Online Dating Basics: Know Your Rights

A lot of the people I talk to seem easily frustrated by their dating website experiences. I often think that’s because they’re worrying about matters that really should not concern them. In this yenta’s opinion, some clarification is needed around some pretty basic issues. I’m drafting an Online Dating Charter of Rights so that we can all stop wasting time on the unproductive behaviours that lead to internet dating burnout.

Know your rights, ladies! You too, gents.

You have the right to remain silent. Opinions on the matter vary, but I don’t write back to people who don’t interest me. Not for myself, and not on behalf of my clients. Even if they seem really really nice, or have clearly taken some time to craft their message to you. On the few occasions I’ve bothered to write a nice let-down message, it’s bitten me in the ass and fast. Unless you think they’d be perfect for someone else you know, just don’t bother. It’ll save everyone time in the long run, even the person you’re rejecting. You also have the right to refuse to answer any question that makes you uncomfortable. You can choose to ignore it, or you can simply say, “I’d rather not share that with you right now, if you don’t mind” and carry on nicely, if you like everything else that’s happened so far. But you are never obligated to respond, ever.

You have the right to know what you like. Do you prefer tall women? Are you utterly opposed to dating a police officer? Do non-drinkers make you as nervous as raging alcoholics? Have you got lots of male friends with goatees, but couldn’t stand the thought of kissing one? Well, go right ahead and say it! There is utterly no point to being coy about these things. But make sure that you say it nicely, and not in the threatening “you’d better not send me a message if” fashion that so many people seem to employ online. Stating your preferences as a warning, like a bitter Buffalo border guard on the graveyard shift, doesn’t exactly invite others to get friendly with you. In my work I have sometimes avoided messaging potential matches because even though my clients did fit their criteria quite nicely, the way the candidate laid out his or her parameters was simply off-putting.

You have the right to expect a picture. There is absolutely no reason, at this point in history, for anyone to be ashamed of the fact that they are online dating. If you are, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. I don’t care if the person promises to send pictures later on. You’ve got a picture up, why don’t they? (Please tell me you have a picture up.) Worried their mom/boss/neighbour/ex is going to see it? Well, just what are they doing there themselves? Seriously, the people who don’t have pictures online – or who only share pictures of animals, cars, or cartoon characters – are hiding something. I don’t know what it is, but I guarantee you won’t like it. Don’t bother with these paranoid Luddites because they’re probably married anyway.

You have the right to change your mind. After one message, after three messages, after twelve. (Please don’t let it get to twelve messages before you meet somebody though. See below for more clarification.) You don’t have to answer any questions you don’t like. You don’t have to come up with excuses as to why you didn’t write back immediately, or jump on the offer of a meeting. It’s really important to trust your instincts when it comes to online dating. It’s not “shopping for people,” but when you’re at the pre-meeting stage, you are allowed to hit pause, rewind, or erase at any point. Most dating sites have a “hide” or “block” feature; use it if the person doesn’t take your backing away well. While it’s preferable to be upfront about it and not just disappear on someone you’ve been messaging, if they’ve done something to upset or offend you, you owe them nothing.

You have the right to request a meeting. If you’ve been messaging back and forth with someone, and things are going reasonably well, then it does not make sense to keep playing pen pals. Three messages sent and three received is about as many as I feel comfortable with before I start to get antsy, and too much literary foreplay can result in greater disappointment if the real-life encounter is a bust. Why wait? Unless your schedules are mutually very crazy, there’s no reason to prolong that coffee (even though you know I don’t suggest coffee). You’ve all heard of the Catfish thing by now, right? Well, this is just how it starts.

You have the right to keep looking. There is no such thing as “exclusively messaging.” Anyone who tries to glean whether you’re also chatting with other candidates – on the same site, or others you may be using – is best avoided. Even after you’ve met in person. I advise all of my clients to avoid any suggestion of exclusivity before at least a couple of weeks (and several good dates) have passed. (Note: this is true no matter what you personally get up to on a first date!) If the person you’re seeing immediately expects you to disable your profile – or does this to their own – after a successful meeting, I don’t think that’s a good sign. I think it’s needy, impetuous, and demonstrates a lack of discernment that could lead to relationship problems in the future. You both need to approach the situation with care, and taking yourself offline every time someone turns your head makes you seem flaky. It’ll be noticeable to other users, too.

I’m now opening the floor to comments. What other internet dating rights (or responsibilities) do people need to respect? And as always, be sure to visit Junia.ca to learn more about my work and available services.

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