Online Dating Etiquette Explained

by Kimberly Dawn Neumann
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Is it wrong not to reply to an email or to end a relationship via the Internet? Read on for the answers.

You probably know which fork to use with your salad and how to write a pretty good thank-you note, but are you up on the dos and don’ts of online dating? Yes, there is such a thing as “proper” protocol — and knowing the rules can spell the difference between finding your soul mate and ending up wondering “What happened? We had such a good connection…” To that end, we’ve laid out some of your most pressing etiquette questions — and got the right way to handle them according to experts.

Q: If someone contacts you and you’re not interested, do you owe them a response?
We know it seems rude, but in the world of online dating, the silent treatment is a common practice. “It feels cleaner for many people,” points out Michael Lasky, author of Online Dating for Dummies, versus saying “not interested” or spelling out why. However, sending an acknowledgment can be very simple — on some sites, you can just click on a button to send a polite “thanks, but no thanks” reply. If that option doesn't interest you, consider weighing how much effort went into the email you received: If the writer just sent one line, no need to respond. However, if you got a three-page personal and heartfelt letter, a nice “no thank you” may well be the polite thing to send.

Q: Is it OK to ask detailed questions like “Where do you work?” and “Where do you live?” or is that prying?
“Prior to meeting someone, it seems premature to ask very personal questions on address and employment,” says Gloria Starr, who gives image, etiquette and communication seminars nationwide. After meeting and deciding that there is interest on both sides, however, it’s fine to let those questions fly — just keep in mind that your effort to get to know someone better doesn’t require nitty gritty specifics. Instead of asking “What company do you work at?” or “What’s your address?” try, “What field are you in and what do you do?” or “What neighborhood do you live in?” Let your date take the lead on just how detailed he or she gets and you’ll avoid invading anyone’s privacy. If you are on the receiving end of too much nosiness, you can always just say, “I make a policy of not telling people that until I get to know them better” — that way it won’t be taken personally.

Q: If you meet someone in person after chatting online and discover you’re not interested, do you have to tell that person, or can you just disappear?
Since it was your very first face-to-face, it’s possible your date didn’t feel sparks flying either — in which case it’s fine for you both to just fade away. But if that person contacts you for date #2, it’s pretty rude to pretend your date never existed. “I call that ‘poofing,’ and it’s really nasty,” says Lasky. “Don’t do it. It’s really impolite. Just say ‘No thanks; I don’t think we’re a match.’ That is all that’s required.” To further soften the blow, say, “But thank you for our time together” — after all, it’s not your date’s fault you two didn’t click, so that person deserves the same courtesy you’d give anyone who went out of his or her way to meet you.

Q: At what point in dating is it still OK to end things by email and when do you owe someone more, like a phone call or face-to-face?
The only case where face-to-face is nearly mandatory is if you’ve been intimate. Otherwise, in our electronic era, cutting ties via email is commonly done and usually doesn’t ruffle feathers. “The nice thing about starting by email is that you can end by email,” says Lasky. That way, you can craft exactly what you’d like to say, and the person on the receiving end can absorb the news in private, which is often preferable during the early stages of dating. However, you should at least offer to talk on the phone or meet up if the person wishes — that way, it’s clear you’re sensitive to his or her feelings.

Q: How long should your profile stay up once you’ve started dating someone?
“By leaving it up, you’re sending a message,” warns Lasky. And it’s one that online daters often don’t like to hear: that the person he or she is dating is still open to meeting new love interests. There’s no need to take your profile down, however, until you want to see this person exclusively. “I believe that a person knows the ‘right’ time to take his or her profile down. It will be when that person feels comfortable with the one individual they would like to pursue,” says Starr. Once you reach that point and want to broach “the talk” with your date, keep in mind: His or her profile isn’t really the issue, so don’t start off with, “Don’t you think it’s about time our profiles came down?” Instead, get to the heart of the matter and say, “I really like you and would like to see you exclusively. Do you feel the same way?”

Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a New York City-based dating/relationship writer/expert whose work has appeared in such publications as Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Health, Maxim as well as online.
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