Jumpstart Your Online Romance

How long should you email back and forth with someone before you meet? There’s a sweet spot between not long enough and way too long, and we’ll show you how to find it.

By Margot Carmichael Lester

ou know the old saying “familiarity breeds contempt”? It’s sure true for online dating. Having too many long email exchanges or marathon phone calls can be fatal to your budding online romance.

I know a lot of people who email or talk on the phone for weeks or months before they meet in real
It feels great, but for most of us, it never leads to anything lasting.
life — if they meet in real life. Heck, I’ve done it myself. It feels great, but for most of us, it never leads to anything lasting. There are two likely outcomes:
  1. Imaginations run wild. Many times I’d be emailing or chatting with a guy and it was going great. I was witty, he was charming. But when we aren’t looking someone in the eye, it’s easy to reveal things we might not say face-to-face or stretch the truth a bit. This creates some really awkward moments when we meet someone and wish we hadn’t divulged so many intimate details.

  2. The thrill is gone. I met a great guy online, and we exchanged emails and phone calls several times a day for a month before meeting. We were both sure this was a match made in heaven. We clicked so well and found each other’s photos to be very attractive. There was only one catch — when we met, the necessary spark wasn’t there. It was devastating, but this is what happens when you fall for someone without first checking the body chemistry.
That’s why a lot of folks advocate putting limits on communication.

Alyssa Wodtke, author of Truth, Lies, and Online Dating: Secrets to Finding Romance on the Internet, advocates emailing for at least two weeks but no more than a month before meeting in person. “If you email roughly every other day, which is what I recommend, then you’ll have sent seven or eight messages each by then. This is enough to get a pretty good idea whether you have similar interests and if you seem to have a lot to talk about. It also gets some of the basic small talk out of the way — ‘Do you have siblings?’ or ‘Where did you grow up?’ — so you can move on to more interesting topics when you meet.”

Some folks are even stricter than that. After a couple of email affairs that went on a little too long, former
Limiting the phone and email makes sense if you’re interesting in finding a long-term relationship.
Internet dater Sara Musfeldt of Denver set some ground rules. “If after three emails it was going well, I would call,” she says. “If after two or three phone calls it was still going well, then I’d ask for a date. A lot of times the guys would do the same.”

Being honest about your intentions is great because it sets the right expectations. And it keeps you from wasting your — and his — valuable time, which would be better spent looking for people who are ready for a committed relationship.

“To cut down on pointless predate communicating, I explicitly stated in my profile that men interested in interminable email communication need not apply,” says Melissa Braverman, a New York online dater who chronicles her experience in her Single Gal in the City blog.

“That simple sentence netted a response from a guy who, after just a few short emails and one call, met me in person,” she recalls. “We proceeded to date for more than a year. He didn’t turn out to be Mr. Right, but the experience was a good example of how online daters can save themselves a lot of time by letting potential suitors know they’re not interested in wasting any with protracted predate communications.”

Limiting the phone and email makes sense if you’re interesting in finding a long-term relationship, even if it means walking away from a promising prospect. “Even if I really dig a guy and we’re in an email/phone communication rut, I’ll take the initiative and suggest we meet in person,” Braverman notes. “If he continues to insist on going back and forth, then I cut my losses. I’m interested in dating, not having a pen pal.”

Margot Carmichael Lester is a freelance writer whose work also appears in the Los Angeles Business Journal and Go magazine.
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