but you just have to trust that these guys know to be decent humans just for its own sake.

*Obviously it is perfectly fine to walk away silently from someone who's being a rude, presumptuous jerk!
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:25 AM on January 30, 2015

Chiming back in to say that--as a woman who made conciliatory statements to men on OKC--part of me was thinking it made the big spooky anonymous chilly world of ~ONLINE DATING~ feel a little warmer, friendlier, less like a ruthless meat market. That's all.
posted by witchen at 11:27 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

"Thank you for your message but I don't think we would be a good match."

And I don't respond that way to let someone down easy or in some expectation that they'll be nice afterward or for any other reason beyond I'm not rude.

THIS. For me, I feel like if you've taken the time to actually write someone something other than "hey" or "what's up" it means you're putting yourself out there, even making yourself a little vulnerable in a way. And I would like it if people respected that when I take the time, so I try--and I'm not perfect by any means--to respond in a way that's kind but clear. The absolute best response I ever got from someone was something along the lines of "Hey, thanks for your message! I don't think you're quite what I'm looking for, so take care. ps, if you liked [book or movie or something], you might like [other whatever it was]. Bye!"

Polite, took the time to say "you spent time paying attention to what I wrote, so did I," and unambiguously cut off further communication. To me, that's much nicer than not even taking ten seconds to say thanks but no thanks.

How it happens in "real life":

Man, "Hey, that's a great book! Have you read any of his others?"
Woman, "No, not yet." [socially obligatory smile and then turns away]
Man's internal dialogue, ("... At least I gave it a shot.")

Well first I'm pretty sure how it happens in person is more like "oh well you should read this one it's the best you have such pretty hair let's go make babies," because a lot of guys are pretty aggressive (see all the conversations recently about catcalling for example) and perhaps deliberately clueless about taking a subtle no for an answer. In-person a woman's response is often really difficult to make, as I understand it; a subtle no gets ignored, a flat out no seems to invite sudden responses of "what you're too good for me? you must be a dyke" far too often for it not to be a consideration.

Second, at least there's acknowledgement of what someone has said.

And I think your "thanks but no thanks" paradigm doesn't quite translate, because that's not the situation the OP is talking about. She's talking about something more like:

Man: "Hey, that's a great book, have you read any of his others? The Sequel really delved into the issues of Bananism and how it related to the Ice Cream Cults of the 50's. And if that's your sort of thing, may That Movie might be up your alley. I noticed you were dancing--is this your kind of music? I've never heard it before, and would love some recommendations."
Woman: "No, you seem really interesting and nice, etc."

In person, "Hey that's a great book" is the same kind of opener as "hey baby" "sup" etc. It's a low-key opener that can be met with an equally low-key response.

Perhaps a better analogy is that meeting people online through their profiles is more like speed dating. I mean, if someone unattractive sat down opposite you, would you let them speak their piece and then remain silent? I mean, yeah, I get that it's asynchronous communication in the online case, but to me the situations are pretty similar; someone's taken the time to put themselves out there, it's just decent behaviour to respect that. While, I hasten to add, also being perfectly clear about boundaries! If you send the nice response and close with "bye" or "cheers" or some other sort of farewell, you're perfectly justified at that point to ignore whatever comes back.

Perhaps worth noting that I'm coming at this from the perspective of guys interacting with guys; I totally understand there's something of a different dynamic in the heterosexual world and I don't want this to read as though I'm saying the OP should placate men or indulge them. For me the principle is respecting/validating someone else's effort and I think that translates to any gender pairing.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:30 AM on January 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I don't think the bookstore analogy holds up. If a friendly stranger approaches you in a bookstore, and you respond by telling them you don't want to date them... you are being really weird. If a friendly stranger approaches you on a dating site, and you reply by telling them, politely, that you don't want to date them... that's just the way online dating sites work.

I mean, you don't have to reply, and some may prefer you don't, but it's certainly not rude to actually reject someone explicitly rather than just ignoring them.
posted by Asparagus at 11:38 AM on January 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

The bookstore analogy only makes sense if the bookstore is hosting a singles mixer night.

Otherwise it's akin to a guy messaging you through your goodreads account to hit you up for a date.
posted by phunniemee at 12:14 PM on January 30, 2015

My marriage is older than the public internet, and I've never been on a dating site, but as a general principle of communications, I'm afraid Ruthless Bunny and others are right. As a rule, there is no way to use any channel for much of anything other than the purpose intended. It's kind of like a recent thread about "As a dude, how can I strike up conversations with the waitresses at the half-nekkid cafe without seeming creepy?" Short answer: you can't.

If the dude is nice and respectful, odds are they are getting positive feedback from some other person that WILL be attracted to them in the way they're looking for.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:18 PM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well this thread makes it clear that there is no real consensus (and in general, there is no "good" way to reject someone, although there are ways that are worse than others).

As a man who spent several years doing the online dating thing, I am in the "don't respond" camp. Seeing a reply, possibly getting your hopes up only to have it read "No thanks" (or more flowery equivalent) is just not worth it, and no response is pretty much the standard (in my experience) letdown.

I mean, its not terrible to write them a quick "no thanks" style email, but all things considered I would have preferred silence.
posted by thefoxgod at 12:22 PM on January 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Back when I was single and doing the OKCupid thing, there was nothing worse than: Notification, you have a message from a person you sent a message! Yay! /Reads message.."no, thank you." Well, that was a major disappointment. I'd way rather prefer nothing, since that's what I got from 99% of my messages anyway.
posted by General Malaise at 1:42 PM on January 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

Sometimes when I get messages like that, I'll notice something about them that isn't really personal that is still a dealbreaker. Like they live too far away, or they're a smoker or something. And I'll write back and say "thanks for writing! I really enjoyed your message. It's too bad we live so far apart. I wish you all the best." Usually they seem to take the hint.
posted by mermaidcafe at 1:52 PM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

The kinds of responses from people like you from whom I get responses to my non-monosyllabic messages-of-introduction which I didn't mind getting generally consisted of:

1) acknowledge point of common interest/curiosity
2) reply minimally to any queries
3) offers wishes of having a nice day or a great weekend

I get that they're nice people, they're "playing by the rules" of conscientious online dating, and that there is nothing to be gained from continuing to contact them, so I don't.

This might not work so well with most peo Have you ever played "sup" "re:sup" "re:re:sup" "re:re:re:sup" tag to mess with people?
posted by porpoise at 7:06 PM on January 30, 2015

The breakdown seems to be men saying we don't enjoy getting those responses and women saying but you'll get them so I don't seem rude. Feelings are not debatable and the majority of male responders in here are saying that they feel worse being rejected in that manner. That seems like the more germane point of view to the OP's concerns.
posted by incolorinred at 8:22 PM on January 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm a man, and I say just don't respond. If you respond, you're just taking up more of his time. Trust me, we know that women get a ton of messages. Personally, I don't send messages because I think I deserve a response; I send messages because, if I don't send a message, I know I won't get a response. If she's interested, it's a pleasant surprise. If I don't hear back, chances are I'll never think about her again. A rejection email makes me think about her again, in a way that, at best, doesn't affect me at all, or at worst, makes me a little sad. It's not a huge sad, but why take up his time with any sad when you can just let him forget about you?
posted by evil otto at 11:30 AM on January 31, 2015

This thread was a bit of a surprise to me. I used to ask a similar question on online first dates. It's a good ice breaker. The consensus then was majority preference for a repose with some preferring the non-response. This coupled with some very sweetly worded thanks-but-no-thanks replies I've received edged me into the reply sincerely but if you can't be sincere don't reply camp.

The reasons I heard then for preferring silence are consistent with what I see here - even through the numbers break down is different. The trend seems to be that those who view No as bad thing - a rejection, an injury, a disappointment, a sad - tend to prefer the non-response.

With this subset I do believe silence is wise. It won't matter how sincerely you say Thank You or how genuine you are in saying the seem great but not a good match, they will always read your response as more injury, more insult. It's not about you, not in the slightest. It's about their inner dialog. Let it stay there.

Not everyone views No as a bad thing that makes them feel bad. There are men and women in the real and online worlds who are capable of having a warm, friendly - if brief - interactions with people who don't want to date them, fuck them or be best friends with them.

The more online dating and corresponding you do the easier it will be to spot who's who and the less tempting it will be to rely on blanket "rules" about what Most Men or Most Women prefer.
posted by space_cookie at 5:50 PM on January 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

The good, stable, sane, self-aware guys don't need encouraging about your lack of interest in them. And if they do need it, they certainly don't need it from you. They may need it from their buddies, their therapist, their support network - but you? You are an anonymous internet person who is not interested in them and is not going to be in a romantic relationship with them.

Sorry but this seems like a really co-dependent question to ask. The sentiment may seem sweet but the underlying assumption is that it's your job to repair the egos of men you don't even know. I agree with everyone else who thinks the best way to "encourage" them would be to leave them alone -- not gift them with the discouraging message that "Hey, you're cool but not cool enough for me". People who are familiar with internet dating already know it's not personal. And if they don't know this, they are not doing it right.

Last thing: You seem to be over-playing your importance to these men. The good guys know someone else wants them.
posted by Gray Skies at 9:27 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

The good guys know someone else wants them.

Meaning that those of us who don't know that are... bad guys?

A little kindness when someone has made themselves a little vulnerable costs nothing.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:29 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

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