Hey Is For Horses: Let's Not Make This Weird

[Part two of the November series about dating with Emmy Kegler].

A couple of months ago, OkCupid implemented a new feature called “filtered messages.” As a basic, free user, you could filter messages by match percent and relationship status/”looking for.” If you are willing to pay for a membership, you can filter by keyword, length, and other factors.

This mechanism plops all messages OkCupid thinks you won’t like into a special inbox that you have to log onto the site to check.

Women of the world rejoiced. Finally, here was a mechanism that could help us ignore the douchebags better. It’s still clunky and many douchebaggy messages still make it through, but it’s something.

And women celebrated because straight men on dating sites are 90% douche. Thanks to the mythos propagated by pick up artists and red pill communities, straight men have this tendency to approach dating like scatter shot, instead of sniping (please forgive the awful but suitable metaphor). They try to send as many messages as they can in order to increase the probability of responses.

But the thing is, sending a whole bunch of women the same message actually decreases the possibility of response. Because women aren’t robots or pheasants. We’re actually human beings who like being treated as human beings. We can spot a generic message from a mile away and we know the strategies.

So how do you put together a good message that’s more likely to get a response?

Remember that Hey is a beginning, not an whole message.

Please say something more than “hey” or “how are you?” Those types of conversation starters work when you’re already friends with someone and you see them frequently. For someone who is a complete stranger online? You have to give me more to go on. It’s common courtesy. Don’t wait for me to respond to actually start a conversation. Write something more that tells me a conversation with you would be worthwhile.

The thing about dating online that’s so different from dating in real life is that a lot of people seem to think that the same methods apply for approaching someone. In real life, you make eye contact, you say hi, and you wait for their responses to see if a conversation will happen. The same thing doesn’t apply in online dating – you should comment on what they’re reading, the things that interest you and ask a question.

Demonstrate that you actually read their profile.

There’s nothing like getting a message talking about how much a person likes to swim when I mention nothing about swimming on my profile (this actually happened). Or the message that asked me about my favorite football team when I say I don’t like sports. Or the message that asks me what I write about when I say, in the opening paragraph of my profile, what I write.

Say, “Hey, I like [author you have in common] too! What’s your favorite work of hers?” or something like that. It’s a simple conversation starter and it demonstrates interest. And it shows you actually paid attention to what they put out into the dating world.

Answers only come if you ask a question.

Messages, at least initially, are not the place for blunt statements. “You look nice.” Oh okay. How am I supposed to respond to that? Again, you’re hoping to start a conversation, so actually engage – ask a question, be interested in what the other person has to say. That will get you a lot further than any kind of scatter shot generic approach.

Please, for the love of God, do not talk about body parts, sex, or armpits in an opening salvo.

If I never again got a message that talked about how much the guy wants to sex me up (“we should fuck” is an actual message I’ve gotten) or talking about how he wants to “lick my armpits” (again, real message), it’d be too soon. Unless the person explicitly states on their profile that they are looking for casual sex and wants you to approach them with dirty, explicit messages, don’t do it. 99% of the time, you’ve just set off the person’s creep radar.

Also, allow a little time for conversation before you provide a phone number/asking out on a date. Err on the safe side – I, personally, hate getting a guy’s number in my inbox before I’ve even had a chance to speak to him. It’s way too much pressure off the bat.

No response is a response. It means no.

So there’s this guy in my area who is a 93% match. I’ve considered sending him a message, but at the end of September, he sent me one asking me out for dinner and a movie (problem number one).

I didn’t respond.

He followed up a week later, saying, “I promise to leave you alone if you don’t respond.”

Here’s a tip: if you find yourself saying, “I promise to leave you alone” you are setting on every red flag and klaxon possible in the dating realm. It makes me wonder what will happen if I do respond – will I be accidentally signing up for another year of creepy messages and invitations for dates? Possible harassment? What good thing could possibly come of that?

And, sure enough, he didn’t leave me alone. Three weeks later (last week) he sent me a new message: “I’m really bad at not bugging you, I know. Sorry.” That was all.

This is a huge waving red flag. It says to the person you’re messaging that you care more about the fantasy you’re living out in your head than the actual comfort of the person you’re messaging. It doesn’t stop to say, “Oh wait, this might be creepy. I shouldn’t send it.” At its best, it tells me you don’t have a filter or empathy for another person’s situation. At its worst, it tells me that if I do get involved, you’ll probably turn into a codependent, emotionally clingy, creepy stalker.

 The last thing you want to do is send a person a message that will make them scared of you. If you’re actually serious about this dating thing, you need to stop the fantasies about marriage and life long love that you have whirling in your head. You need to recalibrate yourself to think “I just want to get to know some new people” and go in with as few expectations as possible.

Unfortunately, if you’re emerging from purity culture, it becomes really hard to tamp down those expectations. Purity culture trains you to see every romantic relationship as “this is the one I’m going to marry forever!” instead of accurately evaluating your compatibility and futures.

As Tom Hansen’s sister says in 500 Days of Summer, “Just because a girl likes the same bizarre crap you do, doesn’t make her your soulmate.”

This is the true thing we need to keep in perspective when it comes to dating. Putting all our eggs in one basket, treating people as interchangeable parts in your fantasy of a love story, and pinning all your expectations on the possibility of a romance creates far too much pressure for anyone. In any part of a relationship, whether it’s the first message or the last kiss, perspective is vastly and deeply important. It will keep us grounded.