What’s the etiquette when dating casually?
December 31, 2017 12:16 AM   Subscribe

I just got out of a long relationship and I’m enjoying seeing who’s out there on apps like Tinder. I’m a cis woman in her late 30s, dating men from 35-42ish. I’ve never explored casual sex before and I feel like I don’t really understand the etiquette.

Should I just assume that every encounter is going to be a one night thing, and be happily surprised if it’s not? I’m not looking for anything serious by any means but at the same time I would be happy with finding a steady FWB for the time being. I’m fine with just hook ups, too, but I want to be sure I have realistic expectations.

I struggle with not knowing what to do if I don’t hear back afterwards. If I text and never get a reply then of course I get the message. I don’t like to play the game that a man has to be the one who texts first or anything like that, but if he doesn’t and I don’t then is there a time limit on that? Is it weird to text two weeks later?

Any tips on not taking ghosting personally would be great too. Intellectually I know it’s nothing to do with me but after a few in a row I start wondering if I’m doing something wrong.

Overall any advice for managing this process would be appreciated. I prefer the apps because I work a lot and don’t socialize that much, and I’m not going to hook up with anyone from my workplace.

Anonymous because it’s embarrassing to me to be my age and not know these things. I feel like I missed a day at school and I’ll never catch up.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in exactly your position! 38 and joined back up to OkCupid in November, newly on Tinder, having had a ton of practice at previous times in my life.

I think my profile makes it fairly obvious that I'm looking for a boyfriend, not a hookup. However, though I don't put it out there, if in the process of finding a boyfriend I end up interim FWB with a kind, interesting and sexy man, I wouldn't be upset!

This time around I've been a lot stricter with myself as to who I meet up with. No more "he doesn't sound too bad... quite cute in that one photo I suppose" - 99.9% of the time, if I haven't felt a real twinge of interest on reading their profile and a real twinge of, er, something baser on seeing their photos, I haven't been bothered in real life.

With my successful online dating in the past, I've almost always initiated the conversation. But no long back-and-forths - my ideal is six messages:

Me: "Thing I've noticed about their profile. Compliment. Neutral question?"
Them: "Good answer. Compliment. Question about my profile."
Me: "Answer. Ask them out for coffee, suggest a couple of early evenings in the next week, suggest a couple of places to meet."
Them: "Agree to go for coffee. Agree date, time and place ."
Me: "Confirm, give them my number just in case. Looking forward to it."
Them: "Looking forward to it. Give me their number just in case."
Book it and get the hell away from the site! I've found the longer we message the more I invest in the idea of a person instead of the reality. And at this stage, I'm not investing any more than "hmm, could be an interesting person to chat to for an hour or so" and my only expectations are optimism, politeness and appropriate messages - no ramblings, maybe a light flirt but no creepy stuff, no "oh you decide, I have no idea". I keep my mind firmly away from fluffy romance at this point.

First dates are always coffee now. And to my mind, don't count as first dates... just as a meeting to see if there's anything to talk about and any chemistry. I always plan them for the early evening and always have something definite to do a couple of hours after our meet time so I don't get swept away on New Person Energy and end up in the pub and then drunkenly hooking up with them. YMMV. You could easily plan NOT to have something on afterwards and therefore be available for delightful dinner, drinks and DTD should that prove acceptable to all concerned. To answer your question - I would go into the latter assuming it would be a one night thing.

So if the interest survives the first meeting then one or other of the folk get in touch shortly afterwards to ask for another date - if not, not. It's taken me a long time to realise that I get a say in this too. Now I really try to take note of all the feelings I had whilst we were talking - No red flags? Did I feel comfortable with him? Did I laugh? How did I feel immediately after we left each other - did I feel good and happy? Did I feel a spark? If that's yes across the board, then I'll plan to text the next day and see if he's interested in meeting again. If not, I won't text and I'll hope that he doesn't. A mutual ghost is a good thing!

My interested text would be something simple like, "Good to meet you. Thing we talked about. Do you want to meet for a drink / do something next week? X" - then I just go about my life as if the meeting never happened. It was only coffee. If he doesn't respond, he's rude and was therefore never going to be a good person to hook up with / FWB with / have a relationship with - I wouldn't bother texting again. If he responds with a letdown, fine - I send him a short "Thanks for letting me know. Good luck!" and resolve to send three messages to new people on the site. If he responds positively, yip yip! Fill your boots.

Anyway, I hope something in that spiel helps. MeMail me if you like x
posted by doornoise at 2:54 AM on December 31, 2017 [105 favorites]

When I did this, I assumed they were one night stands mostly for my own benefit; they were "auditions" to see if I wanted to have sex with them again. If I did, I'd text them the next day and if they responded I'd arrange for another date. (They almost always did respond so I don't think that texting so soon scared them off.) If you prefer to wait for some reason I don't think that's weird, because men have done that with me.

Despite our cultural preconceptions, a LOT of men are really nervous about hook-ups. I found that it often worked better to have a brief date (like coffee) and then arrange a hook-up for the second date; it gave them time to work out their stress, and made them feel less like it might be a trap or something. (Also for this reason, bring lube; manual stimulation is sometimes very useful, and for some reason the men who needed it most were least likely to have it.)

That nervousness was also one reason for ghosting, and I was able to take it less personally when I looked at it that way. (When someone I'd already had sex with ghosted me by not showing up for a prearranged date, THAT still hurt, but I channeled that into anger about their bad manners.) Also, they're often arranging dates with a number of people, and may have found someone they're pursuing a relationship with.

Since you're just looking for something casual, you may consider expanding your age parameters; in my late 30s I found men in their late 20s to be a lot of fun, and a wider variety of them are available.
posted by metasarah at 6:07 AM on December 31, 2017 [7 favorites]

I had a lot more success finding situations that worked for me when I started having these kinds of conversations with prospective partners before sleeping with them — like about expectations about communication, what we were looking for or open to, what kind of styles we preferred for various things, etc — and this also had the added bonus of screening for people I *could* have those kinds of conversations with to begin with.

But that might just be what worked for me. I do think, the longer I date, that dating etiquette is a nebulous and varied thing — people have all sorts of individual expectations and things they’re comfortable with, and it’s kind of impossible to know what any given potential partner’s are without talking about it. But that requires being the kind of person who’s comfortable with those conversations with people they don’t know very well, and not everyone is! And that is ok. It’s a conundrum.

I would say figure out how you want this to go for YOU, in terms of communication and expectations and the rest — and then figure out how to screen for partners who are compatible with you.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:20 AM on December 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

I would try to think more of what you want. If you want a hookup, fine, if you want something else, ask for that. you may not get what you ask for, but if you don't ask for what you want, you'll get even less.
posted by theora55 at 9:36 AM on December 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have been dating casually for the past several months. I just play it by ear. Each person is different and both of you are allowed to change your mind about it at any time. You just get used to ghosting. Ghosting is pretty much the norm.

Do not tell them that you want sex or a friend with benefits. In my experience, invariably as soon as the dude knows you really only want sex, he immediately becomes demanding and gross. He will stop treating you like a human being the second he thinks he’ll get sex from you. INVARIABLY. It’s fucking annoying because then you have to do this dance around what you actually want so he will at least pretend to treat you like a person.
posted by a strong female character at 11:04 AM on December 31, 2017 [9 favorites]

Ghosting stinks, I feel like it really speaks to the larger issues (culture-wise) with lack of communication and respect. Anyway, I rationalize ghosters as people I'd never have successful long term relationships with, of any kind, so thanks for not wasting my time, bro!
I agree that setting your age limit lower can result in some really fun times. IME, younger guys have been overall sweeter and more laid back, even for nsa relationships.
Lastly regarding overall etiquette, that's 100% up to you, and you'll figure out what works for you as you go.
What works for me (ymmv obvs):
- premeetup texting to a minimum, time-wise
- the first meet up is really just the 'is he a serial killer/do we have good chemistry' date, and almost never lasts more than an hour - something very low key like coffee
- assume all parties are seeing other people until it's explicitly said otherwise
- most importantly to my sanity - Tinder etc. are like one big room (say, a nightclub). You're certainly not going to click with or want to date more than a few people in that room. So a mutual swipe is like eye contact - very low stakes. That first date is like a first conversation with any stranger, and so on. That helps me keep perspective and not get too fixated on any one person or idea of how things 'should' be.

Good luck to you! Online dating can be rough, but also pretty fun. You'll get more comfortable as you go and probably also get some funny stories to laugh about in retrospect.
posted by PaulaSchultz at 4:29 PM on December 31, 2017

What stands out to me about your question is that you don’t seem to know what YOU want. As someone just dipping my toes into dating post marriage in my early 40s, I’m very clear on what I want, and I make that pretty clear up front. This helps potential partners similarly define what they want. And there’s not much disappointment as things progress.

So— in mid life? I think you can know what you want. Don’t focus so much on what potential partners want and bend yourself to that. (Lord knows I spent most of my life doing that and the ‘nice guy’ thing (which is what it was) was confounding for everyone involved). There are enough fish in the sea that you can find a partner aligned with your interests without too much difficulty.
posted by Doc_Sock at 1:51 PM on January 27, 2018

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