How to Dissect An Email

How can you tell if a prospect would be great to date? Open that email, and unearth the clues buried in your inbox.

By Julie Taylor

ou get an email from a prospective date, read the message, and wonder—am I really getting the message the writer was trying to send? Well, if you follow this advice, you’ll be able to read between the lines before you respond or hit “delete.” The truth is, you can tell a lot about someone’s personality, likes, and dislikes simply by that first bit of correspondence. You just need to know how to decipher the clues…

“I was at that White Stripes show, too!”
Sure, a subject line like “responding to your profile” is clear, but
Daters who overuse emoticons may have a hard time expressing themselves.
something this generic is the calling card of an unimaginative person, warns Debra Berndt, the creator of the Dating Makeover: Four Steps to Attract the Love of Your Life program. “Either that, or this person uses the same subject line on everyone they’re chatting with,” she says, “which indicates laziness.” Likewise, people who use standard-greeting subject lines like “Hi” or “What’s up?” don’t want to put in the time to set themselves apart from the pack.

If that email features a clever subject line or one that refers to something in your profile (“I was at that White Stripes show, too!”), you’re in luck. “This is someone who is more likely to be creative on dates, and do thoughtful things for you,” says dating coach Evan Marc Katz, co-author of Why You’re Still Single: Things Your Friends Would Tell You if You Promised Not to Get Mad. “For instance, rather than just give you a bouquet of flowers on Valentine’s Day (yawn), this person is more likely to leave you a trail of rose petals leading to a drawn bath.”

What if the subject line contains a compliment—like “Hey, cutie”? Yes, your correspondent has excellent eyesight. But consider this: “The sender may feel that flattery will help create a stronger connection or win points faster,” Berndt explains. But don’t get sucked in: Immediate and copious compliments on physical appearance, in particular, may be a red-flag that the sender is a player, obsessed with looks, or only after one thing—a trifecta of trouble.

If the email doesn’t contain a subject line at all, watch out. The writer of this sans subject missive is careless, and just might forget “small” details like, say, your birthday, your first name, or the fact you’re supposed to go out on Tuesday night. Not cool.

“Yo, you!”
Does that email start with a casual header such as, “Hey!”? The writer wants to create the illusion of being buddies before you actually meet, notes Berndt. “They might be scared about the dating scene but are trying to act cool,” she explains. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing: They may just want to put you at ease and assure you they aren’t coming to that latte date with crazy-overblown expectations.

When you get a more formal heading such as “Dear,” you can bet the sender is somewhat conservative or has old-fashioned values, says Katz. No header? According to Berndt, this is the online equivalent of the date who calls and doesn’t say who it is—just launches into a conversation, assuming you’ll know. Chances are, he or she is a take-charge type who believes in getting straight down to business; proceed only if you like type A’s.

Do some soul-searching
Think of the body of the email as its “soul”—the section that reveals the most about a person. “I truly believe you can learn a lot about people
Many compliments on your appearance suggest you’re dealing with a player.
just by the words they choose and the way they form a sentence,” says Aaron Blake, 29, of Plano, TX. “If they go on for two paragraphs about the manicure/pedicure they had that day, they’re probably shallow. If they write even five simple words about the war in Iraq, I know they’re concerned about the world around them. I study each and every email I receive, and it has to pass my Litmus test before I send a response!”

If the body of an email is very short and completely generic, Katz says the writer is lazy with a capital L. “Someone who sends you a note like, ‘Hey, you look cute—check out my profile’ has basically written you a form letter,” he explains. “It’s a cut-and-paste job.” And it may well also mean that you’re dealing with someone with low self-esteem who assumes he’ll have to send out 100 emails to get four responses.

What if the body of the email is short yet isn’t generic? “This person is busy, and cautious about love,” explains Berndt. “He or she wants to see if you’re interested before providing more information.”

What if you get a loooooong initial email (say, three lengthy paragraphs or more)? Neediness alert. This sender doesn’t trust his or her profile to get your interest. Also, “this kind of dater probably puts all his or her cards on the table early on, and is someone who falls in love quickly,” adds Berndt. “He or she doesn’t have strong boundaries, and definitely believes in love at first sight.” Or, in this case, love at first byte.

Emoticon overload
Is the email overrun with emoticons? “People who overuse emoticons may have a hard time expressing themselves verbally, so they need visuals,” Berndt says. “It’s difficult for them to say what they really mean.”

When an email features ALL CAPS, beware. “This person is loud and wants to be heard at all times,” warns Berndt. “He or she will likely be insensitive to your feelings or emotions.”

Over and out
Last but not least, don’t overlook your prospective date’s sign-off. If an email closes with something casual (“Bye” or “Cheers” or “Later”), the writer is trying to be “cool and laidback,” according to Berndt. Translation: “They don’t want to appear emotionally vulnerable,” says Berndt. Did your online acquaintance simply sign his or her name? You’ve just heard from “a straight-shooter who’s just being him- or herself,” Berndt notes, “without trying to pretend the email relationship is any more than it really is.”

What if an email wraps with “Love, Casey,” and you’ve never even met?! Run the other way, suggests Katz. (Cue Psycho theme here.) “That’s a major warning sign that this person wants to get too close too fast,” he concludes. “Steer clear!” There are plenty of other prospects out there… no need to get entangled with someone who’s coming on too strong, too early on.

Julie Taylor is a regular contributor to Happen and the author of How To Be A Dominant Diva. The most original sign-off she ever received from a new guy was “In Julie We Trust.”
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