Online dating etiquette

We answer your questions about the tricky art of finding love on the net

Online dating has changed the way we meet and flirt. New traditions, new language, whole new etiquette. To get ahead, you need to know the new rules of engagement. Here are our tips for online dating newbies.

Q: Writing a dating ad is too hard. Should I get my friend to do it?
A: By all means. Even if they don’t write it, it’s a good idea to ask your friends for their assessment of your dateable qualities. If they know you well, they may be able to see and articulate what you can’t.
However, don’t start the profile with: “I asked my friend to tell me why I’m a catch, and here’s what he said.” You’ll sound like a conjoined friend-twin who can’t think for him or herself.

Q: I’m really proud of my salary. Should I mention it?

A: Only if you want to be fabulously crude, or you’re actively seeking a gold-digger.

Q: I’m fresh from a break-up. Should I say so in my profile?
A: No! Keep it light and positive. Some things are best left unsaid until you’re a couple of successful dates down the line. These subjects include your ex, your nervous breakdown, your criminal record or your fungal infection. Even if it’s cleared up.

Q: Everyone lies about their age, right?
A: Surprisingly few do, because they know it’s a pointless strategy. If you meet someone you like, and they discover that you’ve lied, they’ll wonder what else you’ve been fibbing about.

Q: How many photos should I post?
A: More than one (people will think it’s the only decent photo of you in existence), but no more than five (people will think you’re conceited).

Q: Can I post a photo of myself with my shirt off?
A: Whether you’re a man or a woman, a photo with your shirt off makes you look desperate and/or only interested in finding someone who’ll leave before breakfast.

Q: I can’t think of anything to say in an email. Should I just wink at people?
A: Not if it’s your first contact with them. Your aim is to stand out from the crowd – and to look as though you’ve actually read their profile.

Q: Should I send a list of questions about their profile?
A: No, you’re not an interviewer. Drop them a note to say hello, and mention one or two points in their profile that intrigued you. Weave in some questions naturally when (and if) you get a correspondence going.

Q: Is it OK to write to lots of people at once?
A: Of course. You’re not going out with them yet. However, don’t send the same email to lots of people at once. You’re supposed to be interested in them and their profiles, not spamming everyone with junk mail saying “hi, you’re great and I’m available.”

Q: I emailed someone and they never wrote back. Did I offend them?

A: No, they just weren’t interested. Do you really want to get an email that says “thanks but no thanks”?

Q: How long should I keep someone waiting before I reply to their email? Three days, a week?

A: No! Reply within a day or two. Online dating moves fast, and there’s lots of competition. Don’t be over-keen and fire back an email within minutes, but don’t play hard to get either. You won’t “keep them keen,” you’ll make them find someone else to date.

Q: I’ve started swapping emails with someone. How often should I email them?

A: Take your cue from them. If they reply to you quickly, then you’re free to reply to them quickly. If they take a day or two to reply, play it more cool.

Q: They stopped writing to me. Should I keep writing to them?
A: No. If someone stops writing, they lost interest or met someone. Take it on the chin.

Q: Can I use smileys and text abbreviations in an email?
A: If that’s what you normally do, go ahead – it’s the real you. But as a rule of thumb, avoid too many smileys and steer clear of TXT SPK or capitalised words, or you’ll come across like a shouty 13-year-old.

Q: Someone wrote to me and I’m not interested. Should I block them?

A: No. The ‘block’ feature on most dating websites is only to be used if someone is bothering you. It’s very rude to block them simply because you don’t fancy them.

Q: We’ve been emailing each other for a few weeks. Is it too soon to ask for a date?
A: On the contrary, it may be too late. Don’t allow an email conversation to drag on for weeks without a date. You can’t judge chemistry unless you meet up, so you may be wasting each other’s time. Six emails in total is enough to know whether you want a date.

Q: We had a couple of dates and I’m not that into him. Can I dump him by email?

A: Yes, but only if you’ve gone out once or twice. If you’ve been out several times, you must deliver the break-up face to face.

Q: How long after meeting someone should I take my profile down?
A: If you’ve had a couple of dates and things are going well, you should both take your profiles off the active list. You don’t have to delete your profile or cancel your membership, but de-activating tells your date that you want to continue seeing them.
Once you consider yourselves to be boyfriend and girlfriend, you must delete that profile. Keeping it there “just in case” is very unfair to your new lover, and they’d be justifiably upset if they found out.