You know the feeling: You anxiously open an email from the guy you’ve been corresponding with over the last few weeks. After quickly scanning the content, you see a series of question marks at the end. Oh, the agony! He’s asking you more questions. This time he wants to know: “What kind of music do you like?” or “What’s on your bucket list?” You got home from a long day at work. The last thing you want to do is answer essay questions. Why won’t he just ask you out?
Corresponding with the endless e-mailer is one of the biggest complaints about online dating. Of course, the first few exchanges are important. Believe it or not, those silly emails reveal a lot about a person: How long does it take you to respond? Do you write five paragraphs in response to his two sentences? Do you end abruptly or add a cheerful signature, such as “Stay warm” or “Happy Friday”? Do you write “LOL” a lot? Finally, how closely do you stick to the tried-and-true formula of responding to what they wrote, offering some new information about yourself and then advancing the conversation with an appropriate question, such as “Do you also like jogging in the park on Sunday mornings?”
Emailing is a necessary annoyance in the unnatural world of trying to flirt in bursts of delayed communication. In traditional relationships, we meet someone and get to know them. But as social critic Howard Rheingold wrote 20 years ago in the book The Virtual Community, “In cyberspace we get to know them and then we meet them.”
The problem is that there’s a limit to how well you can get to know someone this way. By the time you’ve been emailing four or five (or nine) times, you’ve developed an image of the recipient that usually won’t match up in real life. If an email exchange goes on too long, your sweet anticipation can quickly turn into disappointment upon meeting. (Or the poor recipient will give up altogether before you even get the chance to zoom in for the date.) She’s not as playful in the flesh as you thought she would be. He’s not as hilarious.
Your goal should be to suggest meeting (or at least talking on the phone) after two or three exchanges. If you’re dealing with a marathon emailer, you can scoot him or her along with this line: “I’d love to tell you more about my bucket list, but perhaps it’s best done over a glass of wine.”
The same goes for the phone. Some people like to skip the call and go straight for the date. Some people aren’t their best on the phone, and it can be challenging lining up your schedules. Are you really your most fun and flirty when you’re juggling your phone and weighing almonds from the bulk bin because he called while you were at the grocery store?
But if you prefer logging in a call, keep it to one. Don’t suggest Skyping next. Better yet, use that phone call to ask the person out and set a date right there. “It was fun talking to you. Do you want to meet next Saturday afternoon?” And please save texts to communicate directions and important information, such as being stuck in traffic.
You want to meet your date as soon as possible. You want to see him fidget with his spoon or watch her twirl her hair. You want to watch the way his eyes light up when he catches his first glimpse of you. You want to catch a whiff of her perfume as you help her with her coat.
You can’t do that behind a computer.
About the Author:
Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate and Salon.