How long does it take to meet?

“How quickly do you meet up?” is a question I see asked fairly often on dating advice sites, talking about online dating in particular.

My best guesstimate for my own preference is “after 1,000 words”. That’s one thousand words each way, by any medium. Most probably email, possibly IM chat, and maybe telephone conversation. Combine the exchanges and if both prospective partner and I have each managed to write/say ≥1,000 words then I am probably confident in thinking there’s something worth developing. Under that and I am more likely to feel like the other person is not genuinely interested, or that they have very little to say about themselves (rather like those profiles that just say “message me and ask” or “I want to keep something to talk about on our first date! lol [sidewayssmileyface]”)

In this, as with so much else, I seem to be out of step with the advice given to women about men. On the other hand, it seems on paper to match up quite well with PUA/seduction community advice to “make her qualify herself to you”, so I don’t know. What I do know is that numerous advice sites suggest that if things don’t move quickly from first contact to setting a date, then he’s just not interested.

Here’s the thing: it is actually true that, after just a couple of emails, I’m not all that interested. Some of the same advice-givers (Moxie @ And That’s Why You’re Single is one such) advise that people hardly ever look like their photos anyway, so all I’ve got to go on are a person’s words, and whatever personality might emerge from the pictures. Give me plenty of words, and I have a better chance to become interested and engaged (in the sense of “engaging my senses”, not the marital sense.). After a couple of emails, I might have decided I am definitely not interested, but there’s very little chance that I have reached the point of wanting to meet up.

Some even say “two emails and a phone call and he should be asking you out”. Two emails is basically a self-introduction, a reply, and our follow-up sales pitches (the basic sales pitch is obviously the profile itself). Before I’m interested in “buying” (I hate the associations that word has in sex/gender issues, but if I’m talking about “sales pitches”, then let’s stick with the analogy) I want to talk over some of the specifications. Which is to say, I want to dig a bit deeper and get a sense of a personality and of someone responding to me and me responding to them. That takes a while longer.

It used to be that the sweet spot was about a month of back-and-forth before I would commit to face-to-face. Admittedly that was based on kink/BDSM dating and not on vanilla sites, where there’s a) less competition (because fewer kinky people than vanilla people in the world) and b) more cause to be cautious, so I could have a reasonable expectation that the other person would wait that long. More recently, I have been more willing to move more quickly but still, that 1,000 words guesstimate is looking good. I’m still not happy moving faster than a couple of weeks of daily exchanges before meeting face-to-face. Although more words per exchange = faster movement (thus, the guesstimate word target, see?)

So if after just a couple of emails it’s true that I am largely uninterested, it’s not because I have no interest – it’s just that the other person hasn’t engaged it yet. They haven’t said enough to make me think “wow!” (or similar). At best, I may be thinking “Who is this interesting person, I must find out more!” – and the profile was already “this person could be interesting, I’ll give them a message”. At two emails, it’s just too early but after five or ten emails and some IM chat or a phone call, then that same person might be very interesting indeed and I’m eager to meet up and find out about them properly.

The people who bail because I don’t ask them out on a date quickly enough never get to find out how interested I could have become, and leave me with an impression of their being flaky, insincere, needy and pushy. Which reinforces my desire to wait longer before I suggest a date.

Obviously, this is a form of confirmation bias, interpreting the evidence in a way that supports the previous hypothesis and not looking at other explanations. My interpretation of people who need an early meet-up is based on a model of behaviour that I have, which comes from goodness knows where although there are a few strands I suspect may have been woven together in it. Their interpretation of people who wait longer before meeting up is undoubtedly based on a model woven from strands of experience and learning they picked up from different kinds of experience etc than I had. It occurs to me that there are at least two types of people with contradictory needs and experiences.

OkCupid has on its match questions the option to declare what your preferred pace of meeting up might be, which is helpful. It raises the question of “adapt or segregate?” If the dating advice-givers represent the majority, then it may be that people who, like me, need more time, have to adapt and push more into the discomfort zone, agreeing to meet earlier than we are perhaps happy with doing. This option means that more work is required of the other person to win me over face-to-face, and puts me into a more confrontational rather than collaborative mindset at the start of the date.

Alternatively, especially as it is possible to look for compatibility, people like me could choose only to seek people who are on our wavelength for how long it takes to meet up. It narrows the field of potential dates even more, but at least you’re likely to be happier about those dates you do have.

My thinking is a bit of both. As already mentioned, my willingness to date sooner has shifted favourably anyway. Recognising where I’m at emotionally with respect to going on a date is a huge benefit to understanding what I might get from a date. If it is “too soon” for me, then expecting to find that “click” is just unrealistic, so instead I can concentrate on having a “pleasant” time instead – forget “dating” and just “meet”. On the other hand, I need some level of comfort before I’m going to go diving in; people who are still in too much of a hurry to get to the first date have to be ruled out. There’s no point going on a date if I’m only going to feel too stressed out to appreciate the other person’s company, after all.

So the advice I have to offer – to both sides – flex as far as you can to expand your options, but not so far that you don’t have fun.


About ValeryNorth

I overthink everything.
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