3 Essential Online Dating Etiquette Tips

Ignoring emails? Questions too personal? You may need a lesson in online dating etiquette.


I recently received a message on OkCupid from an attractive, educated, interesting guy. All it said was, “Hi. Nice profile.” And he signed his name. I enjoyed reading his profile, but I was very put off by the red dot signifying that he “replies very selectively” to the emails he receives. My first thought was that he must ignore all of the women who email him. And in that case, why would I want to know him? Instead of jumping to conclusions, however, I wrote back. “Back at ya. But what’s up with the red dot?”


And so began a lengthy conversation about common courtesy and online dating etiquette. Since that interaction, I’ve paid close attention to my other email exchanges, and I’ve identified 3 essential online dating etiquette tips.   

1. Send courtesy replies. “It’s simply not possible for me to respond to everyone who writes to me,” said the red dot guy. Yes, it is. If someone took the time to compose a personal message to you and you don’t reply, you’re being rude. Find the time. It takes about one minute to compose a short email to say that you appreciate the message, but don’t think you’d be a great match. Be kind, be truthful, and keep it short.


I don’t think it’s necessary to reply to copy-and-paste letters, or even the kind of one-liner this guy sent to me. I’m talking about emails that are clearly personalized and respectful. Receiving that kind of message is like someone coming over and talking to you. You wouldn’t just turn and walk away, would you? No. You’d offer a polite refusal. And you should offer the same courtesy and respect to the people who write personal messages to you. These people have feelings.

The red dot guy went on to say that he was currently on 3 other dating sites, and it would be a full time job to reply to all his emails. I could argue that being on several sites is his choice, and he should only make that choice if he can keep up with the responsibility. But I understand it’s a numbers game, and he wants to be efficient by widening his scope. In that case, I offer the following advice: If you’re getting more messages than you can reply to, be more specific in your profile. If you know you’re really looking for someone who is very interested in art, write that. If you need someone who can handle your dry sarcasm, include that in your profile. Think about your dating deal breakers, and clearly express what you’re looking for.

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Last year I dated a great guy who said he had recently purchased a 3-month subscription to Match.com, and received not one message. No one initiated contact with him, and he received no replies to the emails he sent out. In 3 months! He was good looking. Successful. Witty. Fun. And I think it is horrendous that not one woman he wrote to had the courtesy to reply. (And then women wonder why guys get jaded!)

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2. Accept rejection. “Not everyone likes pineapple.” I heard this quote years ago, and I think it applies perfectly to dating. Some people love pineapple. Some people hate it. There’s nothing wrong with pineapple; it’s just personal preference. Similarly, not everyone will like you. Get over it. If you get rejected, it’s not because something is wrong with you. It’s because that person isn’t a match for you. Be grateful to find out early on, and move on!

Also, it is important to respect the choices people make when choosing partners. People can want whatever they want, and it’s not your place to try and tell them why their choices are wrong. I recently received an email from a man who was about 10 years my senior, and not otherwise any great match for me. I wrote him a polite reply. I mentioned that I was looking for someone closer to my own age, and that I didn’t think we’d be a great match. I wished him good luck with his search. He took offense and wrote me a nasty reply. He disrespected my choice about age, even though it was clearly posted in my profile. He then wished me good luck with my search, “but I sense it will be a long one.” Perhaps it will be, but it’s my choice to make.


After exchanging a few emails with another guy, I took a careful look through the questions he answered and realized we weren’t a great match. Although we were enjoying the email exchange, I didn’t want to lead him on. “You can’t eliminate someone on just their questions. lol.” Yes. Yes, I can. That’s the entire purpose of the questions. At least this guy respected my wishes, and genuinely wished me well.

3. Don’t ask questions that would compromise the anonymity. A sure-fire way to ruin a great email exchange is to start asking questions that are too personal, questions that would give you enough information to look someone up online. “Oh, you’re an accountant? For which firm?” “Oh, you do triathlons? With which team?” “Oh, you’re in a band? What’s its name?” It’s called none of your business. These kinds of questions are best left for the second date or later. Before then, you can’t expect someone to feel comfortable giving you enough information to show up at your office, join your training team, or stalk your band. Be patient, and ask more general questions instead.

Find more essential advice about online dating in my book: How to Be a Good Boyfriend: 34 ways to keep her from getting annoying, jealous, or crazy.