Online Dating: 6 Rules for Making Contact

by Michael on October 1, 2010 · 0 comments

Why she didn't reply to your message. (Photo by Roger H. Goun)

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If you’ve been following along with our online dating guide, you’ve now created a profile that’s better than those of 95% of the other men on the site. You’re creating a little bit of mystery, while being honest about the things that count, and your photo is enticing.

Women still aren’t going to be flooding your inbox.

For a moment, pretend you’re an attractive woman on a major dating site. Every day you look at your inbox and find somewhere between 10 and 30 new messages, and dozens of winks, pokes, “icebreakers,” and whatever the site can think up in the way of non-threatening first contact methods. Nine-tenths of these messages are form letters from guys who never even read your profile. Out of the few that are left, most are either talking about themselves or telling you you’re sexy, and when you do find a message that piques your interest, the guy’s profile is a list of his stuff and a photo of him at the gun range. The process of sorting through each day’s messages can take an hour or two.

You get the picture. You can be a man again now.

Even with a kick-ass profile, you’re still going to have to cut through the clutter by sending her a message that convinces her to look further than the Delete button. I’ve gone over what to say in an online dating email before, but in the interest of completeness, here are some simple rules to help you maximize your first contact.

1. Find Good Matches

First you’re going to have to choose who to send your messages to. Don’t be dazzled by a pretty face: if she’s dumb as a rock and a political extremist, you’ll have to be a pretty damn good actor to pretend you’re interested enough to even get her into bed once. There are plenty of women online, you can certainly find enough who meet your exacting standards of beauty while also enjoying some of the same things you do.

A big tip for a higher success rate: focus on contacting women who are new on the site. They haven’t been worn down by hundreds or thousands of contacts, and they’ve usually made more time to actually read, respond and date the guys who contact them. Most sites will let you view profiles by “freshness” or add a “New!” badge to the latest members.

2. Read Her Profile

The most powerful element you can use in your messages is her own words. Read her profile and find elements you have in common, or something that piques your curiosity, and comment on them. If you both like the same musician, quote a lyric.

And avoid complimenting her looks—you’ll seem like just another guy who saw the picture and sent a response. The folks at OKCupid analyzed thousands of first messages and determined that the messages with adjectives that referred to her profile (“awesome,” “fascinating”) drew responses 10% more often than messages that used “hot,” 14% more often than messages containing “beautiful,” and 17% more often than messages containing the word “sexy.” Phrases directly referring to her interests (“you mention,” “good taste,” “noticed that”) also elicited much higher response rates.

So bring up what you have in common, and what interests you about her interests. Even better…

3. Ask Questions

A must. A question or two will give her an easy “hook” to respond to you.  Make them about her and her interests. Don’t get too personal, and don’t give her the third degree—a couple of good, thoughtful questions will suffice.

4. Write Well

Remember when we went over your online dating profile essay? The same rules apply to your e-mail:

  • No kiddie slang (“u,” “ur,” “ya,” etc.). People using these terms on OKCupid only received a 5-10% response rate. Exceptions: any “laughing” slang (“lol,” “haha”).
  • Keep it short (2-3 paragraphs). Between a short message and your profile, she’ll get the picture.
  • Don’t go on about yourself, and no lists! Keep the mystery alive.
  • Keep it light, but not too light. Too serious and you might seem like a potential stalker. Too jokey and you come off as a try-hard. Be fun but sincere.

5. No Winks

Every site offers a “no effort” way of contacting someone. Don’t use it. Many women flat-out won’t respond to a “wink” (as one woman put it, “winkers are wankers”). Others may not have an idea how to respond. A proper message is designed to entice her to respond. Don’t waste a contact!

6. Don’t Sweat the Response

If you obey no other rules, obey this one. In fact, if you disobey the other rules, you’ll need to obey this one: do not become emotionally invested in her response, or lack thereof. There are so many reasons she may never send a message back: she’s on vacation, she found another guy and forgot to remove her profile, her credit card expired, your photo reminds her of an ex she hates, she got hit by a car…at worst, for whatever reason, she just wasn’t interested. So what?

Just as you would if you approached her in person, don’t place your self-worth into how, or if, she responds to you. If you do, you risk ending up like this guy.

An Example

I’ll end with an actual example of a first contact I made that resulted in a successful first in-person date. Some background: going against Rule Number One, I decided to re-try a very attractive brunette I had e-mailed much earlier with no response, when I was new and just figured I could type random words. She had a techy job and a profile that stated she was “looking for something different.”

Hi there <Handle>,

This message will be different from the others’, I promise. I’ll sidestep the usual “your intelligence and passion come through” speech, and promise not to mention anything we have in common, even though there’s a lot. I’ll skip the wise-ass comment about someone so smart listing “Tommy Boy” as a favorite film. And I won’t commend you for seeming to know exactly what you want, right down to the cafe-with-fireplace for our first meeting. (In fact, my guess is that you’re not really certain what you want. Am I right?)

No probing questions from me. I refuse to ask what you loved about <country> that drew you there the second time, or take a guess that one or more parents might have been in the military. You won’t find me inquiring about what you really want to do for a living (what? <techy job> not exciting?). I won’t even ask for the brand of your skates (mine are K2s).

No, instead I want to say something different. Something so far out of the ordinary that you might be taken aback at first, but then intrigued and perhaps even inspired to compose a haiku. Then a question so thoughtful that you can’t deny the kind of connection
that could result in such an intimate query…

Ah…I seem to have forgotten what I was going to say.

…So, the weather sure has been nice lately, hasn’t it?

– Michael

This was obviously not a canned response: almost every line until the last paragraph mentioned something from her profile. Note that I also said virtually zero about myself, except for my brand of skates (which conveyed that we had something in common). It was kind of a wise-ass e-mail, but I felt she could handle it, and I wanted a girl who could handle it. She could, and did.

So now get in there and compose a few messages yourself. Next we’ll explore what to do if—gasp!—she writes back.

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