Online dating: It is not that hard, and yet so many people make it so hard. I’ve been documenting OKCupid atrocities for a while now, and a lot of themes crop up in the terrible messages that daters send me for, um, critiquing. This is how to send a semi-decent online dating message in nine easy steps.
1. One. Paragraph.
A one-sentence message probably isn’t saying enough, but you also don’t want to send a novel. Responding to a few items in a person’s profile will take somewhere between three and eight sentences; if you find yourself writing a six-paragraph missive, work that delete key.
2. Be original
We can tell when your message is copied and pasted to multiple people. Sure, it’s a pain to actually read through profiles and send unique messages to each person, but aren’t you here to find a date? Learn a little something about the person you’re messaging, and reference that in your communiqué. “Hey gurl, luv ur pics” is not going to get a response. More likely to get a response: A message that is directly responsive to several things in the object of your affection’s profile.
3. Don't be weird
So you’ve caught on that “hey wuzz up” is generally understood to be an unoriginal message. Congratulations! However, copying and pasting some bizarre, rambling message isn’t going to trick someone into thinking you wrote all of that for them. We know you’re trying to be “random” or “funny” with your ridiculous message about getting married / having babies / getting divorced / giraffes / or whatever other inappropriate thing you are messaging to dozens of people at once. It’s not clever. It also doesn’t trick anyone (other than the slowest people on the internet) into thinking you wrote that totally nonsensical message just for us. Funny is good, but if you are not actually funny, don’t strain anything trying to be. Straightforward and nice is infinitely better than trying to be funny and failing miserably.
4. Maintain a 1:1 message ratio
Do not send multiple messages. There are lots of reasons why someone might not message you back. There are lots of reasons why someone may sign into OK Cupid, check their messages, and not message you back. They simply might not be interested in you. Or, they might be checking their inbox quickly, and will respond later. Or, they might not check their inbox very often. But the quickest way to get yourself classified as a psycho is to message someone more than once without getting a reply. You messaged them. They saw it, or will see it. Now have patience, or set your sights on one of the 10,000 other single people in your area. Repeat messaging says, “I am a creep with boundary issues.” And sure, there’s someone out there for everyone, but you will widen your dating pool by not being a creep with boundary issues.
5. Make it substantive
Yes, we’re all animals here and yes, dating is initially about physical attraction, but there has to be something more to make a relationship (or even a not-totally-painful date) work out. If you’re sending a message, the recipient already knows you’ve looked at their pictures and find them attractive. So instead of stating the obvious (“you look like a small child and I enjoy sexing small children”), point to what it was that attracted you to their personality (or at least the fragment of their personality that they put on the internet).
Oh and just to be clear: Commenting on how a woman could be your Nubian queen or your sweet Oriental flower is not substantive. Even if you do have a creepy racial fetish, announcing it will do you zero favors (although if you do have a creepy racial fetish, maybe deal with that through pornography and therapy, and don’t bring real live human beings into it?)
6. Message people who might reasonably message you back
Does her profile say she’s a lesbian and you’re a straight guy with a weakness for Justin Bieber haircuts? Sorry pal, but she’s not gonna be into you, no matter how hard her floppy hair makes you. Do you live in Tennessee and are up for some long-distance chatting but she’s in New York and wants someone local? Move on to someone who’s interested in people of your gender, location, age, etc. The beauty of internet dating is that we all get to specify what we want. Respect that and don’t waste anyone’s time – including your own.
7. Be N I C E
You would think “don't be a dick” would be obvious, but there are apparently legions of people (mostly dudes) who adopt crappy pick-up artist tactics in their online dating lives, and think they might get lucky by sending vaguely (or blatantly) insulting messages to unsuspecting recipients (negging is actually a thing!). Is there some low-self-esteem lady out there who might respond to a message about how ugly she is? Sure, maybe, but the odds are slim — and since this is the internet, even women who have been strongly socialized to be nice to cretins in bars are able to hit the delete key. You’re better off ditching the crappy, manipulative dating tactics and sending a nice, normal message.
8. Keep it clean
Unless both of you make it clear in your profiles that you are on this site for sex and only sex, keep the message PG – yes, even if there’s a mention of something sexual in the person’s profile, and yes, even if you think your sexual reference is cute or funny or clever. We all want to get laid and we all have our sexual proclivities, and if we like something in particular we may mention it on our dating profile. But even if there’s a recognition that we, like almost every other adult human being, sometimes enjoy having our genitals touched, there’s no need to go all porno upon first introduction. There’s no need to go even a little bit porno. Until you’ve gone actual porno in real life, leave the porno-chat alone.
9. Keep it positive
No one wants to date sad-sack, and no one wants to hear about your terrible past dating life the first time they talk to you. We’re all internet dating here – it follows that we are all single and perhaps don’t want to be. So don’t whine about your lack of a love life, don’t lament the fact that you’re such a nice guy but women are such bitches, and definitely don't threaten to kill yourself because you’re lonely. Sell yourself! If you want extra credit (and a better chance at a response) be a little bit witty. Remember that nearly everyone likes someone who takes an interest in them. So respond to what’s in their profile and ask a question or two. Don’t make it The Sad-Face Show. Keep it breezy.
Stick to these rules, be kinda funny, try not to be a cliché machine (you love to laugh and couldn’t live without your family and friends?! OMG ME TOO!) and your profile should be at least marginally acceptable (and hopefully won’t end up here for the wrong reasons).
If you've got your own online dating horror stories, drop them below, or submit them anonymously.
The A(n)nals of Online Dating is a weekly column about How We Date Now, from the proprietor of the website of the same name, showing off the best of the worst internet dating has to offer.
Illustration by Leslie Wood
Online dating is the worst. Submit the horrific messages you get, and we will collectively laugh at them.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.