The fifth stage of the online dating process involves talking to potential partners. This section explores how to make those conversations work…
After emailing for a while, the next stage is to talk. You may use phone, although with the growth of social media, you may prefer to use video calling on Skype, Google+, or Facetime on Macs. With these, the same principles apply as on a phone call, though seeing a potential partner’s face gives you more to go on than voice alone.
This stage begins to feel more like real-life dating than before, but still needs careful navigation. As hearing each others’ voices is also a whole new level of discovering more about each other, it is also often a key point for deciding that you don’t want to take things further, or for a potential partner to decide the same about you; this is the first time that you have a live interaction with them, and this tells you a lot.
When to suggest a call
Opinions vary. There’s an argument for speaking as soon as one or two emails have established that you’ve something in common – not least because the phone call very often tips one or both of you to end the connection, so talking sooner rather than later means you don’t waste time on non-starters. On the other hand, if you have a number of email connections, you may want to be choosey about who you talk with. Six to ten email exchanges (3-5 from each of you) is a good rule of thumb.
Plus, as we mentioned, if you think someone you are communicating with online is a real possibility, it’s better to do speak in person sooner rather than later. A phone call will rule out a good number of your possibles – and while this may seem disappointing, it’s much better than spending time getting close to someone but then realising the moment you speak to them they are not for you. Again, the ‘no’s bring you nearer to the yes.
Who makes the call?
It’s courteous in heterosexual relationships for the man to offer the woman his number so that she isn’t revealing hers. If you’re wary, give out your mobile number – which is easier to change than a landline if you then feel nervous about having confided it. (That said, a potential partner who always insists on ringing you may have something to hide – such as a spouse.)
When to call
Decide a time when you’ll be relaxed, rested, able to concentrate without interruption. Don’t ring unexpectedly, certainly for the first few calls; everyone needs to be prepared and focused if conversations are to go well. (That said, once connection is established, someone who specifies rigid time slots outside of which they are unobtainable may have something to hide.)
For the first call in particular, prepare by looking over your potential partner’s profile and your email exchanges and preparing a few starter questions to get the conversation going. Strike a balance between what you’re going to talk about and what you’re going to ask about – there needs to be an equal flow of question and answer, of speaking and listening. If there is a serious imbalance, it may mean a potential partner is simply nervous, or it may be a foretaste of how a relationship with them might be. After a few conversations, you will know which.
How to judge
As always, notice not only what the two of you are talking about, but how you relate to each other. Was the talking or listening all one way? Did one person seem uninterested or bored, self-centred or reticent? Were there awkward silences? Was one of you hogging the limelight? Did you enjoy the conversation? Did it last for hours or just ten awkward minutes? The aim of the call is to build the relationship between you, and to judge whether, and how much, you want to take things further.
One thing to remember with phone calls is that, unlike emails, there is no record of what was said. If your memory is not good, or you are talking with more than one ‘front-runner’, it can be helpful to jot down some notes. This helps to avoid the embarrassment of getting different people muddled up. Some people also find it a useful aide-memoir, after each conversation, to rate their interest in the other person on a 10-point scale. Ask yourself ‘How keen am I on talking to this person again?’ and jot down a number.
As always, let us stress that the best way to decide whether things are going well is not to judge the person in isolation but to imagine yourself having a relationship with them. Would it be fun? Would it be rewarding? Would you thrive? If the answer is yes, then you will probably want to talk with them again.
Helpful hint: if the phone call doesn’t go well, then however good the emails have been, it’s unlikely there’s a future in your relationship.
What to do next
If you know by the end of the first (or subsequent) calls that you’re not going to take things further, then say so, rather than leaving things unclear. If you find it hard to give such a rejection – particularly as you’re doing so in person rather than in an email, write out beforehand some ‘no’ lines and mentally rehearse them, or keep the written phrases by you as an aide memoire. Once again, general reasons are kinder: “I’ve liked talking with you, but I don’t sense a spark between us, and I’d like to leave it at that for now.”
If you know by the end of the call that you’d like to take things further, then say so. The lack of face-to-face contact means that encouraging signals have to be clear, or one of you may assume that it’s a non-starter and so back away. If you are on a first phone call, suggest another one fairly soon – and then follow up with a positive email within 24 hours. If you’re two or three phone calls in, it may be time to suggest a meeting.
PS: What you may have to cope with in potential partners
Without meaning to labour this point, if a potential partner ends the connection after a phone call, don’t take it personally. This is particularly hard to do if you thought the call went well, but the other person – who was embarrassed to say ‘no’ to you in person – follows up swiftly with a dumping email. If you do get that sort of email, once more console yourself with the thought that the more ‘no’s you get in online dating, the closer you are to that ‘yes’.