The Aspie Guide to Online Dating Sites, Part Four
The perfect dating site message is more a reaction to imperfect messages than anything else.
First of all, a lot of people write deeply inappropriate messages to people on dating sites. These inappropriate messages are often sexual in nature. Please don’t do that. Additionally, a lot of messages that are sent are too brief (one or two words), or have terrible spelling or grammar mistakes.
The result of this is that dating sites are dark, depressing place for heterosexual women. But if you’re a straight man, then this actually benefits you because the bar for success is so incredibly low.
Basically, if you don’t sexually harass anyone, and you can spell and use proper grammar, then you’re automatically in at least the 90th percentile of straight male users. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge how sad that is before moving on.
So if you’re a straight man, you’re communicating with people who have alternately been horrified and bored by their online dating experiences.
That’s why you open with a cheerful greeting, such as hey, hi, or- more formally- hello.
The bulk of the message consists of various ways of explaining why you’re messaging them, while at the same time making yourself seem like a nice person.
What do you have in common? What made you want to message them? On OKCupid, most users have filled out a section called “You should message me if”, consisting of statements like- here’s an example I randomly pulled from the site- “You have a sense of humour, you think we will get along, and you have some dancing skills”. If you’re using OKCupid, make sure you mention something from this section. If you were to mention this particular person, you could mention that you enjoy dancing, or like attending comedy clubs.
Inserting a light, breezy sense of humour into your message is also key, but tone is so important here, and I recognize that a lot of Aspies struggle to master it. So beat yourself up if it doesn’t come organically, and don’t push yourself to banter. Be nice to yourself and remember that if you’re not a degenerate, you already have a leg up on half the guys here.
If we put all that together, the ideal initial message would look something like this:
Greeting. (ex. Hey)
Generic, complimentary comment (ex. I saw your profile and thought ____, fill in the blank with something from the “You should message me if” section)
Why you’re messaging them. What you have in common. Include light, breezy joke.
End with second light, breezy joke.
(If suitable) Anyway, I look forward to hearing from you.
Now, here are the messages I sent to women on OKCupid that actually produced a response. You’ll notice some variation from the above template because no matter what you write, maintaining flexibility is important.
I saw your profile and noticed we seemed to have a lot in common. Intellect and ambition are also important to me, Superbad and In Bruges are two of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, and people who don’t use proper grammar do get on my nerves a bit. They’re probably lovely people, but their lack of concern for the English language makes me wonder if there’s something wrong with their priorities.
Anyway, I look forward to hearing from you.
I think this was one of the best messages I sent, if only because I managed to organically incorporate their/they’re/there in a single sentence. In her “message me if” section she wrote something about proper grammatic usage being a dealbreaker.
- Hey- I saw your profile and noticed one of your favourite books is by Rod Michalko. I took a few courses with him at the U of T and he had a huge impact on how I view society- he’s the reason disability studies is a major interest of mine.
I also love writing, reading, and wandering the city. Even though I’ve been hanging out here for six years, I’m still finding new stuff.
And I think everyone’s a contradiction, when you get right down to it. Folks are complicated.
This was one of the weakest messages I sent- most of it is focused on my interests and experiences, rather than hers- though I do like the last two sentences. She mentioned in her profile that she was contradictory, and that anyone who messaged her would have to accept that. Even though this message isn’t great, it got a response. She and I went on several dates together before we decided to just be friends. Then she introduced me to Hannah.
I also have a dark, sarcastic sense of humour, which has helped form my world view over the years. Art and writing are really important to me as well. A lot of the stuff I write has something to do with disability, because I have Asperger’s. In my writing I especially like focusing on and deconstructing social interactions.
I totally agree with you that disability doesn’t mean broken- I find it gives me a valuable perspective that most other people don’t have.
This was one of the last messages I sent, and by this point I was more comfortable with the format. It’s a good example of the template and, while not exemplary, did the trick and resulted in a positive response. We actually ended up meeting in person once.
Receiving messages is more straightforward, because it gives you leverage. You get to decide whether to respond or not. If the message makes you uncomfortable, don’t respond. If the message has unwanted sexual content, feel free to report it.
When responding to a message, answer any questions the person asked with approximately as much detail as they provided in their message to you. Then ask one or two more questions to keep the conversation moving forward.
Here’s an example, using messages that my friend Amy and I sent each other on OKCupid. I sent a message to her (the second example above), and she replied:
OMG…do you think we know each other? I am doing a phd at U of T Rod supervised my Masters. Like you he has had a profound impact on the way i think! He is the reason why Disability Studies is a major interest of mine.
did you go to rod’s retirement party?
While I didn’t ask any questions in my message to her, she picked up on the piece of information that interested her the most: the fact that we knew the same professor. She bracketed this information with two questions. The first question was to confirm whether we belonged to the same social network (which would increase the chances of romantic compatibility, and also increase the chances that I am a sane person who would not assault her). The second question was designed to further the conversation. I took the cue, and our exchange continued smoothly until- five messages later- I asked her out for coffee.
Which brings us to the issue of online safety. Every article about online dating has to eventually talk about what you can do to not get raped or assaulted when meeting people in real life, because it’s a scary world full of scary people.
Let’s look at this issue in a different way.
Don’t touch anyone without their permission. Be mindful of their personal space. If you’re going to engage in any kind of physical intimacy, you have to pay attention to body language and facial expressions. That can be difficult for people on the spectrum, so you’ll have to verbally establish whether they’re comfortable with whatever is currently happening, or whatever you’d like to happen. Before anything happens, be clear with them that you sometimes have difficulty understanding body language and facial expressions, and will need to substitute that for verbal confirmation.
Let’s bear in mind that there are people out there who don’t know this information, or don’t care about this information. You might meet one of these people while dating online. What can be done about that?
Before meeting anyone from online, I’d recommend finding out their full name, Googling them, and checking them out on social media. If you find anything that makes you uncomfortable, don’t meet them. I know there’s a lot of pressure to be nice, polite, or seem cool, but none of those factors are more important than your comfort and safety.
Make plans to meet in a crowded public place. Tell a friend when you’re going to meet up with the person, what the person’s full name is, and how long you plan to meet with them. Arrange to contact your friend after the date.
If you arrive at the designated meeting place, and the person doesn’t look like their online photo, or anything about them raises red flags, you should leave without approaching them. Again, don’t worry about being polite. Your safety and comfort are more important.
Don’t go back to your place or theirs unless you’re planning to hook up. If you’re planning to hook up, make sure you have condoms. It is especially important in these cases that someone knows your whereabouts, and that you plan to contact them at a designated time to establish your safety. Also- side note- make sure you get tested for S.T.I.s on a regular basis.
Keep in mind that people are more likely to be sexually assaulted by people they know. Continue listening to your gut even after the first date or couple of dates. If the person ever changes their behaviour in a way that feels threatening, or you start getting a nagging feeling in your gut that something is wrong, you need to listen to your instincts. Remember: your safety and comfort are more important than any other factor.
And I wouldn’t need to go into all these fucking details if people would simply not commit sexual assault. Enthusiastic consent: Google it. Live it. Love it. And be aware that some of the basic tenets of enthusiastic consent will have to be altered due to your autism. Consent always has both physical and verbal components, but because of your autism, dialogue will have to be emphasized.
Another thing you have to worry about on dating sites are your profile pictures. You should have at least one, because people will be reluctant to message you if they don’t know what you look like.
Try to select a picture that shows you lead an interesting life. Something fun, outdoorsy, maybe in a foreign country or participating in a sport. Make sure you’re the only person in each of the photographs you select. If you’re male, stay away from shirtless pictures or bathroom selfies; they’re considered declasse. Any picture where you’re with an animal will make you seem more attractive (so long as you have not killed the animal).
With women, the guidelines are more straightforward: you can do whatever the hell you want. Men will message you as long as you post a picture. Keep in mind that whatever picture you select will result in your being sexually harassed, and that when it happens it doesn’t mean you picked the wrong picture. It means you live in a rape culture.
The last thing you need is to know is how depressing it is out there in the wilderness of online dating. Even sites like OKCupid which are aesthetically appealing quickly become lonely places to be. The anxiety of never knowing and the need for companionship can feel overwhelming. And browsing through profile after profile of beautiful, interesting, horribly single people can be discouraging. If these fascinating, lovely people haven’t found their person, what chance do any of us have? Maybe the world really is a cruel, cold, unforgiving place, and maybe most people are doomed to die alone.
It’s easy to feel this way. It’s easy to spiral out. You’re in the middle of something emotionally taxing, which human evolution and perhaps even the basic principles of sociology have not prepared you for. This is all very new, not just for you, but for society in general. Nobody really knows what they’re doing on online dating sites.
It is important to be kind to yourself. Be aware that the process of finding your person takes time. There is not a correct period of time for this to take place.
I was only on OKCupid for a little over a month, and it felt like five years. I messaged perhaps fifteen people, and it felt like five hundred. I can’t imagine how I would’ve felt after six months, or fifty messages. But some people reach that point, and a lot of them still find their person online.
We have this bizarre notion that life is supposed to be easy or fair, but of course that isn’t true. So be patient, allow yourself to feel your feelings, and don’t let online dating become the main focus of your life while you’re engaged in it.
Set aside no more than an hour a day to look at dating sites. Set yourself a goal of messaging one person a day, or one person a week, or whatever feels manageable to you.
Give yourself the flexibility to adjust your goals. If you decide that messaging three people a week feels manageable at first, and then after awhile it doesn’t, don’t perceive that as a failure. Give yourself permission to just message one or two people, or take some time away from the site.
And be open to other possibilities as well. When you’re single and looking for people, it can be scary because anything could happen. But that’s also why it’s exciting. Maybe the person you’re meeting next week will be your best friend instead of your significant other. Maybe you’ll meet a romantic partner at work, or at a coffee shop. Maybe you’ll give up dating altogether, go backpacking to Tibet, and meet your soulmate in a hostel.
Really, anything is possible. You have to throw yourself into the world and see what happens.