If you're single and ready to mingle in the 21st century, I feel your pain. As a fellow single person, I too have many gripes about modern dating. There are so many apps (and therefore, many more people) to choose from; no one seems to be serious because of said apps; and you might find yourself going on so many more first dates than your parents ever did. You could even line up a date for every day of the week if you tried hard enough. That could be good or bad, depending on the date, but can we just all admit that it would be extremely tiring to be "on" during a date seven days a week?
There are hookups, casual relationships, friends-with-benefits situations, "they're sort of my boyfriend or girlfriend" scenarios… I mean, any type of relationship stage is possible at this point.
But before I go on and on about how it seems impossible to date in 2020, I decided to get some pointers from etiquette expert and author Myka Meier. Meier has been working with Messenger from Facebook on digital etiquette best practices that help people navigate online communication with actionable tips and advice. I didn't ask her about how to get a date (that's a whole other story) but what to do when you're actually on a date, dating (or sort of dating) someone, and messaging or texting someone.
"Dating has drastically changed in recent years with the flood of online and app options," says Meier. "Not only does it allow you to pre-screen certain qualities you may be looking for in a potential date, but it also gives you a platform to confidently approach someone to chat without physically putting yourself out there. Online dating and apps have made communication easier because you can think out questions and responses ahead of time and you don’t have the same pressure to think on the spot."
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Meier adds that communicating with a potential date online might make it easier for those who have a hard time expressing themselves with words because you can set the tone through emoji or stickers. In fact, she says that Valentine's Day was the number one day in the U.S. for sticker sends in 2019 on Facebook Messenger.
So how can you navigate dates and messaging people without wanting to rip your hair out? Meier shares her dos and don'ts:
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Catfishing is not cool. But you know what's also not cool? Lying about little things because that's also pretending to be something or someone you're not. Keep it real. It'll save you a lot of trouble later on.
"Don't try to come up with a one-liner that doesn't feel authentic or speak in a way that isn't you," Meier says. "It sounds cliché to say 'be yourself,' but if you try to be someone else, it will never work. Once, I had a friend who was messaging for another friend, and when the guy met up with her finally, he said, 'It's like you were a different person online,' and actually it was!"
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"If people are not responsive, be patient. When you have sent a message and are awaiting a response, definitely don’t multi-message," Meier says. "According to Messenger from Facebook, 60% of Americans say they check to see if someone has read their message while standing by for a response, and 37% agree that sending multiple messages is a no-go."
Of course, you may find that someone takes a few days or doesn't respond at all. At that point, you might want to consider if it's worth pursuing or if you should cut your losses.
This might save you a lot of trouble and heartache in the long run. "I think it's important to communicate, if given the opportunity, what you are looking for upfront, meaning if you are looking for something casual and fun or want to take it slow but serious," Meier says. "There are ways to state that, either in About Yourself in your profile or when chatting."
Okay, yes, a phone call might have been acceptable years ago, but now that a lot of people use texting as their main form of communication, it can really be jarring for someone to give you a ring out of the blue. Or maybe you prefer calling but aren't sure how the other person feels. The main thing to do here is try to understand each other's communication preferences. So if you plan on calling someone, Meier suggests sending a text first to give them a heads-up.
"Many people feel that texting is easier because you can plan what you are going to say ahead and you can respond at your own pace of conversation," Meier explains. "I also think just like there are audio and visual learners, there are audio and visual daters. Some people want to hear a voice to see if there is chemistry outside of a text. If you want to speak to someone before meeting for a date, it's fine to say, 'I'm around this afternoon. Give me a ring when you are free to chat details.' If the person continues to text after you have expressed a desire to chat via phone instead of via message, then it may be a forecast of further issues communicating, as not everyone has the same style, which is okay too."
Come on, everyone. It's human decency! This should go for every dating interaction, especially when you need to turn someone down. "I think the way you break up with someone or let them know you are not interested depends on the relationship," Meier says. "For instance, if you only went out once for a drink, I think it's perfectly fine to send a message the next time the person asks you out saying you think while you enjoyed meeting them, you only felt like you two would be friends. If it's someone you have been properly dating and have invested time getting to know, I think it's considerate to mirror the relationship's communication up until that point to break things off—meaning if you have been speaking regularly on the phone, a phone call is a respectful way to explain your feelings. If you have been meeting in person and dating for a while, an in-person explanation may be more appropriate."
Meier also adds that it depends on why you are breaking things off: "For instance, if something happened where you don’t feel comfortable meeting in person or speaking on the phone again, then maybe an email or message would be a better form of communication, pending the situation." Whatever the case, you should do it in the least hurtful manner as possible, she says.
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Again, this goes with the above tip. Treat people the way you want to be treated. "Being ghosted is horrible either way, so avoid doing it to someone else, especially when dating," Meier says. "Not only is it hurtful to have happen to you, but burning a bridge is never a good idea and you never know when you will see that person again. If someone has ghosted you, I wouldn't recommend you keep reaching out after you sent a message and there was no reply. Move on and try to brush it off. You don't want to date or be friends with someone who would do that anyway!"
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Meier has three pointers to remember on a first date, no matter how or where you meet. The first is to dress to impress, or put in some effort when you're meeting someone, as it might come across as rude if you show up disheveled. You don't have to wear a cocktail dress or three-piece suit, but brushing your hair and teeth before might help.
The second and third involve the elephant in the room during first dates: money and who's paying. "Offer to pay your half. Maybe your date will insist on paying, but you don’t want to come across expectant without even offering," Meier says. "In modern etiquette, it is seen as respectable and a sign of independence. That being said, I always say in modern etiquette who pays should not have to do with gender but instead whoever invited the other person out—picked the restaurant, made the reservation, ordered the bottle of wine, etc.—is the person who is hosting and should pay." And she adds, if someone treated you, send a thank-you note. It doesn't have to be on monogrammed stationery. You can send a simple thanks via text.
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Of course, this depends on the situation, but Meier suggests avoiding extremely personal questions. "The first date should be just about if you have chemistry or not," Meier explains. "Asking if someone wants kids, wants to get married, or something similar may be seen as too personal too fast or even that you are moving too fast and can scare someone off. I would also advise not talking about money, meaning what you have or earn, as it comes across braggy or showy. Avoid talking politics. You never know what someone's take is and a date can go south and fast!"
This might come in handy when there's an awkward silence. "If you are nervous or feel awkward, come prepared with a few good questions you can ask them that are open-ended, which will allow you to get to know them better," Meier suggests. "For example, do ask, 'So what did you do last weekend?' versus 'Did you have a good weekend?' Once you get someone talking, it's much easier to feel comfortable. It's the awkward silence that you want to avoid, which can be avoided if you simply pre-plan a few good get-to-know-you questions!"
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You know the phrase "read the room"? Well, a date involves a lot of that. When it comes to being affectionate, see how your date is responding. And if someone is being a little too affectionate, like leaning in for a kiss, don't feel pressured to go with it.
"Body language is key here, as keeping as much physical space between the two of you will be key," Meier says. "If someone is coming on strong and you have tried subtly to say you are not interested, then I think it's good to be firm and assertive in that moment and let them know you had a nice time, but the night isn’t going to end with a goodnight kiss."