You know the drill when dating online: first you browse profiles, then you email. Email is the first real contact you have with other humans online, which makes it completely different than conventional dating. This can be an asset… or a liability.
When you begin dating, your Judging Mind is fully operational: you’re looking at their appearance for signs of attraction (and lack of), you’re listening closely to what they say to check for signs of compatibility (or lack of), and you’re watching their behavior for any red flags. And while some people over-engage this Judging Mind, to some extent it’s a natural human tendency when evaluating whether a person is even trustworthy, much less date-worthy. Some level of judgment is a necessity in life.
And, when dating online, the email offers a new opportunity to make judgment calls. When a man’s email has sexual innuendo in it and you haven’t even met him yet, you know he’s not trustworthy (or only wants sex). If a woman doesn’t want to meet you in person and instead wants an email marathon that goes on indefinitely, you know she isn’t serious about dating. Here, judgment is a way to screen out people who waste your time and impede your goals. And that’s good.
But how many times have you gone too far and judged a person’s email even when there were no red flags? For example:
- The email is a bit dull or doesn’t say much other than, “Hi. How are you?” and you blow him off for unoriginality.
- The email is somewhat generic (but not a copy-and-paste) and you assume she’s boring.
- The email is too short, too long, has no greeting, or otherwise lacks good technique.
- The email has spelling or grammatical errors.
- The email suggests personality traits that you don’t want. For example, she uses a few too many smiley faces and you assume she’s a Pollyanna or immature.
Come on, admit it. You’ve done this, right?
Email as a Predictor of Behavior? Not Always.
Email is a good way to find obvious red flags, like the examples I used earlier about the sexual innuendo or the refusal to meet in person. Or if the person is rude, pushy, inappropriate, or flakey about following up on making plans.
But it’s not so good for identifying subtler problems or predicting someone’s personality or IQ. I learned this from online dating myself, and from dealing with lots of colleagues and clients over the years. For example:
- I’ve had several potential clients that rarely used a greeting (e.g. “Hi Christie”) and were short, clipped, and minimal in their emails. I was skeptical about these people because I didn’t believe they were serious about coaching. Once I got them on the phone, however, they were totally different: friendly, polite, and committed. Not once was my assumption correct.
- I had another client whose emails were descriptive, polite, and very well-written. On the phone, he was reserved, scattered, and not well-spoken. Still a good guy, but not what I expected.
- I know people who exchanged amazing, well-written emails with people, just to have nothing to talk about in real life.
- I know others who’ve received somewhat dull or plain wrap emails, just to find lots to talk about in person.
I also know a lot of people who are grammar and spelling Nazis. But good writing is a skill that not everyone possesses, including many smart people. Believe me. If you want everyone to get their/there/they’re or your/you’re correct all the time, or to never spell wrong, you’ll be choosing from a small pool of people. There are many ways to be smart, and this is only one of them.
If an email is dull or generic, it’s often because that person doesn’t know what to say. If you do, then say it and get the conversation started. If you don’t, you can hardly blame that person for being just as clueless. If an email is too short/long/curt, meet them in person and find out if the person matches the email. Chances are, they won’t.
In other words, use email to rule out people who clearly aren’t up to snuff. But when it comes to choosing who to meet in person, you want to keep an open mind.