Tuesday, June 28, 2011

First Contact in Online Dating

I was asked recently to address the topic of initiating contact on online dating profiles. It's one of those issues that can bring up some baggage, although I think at the end of the day, you just have to decide what to do and then do it. In other words, it's something where it's easy to over think and outsmart yourself.

The reality is that the majority, maybe vast majority of first contacts online come from men, the one exception being amongst women seeking women. Since my experience has been with contacting women online, I can speak more clearly to that, and will frame this post from that perspective.

For every twenty women I have sent first e-mails to on online dating sites, maybe one has sent me a first e-mail. Other men I have talked to about their online dating experiences have reported similar experiences. And while I know of women who send a lot of first e-mails out, it seems much more common that women are dealing with mailboxes full of responses.

Now, that doesn't mean they are having more success than men necessarily. In fact, not only are there plenty of socially clueless men who send overly flirtatious or downright sexual notes to women online, but there are also an increasing number of con artists out there, fishing for women to reel in with charming letters until they have enough familiarity developed to ask for significant amounts of money from. So, that full e-mail box isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

(As an aside, for anyone doing online dating, it's important to be wary of those who seem unwilling to meet, or who are increasingly upping the praise towards you before you even meet each other. Maybe three or four years ago, when I was on the old Yahoo Personals, I had two women who eventually asked me for money, after several e-mail exchanges. Which led me to the decision to only exchange e-mails back and forth for a short period of time before asking someone out on a date.)

When it comes who should initiate contact in online dating, or any dating situation really, I don't believe in gender restrictions. It really shouldn't matter anymore whether a man or a woman is making the first move.

However, I guess it still does to a lot of people, so it's worth noting that. For women who decide to make first contact, this means that it's possible that the man you contact will consider you aggressive or out of line, and might dismiss you without a second look. And for men who don't want to always make first contact, it might mean you're sitting around without a date much of the time.

Personally, I think men who dismiss women who send them an e-mail first just for sending the e-mail first are flat out wrongheaded. And knowing how old gender roles are lingering on, I understand why many woman are hesitant to break some of the simple stuff like the old first contact rule.

So, my choices are this issue have been the following:

1. I tend to send the first e-mail, regardless of my desire for a more equal playing field.

2. Whenever a woman does e-mail me first, I always try and send a real response, knowing that she took the risk. Even if I'm not interested in having a conversation or going on a date with her, I think it's important to acknowledge those e-mails.

How about you? What do you think about the old "first contact rule"? What has your experience been?


  1. I agree with your point #2, except when the entire message consists of something like "Hey, what's up?" or "Nice profile, wanna chat?"

    No. If you can't even pretend to string together a couple sentences, no, I don't want to chat.

  2. Yeah, those one liner e-mails are pretty lame.

  3. Nathan, I'm curious: When you meet and decide to date someone you've met online, do you have any ambivalence about being honest about how you met? Because I think that, despite the pervasiveness of online dating, that this is the case with many people who have met through online dating.

    Having said that, I've noticed the same thing during my own experiences with online dating. It seems that, independent of almost every other social interaction within which men and women participate, that it's the 1950's in the dating world, no matter what the calendar says.

    Anyway, I enjoy your blog and thanks very much for your thoughts.


  4. Nathan, thanks for addressing this. A pleasure to read.

  5. Hi Beth,

    It doesn't matter to me much anymore about how I meet someone. I don't mind telling others I met someone online, for example. You're right though that a lot of folks seem to struggle with this. And I think in part because of a desire to have a "good story" to share. Saying you met someone online is pretty boring sounding I guess. But that's how it goes.

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