The Lowdown: Online Dating Etiquette
September 26, 2007 5:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm a female about to venture into the world of online dating. Are there any norms/rules/trends that I should know about?

Not that I would blindly follow rules— I would just like to be aware of them.
posted by cookie googleman to Human Relations (17 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Somewhat cynical and amusing answers here

craigslist and b3ta

Take these with a pinch of salt! No, thats not slang for some arcane sexual practice.
posted by lalochezia at 5:55 PM on September 26, 2007

It's a little work, but there's already lots of good advice in various threads tagged with "online dating," including one from just a few days ago...

ps: Hang in there, I (and many other MeFis, it seems) had a blast, met lots of nice people, and ultimately found real, fulfilling love - online.
posted by nkknkk at 6:07 PM on September 26, 2007

A few observations:

If your experience is like mine was (about 2-3 years ago), you might be inundated with messages the first few days your profile goes public. I think this had far less to do with my being irresistable as all get-out and more to do with the fact that I was simply new, and thus was coming up on various searches/matches for the first time. I was actually quite overwhelmed at first, honestly, but I took some time to sort through them so I could find a few guys that I did feel comfortable corresponding with from the start.

Also, you may find that some men will contact you with whom you clearly have absolutely nothing in common, and are wildly out of any ranges or interests you have specified (and I don't just mean a guy who's a year or two older out of your age range -- but guys 20 years older, or in another time zone when you only want to date locally, or who is a commited couch potato when you have specified you would like to meet someone to run triathalons with). You may want to craft a polite response for such cases, or you may want to ignore them. I found it kind of a hard call, sometimes, because I never wanted to hurt anyone's feelings.

Don't feel pressured into meeting someone immediately if you don't want, but don't drag out the correspondence for too long before calling/meeting, and don't let it get too involved and personal -- it's disappointing to find someone with whom you really seem to click in a serious way via email, only to find ZERO spark in person.

And yeah, hang in there. I met some very nice guys and went on a number of nice dates (and a smaller number of not-so-nice dates). After about a year, though, I was starting to get frustrated -- nothing really seemed to be clicking. So I gave it one last shot -- emailed one guy who didn't seem like my type, but whose profile made me laugh. After a week or two, we made plans to go to an art opening one night; as I was leaving for that date, I told a coworker, "well, this is it. If there's no spark with this one, I'm giving up on the whole online thing."

Well, as it turned out, I did give up on the whole online thing after that night, because there was so much damn spark between us that we've been together ever since.
posted by scody at 6:38 PM on September 26, 2007 [4 favorites]

I met my now-fiancé online. Before him, I dated a handful of other guys I'd met online. I'd strongly advise you to quickly meet in person any guy that seems decent and interesting. Don't get caught up in e-mail and phone calls for weeks; this can give you a false impression of a person, and you don't want to waste your time with someone who isn't serious about actually meeting anyone in person (e.g., a married man).

I never had any safety concerns, but I always met the guy in a public place, let a friend know I was going on a date with, and called said friend later to let her know I'd survived.

everything scody says is spot-on, too.
posted by desjardins at 6:39 PM on September 26, 2007

It might sound weird to do, but it's nice if you tell someone you're not interested. As a female you'll have lots of opportunities.
posted by rhizome at 6:47 PM on September 26, 2007

Scody and desjardins are on target -- but I would also add:
*be judgmental -- the philosophy of Blink is very apropos here -- as you should be "on guard" for things that just don't add up or feel right - and when you get that feeling -- Bail. Don't look back. Bail.

*be quick to meet in a public place -- but much slower to take the new relationship "private"

*find out if the person is interested in a relationship -- or is just a serial dater - many of online daters have been doing it for years - it's become somewhat of a sport

*like many things in life -- it is a numbers game.

Though the above suggestions may sound negative, I have as many very nice accomplished men as I have losers. Good luck!
posted by peace_love_hope at 7:45 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Somewhat cynical and amusing answers here

Whoever wrote that craigslist post is incredibly naive. Maybe a nun.
posted by fshgrl at 8:07 PM on September 26, 2007

1) take everything you read with a grain of salt. Players will try to play you, "nice guys" will guilt trip you because no one EVER gives nice guys a chance *eyeroll*, and your pictures will be scrutinized, picked apart and put back together again. Oh, and jerked off to. They'll jerk off to your photo. You'll want to throw your hands in the air and say ENOUGH. But keep at it. They can't all be winners, you know. Weed through them.

2) Have a friend look over your emails and give you her thoughts. Give someone a chance - particularly a Someone that seems like the exact opposite of what you'd be attracted to. I did it, and I kicked and screamed the whole time. And now seven months later, I can't imagine life without him. By all of my standards - and even on paper - we should not be together (he's very political - Republican - I'm very liberal and Anti-politics, he's clean and I'm messy, he's go with the flow and I worry over everything). But we work so perfectly together, it's insane. So there. Give someone a chance that you normally wouldn't. You might be surprised. =)
posted by damnjezebel at 8:35 PM on September 26, 2007

Here is an article (that I might have seen first linked on MeFi) that suggests that contemporary online dating behavior often involves making risky safe-sex decisions. I think that if you are aware of the underlying dynamic -- how easy it is to build intimacy via email, how once you decide the guy isn't an ax-murderer that he must be ok in other ways, etc -- you can avoid making some risky decisions at the end of the date. Here's the main summary:

A press release promoting Padgett's study revealed both encouraging and troubling results. The encouraging aspect: “Women go to great lengths to screen would-be suitors. The survey reported that they request photographs, check for small-talk inconsistencies, run criminal background checks and call workplace phone numbers.

“Final precautions include meeting men in public places, arranging their own transportation, giving the man's name to a friend and calling a friend before and after the encounter.”

But Padgett's study reveals troubling behavior: “Many of the 568 surveyed women who eventually met their online dates engaged in risky sexual behaviors. Thirty percent of the respondents reported having sex on their first date. Seventy-seven percent of respondents reported not using a condom during their first sexual encounter.”

The press released explained why this reckless behavior is happening: “Padgett said otherwise cautious women may engage in unprotected sex because they are lulled into a sense of ‘virtual intimacy.' By the time the couples meet face-to-face, they have exchanged much information about their backgrounds, their likes and dislikes, as well as their sexual preferences.”

Padgett continued, “The high level of disclosure and frequency of e-mail exchanges with men provides women with at least a virtual intimacy – a sense of a relationship that may or may not exist in reality but may encourage sexual intimacy at a faster rate than what would develop through conventional dating methods.”

posted by Forktine at 8:46 PM on September 26, 2007

I work for an online dating site and have helped two friends find longterm boyfriends using it. My suggestions for the best possible experience (and I'm not just an employee, I have used the site myself):

1. Take all new photos of yourself and make them as flattering as possible. Get friends to help you pick, but take pics of you doing things you love, with a pet (if you have one and it's important to you), and in different outfits. Pics with friends will not make you look popular; they will only draw attention away from you. No photos with exes. No photos with kids unless they are yours and you are okay with thousands of strangers looking at them, too.
2. Avoid making a list of what you hate or aren't looking for unless it is a deal-breaker: Smoking, drugs, kids, whatever that may be. Guys are turned off by women who put off too negative a vibe from the outset.
3. Don't list your positive qualities... give examples instead. My best friend has a sweet quirk: She hand-writes thank you cards for everyone from clients to friends. Her profile stated, "To me, manners are a lost art form. I believe in thank-you cards." She hates TV. So she said, "Sitcoms are for people with no imagination." She is a vegetarian and prefers to cook rather than dine out, so she said, "Dinner isn't steak or sushi, it's a chance to get to know each other better with conversation about local architecture." Get the idea?
4. Avoid these phrases at all costs: "I am comfortable in jeans or a ballgown." Any quote along the lines of "It's not the number of breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away." Any sappy song lyrics, country or otherwise. Do NOT start out with: "I can't believe I'm doing this," "My friends made me try it" or "We can lie about how we met!" You'll be as original as at least 1000 other people in your area and potential Don Juans' eyes will glaze over. Choose a username that describes you, and be prepared with several alternative backups (if there are 12 million profiles, your preferred username is probably taken, so get creative).
5. Finally, ask a question in your profile that suitors can respond to. Only reply to emails that reference specifics in your profile; some guys or spammers with sign on and "blanket email" women. Don't fall for that.

One insider tip that most people don't know: If you change your profile once a week, you will remain in the top 3 pages of search results. That means more guys (new and otherwise) will see you for longer. Tweak a word here, change your main photo so that you look "new" in searches... Change keeps you fresh. People get bored surfing for dates after a couple of months, so continue to make slight edits to keep your profile up-to-date. If you don't know how to write, check out other women's profiles that are your "competition." See what you like and hate about their profiles and keep that in mind before writing yours.

Good luck!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:31 AM on September 27, 2007 [24 favorites]

I'm a guy, and I'm in New Zealand, so my comments may not totally apply. However, I've used online dating extensively and met my current partner online.

1. Approach guys that you find interesting. In my experience, there are more males than females on these sites, which means that males have to make considerable effort to attract a woman: our messages are competing against so many other messages. I had pretty much become disillusioned with online dating and was about to give up, when my now partner messaged me. Most of my best interactions/friendships came when the woman approached me, not the other way round.

2. If someone writes a thoughtful, intelligent message, but you're not interested, then a polite 'thanks but no thanks' is courteous (especially if you've exchanged a few messages by the time you decide you're not interested). Do NOT feel that you need to reply to the guys who send you one-line messages, invitations to sex, or pictures of their genitals. Or the guys who obviously haven't read your profile, e.g. they're in the wrong town or age range etc. They're doing it to every woman on the site. Feel free to ignore them.

3. I really like Unicorn's suggestions for writing your profile. You would be amazed at how many women put one or two lines of description in their profiles, and add 'if you want anything more, just message me'. Gives me zero motivation to find out more, if they can't be bothered to make any effort upfront. Ditto people who actually turn their profiles into arguments "if you're thinking of messaging me asking for sex then you can f*** off you loser" etc. Not a turn-on, and I've seen it on a lot of women's profiles (yes, there are sleazy guys out there, but treating every guy who reads your profile as a sleazeball isn't smart).

4. Photos are good. No photo, I'm inclined to wonder what you're hiding - or if you just can't use a camera.

5. If your site offers events/meetups, try going to those. I made some good friends through my site, for things like pub quiz nights. It doesn't have to be all about one-on-one dating (and going to meetups gives you an idea about who else is on the site, you can compare notes with other women).

Good luck :)
posted by Infinite Jest at 3:06 AM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm another guy so re-calibrate or ignore as you see fit:

Consider your other single friends and try to see if there is anybody else you could team up with to both start online dating at the same time. It can be a great advantage to have a collaborator when it comes to writing profiles, sifting applicants and sharing war stories.

The BBC ran a series called "Would Like to Meet" a few years ago and it looks like this had morphed into site with tips on stuff like what to wear, body language, etc. As you say I would be free to ignore a number of their "rules" too - but again you should know what they are.

The site reminds me of something else too: don't get obsessed with the online world to the extent of ignoring the flesh and blood opportunities that surround you every day. Like others I got into online dating and eventually met the right person for me - but I think part of the reason I looked online was because I thought that I was not meeting enough suitable people. On reflection I think part of my problem was that I was not very confident. So doing something like forcing yourself to flirt, chat up or just say hello to strangers could be an important adjunct to your plans.
posted by rongorongo at 6:41 AM on September 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Do you mean meeting guys via online personals sites, or actual online dating, you know, maintaining a relationship via predominately online contact, with little or no in-real-life meetings? It seems that everyone is assuming the former, which may very well be what you mean, but some clarification might be in order.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:05 AM on September 27, 2007

For better or worse, your photo is the most important thing in your profile, esp. for a woman, so make it a good one.

Submit 10 photos to (or similar rating website), then use the top 2 or 3 pics in your dating profile. It's somewhat crass, but brutally honest: what you and your friends think is a good photo may not agree with what the internets think.
posted by LordSludge at 8:27 AM on September 27, 2007

It seems like overly flattering photos would be counter productive in the long run. Isn't it disappointing to meet someone and find out they're just oddly photogenic, but are actually dweebs in real life?
posted by small_ruminant at 9:50 AM on September 27, 2007

Some sites have a question about "what you're most passionate about". I'd say at least 90% of the people who see this put down that they are most passionate about their friends and family. I'd like to think that most people assume those things would be on the list. I certainly wouldn't think that someone who put something interesting there didn't care about their friends and family. For me it's rising to the level of the ubiquitous "jeans to ballgown" comment that Unicorn is so right about.
posted by ontic at 10:56 AM on September 27, 2007

"No thank you" responses as rhizome suggests are nice, but be wary of offering too much information - there's a lot of people online who will argue with you in a way they never would in person and a fair number whose social skills are so poor they'd argue in either way. So don't offer reasons, only conclusions.

After you post your profile - and avoiding the cliches infinite jest and uniforn list is a good step - pay attention to the responses you get. Some (most?) may be blanket anything-with-a-pulse responses, but the ones that aren't you should scrutinize even if you don't like them. Because communication isn't perfect - that profile isn't what you said and what they interpreted, it's what you meant to say and when they interpreted it to mean.

You can't help the people with poor comprehension skills, but you can keep an eye out for repeated misinterpretation. If you're constantly getting the wrong kind of attention then look at how you're portraying yourself and tweak it.
posted by phearlez at 12:29 PM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

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