Almost everyone I know who's tried online dating complains that it's a major time suck. And it takes time to screen all those messages, compose responses and then arrange to meet up. I've wasted so much time on lengthy email exchanges, sending messages back and forth for weeks to prepare for meetings that never actually happened. Or messaging with folks I never really wanted to date.
One study suggests that the ideal time to meet is between 17 and 23 days after the first message is sent. This survey of 433 online daters showed that the longer they waited to meet their emailer in person, the more likely they were to feel let down when they finally did meet up.
I know when I've emailed with someone for weeks, I have increased expectations. I've invested my time in exchanging all those messages. When I've been messaging with experienced online daters (who live near me), we usually exchange four or five relatively short emails over a few days, then meet up for coffee about a week after we started communicating.
You just can't tell if there's chemistry or what someone is really like until you meet them in person. In honor of springtime, here's what I've learned.
Know what you want
When I started online dating, I thought I just wanted to have fun, hang out and meet people. I was so unclear about what I wanted that I responded to far too many messages -- wasting my time, and confusing the guys who messaged me.
I'm not much of a driver. I wanted a guy I could see during the week without a big hassle. Most of the online daters I know have specific distance requirements. I should have been realistic about mine form the start. Several guys didn't like my requirement that they live within a half hour of me, but that's what I could live with.
Are you looking for marriage, a boyfriend or a casual friendship? I didn't really know when I started online dating. But I soon came to realize I wanted a committed relationship. Once I knew that, I could screen my responses better, leaving out guys who wanted casual dating, or multiple partners, or ... there are some interesting arrangements out there.
Don't Let Emailing Turn into an Essay Exam
Some guys wanted to know everything about me before meeting up. Where did I see myself in 20 years? How would I characterize my romantic history? My favorite brand of toothpaste? The questions droned on. They offered their own lengthy responses. This is not an essay exam, you don't have to answer these questions.
One guy discussed his views on fairness over long emails going on for weeks, then asked when I could drive to see him, becoming offended when I suggested meeting at a halfway point. After that, I didn't want to meet, and I would have known that sooner had I taken the initiative. Another fellow was a great philosophizer, but when we finally spoke on the phone, his main topic was complaining about his ex-wife.
Don't these pre-meeting emails ramble on. If the initial messages appear promising, it's time to suggest a call or meeting.
Don't Email with People Who Are Unavailable to Meet
I've also heard from guys who claimed to be traveling for weeks. They'd message me almost every day, discussing their activities and wanting to hear about mine, but when they came home I'd never hear from them. Similarly, some fellows said they were too busy to get together within the next few weeks, but perhaps we could email or text until then. After a few of these ongoing communications went nowhere, I learned to ask that the guy contact me when he was actually available.
Do Mention Activities You Both Enjoy
I like to pick up on the other person's interests and let them know that I go to activities they might also like. For example, if my prospect likes the same bands that I do, and one of them was recently in the area, I'll ask if he went to the concert. If we both love hiking, I'll mention a recent hike I just did.
While I recommend meeting for coffee for the first meet up (see below), showing your date that you actually go to things you both like lets them know that if coffee works, more dates will be easy to arrange. Plus, it turns the conversation towards meeting in person, as opposed to perpetuating more emails.
Have a Phone Call within the First Two Weeks
In my experience, emailing for about two weeks should be the limit unless you live far apart and it's a production to arrange an in-person meeting. I like to chat on the phone before meeting in person; it provides another way to see what the person is like. Plus, if I feel awkward suggesting that we meet up, it's easier to say "let's talk on the phone." If that goes well, at the end of the call, I can ask if the guy would like to meet me. If I'm feeling shy, I'm more comfortable asking what he thinks rather than suggesting an in-person meet-up myself.
Texting is not the same as talking on the phone. It allows the other person more time to formulate a response and you can't hear their voice. A couple times, an initial phone call revealed that even though a man had a well-written profile, we had language difficulties.
Do Not Agree to an Indeterminate Meet Up Time
Some guys proposed a first meeting on a weekend or on a day they claimed to have free time, saying they'd let me know the meeting time later. And on that day, I wouldn't hear from them, even though I'd arranged my day to be available to meet up on short notice. No long gardening sessions or I might be covered in dirt when they finally did call me.
When I started online dating, I didn't insist on set meeting times because I wanted to seem flexible and chill. But these non-materializing meet ups really messed up my days. So, if your date says they'll let you know when they can meet up on a particular day, press for a prearranged time and place. Avoid leaving the details open in case your date turns out to be a flake!
Do Coffee for Your First Meet Up and Be Safe!
I do a search for the person on Google, Linkedin and Facebook prior to meeting. And for a first meeting I usually stick to coffee at a familiar location. If my first meeting happens to be at night or at a place I know don't well, I tell a friend where I'm going and give her whatever information I have about the guy. I've never had a problem with someone not being who they said they were or being inappropriate (aside from one nude selfie), but it's best to be cautious.
I've had men say that they'd rather meet for a meal than for coffee. A quick (one course) lunch is fine. But often when I've agreed to more time-consuming first dates, I've really regretted it as I've struggled to make conversation, bored to a stupor, and wanting to scream when my well-meaning date asked to see the dessert menu.
There seems to be a lot of folks in online dating land who find emailing to be an end in itself. But if you don't, after a few promising email exchanges, ask to chat on the phone. If that goes well, offer to meet in person. And insist on a set time and place, not "sometime" they'll let you know. You'll avoid a lot of wasted time. If someone seems that awesome, you can always make an exception!
When I met my boyfriend online, we emailed for only one day before meeting in person. We'd hit the "like" button for each other's profiles, and we'd exchanged one set of short emails. The next day, he suggested meeting for coffee, explaining that he hates emailing. (He's not a great speller). We've barely emailed since.
I've got more dating advice and horror stories on my blog, The Hungover Widow. Stop by if you'd like to chat or ask my advice on dating. I did advice posts answering readers' questions. And if you know how to resurrect a blog, please give me advice!