I was sitting at lunch the other day talking to a friend of mine about her online dating experience so far, and she mentioned a situation that sounded all too familiar: A gentleman contacted her, he sounded amazing, he looked extremely attractive, he happened to be out of town, he wanted to talk on the phone (but never Skype), he had no online footprint… and then he asked what bank account she used. Luckily, she was smart enough to realize that he was inviting her into a trap, but not all people are.
It’s easy to fall in love with someone’s online dating profile, isn’t it? The ultimate goal, of course, is to meet in person. JDate even lists all of the options that one might look for, from a friend to an activity partner to a spouse. OkCupid lists everything from casual sex to a long-term relationship. People don’t join online dating sites to simply email (or text) back and forth with no end in sight. In other words, don’t have an “e-lationship.”
The best way to manage online dating is to schedule a date (coffee or a drink) after just a few emails/texts back and forth, because chemistry is next to impossible to gauge over email. In fact, I don’t even recommend talking on the phone before a first online date. Someone might be great on the phone and a dud in person or a bore on the phone and fabulous in person. The point is that you never know whether you’ll have chemistry (which I call the “wild card”) until you actually meet, and no number of emails or calls will change that. With too much pre-date communication, there are two types of risk:
The risk of ruling someone out before even meeting, perhaps because of the phone call/excess emails or maybe because you simply lost the momentum.
The risk of falling in love with this person’s online persona without much basis.
Of course, many people don’t know when it’s appropriate to move from the email to the date and err on the side of caution (aka waiting too long), so in this case, I recommend saying something like, “I’m really enjoying these emails. Should we meet for a drink next week? I’m free Monday or Wednesday if either works for you.” If the recipient takes the bait or suggests a different day, then you know this person wants to meet. If the answer is simply no (or there’s no answer), then it’s time to move on. If someone is perpetually busy, then he or she either really has no time to date (a problem) or is trying to get out of meeting in person for some reason (a bigger problem). If meeting in person is not feasible—perhaps you don’t live close enough to meet in a timely fashion—then the best thing to do is to suggest that you Skype or FaceTime. It takes just as long to dial someone’s number and chat for a few minutes as it does to sit down and email each other, so if someone declines this offer, that is a major red flag.
My advice? Meet offline as soon as you can. If you plan the first date quickly and like each other, that’s great—you’ll have more time to spend together! If you don’t have that connection, you can move on without investing more of your time. Don’t be the next story on Catfish: The TV Show.
Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people navigate the world of online dating, and author of Love at First Site. Want to connect with Erika? Join her newsletter for updates and tips.