Most people don’t intend to be jerks when they start online dating. But in a whirlwind of elusive communication, evasive e-mails and dropped texts, we unknowingly might be leaving behind a trail of bruised or miffed feelings – or just unnecessary unpleasantness that doesn’t help a process that’s already hard on the heart.
The slights tend to fall into two categories: Lack of acknowledgement and lack of clarity. Whether they result from laziness, inconsiderateness or misguided attempts to avoid hurting each other, we can do better! The last thing anyone needs is more angst, especially when they’re feeling vulnerable and risking rejection. Or as comedian Aziz Ansari wrote in his book Modern Romance: “Everyone is dealing with the same nonsense. Everyone is on this boat together, and it would probably be good if we were a little nicer on that boat.”
So here’s my field guide on how we can restore decency to online dating:
1) Answer emails and texts.
If someone takes the time to email or text you, it’s polite to respond. It’s up for debate whether you need to respond to first emails. One friend told me, “I don’t need her to write back to tell me she’s not interested before we’ve even started communicating.” However, if you’ve already begun a conversation, you shouldn’t leave anyone hanging. If it’s general chitchat that hasn’t progressed to discussions of talking or meeting, you can simply wish someone a nice weekend. Otherwise, most people appreciate learning if you’ve moved on or had a change of heart. You can write “I’ve enjoyed getting to know you, however …”
- I don’t think we’re a good match.
- I’ve realized I don’t have the time to devote to dating right now and am not meeting new people.
- I just met someone and want to see where it goes before meeting others.
2) Don’t fade away.
This is a classic technique in which a match wants to seem nice but doesn’t want to date you. So he or she continues randomly communicating but doesn’t intend to make plans: She doesn’t respond to texts for a couple days. He writes “TGIF” but doesn’t inquire about your weekend.
Most people, however, don’t want to “get the hint.” They want to know where they stand. Yes, it’s harder to have to be upfront, but it’s braver – even if you’re texting, “I’m going off the grid for a while regarding dating, but I wish you the best.” You don’t need to explain why. You just need to make it clear they shouldn’t be hoping to go off the grid with you.
3) Don’t drop off the face of the earth.
This is a despicable vanishing act that some people call “ghosting” and have even dared to call a trend. It’s not a sign of the times. It’s immaturity. It’s cowardice. It shows that you can’t handle any conflict whatsoever. In its most extreme form, the ghoster won’t even respond to texts. (I’m talking polite inquiries. If matches are rude, you don’t owe them any response.) It’s poor form to leave someone wondering or reeling. Yes, it happened to me once, and it feels awful.
4) Be clear about dates.
If you want to meet someone, make a plan. Don’t write a cryptic “Maybe we can hang out over the weekend” and then let it drop. You don’t look spontaneous. You look like a flake.
5) Stop drive-by dating.
Everyone you meet deserves at least 30 minutes of your time and preferably a beverage of sorts. That’s the case even if they’re fatter or shorter than their photos – or just unbelievably boring. Yes, it’s annoying, but part of dating is learning how to make the most of disappointment. I’ll break out one of my Mom’s favorite lectures from childhood: “I don’t care what they did. How you handle it is a reflection of who you are.”
6) Handle rejection gracefully.
This rarely gets talked about, but it’s also important to be decent when you’re on the receiving end of a match’s hard-to-hear truth. Don’t question why they don’t think you’re a good match. Don’t beg them to give you a chance. Don’t accuse them of wanting someone else more attractive, younger or richer. Just write back: “I appreciate your honesty and wish you the best.”
Being honest gets easier with practice. So does accepting rejection. When we elevate our standards, we can have a profound effect on how we all experience the search for love.
Do you have any suggestions on how to improve online dating etiquette?
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.