As in ‘real life’ there are rules to getting to know each other online - there is no special mystery to it. It’s all a matter of the dynamics between the two people in question. The thing is, when you start to exchange messages you know comparatively little about how the other person might respond, so you need to feel your way a little.
It all started off so well: they’d been messaging each other for a while, edging closer to each other, exchanging photos and some personal information. She liked his wit and sensitivity - but then she suddenly received a mail from him which contained some questions about what she liked in sex. She’s not easily shockable, but she wasn’t too happy about this approach. She really would now have to meet him in person to decide whether there could be possibilities for them.
How do you respond?
When you first meet someone online, it starts off as a simple exchange of question and answer: What do you do? What do you look like? What do you think about tensions in the Middle East or about plastic surgery? It’s a matter of forming a picture of the other person, of sparking their interest, of gradually getting to know each other. What do you want to know? What should you tell about yourself? Right from the beginning, you should decide what information you definitely want to know immediately and what can wait till later - and that really depends on what you are looking for: a relationship or even marriage, or perhaps just something less committed. Are you looking for someone with a certain level of education? What kind of attitudes would you expect them to have? Is family important to you? Would you be ready to take on children along with a partner? Or what if he or she doesn’t want children? But remember that probing questions or an apparently insensitive approach can be dangerous at this point, when you are just starting to get to know each other. So if you are unsure whether a question is inappropriate or too close to the bone, ask yourself this: would I say that if the other person were sitting opposite me in a restaurant?
What do you have in common?
Is online dating some kind of perilous high-wire act? Well, not exactly. In fact, the communication is more like a game of table tennis and both participants need to keep the ball in play. It should also be fun, so there’s more to it than exchanging personal information - it’s like a face-to-face conversation in that respect, and it’s the two of you who determine whether it’s a stimulating exchange of ideas or an uninspiring exchange of data. Rather than being formulaic and saying what you think the other person wants to hear (“I like long conversations, sunsets and cuddles by the fire …”) pick up on interesting points that the other person has made and look for points in common. Once you are working on the same wavelength, you can happily talk about anything (within reason) that comes to mind - whether it’s contemporary classical music or chewing your fingernails.
Keep your feet on the ground
If the correspondence gets more intense and you get more emotionally engaged, it can be tempting to ‘let it all out’. But if you fill your messages with a case study on psychological issues or expound at length on daily experiences, then the person on the other side is soon going to feel overwhelmed - or like a part-time therapist! It’s better to wait until you know each other better - in person - before you start supplying information about your secret fears - or about traumas you may have experienced as a child or in a marriage.
The same applies to photos. Of course it is important to give the other person an idea of what you look like, but it might trigger alarm bells if you immediately send a dozen photos of yourself, your dog and your bedroom. One of the great things about online dating is that you start things off mutually on a ‘no-strings’ basis with the option to take things further. But if, in the early stages, you insist on telling the other person more than they need to know, they could feel pressured. Vary the subject matter a little: yes, talk about you, your life and your family, but slip in some other little details - about your predilection for tapas or your passion for superhero comics. That will lighten things up and it can also provide a lead-in to the more serious stuff.
The spirit of romance?
Everyone likes a little romance, but it’s best to hold off talking about love and to avoid waxing too romantically lyrical about the other person. This can easily make him or her uncomfortable or raise unrealistic expectations. Everyone likes to receive a compliment or two, but it helps if they are based in reality. It’s not a good idea to start referring to someone as your soulmate when you are out on your first date together … Keep your romantic urges under control by reminding yourself that, in the world of online dating, your imagination plays a powerful role before you actually meet someone in person. You should also remember that the dynamics vary from one encounter to another. Try and read the signs that the other person gives you and adapt your behaviour accordingly. For instance, if you’d like to introduce an element of sexual flirtation into your correspondence, make a few subtle indications, on the understanding that you are not putting the other person under any kind of pressure.
When it comes to fixing a first date, you once again need to exercise some judgement. It’s not a good idea to pressure the other person into exchanging phone numbers or (a more sensitive issue) addresses, but if you are getting on well and you are both interested in meeting up, then you shouldn’t prolong things for the sake of it: there is always a danger of building things up in your mind and risking disappointment. It’s obvious that not every online encounter will lead to love - but you’ll never know unless you’ve tried …