Am I too old-school for online dating?
June 24, 2017 5:34 PM   Subscribe

After a couple of weeks in the online dating world, I'm pretty disheartened. It just moves too fast. No one wants to invest quality time in written communication. What's a sapiosexual to do?

"JOE checked out your profile!"
"You have a message from JOE!"
"Nice smile. How about drinks?"

Is this the new normal?

Maybe men have so little to lose, they can do lots of "tester dates" right off the bat from women met on dating sites, and not have it affect them much. But for me, each one is pretty stressful. I am not going to go through all that preparation and yes, risk, for someone I have so little knowledge of. Maybe men just don't realize that women can't be so cavalier about it (especially women of a certain age who are re-entering the dating world with no small measure of trepidation, since we are, well, of a certain age). I've already felt pressured to meet up before I was ready, and felt kind of dismissed for wanting to continue the online conversation after the first exchange of 2 or 3 messages. When I feel pressured, it makes me wonder, what's the big rush?Why are you in such a hurry to get me onto a barstool, Joe?

I have to know how someone uses the written word. For me, that reveals volumes about how they think and whether I will want to get to know them better. Nothing's sexier than a smart, witty man with a command of the language. I'd almost rather an essay from prospective dates than a photo. (OK, not really truly, but you get the idea.) Taking the time to write back-and-forth also helps reassure me that the guy is not scamming me. Already, in such a short time, you'd be amazed at how many approaches turned out to be fake/scams etc. I want to find legit people who are who they say they are, and aren't afraid to share some quality words with me.

I guess what I want to know, from those who maybe have more experience in this realm than I do, is my outlook even appropriate nowadays? Is the desire for more up-front emailing/messaging/written communication just not how it's done any more?
posted by I_Love_Bananas to Human Relations (34 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, the vast majority of emails/messages back and forth end up with no meeting ever happening, just endless messages back and forth. People don't want to put all that work upfront and waste their time. Also, I don't think you can really know if you'll have chemistry with someone unless you're in the same room. My policy is that if I don't meet someone within two weeks of first contact, I probably never will since they are not interested enough.

This is indeed the new normal as society has mostly lost the fear of meeting strangers from the internet.
posted by AFABulous at 5:47 PM on June 24, 2017 [40 favorites]

I think the issue for a lot of folks, male and female, nice or otherwise, is that they want to see if you look like your photo, and consequently that you are indeed a human that exists, before sinking time into the relationship.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:48 PM on June 24, 2017 [15 favorites]

I don't think I met all that many people who were capable of holding up a decent conversation online in online dating ten years ago, either. Or fifteen years ago, for that matter, or five. If you don't find someone interesting to talk to or they don't seem to be interested in actually talking, you're totally allowed to just move on to the next one. But the online dating world of 2002 or 2007 or 2012--whenever you had some past experiences, either you've got some rose-colored filters over those memories or you had what I'd think of as a fairly atypical experience, compared to mine. There were POSSIBLY a few more people who just wanted to chat, but that had absolutely no correlation to being anything like "smart" or "witty".
posted by Sequence at 5:50 PM on June 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Agreed that this is normal. As a woman I also don't want to invest lots of time writing someone for weeks on end to just meet up and have no chemistry. You don't have to invest a lot of time and energy into a first date if you don't want to, just make it a casual daytime coffee or whatever. You can meet up with someone and slowly develop a friendly relationship before deciding to move on to something more romantic, just be clear about your needs. If someone isn't into that, you'll know quickly and can move on to someone who can move slower.

If you do want long correspondence before meeting, make that clear in your profile and just skip the guys that don't respect that.
posted by greta simone at 5:53 PM on June 24, 2017 [7 favorites]

is my outlook even appropriate nowadays? Is the desire for more up-front emailing/messaging/written communication just not how it's done any more?

Sure lots of people do that. It's normal (i.e. it's ok to do) but it's not normative (i.e. it's not what most people do nowadays). I'd keep on doing it but maybe indicate in your profile that you would like to get to know people for a while conversing first and if that's not their thing, fine but it's definitely your thing. That way you know who's just not reading your profile at all. And I agree with Countess Elena, a lot of people in the online dating realm do care what people look like so you might want to include some pretty "This is what I look like currently" photos. You also might want to try specifically meeting people in more text-based realms (MetaFilter Meetups! Or other "internet people who occasionally hang out" situations) because that's often a lot more normative for hyperverbal folks.
posted by jessamyn at 5:54 PM on June 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

I haven't dated online in roughly 10 years, but when I was on the market, I tried eHarmony. I dismissed it before the trial period was over because I felt that it moved too slowly. The system was set up to ensure you went back and forth many times before you could even communicate with the person directly (not using their form)*.

What I'm trying to say is that maybe eHarmony may be more your speed. Or maybe there are other dating platforms that are geared more to getting to know someone electronically before meeting in person.

*I have no idea if eHarmony is still set up like this...
posted by hydra77 at 6:01 PM on June 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

No one wants to invest quality time in written communication

Find a pen pal site if that's what you want.

The goal for most people is to find someone who seems interesting and then meet up in person. In my experience, people on dating sites who want to write back and forth do it as a hobby with no intention of getting coffee or whatever.

I quickly learned to not waste my time with those people.
posted by paulcole at 6:09 PM on June 24, 2017 [27 favorites]

My experience in my first few months of online dating was that it activated a lot of my habitual and unhealthy responses to male-female power dynamics. I wonder if that's what's happening for you. It was eye-opening for me when I recognized that and decided to use the medium as a chance to redefine the way I interact with men and prospective lovers.

If you're feeling pressured or dismissed by people who have absolutely no say or influence in your life, it might be useful to note that rather than take it on, and then hold your space for what you want rather than spend your energy reacting to the person on the other end of the message. If you find yourself having internal conversations like, "why are you in a hurry to get me to a barstool?"--which is an engagement with the dynamic you don't like--why not frame it as a way to define your preferences for yourself ("I like it when a guy moves more slowly.") If it makes sense for you to reply to someone that way, go for it. If you want to practice not having to respond to people who aren't a good fit, then do that. It's up to you.

In the long run, I think this ability to recognize and name your wants cuts down the time sink into people who won't work for you relationship-wise, and allows you--when/if someone comes along who fits your preferences--to notice it more quickly. In real life or online.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:11 PM on June 24, 2017 [27 favorites]

I think that yes, this is more and more how it is, but like you, I prefer a bit of back and forth with people. And I'm rubbed the wrong way by: "Hi, I like your smile, let's meet for a drink." I tend to think that the guys I'm going to be interested in are willing to at least exchange a couple of emails before arranging a meeting. I'm not talking endless emails, I'm talking a few niceties over a couple of emails over the course of a couple of days. When this gets bypassed I don't much like it, but I'm not absolutist about this preference -- although the guy's profile would have to be pretty damn good to get me to overlook it.
posted by swheatie at 6:11 PM on June 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

'Twas ever thus. Online dating gets you a lot of brief, generic, sometimes impatient "hi what's up wanna meet" messages, and a few decent ones. You have no obligation to respond to anyone who doesn't interest you.

What site(s) are you on? Some have a higher contingent of people who enjoy writing; when I was dating way back in the day OKCupid was where the intellectuals generally went. I always read the other person's profile before returning a message, and totally judged them on how well they'd written.

I agree that it's a good idea to meet in person within two weeks of first contact, but it is also a good idea to have some decent correspondence first. The two weeks guideline is so you don't emotionally invest in someone who has no intention of meeting you, or someone with whom you have zero in-person chemistry. Both are common and total bummers.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:13 PM on June 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think there's some middle ground between "hi u r hot lets get drinks" and weeks of correspondence (which I did when I first started dating online quite some time ago).

As Metroid Baby says, OKCupid allows you to see who has a thoughtful, well-written profile and that can help you hone in on the people you might be interested in. Tindr and Bumble - though I've had people text me back and forth politely for several days before meeting - don't lend themselves to writing in paragraphs.

I did once have a long, sexy, protracted email courtship with someone who, when I met him in person, made the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Sure, he was very smart and charming but something wasn't right - at least not right for me - and wished I had not told him so much. Now I prefer to message a few times and then arrange to meet.

Another possible solution is to initially vet people through their profiles, message a bit, meet them in person and see if you hit it off, and then ask if they're willing to switch to email.
posted by bunderful at 6:21 PM on June 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

Best answer: As others have said, some of us prefer to meet sooner rather than later because chemistry is so important, and chatting online is a timesink. This is true even if written communication is important to us too! So don't write someone off solely because they ask to meet right away.

That said,if this is important to you, it's reasonable to respond by writing, "I like to get to know people better online before meeting" or the equivalent, and if they're not game for that, let them go.

If you decide that it's worth meeting some people without as much communication in advance, you might be able to find ways to make it less stressful. I also find it stressful (though less so now due to an unfortunate amount of practice) and these are some things that made it suck less for me:

Setting up dates during my work lunch break or on my way home from work, so they didn't take too much time out of my life and I was distracted by work so didn't spend my whole day fretting about it

Keeping dates intentionally short; meeting for coffee or ice cream instead of dinner

Always meeting at places convenient and comfortable for me

Having a couple outfits I was happy with as go-tos so I didn't have to think about what I'd wear

Bringing a book in case they were late or stood me up

Sometimes,setting up multiple first dates in one day. This sounds like hell but it gets them over with all at once so the stress is more contained, and each one seems like less of a big deal.

Remembering that it wasn't the end of the world if it sucked. Meeting before investing a lot of online time actually helps with this.

Giving myself permission to leave if I'm not having a good time. Choosing venues where you pay upfront or can go to the counter to pay, rather than waiting for a check, makes this easier.
posted by metasarah at 6:23 PM on June 24, 2017 [26 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm not talking endless e.mails, I'm talking a few niceties over a couple of emails over the course of a couple of days.

Yeah- this. That's all I am saying. :-/
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:25 PM on June 24, 2017

I think it's important to note that you can control the kind of communication you have and the amount.
I am the kind of person who actually does expect some amount of back and forth communication - I have a vague idea what you look like, but I want to know if you are smart and funny, if we have any kind of rapport.
If someone thinks that is a waste of time, that's their loss.

What someone looks like is less important to me than if they are going to be interesting to hang out with. If they aren't, then me meeting them is a waste of my time and energy, more so than a little back and forth.

If I find myself in a shitty bar sitting across from someone thinking "I wish you were a garbage bag full of bees, that would be far more interesting" then THAT was a waste of my time. Two weeks of cat jokes? Not a waste of time.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:33 PM on June 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not talking endless e.mails, I'm talking a few niceties over a couple of emails over the course of a couple of days.

Yeah- this. That's all I am saying. :-/

Absolutely not unreasonable for you to expect a few days of messaging before meeting up. That was actually the norm for me when I was on Tinder and Bumble. If someone wanted to meet up right away, I usually got the sense they were just looking for hookups and I declined. Most of the guys I matched with were happy to message back and forth for several days to several weeks. Of those, many fizzled out after a while. There was one guy who messaged me for more than a month, we just couldn't find a good time to meet up. When we finally did go out for coffee, I realized the chemistry wasn't there in person, and learned not to let the messaging go on for too long without an in-person date. My happy medium was probably 4-7 days of messaging before I felt comfortable that we had enough in common and the potential to be compatible to suggest or accept a date.

I also place a great deal of importance in written communication and the Tinder date that wound up being my boyfriend was one who I had very positive text communications with. He didn't message me too much or too little. He was polite, respectful, and asked me questions about myself, while also being open and answering my questions about him. And he was funny. I felt so comfortable to meet him that I did the asking out, which I hadn't done before. If this sounds like what you're looking for, I think your outlook is totally appropriate. I don't think I'm especially old-school either, and I'm in my early 30's if that matters.
posted by keep it under cover at 7:09 PM on June 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Add a note saying as much under "You should message me if..."
posted by fritillary at 7:12 PM on June 24, 2017

One other thing to keep in mind - lots of people solely use their phones for communication now and I fucking hate typing on my phone, so my messages in general are very short. I almost never email from my phone.
posted by AFABulous at 7:13 PM on June 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

You're not trying to gain market share, you're just looking for one or two people, so set up whatever kind of filter you want.
posted by amtho at 7:34 PM on June 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

Take control. If they say "you have a great smile, let's have a glass of wine". Answer back with some version of "Yes, I think I would like that, but before we waste each other's time, I'm curious, why do you think we might be a good match?" Or whatever furthers the information and conversation. Feel free to ask about what you need to know.
posted by Vaike at 7:35 PM on June 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

I am a mid-30s woman who has had several relationships with people I met online that started with about four days to a week of nice, semi-lengthy messages before we met, first through the site and then through email. I used OkCupid. I completely ignored all messages from people that were one-sentence throwaways, initiated messaging with many people by sending messages that were short but said something personal that related to their profiles, and made sure not to message back and forth for too long without making plans to actually meet. Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 7:38 PM on June 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have to know how someone uses the written word. For me, that reveals volumes about how they think and whether I will want to get to know them better. Nothing's sexier than a smart, witty man with a command of the language. I'd almost rather an essay from prospective dates than a photo

but...that's what online dating sites give you? that's the whole thing that a profile is. How much and what a person chooses to write about himself will tell you everything you want to know about his command of the written word and his ideas about what kind of written material is interesting and attractive. If a man's profile is a couple of one-liners and not a few good paragraphs, you already know how important he thinks words are, and you know that before he ever asks you to get a drink. the information is there.

(with the great and sad warning that you don't know for certain if someone's actually done their own work or if you're reading someone else's personality. that's why I'm always so shocked when people submit their profiles for general workshopping here, the way you'd get a resume edited. the brazenness of it! it's like getting somebody to photoshop your profile pics: whether they look better or worse in the end, they don't look like you anymore. a man who would let someone else suggest his descriptive phrases for him, what would he not do?)

the other thing is that if you meet someone for a drink and you like the look of them, you can still write them long letters after, and get a response. familiar men can write to you just as well as strange ones can, can't they?

also there are people who demonstrate their command of the language through speaking just as well as through writing. I am not one of them but they do exist, they are very impressive. doesn't mean they can't also read and write.

(but of course you can say you don't want to meet until you've gotten to know them a bit through exchanging emails. that is completely reasonable.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:25 PM on June 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think your profile should probably be more upfront that you are looking for a man who is smart, and can write well. Let them know it is important to you. Then just ignore those messages that aren't written to your standards or don't have the most cursory of personal touches to them.

I totally feel where you are coming from, by the way. I could never marry a person who doesn't love to read as much as I do-- a person for who a life with books is a central component of their personality. I am glad I found one, and I am confident you will too!
posted by seasparrow at 9:03 PM on June 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Tell them what you told us.

That is, say in your profile that you're weirded out by people who suggest a date in the first message, and that you need to spend some time just exchanging messages first.

If anyone still suggests a date in the first message, that's fine: they've shown that they didn't bother to read your profile before messaging you, so you can safely delete them.
posted by John Cohen at 9:08 PM on June 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have to say I agree. I can't help but feel disappointed whenever I go on dating sites. It frustrates me because the Internet is such a huge space and there's so many people on the Internet, you'd think there be countless opportunities for good conversation. Yet the messages I receive are typically along the lines of "hey sexy your pic is hot!" I'm sure there ARE more educated, well written people out there.

I agree with other commenters that maybe it's a case of looking at your profile and stating exactly what it is you're looking for. That way you can just delete messages which don't fit that bill. You're definitely not alone in your frustrations though!
posted by SnapperJack at 12:25 AM on June 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I would like to share a bit of my personal story to perhaps encourage you to keep your standards and stick to your guns. My wife and I met on
For the first week we communicated entirely via email. I was immediately impressed by how well read she was and her command of the written language. She also offhandedly used a phrase from A Confederacy of Dunces which blew my little mind.
Even after we met, we continued communicating via emails predominantly, and that collection of almost a thousand emails gives us great pleasure and comfort today. She loves going through them; it's like watching the metamorphosis of a meet cute grow into a relationship, and eventually a marriage.
We met when she was 38 and I was 50, and we're still together to this day. We firmly believe those emails allowed us to really get to know each other, express ourselves honestly, and also let the other know what we desired and expected in a healthy relationship.
Please know that we are out there.
Please know that even as times change, there is still a place for kindness, courtesy, courting, wooing, and taking it slow.
I wish you the bestest.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 7:30 AM on June 25, 2017 [7 favorites]

The way you can handle this is to write back to those shotgun-blast feelers with something like, "Perhaps! Tell me a little bit about yourself." You're in command.

Many men on these sites tend to just pepper a lot of women at once with responses, working on some sort of volume strategy, I think. You can reply back and indicate you are looking for a bit more substance to the communication, and don't want to go to the trouble o meeting unless there's good reason to think you might be a viable match.

I get that people write on their phone, but if you're dating seriously instead of hooking up, it's not too much to expect someone to sit down and write a paragraph. If they can't or don't want to, it's fine to move on or b-list them.

I found the best dates were the ones in which I initiated contact, anyway.
posted by Miko at 7:50 AM on June 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Please know that we are out there.
Please know that even as times change, there is still a place for kindness, courtesy, courting, wooing, and taking it slow.
I wish you the bestest.

Major Matt Mason Dixon
, you just made my day. I want that story for myself.

Thank you. It's a big haystack, but just maybe I'll find the needle. All it takes is one, right? :-)
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:11 AM on June 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Let prospective dates know that you value the ability to have an epistolary relationship on a particular timeline, in addition to everything else. It's not that your needs are any more or less "sapio-", it's just that your needs are your own. As such, you need to make sure that your own needs will be met.

For many people, older or younger or masculine or feminine or whatever, they will have their own reasons to schedule an in-person meeting earlier rather than later. They are neither better nor worse than you: it's just that their needs are their own.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:32 AM on June 25, 2017

FWIW, I'm a guy who met his now-wife on OKCupid. My perspective is that, while yes, the de facto rule is that guys have to make the first move for online dating, which requires an approach like job-hunting, the flipside is that you don't job-hunt by just saying "GIMME MONEY" to whomever. I would always say hello, with a line or two or questions or prompt-like remarks showing that I had actually found the person's profile to be interesting. So, you know, an actual conversation. I would move on if my responses were in the vein of "HAHA YUP". However, it is also worth noting that I would ask to meet up for coffee after about 3-5 back-and-forths. If the other person couldn't agree (or didn't want to agree) to coffee after about 5 back-and-forths, I moved on.

Worked out well for me! Best of luck.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:43 AM on June 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you. It's a big haystack, but just maybe I'll find the needle. All it takes is one, right? :-)

You are quite welcome, I'm glad I could be of service.
And yes, all it takes is one, and the right one at that.
As I mentioned, I was 50. I was getting ready to close down my account and put myself on the shelf, so to speak, resigned to be alone for the rest of my life. Not in a melodramatic way, but more in a I Guess My Time Has Passed, Time To Move On sort of way.
She saw me, she initiated contact, we started emailing, and the rest is a happy, healthy history.
I never thought I'd be a husband, I never thought I'd be a step-dad, but here I am.

Keep your standards, keep your sense of humor, and most of all, keep love and hope in your heart, because you never know when the right person is going to wink at you :)
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 12:13 PM on June 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

I met my husband on OkCupid five years ago. We exchanged lengthy emails for maybe three weeks before meeting, not really by choice - it was necessitated by his going out of town for a couple weeks soon after we started messaging each other on the website. But it worked out for us. So yes, people like us are out there, although probably in the minority.

I don't think it's unreasonable to exchange at least a few substantial messages or emails back and forth before meeting in person. I was more afraid of wasting time and energy having horrible dates with people than of wasting time typing a few emails to someone I'd end up not meeting after a few days.

I will suggest not being afraid to message a guy first. Don't just wait for them to come to you.
posted by bananana at 2:45 PM on June 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dear OP, I am a gal who writes to men first. Not exclusively but often. That can improve your odds of success, at least according to an old OK Cupid blog posting that suggested women who wrote first to men tended to have better dating experiences. That may not be true but it is working for me. Of course, I get rejected a lot but I'm fine with that. I never take it personally because it's not personal--they don't actually know me. Best of luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 6:18 PM on June 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Unless the profile of these guys is amazing and he engages you in conversation once you reply I'd ignore the messages that seem like throw-aways and hold out for someone compatible, they are out there just rarer.
posted by lafemma at 6:52 AM on June 26, 2017

For what it's worth, when I (male) was on-line dating (4 years ago, age 35 then), I had two or three women respond with some version of "I was wondering what was taking you so long to ask me out!" when I finally did after weeks of email/messaging correspondence. I wasn't motivated to meet up until I felt I had fleshed them out a bit.

Online profiles can be deceiving and often leave out a lot of important details. Take your time and know that stamina is key when dealing with other people, no matter the context.
posted by Twicketface at 1:43 PM on June 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

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