What are reasonable expectations in 2016 for communication, dating-wise?
August 11, 2016 5:02 AM   Subscribe

So I started trying to date again. I haven't really done this in half a decade and I'm trying to ground my expectations about how people communicate in a dating context nowadays. Details below.

I've been mostly meeting people on OkCupid. I have a good profile, I'm not dating wildly outside of my peer group, and I'm not too concerned about the site itself. What I do not understand is how dating is supposed to work after you meet up with someone.

Specifically, I find text communication really frustrating. As an example, say I go on a first date and send a follow up text afterward to say I had fun, etc. (assuming I did) and propose another date. What is a reasonable amount of time to wait for a response before assuming they're just not into me? If they say they're busy, but don't propose an alternative date, do I assume they're not interested? What's the best way to "put the ball in their court" without being too crass about it?

I hate texting because you can never tell if someone got your message and ignored it or if they're really busy or some third category. As a guy dating women, I feel like the expectation is that I will take the initiative. I'm not really a "traditional" guy but I have yet to meet someone who defies that gender role. So if I sit around waiting for someone to respond, I'm worried that I am missing my cue. I would really feel a lot better if someone (anyone) expressed genuine interest in seeing me again, but that doesn't seem to be happening. Or am I just pursuing the wrong people?

I am confused. I feel like a need a flow chart here. I've been out of the game a long time and I don't really understand the culture of texting/smart phone communication. How do people in 2016 (women in particular, I guess) communicate in a dating context? Any relevant books or articles that might help?
posted by deathpanels to Human Relations (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
A lot of this depends on what age group you/they are in. 40 year olds communicate differently than 24 year olds.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:29 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I do this thing where someone texts me about specific plans, and then I go to check my calendar, and then I never get back to them unless they're someone I'm already texting frequently because there's no "inbox" with texting and the message sinks to the bottom. (Oh, also, FWIW I am 38.)

Can you break up the follow-up texts into a few different interactions, like, "Hey, I had a nice time, I hope you did too! [Follow-up comment on something you talked about]." This requires zero effort to respond to ("me too!") so if you don't get a response to a text like that within a few hours or a weekend at most I think it's a bad sign, OR a sign that this person isn't really into texting (which could be good for you).

After you've gotten a proof-of-life text back, maybe then follow up with a specific plan? If they say they're busy, do one more suggestion, and then say something like, "OK, let me know if you want to get together sometime."

But the thing is, people are different. Maybe you're the guy who calls on the phone! Maybe that's going to be ideal for the woman you're looking for. But also I would guess that the vast majority of internet first dates (i.e. the kind where you've never met each other beforehand) don't actually lead to second dates. They might not be getting back to you because they're not interested enough.

Also maybe check out this piece on This American Life about follow-up dating texts that work.
posted by mskyle at 5:31 AM on August 11, 2016 [7 favorites]


For instance according to my women friends in my age group (mid-late 30s) they often prefer if a gentleman stops texting after a first date and calls them on the phone at a normal hour of the evening to propose a 2nd date. Younger women probably would rather have a live octopus thrown at them than talk on the phone.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:37 AM on August 11, 2016 [49 favorites]


This is probably going to vary culturally but to try and answer your questions as a 30-something woman dating in the UK:

Given most people are reasonably attached to their phones these days, I assume no response within about 24 hours means not interested (unless I've got prior information like they're going away for a bit). If they pop up a few days later then I assume 'not that interested' and I figure out whether I want to go out with someone who seems to be a bit lukewarm about me. I don't have a ton of free time so I want to spend it with people who seem actually interested in me & I like to have quite prompt and consistent text communication, so it may be I've ruled out tons of wonderful eligible people because they didn't text back quickly enough, but that's cool, they were unlikely to meet the communication needs I have when dating someone anyway.

Definitely if I say 'oh I'm busy what a shame' and don't propose an alternative date that means I don't want to go on a date with that person, but I can also see it being the sign of someone who's not great at communicating/planning, so that's not definitive.

I assume the ball is in my court if I have an unanswered message. I assume the ball is in their court if I'm the one who sent the last message. If they don't respond to my last message, then after about a week I figure we're done, delete their number and move on.

If you want to know whether people have received/read your messages, send them via WhatsApp instead of texting (assuming the other person has WhatsApp).

It's just kind of a grind to be honest. I've recently had a couple of really good dates with the same person, but I couldn't even count how many first dates I've had in the past two and a half years since my last relationship ended that have just fizzled out. I'm not everyone's cup of tea; most people aren't my cup of tea!

On preview: I would be very surprised to get a phone call about a second date rather than a text or message!
posted by theseldomseenkid at 5:39 AM on August 11, 2016 [8 favorites]


Agreeing with the above. 37 US woman here. I agree that most of my internet dates don't result in a second date for all kinds of reasons and if I am really interested in a guy, I will make an effort to stay in touch. It's rude to just ignore a text, but there are definitely rude people out there. And yes, if someone doesn't suggest an alternate date/time if they're unavailable and doesn't keep the conversation going, that's a gentle way to communicate non-interest. (Women aren't always direct because some men get abusive when rejected.)

Re: talking on the phone vs. texting, that's just a communication preference and varies between people.
posted by smirkette at 6:48 AM on August 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


If they say they're busy, but don't propose an alternative date, do I assume they're not interested?

Yes. They may be legit busy, but if they're interested, the very least they will do is to give you a window for something else. If they don't give you that alternate option, they probably aren't interested.

As a general rule, if you ask someone out (concrete plan or not), and the response is not an eager or positive 'Yes', then they're not really interested. Mind you, it's just a rule of thumb, and I'm sure I've made some mistakes in using it, but I've found it gives a lot of clarity where clarity is rare.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:01 AM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


What is a reasonable amount of time to wait for a response before assuming they're just not into me? If they say they're busy, but don't propose an alternative date, do I assume they're not interested? What's the best way to "put the ball in their court" without being too crass about it?

To your first question, I would say give it a week. If someone is truly busy, that time frame is fair. But if they say they're busy, and nothing else: you can safely assume they're not interested. Hey - it's better than getting ghosted! If you both agree on an activity that you like, you can ask what which date works best for them.

So if I sit around waiting for someone to respond, I'm worried that I am missing my cue. I would really feel a lot better if someone (anyone) expressed genuine interest in seeing me again, but that doesn't seem to be happening. Or am I just pursuing the wrong people?

You might find it tiring, but talking to a bunch of folks alleviates that horrible waiting for a text feeling. Unfortunately, you just have so much competition and the slightest thing can turn someone off from a 2nd date. That's the nature of online dating.

How do people in 2016 (women in particular, I guess) communicate in a dating context? Any relevant books or articles that might help?

Aziz Ansari's book, Modern Romance, will answer a lot of the questions you have about dating online!
posted by ThatSox at 7:44 AM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


40 yo urban female - the texting makes me anxious so I don't do a phone screen and keep my phone number private. All communication is handled through the dating app until a second date is over. This keeps me busy on the dating site while I check for follow-up. Instead of putting all my eggs in one basket, I'm engaging with others.
posted by Lil Bit of Pepper at 9:23 AM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


One strike dating is the way to go. If they are interested, they will make it work. If they give no alternate dates, I leave them alone.

Its much easier on you, because you can just let it go and not overthink it.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:28 AM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've only done online dating in my late 30s, as a divorcee. I have a lot of male friends and know how I would like them to be treated by dates, so I tried to stick to that (I'm disinterested in gender roles in dating or any other context). I texted after dates if I had a lovely time (by noon the next day) and suggested alternate time/date/activity if I had a conflict, etc. However, I learned very quickly that being honest with a man after only one date ("I really enjoyed meeting you and chatting with you, but I'm afraid I don't feel a spark with you.") led to - in almost every instance - being harangued, criticized, or even verbally abused. They didn't like me anyway, my standards are too high, could I *make* myself feel a spark with them, I wasted their time - some guys got very nasty and very personal. I learned, unfortunately, to wait to see if the first date gentleman follows up first before kindly letting him know I didn't feel a spark with him - and still, perhaps 50% of the time I got unpleasant responses in return. I understand - it isn't nice to feel rejected. And I can understand why other people might prefer to say "I'm busy" rather than be honest, if "I'm busy" more often gets a fade rather than an angry response. I liked texting (I'm awful on the phone - awkward and stilted) and would have never let a date wait longer than a couple of days to hear from me unless I had work/family/social chaos or drama happening (I once had to get back to someone after two weeks because of a work emergency followed by a family emergency - I had not forgotten about him, but was in damage-control mode).

I hope this helps. A lot of this hinges on the age, experience, and personality of your dates. I would personally expect (based upon my own learning curve) that less experienced, more traditional, younger women might be 1) less aware of the level of reassurance that men (also) need, 2) less willing to risk being emotionally open due to fewer experiences of that paying off (rather than backfiring), and 3) more willing to believe that "techniques" or "games" around communication "work" or produce the results they'd like. The comparison comes to mind of myself, as a young & inexperienced romantic partner, reading Cosmo for "hot hints to drive him crazy with desire!" Hogwash, but 17-year-old me had no idea. So if you're dating women in their 20s the answer may be "try one more friendly text if you don't hear from them after a few days" but if you're dating women in their 30s or older the answer may be "be patient finding the women who are interested in you".
posted by pammeke at 9:29 AM on August 11, 2016 [6 favorites]


It depends on personality, but if you're interested in them, ask if they'd like to go on a second date while on your first date. Like in person. No guy would ever do this, so I started doing it. They all said yes even though some of them didn't follow up and didn't respond to my attempts to follow up. I was just so frustrated with putting myself out there on a date and then having everything just trail off into ribbons of texts.

Just like, "I would like to see you again. Would you like to go out again?" If they say yes, suggest a day/time. I realize it's putting people on the spot but that's what dating is about.

Also, I hated the "check in without proposing a next date" texts like mskyle is suggesting. I found it a waste of time "chatting" with someone I barely knew about how my day was going or that latest movie or whatever.

Anyway, I'm writing this in the past tense because I'm dating someone I met online and it's going great. But I asked him straight up at our first coffee if he'd like to see me again, and we basically had the next date planned by the next day. Because we are organized and do not mess around! And we are still this way. I wanted to find out upfront if he was a flake or not and I'm not disappointed.
posted by zutalors! at 9:41 AM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


A lot of this hinges on the age, experience, and personality of your dates.

Agree, but, some possible counterpoints - more experienced, older women might be 1) less motivated to provide the level of reassurance that men (also) need, because of having done it a lot in the past, being burnt out by it, and wanting to see strong evidence of interest before expending more (cf emotional labour) 2) less willing to risk being emotionally open due to having been burned, and 3) more willing to believe that men who make a vigorous effort in the early stages are in fact more interested than those who appear lukewarm, and less willing to waste time & emotional energy on less evidently interested dates.

YMMV and IMO, completely:

What is a reasonable amount of time to wait for a response before assuming they're just not into me?

Two days, I think.

If they say they're busy, but don't propose an alternative date, do I assume they're not interested?

I think the response (or lack of it) to one more attempt would confirm the intentions of the most careful or Guess-cultured date. Whether this is a pool of interest to you is another question.

What's the best way to "put the ball in their court" without being too crass about it?

Ask them out on a second date, just as you've been doing.

It's also a numbers game :/
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:58 AM on August 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


Ironmouth's one-strike principle is the only sane way to do this. Anything less than enthusiastic interest should be considered total disinterest. Don't waste your time and emotions trying to think about whether a woman is interested in you or not. If you have to wonder even a tiny bit, assume she isn't and move on. Yeah you might be letting some go that you might've held onto if you'd pushed a little more, but ninety percent of the time that first assumption of disinterest will be correct, and in the meantime you'll save yourself untold mental anguish if you just don't even try to play that game. Also, you really want to err on the side of not being pushy. Shit is rough enough for women on dating services as it is.

When you find someone who is genuinely interested, it'll be obvious. Not necessarily hearts-for-eyes twitterpation right off the bat, but they'll be responding to your messages, actively collaborating in the planning of new dates, etc. You'll know that they want to see you. Promise.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:03 PM on August 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


I was 47 (M) when I tried dating again, after more than twenty years. Having sent probably less than a hundred texts in my life, I was surprised how central texting was to dating. Without exception, every woman who was interested texted back very quickly (certainly the same day to begin with, and within a couple of days was a continuous stream of messages). Hundreds a day.

Most of the women I've met on these sites are divorced/separated, with children, with jobs, and have a seriously busy life so they stick to texting as that allows them to maintain contact in free moments throughout the day.

I hear what you're saying about not knowing whether they've been received or read, and it's way easier when both parties have iphones as this issue disappears.

I don't think you're "missing your cue". A message to say how much you enjoyed yourself and a suggestion of a second date should get a response if she's interested. One follow-up the next day might be worth a shot, but otherwise I think you can reasonably assume she's not that into you, and move on.

In my experience on dating sites, I've never got anywhere by making the first contact. However much time and care you put into messages you are always going to be one of dozens or hundreds she's receiving. Without exception I've only got anywhere when the woman makes the first contact, even if it's just a smiley face. This takes time, but that's the game.

I would guess that your confusion might not be with the texting thing, but with the online dating thing. Women on dating sites can easily go on a different date every single night if they so choose. If they're interested they will get back to you, don't worry about that.
posted by tillsbury at 1:24 PM on August 11, 2016


When you find someone who is genuinely interested, it'll be obvious. Not necessarily hearts-for-eyes twitterpation right off the bat, but they'll be responding to your messages, actively collaborating in the planning of new dates, etc. You'll know that they want to see you. Promise.
While I'd really like to believe this, my experience is that nobody responds at all unless I am very aggressive with messaging and pushing for a date. If I wait for someone to show interest I will not be dating at all.
posted by deathpanels at 1:36 PM on August 11, 2016


If you can't get a response unless you are "very agreeing with messaging and pushing for a date" then it's not a response worth getting.

I know your pain and the weeks and months of nothing feel interminable. But it's a numbers game. The number you need is only one, and the wait will have been worth it. In the meantime just get on with enjoying life and refresh your profile every now and then.
posted by tillsbury at 3:06 PM on August 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


While I'd really like to believe this, my experience is that nobody responds at all unless I am very aggressive with messaging and pushing for a date. If I wait for someone to show interest I will not be dating at all.

At what stage is this happening? Even if it's the post-first-date stage, you could try Bumble - it flips the script in that women have to message first, which IMO gives you a good gauge of the other person's interest and also filters the pool a bit so you get more forward women in the mix. Sure, you're going to get some really uninspiring messages like the standard "hey, how's your day going?", but I've also received a lot of "wow, I really liked X in your profile, here's Y about me - want to get drinks tomorrow night?"-type first messages. First messages. Being on Bumble has actually allowed me to be so selective to the extent that I almost never respond unless the other person's first message mentions a specific detail in my profile that's really important to me, and it's worked out really well for me.

While it may not be a panacea, checking out other apps like Bumble may be worth considering if you feel like mixing things up a bit and meeting different kinds of people - there's definitely a lot of self-selection going on among the userbases of different dating apps IME.
posted by un petit cadeau at 3:55 PM on August 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


While I'd really like to believe this, my experience is that nobody responds at all unless I am very aggressive with messaging and pushing for a date. If I wait for someone to show interest I will not be dating at all.

I disagree. I think it's more likely that either you're not setting the right tone in your opening message (you want to be cheerful and polite and interested, and to make it obvious that you've at least skimmed her profile rather than just looked at her pictures, without being overbearing or over-the top) or you're just not messaging enough women. Seriously, it really is a numbers game. Women on OKCupid are inundated with messages, most of them quite crass, and as nice as you may be a lot of the time they just cannot deal with anyone who doesn't immediately jump out at them because otherwise they'd get nothing else done all day.

If you have to work for it, she's not really interested. Keep looking, keep messaging, cast your messages to the wind. Don't get attached to particular women based only on their profiles. Just take the time to send a brief-but-nice message to every single one who looks at all promising, and then forget about it unless you get a positive response back. The goal is just to find a few who are willing to even start talking to you, and then to not scare them off (because any kind of negative vibe is likely to result in ghosting, since they have so much choice and the danger factor is higher for women than men) and keep talking until either they stop responding or they agree to a date. I usually asked for a date fairly early (first or second message, a lot of the time) because I didn't want to deal with a lot of fruitless back-and-forth, but if you're looking for the highest possible success rate you might wait until the third or fourth exchange. Or hell, switch it up based on how you're feeling that day, there's no rule.

When I was active on OKC, my success rate was maaaaybe one in twenty at my best. As in, one date per twenty initial messages. But that translated to a couple dates a week (which was as much as I could deal with) because I was basically grinding on OKC whenever I had free time, scanning profiles and cranking out those messages. It's not actually that much fun to do, but that's dating for you. You may get tired and need to take a break from it before you find someone to date regularly. Don't get discouraged if that happens, it's normal. Take a break and come back to it when you feel ready.

The attrition rate between the first and second dates is almost as bad. Not one in twenty, but maybe one in five. Fortunately, if she's interested in a second date it'll be obvious because when you text her to ask if she wants to go out again, she'll say yes! It'll be a definite yes, not an equivocation. It might take a couple of days for her to get back to you, but you won't have to ask twice. She won't need to be persuaded; you'll have done that work on the first date, which you should think of as a sales pitch for the second one.

Your goal on that first date was to showcase yourself as a chill, interesting, low-pressure dude (first internet dates are inherently high pressure and awkward, so you want to set her at her ease—err on the side of mellowness and active listening, you don't want to be intense at this stage) who is genuinely interested in what she has to say, someone she can talk to and hang out with, someone who seems fun to be around and not an overbearing jerk who talks about himself constantly. (Don't tell her how great you are, show her, within the limited confines of what is appropriate on a first date.) You want to give her space to talk about herself, so that on that second date (assuming that you want a second date) she feels safer, more relaxed and adventurous. Typically I've found that women go into internet dates with a lot of walls up (for good reason!) and that the first one is all about showing her that she can lower some of them. You want her to come away thinking "wow, I always feel so awkward and guarded in these things, but deathpanels was really easy to talk to!"

Then, hopefully, she'll want to talk to you more. But you shouldn't have to push or persuade; she either wants to or she doesn't. Trust that she knows her own mind, even if she doesn't tell you straight-up what it is. Anything other than a yes is a no. You will get mostly not-yesses, because statistically most people are just not going to be into you. That's true for everyone, not just you specifically, so don't sweat it. Keep your hopes high and your expectations low. It's a bit of a grind, but you can do it. If you start to get frustrated, that's understandable—take a break and come back to it when you can approach it from a better frame of mind again. Once you get to third and fourth dates they often start to get more fun.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:46 PM on August 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


Online dating is only good for you if you find some fun in it. I don't read fun in your question. Maybe you have some doubts about the mechanical process of it? How can you expect to match with somebody you have never met before? What do you discuss in those short messages?
I have tried online dating, but gave up. Finally, I found peace with the fact that it's just not my thing.
I realised that finding my own way of falling in love was more important to me than presenting a good profile to make somebody fall in love with me, which felt more like trying to manipulate the other.
During this online dating I found out that I put too much thought into why the other did not like me. Instead of that, I think I should have taken that time to get guitar lessons, go to that new coffee place or learn a new language, and have online dating as a side dish.
posted by Anna1 at 2:56 AM on August 21, 2016


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