6 Dos & Don’ts of Online Dating Etiquette

When my wife and I lead marriage preparation sessions, we begin by having each couple tell the story of how they met. While there are still quite a few high school sweethearts in the room, there are an increasing number of couples who met online.  We’ve reached the point where meeting online is more common than romantically bumping into your future spouse at the grocery store.

With numerous online dating apps and websites at your disposal, it’s easier than ever to get started meeting someone online. That said, there are certain best practices that should be considered when wading into the digital dating pool.

1. Be not afraid

When I was single, I attended a lecture by a speaker who was talking about vocations, and he asked a question that made me reconsider my approach to discerning the call to married life: “You think you’re called to marriage? What are you actively doing to pursue that vocation?” 

He made the point that those called to religious life will talk to priests or go on a retreat with a religious order to truly explore those options. If you think that you are meant to get married, shouldn’t you be putting yourself out there to meet new people and go on dates? Online dating is a perfect way to meet others who feel a similar call to marriage and family life — that’s literally why they joined the site.

Online dating has gone mainstream and is no longer a source of shame or embarrassment — it’s just an easy, modern way for people to connect with each other. If everyone still went bowling, maybe we wouldn’t need online dating.

So go ahead and create that free trial account. It’s a positive step toward seeing if the vocational pull in your heart is authentically part of God’s plan for you. If it doesn’t work out, that doesn’t mean that marriage isn’t in the cards, but at least you took an active approach to the discernment process.

2. Be authentic

According to a survey conducted by dating website eHarmony, 53 percent of online daters lie in their profile. I’m not going to tell you what to put in your profile, but I am going to insist that whatever you put there should be an honest reflection of who you are. 

Don’t spend a lot of time curating your best-angled profile pics or agonizing over a bio that will somehow capture your wit, grace, and charm in 250 words or less. When you go on that first date, you won’t have a perfect profile to hide behind… and your date won’t want that anyway.

If you’re not going to accurately represent yourself, you shouldn’t engage in online dating. The process is supposed to save time and make it easier to narrow your search for The One — but that only happens if people are being honest about who they are and what they’re looking for.

3. Be outgoing

Online dating is not a spectator sport. If you want to idly scroll through profiles, that’s what Facebook and Instagram are for. You joined this site to meet people, so don’t be shy. If you see someone who (even briefly) stops you in your tracks, send them a wink or a short introductory message. This is no time for that autobiography you’ve been meaning to publish or for a passionate poem about love at first sight. A simple greeting will do — ask a brief question or make a comment about something in their profile.

Approach online dating with a liberal moderation: don’t spam every profile you see, but don’t write someone off completely because of one detail you’re not so sure about. In some ways, you are given the unrealistic powers of a mind reader — a quick scroll of a profile will tell you so much more about someone than you would know had you only met in person. It’s easy to judge someone based solely on their profile without ever talking to them. But that might not be the best strategy. If everyone is being authentic, you can still reach out and try to get a real sense of the person behind the profile. You’ll find out soon enough if there’s a date in your future.

4. Be responsive

Even though it feels like a different world, online dating communications should closely mirror your real-life communications. Despite the cognitive distance of the phone or computer screen, these profiles you’re scanning each have a real person on the other side of them — perhaps even your (or someone else’s) future spouse. Never forget that.

If someone sends you a wink and you’re not interested, you can probably safely ignore it. But if someone sends you a polite message, it’s only right to respond in some way, even if you’re just saying you’re not interested right now. If you don’t, the other person might think a possibility still exists and hold out some false hope.

Similarly, if you start communicating with someone, don’t ghost them if you start to have doubts or get cold feet. Dating is difficult and ambiguous enough without introducing more unrequited drama or “what might have been” disappointment into the lives of the people you’ve contacted. Everyone is entitled to an explanation so they can get some closure and move on. This is good dating etiquette in general, not just online.

5. Be realistic, not desperate

So things seem to be going well. You sent a message, the person responded, you chatted online, you survived that awkward first phone call, and you’ve been on a couple dates. Unfortunately, there are aspects of your date’s personality, beliefs, or values that don’t sit well with you. Do not ignore this. 

As with many of the other tips on this list, there is no reason to waste anyone’s time by continuing a relationship that doesn’t feel right, or ignoring differences and changing yourself to be a better fit for your date in the hopes of making things work. Don’t doubt yourself. There are plenty of fish in the sea, and the right fish will appreciate your unique brand of fishiness.

6. Be chill

Purely on a chemical level, dating is one of the most thrilling experiences you can have. The anticipation! The excitement! The dopamine rush after a great date! But the whole idea of dating can also be fraught with tremendous pressure. I’m getting old! I never meet anyone! Is this going to work out?

Remind yourself to relax and have fun — especially in the early stages of getting to know someone. A message sent on a dating app does not imply a proposal. A first date is not contingent on a pre-nuptial agreement. If you take yourself — and the dating process — a little less seriously, you’ll probably start to have more fun, be yourself and make a more authentic connection with the people you’re meeting.

So if you’ve been considering the online dating life, there’s no time like the present to take the leap. At worst, maybe you’ll realize that online dating isn’t for you or you’ll have a terrible date that will make for a great story later on. At best, you’ll be taking an active role in discerning your vocation — and you might meet someone who can help you finally figure it out.

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