American Culture

Online dating tips and etiquette: is it rude not to reply?

In the online world, bad behavior can be the best behavior. How is this possible?

Online DatingIn “real life,” when someone approaches and asks you out, you’re obliged by social custom to reply. You may not be interested, but you can’t just pretend that the person isn’t standing there talking to you. That would be unspeakably rude. So we have developed all manner of ways of saying no thanks, in what is hopefully the kindest way possible. None of us likes to be rejected, and if we have any empathy about us at all we’re uncomfortable inflicting pain and/or embarrassment on someone – especially since that person’s only crime is thinking we’re kinda neat.

That isn’t how it works at online dating sites. 

When I first signed up for back in 2010 I didn’t know the rules. I remember feeling obliged, when I got a message from a woman who didn’t interest me, to try and craft a nice reply that didn’t make her feel bad about herself. I also remember sending notes to women I found interesting and getting absolutely no reply at all. Ignored. Stoned. As though I never existed. *tap tap tap* Hello? Testing? Is this thing on?

I soon learned that these are the rules. This is how online dating works. If you get approached by someone you don’t find attractive, for whatever reason, you simply hit delete and move on. Whatever you do, don’t make eye contact. I began adapting to these odd new cultural mores, for a couple of reasons. One, when in Rome, and two, frankly it’s a lot easier than responding and rejecting, something I have always been very bad at and extremely uneasy doing. These women find something potentially valuable about me, and many of them clearly work as hard on their approach messages as I do on mine, trying to appeal to something in my profile that struck them, working to connect the dots and sell me on the idea that they’re really worth my while. How can I be mean to someone who thinks I deserve that kind of effort?

And a couple times, women I have written to actually have replied with nice no thank you messages. When that has happened I have been stunned. And – here’s the odd part – a little uncomfortable. It turns out that I much prefer being ignored to being acknowledged in cases of rejection. If there’s no contact, it’s harder to take it personally. I may not even notice that whomever she was didn’t reply. Busy week, other things to focus on – sometimes I forget I sent a note at all.

But when she writes back, when she makes eye contact, then the rejection becomes personal and I have to think about it. She has taken the time and is making the effort to look me in the eye and make sure I understand that she isn’t interested and to explain why. Stand there and pay attention while I reject you.

In nearly every way I can think of, this is upside-down, ass-backwards and inside-out from how I was brought up. Ignoring someone – someone who is paying you a huge compliment, in fact – is just flat-out rude. My grandmother would be appalled at my lack of manners, at the abject absence of basic compassion. You don’t just ignore people. What the hell – was I raised in a barn, she’d ask?

And yet, here I am, convinced beyond just about any doubt that what we’d call rudeness in our face to face dealings is a far kinder way of behaving in the online world. It’s cleaner, it’s less awkward, and as counter-intuitive as it may seem, ignoring people spares their feelings. It’s the ones who employ actual manners, as we learned them growing up, who make us feel the worst about ourselves.

I see it, I recognize the truth in it, and the part of me who was raised to be a courteous Southern boy who respected the feelings of others is never going to be quite okay with the idea that “rudeness” is the nicest thing I can do for another person.

More to the point, what are the implications for society as more and more of us are socialized according to the rules of online etiquette? What happens as the functional rudeness of Internet culture invades our face to face lives?

Fascinating idea to ponder, and not entirely pleasant….



22 replies »

  1. You raise a good point that is much more universal than dating sites.

    One rule that I frequently see in cybersafety curricula is “The rules that apply face-to-face also apply in the online world (be polite, be kind, tell the truth, etc.). But we know this is NOT the case.

    Even though I occasionally get called “sir” to my face (yes, it happened again recently in a restaurant–why is it always a restaurant?), I don’t try in any way to pass myself off as male or a different age or someone I am not. But we know people do that frequently online.

    What about job applicants? The same thing seems to be happening. I try my best to craft kind but direct rejection notes to unsuitable applicants for a reasonable period of time. But then I get a random resume 2 months after the post is filled and that sense of duty evaporates.

    And LinkedIn. This week I had a true OMG moment when I opened my email and found a request to connect from a former “colleague” with anger-management issues who took a verbal 2×4 to the backs of my knees at a final project planning meeting. To this day I get occasional “spider sense tingling” feelings that make me wonder if he’s in the vicinity. Connect with him? Oh no. No way. But is it truly wise to say no? If I saw him in a store I would duck rapidly down the nearest aisle and get out. No kidding. Why should i behave differently online.

  2. The way I see it, if I’m not interested in a person, I’d just ignore them and I don’t see a problem with that. It’s like subtly saying “I’m sparing you the embarrassment and giving you the subconcious reassurement that maybe i just didn’t see your message??” Either way, ever since I started Mesh I haven’t had to deal with those awk situations- they do a really good job making sure the only people that message you are pretty much what you’re lookin for. So that’s nice!

  3. I think its rude. Especially if someone takes the time to write a message. They are clearly interested in you. The least you can do is say thank you but no thank you. Its a coward move….be a man, or woman. Reply. If you were all that, you wouldn’t be on the site. Plus its good karma.

  4. I completely disagree with your points. I have very much sought after a 101 online dating etiquette, and in several reputable places, I have read, it is the polity thing to do to reply, even if it is a “thank you for your interest, but I do not believe we are a match, I wish you the best luck in your search”. It is polite, and with class.
    We are told to write a personalized message, to reach the other person, to invest time, and effort in reading, and understanding the profile that she has created for us to read, and our introduction has to reflect that. Hence, a personalized approach and investment into what the profile reads. Once I have done that, and I have crafted a personalized message, checked my grammar, checked appropriateness, checked for good taste, and send it over. I understand not everybody will like me and jump immediately to reply. We all have our own types, and likes, and dislikes. So, whenever I receive an interest email from a woman who I do not find attractive, or does not fit my criteria, I simply politely reply, thank you, but not interested, and wish you luck. It is only a couple of seconds. That is all what is necessary.
    When I receive those, which I have, I understand they have read my email, I am not guessing what is on her mind, and she said no. I move on to the next one, and do not bother her anymore.

    • That’s very nice of you. Unfortunately I don’t have same experience in online dating. I only initiated few emails, and I had received no response at all. Weird thing is, I’m perfectly comfortable with that, means he’s not interested and I moved on. In reverse situation, when I get emails from guys, if I’m not interested to him, I’ve never replied. There were times when I replied to those kind of emails if I was not interested, just saying that “I’m not interested”. But it became backfire for me, since those guys would keep chasing me, sending emails. It’s not happened just once, but several times, and those things make me very uncomfortable. Since then, I’ve never replied if I’m not interested.

      Other online situation, other that online dating, I still believe that giving a reply is obligatory.

  5. I found this site helpful as I started online dating within the past month. I was overwhelmed by the tenacity that, I feel if done in person, would have been quelled by my simply ignoring/showing disinterest, or saying a succinct, “not interested–thank you.” Most people do not want to linger after gaining that information from a potential interest…Online, I have noticed I can pool men into certain categories of 1) people who do not read my profile and message me something very shallow (sending flower emoticons, saying “you’re beautiful” and thinking that’s enough to strike up an exchange..)/presumptuous (that their picture alone is what I’m interested in, DESPITE our clearly outlined differences reflected in our profiles)/distasteful (asking for pictures, to text, nasty messages), 2) men who took time to read my profile, and craft a thoughtful message focusing on the content of my profile vs superficial compliments (as, it seems to me, that it’s a given you message people you find attractive enough to date/flirt with/talk to..), and 3) men who think they are flattering me with their attention, message me several times to make a connection, and request of me to let them know if I am interested or NOT, by providing them with a reply…

    I find that it goes either way with category 2 men: they either ghost-out on me, or do not worry about me ghosting-out on them–no replies are no blow to their psyche, in a way, you know? At times I have really enjoyed initial chats, but ultimately decide to close that door, and these men seem to have a decent level of etiquette and no WWIII occurs…

    My focus is the men of category 1 and 3: the men in cat. 1 are ones I filter, ignore, and systematically block: they are not people who seem to honor courtship, or clearly value the same dating process that I may value…in my mind, it’s a lot of effort to respond to these types of messages online, when they have clearly not put effort in themselves…in real life, I would also have to say they’d likely not approach me as I would not be read as someone available for them….

    Category 3 men are, to me, exhibiting the most concerning pattern of dating behavior…I find that ignoring these men without blocking them leads to their follow-up messages, inquiring if I am/am not interested. When I have replied to these messages, (“no”), I am CHALLENGED on my decision, and have been requested to provide an explanation (often thinly veiled as ‘feedback’)!? It has always, always, devolved into a back-and-forth, ending with me blocking them: clearly, I have a lot to learn & communication is tough in of itself. But, I’m not the only one doing wrong in these situations… To me, this style is showing a lot of red flags that are difficult to manage…A recent interaction involved a man who had no profile-pic with the explanation he had employees also on the site, and wished to have privacy…however, I personally questioned the quality of his ‘anonymity’ given how detailed his profile was…wouldn’t his employees be able to put 2 and 2 together? However, this is a dating process that I do not out-front challenge, question, or ask to be changed on my behalf–I simply KNOW if there is that much difference between styles from the get-go, it’s only downhill from there. This man, however, clearly thought of himself as a catch: makes good money, states he travels, is cultured, and fit…He messaged me 3 times, commenting first on my looks (despite having no pic and commenting he valued a ‘get to know me first,’ approach–a little uneven dynamic, to say the least…), the second to comment on how he hadn’t heard from me, but he was ‘giving it another shot’ (filled with some emoticons), and the third, within a few days, asking (demanding) a reply to let him know ‘either way.’ I wrote a brief reply, thanking him for his interest and acknowledging that I had been open to no-pic profiles in the past, but that I had learned from those experiences that it was not the best fit for me, and my dating process. I stated I respect his wishes/dating process and wished him the very best. He immediately replied accusing me of “being SO against it” and “making assumptions” about him. At this point…you bet I was making assumptions about him (it’s called learning from experience). Because I’m an idiot/trying to be a nice person/Hi, cultural gender expectations–I wrote another reply: I indicated that, having been open to this dating style in the past, I was clearly neither making assumptions nor against the process. I simply reiterated I respected his process and I should hope that he could respect mine, as we both created our process from our past experiences. I again thanked him for keeping the dialogue respectful, and wished him the best as we go our separate ways. Hoping I would not have to hear from him again, he replied three messages worth: offering to provide me a personal picture if he got my phone number (having done this in the past, I have really learned this was totally not safe…Pandora’s box-ish)…and, when I did not reply, he followed up with another message asking me what I thought of his proposal (I was given a timeline by him, you see…my due date was nearing!), and then lastly he sent a very strained (because it was so difficult to play nice), polite message hoping to hear from me…Red flags, galore. Power dynamics, entitlement, wanting to be respected but not respecting the other person, asking for personal information–pushing the other person who is already stating disinterest, to open up more and even further that the non-disclosing requester is…it’s a very “i’m going to make you let me win you over” tactic.

    I think about these types of men and how they would treat a woman in public, or in private. It makes me feel uncertain about their emotional stability–or at least, I felt uncertain about SOMETHING! I guess if someone is uncertain about me, yeah, they’re gonna reject me, and vice versa…I don’t want to build a relationship over uncertainty!

    So, in sum, I agree–no message is the online version of averting the gaze, to show disinterest. And man, I just really had to process all of these recent interactions–I hope it’s helpful to someone in their own understanding of this complex online dating scene!

  6. I agree that ignoring the person is the best ‘non’ response. I clearly describe the basic physical attributes of the type of men I’m attracted to–I like a tall man (i.e. 6′ or taller). When a man who is 5’7″ contacts me (and has no outstanding qualities that would make me over look that he is too short for my taste) I simply ignore him. Once I messaged back such a suitor and he took umbrage to the point of continuing to send me sarcastic, insulting messages so that I had to block him. He wouldn’t let it go. It was like, “how dare you have a height requirement!” The fact that he was such a jerk only validated that he did not have redeeming or endearing characteristics to draw me in. Guys have passed me over and a few have explained that I was too old (even though they were my age or older and they had no stated age criteria) or too thin. One guy wrote back to tell me, “we are NOT a match!!!” I don’t remember anything super special about him that made me think he was out of my league but, he seemed to want to let me know that I was beneath his standards. I am a prize for any man looking for a petite, fit, educated, financially self sufficient woman in my age group. I could pass myself off as 10 or more years younger, in fact, but some guys seem to have very high opinions of themselves. In any case, it doesn’t bother me that I am passively rejected. However, when it is my turn, I have the right to discriminate as well. It is only when it comes to our romantic partners and friends that we are free to be biased, arbitrary, and to favor based on any personal preferences. That works both ways, though.

  7. Many of us want the hard truth so we can figure out what we’re doing wrong. I have sent out hundreds of messages, and often follow-up with messages asking why I got no reply. People have seemed shocked and sometimes upset at me being so forward. Frankly I say “so what?” They weren’t going to reply with any useful information in the first place, what do I have to lose by pushing for that information? If they truly felt no guilt for their actions they would just throw away my follow-up and block me. Insanity is doing the same think over and over and expecting a different result.

  8. My pet hates are firstly men sending you what sound like blanket messages (often simply a cut and paste from the first para from their profile). They’ve clearly given no thought to their messaging or tried to open any sort of intelligent dialogue with you. Second hate is their complete disregard for your profile requirements; i.e. I specify wanting to get to know people local to my city and yet I receive countless emails from across the world. Does anybody actually bother to ready anything about you before they send out their blanket emails? And finally, there are the ones who do bother to write something interesting/relevant, and sound like a good match, but then totally blank you when you respond to their message. Too rude, and happens too often!

    • Amack, I would suggest a “blanket reply”. You could just copy/paste it as a response. I think if more women expressed clear displeasure that men would perhaps begin to get the idea they are doing something wrong. (Which is unfortunately a tough nut to crack)

  9. I stumbled upon this site in my search for answers on whether it is appropriate to reply to individuals who have messaged me but in whom I’m not interested. This was prompted by a message I received from a potential suitor who seemed sane, asking me if I had “lost interest.” Mind you, before that request, we had exchanged only three messages disclosing our professions and wishing each each other a happy new year. Well, in my attempt to be polite, I replied to his inquiry on whether I lost interest by saying: “yes sounds a bit cruel, but no would be untrue. Instead, I will say that I wish you the best of luck in your search for Mrs. Right.” In response, I received: “Lol, F*** you.” First, I was surprised, but then glad, because such a reply was evidence that I made the right decision not to continue the conversation. This article, my experience thus far, and some of the comments I’ve read suggest that men’s egos might be somewhat too fragile for direct rejections.

    I never take it personal when I’m ignored by someone before we get to the first date. And I thought that, if you are actually requesting whether I had lost interest instead of simply inferring it from the fact that I have not messaged you in days, then the least I could do is reply. Now, I’m not so sure.

    • I am very sorry that you received such a reply Fay. I think that online etiquette among males is dreadfully shameful right now. I agree with your sentiments that it was evidence you made the right choice. 🙂

  10. I think most people don’t want to hassle with replying as it’s pretty much a meet market on online dating sites. I don’t really take it personally. However, when a girl gives me a carefully crafted reply or at least something more than a wink or hey/hi, I always reply in a very polite and tactful way. Most of the women are cool with this. I know some guys/girls can be jerks and don’t take rejection well, but it’s just sad. I’d rather know the truth esp if I’ve been exchanging messages with a girl for awhile. Ghosting someone is rude imo esp if you have actually been on a date.