At the fourth stage of the online dating process, you start to contact others, decide whether they are right for you, and if not let them go. This section guides you through that exciting, but tricky, part of the journey…
Some people get stuck at the stage where they’re responding to approaches, texting or emailing potential partners. They may get lots of contacts, but with people who don’t seem suitable, or who don’t follow through.
The way to get unstuck here is to develop your ability at judging whether there’s a fit between you and potential partners. It’s also vital to be proactive in making new connections, to be kind in letting people go when they’re not suitable, and to be emotionally resilient when rejected; you’ll find resilience far easier with a supportive friend or dating buddy.
Once you’ve posted your own profile and your partner specification, you will start to get approaches from – or be able to make approaches to – potential partners. And at this stage it gets exciting – though also time-intensive, as ideally you need to log on, make connections, and respond to approaches on a daily basis.
First level connection; viewing
Initially, your task will be to search for possible partners. There are four ways to do this.
- Type the basic parameters – gender of interest, age, location – and then scan over the results this wide search produces.
- If your site provides a ‘matching’ service, look at the suggestions they have made for you – but also, bearing in mind the caveats we mentioned earlier, make your own search.
- Note who has viewed you and view them in return.
- Go to that part of the site that lists new arrivals and check them out. Ideally do this daily because new arrivals – particularly those in a minority gender in any age group – get snapped up quickly.
As we’ve said before, when viewing profiles, bear in mind that most potential partners will rarely know how to put together an accurate or interesting profile – unless they too have been coached. Equally, not everyone is a wiz with words. So make (some) allowance for profiles that are boring, repetitious, or badly-written.
Instead, read between the lines and try to interpret who the person really is. The facts (age, height, weight, location, interests) are likely to be clear. But look further to what the profile reveals about character and values, and start creating a mental picture of the person, the kind of relationship they are offering and who they are looking for.
Our next piece of advice may seem counter-intuitive. Focus on the written profile rather than judging first and only on the photo. Men in particular tend to post an old photo or a passport-booth one (which in Great Britain at any rate forbids smiling.) Because of this, the image you see may not do the person justice. If the words spark your interest, then check out not only the headline photo but also all the others on the person’s profile and the physical description they have given (height, weight, hair colour) which is more likely to give an accurate impression of what they look like.
Even if these photos are off-putting, it may still be worth getting in touch with this person. We say this in part because one of the authors of these guidelines ended up having a relationship with an online partner when, in the flesh, that partner was 100 times more attractive than in their photo!
Also, at this stage, you need to develop a good decision-making process. As explained earlier, too much choice may mean you end up ‘shopping’, passing over good prospects and making decisions on simple but unimportant criteria. To avoid this trap, we have found that a good working strategy is this:
- Be clear about your absolute deal breakers (you are not interested in a partner who smokes, who has no children, who lives more than fifty miles away). Pass over any profile which contains one of these.
- Read carefully and with an open mind all other profiles and judge them not on the facts a potential partner gives but on how you imagine a relationship with them would be. What would you do together? How would you feel when with this person?
- Out of every twenty profiles you read (ones that aren’t deal-breakers), make an initial contact with at least one person, even if you don’t feel they are a match. Just to cover all bases…
Second level connection: befriending
This is on some sites called ‘winking’, ‘linking’, or putting in ‘favourites’. What it means is that one person is showing interest and wants it to be reciprocated. So if someone has viewed you and then befriended you, this means they want to take the connection further; so if you like what you see, you need to befriend them back, otherwise the message you give is that you’re not interested in taking it further. If someone has viewed you, but not befriended you – or if you try to befriend them and they don’t respond – it likely means that they are not interested in going further.
Third level connection: e-mailing on the site
If someone sends you an email, then as with profiles, read between the lines. Notice what the person writes about but also how they write; an email is a reflection of the person. Someone whose email is all about them is likely to be someone who in real life isn’t too interested in you. Someone whose email comments with awareness and sensitivity on your profile, and who seems enthusiastic about your interests and values, is likely to be someone who in real life is capable of closeness. So ask yourself not only whether you like what you’re reading in the other person’s email but also whether you like the attitude to you that the email reflects.
Equally, if you send an email, be aware of the messages you’re sending by the way you write. Read it from the point of view of the person receiving it – what impression are you making?
- Too short and curt an email is off-putting – too long and discursive at first is overwhelming. A few paragraphs to begin with are about right, extending to more as the conversation continues, then often cutting down as you move to phone calls and texts.
- Never, ever, ever write a boiler-plated (copy and pasted) mail; if you want a personal relationship you should write personally.
- As with your profile and partner profile, resist the temptation to write only about yourself – especially when you are emailing for the first time; it comes across as self-absorbed, the rough equivalent of chatting to someone but talking only about yourself for an hour non-stop. Studies suggest that the more you use the word “I” in profiles and emails, the less likely you are to attract.
- A useful way to approach emails is to use the formula “Reveal… Respond… Request”, that is write something about yourself. then something about what the other person has written, then ask further questions to lead the conversation on. For example “I’m planning a holiday in the States… you say you’ve been to Boston… what did you like about it and where would you recommend I go.” A 40-40-20 split is about right.
- Be positive rather than negative – in particular don’t complain at length about exes, which will not only give the message that you’re not emotionally free to enter a new relationship, but that if you do, you’re likely to be a critical partner!
- Gradually disclose more about yourself and ask questions about your potential partner. Try to find similarities and links between you, comment on them, then say a little more and ask a little more. Give the other person something to respond to when they write back.
- Make your words a reflection of the relationship you’re aiming for – genuine, respectful, interested, positive, enthusiastic, open-minded, secure-in-themselves, affectionate but not too pushy. When we run courses on online dating, our participants report, over and over again, that these are the characteristics attractive in potential partners.
If you send an email and there is no reply within a few days, then unless the person has been offline and clearly unable to respond, it means they’re not interested.
If you receive an email and don’t reply within one or two days, then unless you’ve been offline the other person will think you’re not interested and – even if you reply eventually – will probably have lost interest in you and moved on. (Conversely, research suggests that replying very quickly to an approach does not come across as desperate but as nicely enthusiastic.)
If you’re not actually interested in someone you are emailing, write a one or two line message politely saying that you don’t see a fit and wishing them well in their quest. Courtesy and kindness cost nothing – and just sometimes you may find yourself revisiting the profile of someone you’ve rejected, and wanting to contact them again!
Fourth level connection: emailing off the site (optional)
Some people like to come off the website and email on a personal email address. The advantage is that it allows you more privacy, and it is a clear sign that the relationship is moving on. On the other hand, some people prefer to keep all messaging on the dating site itself.
If you want to do this, how quickly should you make the move? Bear in mind that not everyone else will want to, and that people have different paces. So don’t take it as a bad sign if someone you’re interested in suggests the shift more slowly than you would want, or not at all; equally, it’s fine to say no if the other person is moving too quickly for you.
You may be wary of giving out your email address; if so set up a hotmail account that you can drop or block if you need to.
Traffic control: too many connections
Once you have a few ‘friends’ and a few ’email connections’ onsite and privately, you have to start managing the process. We recommend beginning each online login with a quick review of who you are talking to, and whether you want to let a few go or actively search for more.
If you have lots of ‘friends’ you’re not actively emailing, there’s no need to drop them – they aren’t taking up your time, and they are there to come back to if your connections of interest don’t work out. On the other hand, if you start actively dating someone, it’s courteous to un-friend others so that they know you’re now off the list.
If you have lots of email connections that you’re spending time writing to on a very regular basis, you need to prioritise. You can probably cope with no more than six serious contenders at any one time – most people feel comfortable with between three and five front-runners – not only because keeping up regular correspondence demands commitment, but also because, as we said earlier, research suggests that too much choice leads to bad decision-making.
So who do you now feel isn’t suitable? Who is growing on you? Who has ruled themselves out? Encourage those you want more of; with those you know aren’t suitable, it’s kinder to let them go. Develop your own ways of saying ‘no’ in as positive a way as you can – perhaps something like: “I’ve got a lot of connections at the moment, so I’d like to bring our conversation to a close; I wish you well.”
If you’re going offline for a while, perhaps on holiday or in a busy work period, hide your profile. Otherwise people may continue to contact you, and when you don’t reply, they will think you’re not interested. If you are at the stage of having key contacts, let them know you’ll be away for a few days – you don’t want them wondering why you’ve suddenly stopped talking to them at a critical stage…
Traffic control: too few connections
One of the things we hear most often from beginners is ‘I can’t find enough suitable people.’ At any stage, if what you are doing isn’t working, you must change what you are doing – change your criteria or shift your approach.
If you don’t have enough connections then the usual problem is that you are not being pro-active enough. Approaching others isn’t a sign of failure; it’s a sign of self-confidence and a can-do attitude. (Women in particular can think that the man needs to make the first move; not online he doesn’t – online whoever dares, wins.)
So do any or all of the following:
- Befriend more people.
- Email more people.
- Be more positive in your responses to those who befriend or email you.
- Check the ‘new arrivals’ section of the site more regularly.
- Keep changing your criteria, though never compromise on deal breakers
- Keep rewriting your profile.
- Get new photos.
- Change the site/s you’re on.
- Keep doing all the above regularly.
Don’t get downhearted; finding ways of making each stage as enjoyable as possible is the best way to avoid this. And remember, the more effort you put in, the more you will get out. You only need one partner – at least we presume you do! And each ‘no’ brings you one step closer.
Traffic control: prioritising connections
Whether you are simply making contact or – as covered in Stages 5 and 6 – talking on the phone and meeting up,we suggest that about once a week you look carefully at the people you are connecting to and reprioritise them.
By this we don’t mean you should ‘score’ potential partners, but that you should allow yourself to continually adapt your judgements according to what you learn from meeting potential partners. Particularly if you’ve been out of the ‘dating game’ for a while, making connections is likely to regularly alter your sense of what you want and what you need.
We’ve found that this mainly happens in one of two ways.
Scenario A: you get on well with a potential partner on a first date but are not convinced. You risk a second date, and during that you ‘grow into’ each other – often because you’re both more relaxed. You reprioritise that person further up the possibles list. (This can also happen in reverse, with someone who impressed on a first date disappointing you on a second date and needing to be de-prioritised further down the list.)>
Scenario B: the first few potential partners you go out with may seem fine, until you go out with one who really meets a key criterion, often one you didn’t know you had. (Example – it is only when a date really listens to you that you discover how delightful that is…). You need to go back and review the other people you’ve gone out with in the light of this new learning, raising any good listeners further up the list and dropping any poor listeners further down the list. (This too can happen in reverse, with a date’s actions making your realise just how much you hate a particular kind of behaviour and how much you need to deprioritise potential partners who are like that.)
In short, review and revise, keeping an awareness of who is fulfilling your criteria, who is not fulfilling your criteria, and who used to fulfil your criteria but no longer does in the light of what you are learning through the dating experience!
PS: What you may have to cope with in potential partners
One of the hardest things to cope with online is when someone says they’re not interested in taking things further. Don’t take this rejection personally; the potential partner concerned doesn’t know you well enough, and so isn’t truly rejecting you. Plus, one of the most common reasons for rejection is nothing to do with you – it’s that the person isn’t really ready for a relationship yet. Bottom line, if someone isn’t interested, it’s best for them to say so early, and leave you both free to look elsewhere. So don’t push back at a rejection – no means no, and it helps you move on.
You may to cope not only with rejection, but also with discourteous rejection. You will come up against a heap of bad behaviour, from enthusiastic communication followed by total silence, through to not bothering to reply to your approach at all – in some age ranges men tend to ignore 75% of messages sent to them, and women tend to ignore a huge 84%, so don’t feel insulted by such reactions. Plus, such behavior is surely a sign that kindness, courtesy and social skills aren’t high in this person’s personality, so you’ve probably had a very lucky escape!