Which Email Will Get The Date?

The way you respond to an online profile does make a difference. Learn from these five examples (and expert feedback) what moves things forward... and what doesn’t.

by Caroline Tiger

ou’ve spotted a profile online you’re smitten with. You start typing an email introducing yourself... and get hopelessly tongue-tied. Should you be casual or intense? Keep it short or carry on for a few paragraphs? After all, what you write will directly impact that person’s impression of you—and whether they write back. So what’s the best way to go about it? To help answer that very question, we got five online daters to submit emails they’d sent to objects of their affection. Then our panel of experts and peers weighed in with their opinions. (P.S.: Some of these emails were successful, some weren’t... see if you can tell which was which!)

Case study #1: Man writing to a woman
So embarrassing, I just knocked my coffee all over the place cause my cell phone was ringing and I was trying to type and grab it at the same time.

So is it true? A woman who reads Nabokov (I just finished Lolita), likes Al Green and is really attractive as well? I hope it is—the little man who runs my brain has taken over
“I actually like that she offers very little information about herself.”
and made me send you a note. I’m afraid that if it turns out to not be true, I might wind up in the middle of the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble curled up in a ball weeping and muttering something about attractive women and the lies they tell, covered in all of Nabokov’s work.

So please tell me it’s true before he makes me do something drastic, and I’ve already been warned that if there are any more incidents like the Swan Lake monkey-banana night of last week I’ll be banned from the store.

The feedback:
“This email is creative, maybe too cute. I would leave out the question, ‘So is it true..?’ and make it a statement instead: ‘I really find it cool that you enjoy reading Nabokov...’ And instead of ‘The little man that runs my brain....,’ I would simply say, ‘How could I not respond?’”
-Roman Griffen, author of Internet Dating: Tips, Tricks, and Tactics

“Eric will win a response because he (1) focuses on his reader: a woman who reads Nabokov; (2) shows interest in the same; (3) demonstrates a sense of humor about himself; and (4) initiates a discussion that has possibilities.”
-Sandra Lamb, author of Personal Notes: How to Write from the Heart for Any Occasion

“Of course an attractive woman can like both Al Green and Nabokov; why wouldn’t that be the case? I’d be more inclined to respond if his email was more upbeat.”
-Alicia, 30, Philadelphia

“All guys should avoid any reference to ‘the little man.’ Otherwise, Eric gets points for humor, but if he’d weep if everything in my profile wasn’t entirely true, I’d be afraid what he’d do if I turned him down for a second date.”
-Christine, 35, Los Angeles, CA

“I like the intelligence it shows, but it feels like he takes the joke too far. I’m all for curled-up-in-fetal-position jokes, but he should quickly move on to commenting on something else in her profile.”
-Kendra, 30, New York, New York

The verdict: Eric gets kudos for originality and sense of humor. However, our panel agrees that his email could have shown a bit more confidence. Also, the astonishment he expresses over her beauty/brains combo could be seen as offensive.

Real-life result: He shoots, he scores. She emailed him back, and the two are happily dating.

Case study #2 Man writing to a woman
(Note: All of Brad’s intro emails follow a formula—he mentions something they have in common and ends with a question.)

I noticed your profile and was intrigued. Like yourself, I enjoy theater and wine.

I’d like to know more about you. I see that you recently saw the show
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. What did you think of it?

I look forward to hearing from you.

The feedback:
“The open-ended question doesn’t bother me as much as what the question is about: the play. Is he looking to date or is he looking for a fellow entertainment critic? Ask about her.”
-Roman Griffen

"Brad drops the conversational ball with the 'What did you think of it?' He’s not holding up his end. He’s got to give her something to engage with."
-Sandra Lamb

“He starts off well because he volunteers info about himself, but I’d like him to add more before he asks another question. Knowing that he’s willing to give and take will show that he’s more serious about getting to know who I am.”
-Alicia, 30, Philadelphia

“I don’t learn all that much about Brad, but he seems cautiously optimistic and interested. I like how he ended the note.”
-Christine, 35, L.A.

“I think this is a good format for an introductory email, but this one is bland. Saying you enjoy theater and wine is nothing to build a relationship on. The Joseph question is really broad; he should mention something specific about the show. I might respond; I like to give people chances.”
-Kendra, 30, New York, New York

The verdict: Brad has a winning format and identifies with the profilee’s passions, but our panel agrees that he should offer up some specifics. That way, she’ll know that when they’re sharing a bottle of wine after a show, they’ll be engaged in a lively discussion.

Real-life result: Brad estimates a 30-40% response rate to this kind of email. In this case, the woman did not respond.

Case study #3: Woman writing to a man
Hi, I saw your ad online. Your words about supportiveness struck a chord, as did some of the other things you wrote.

I’m 36 and am a freelance writer covering mainly health, psychology, nonprofit management and, lately, nanotechnology. I practice yoga and meditation pretty regularly, love to hike, cook, eat, travel, listen to live music, read and learn about people (despite a shy streak) and why we do what we do. If I had to choose a few adjectives to describe myself, they d be curious, sensitive/intuitive, compassionate, independent but loyal, passionate, unconventional and, I’m told, courageous. I’ve talked my way out of a police station in **** (expired visa, nothing too terribly illicit), and watched a shaman do a smoke clearing (uninvited) in a bungalow I was occupying in ****. Let’s see... (hey, this is kind of fun for me at least!)written a book, started two businesses (shut down one), mended a couple of important relationships with relatives.

There’ve been *plenty* of humble moments too—so many that I’m now flushed just thinking about the first one or two that came to mind. The stacks of guilt-inducing bedside reading include Dojo Wisdom for Writers, a few books from the library about nanotech, a couple of self-help titles and an embarrassing number of unread magazines—from
New Scientist, New Yorker and Inc. to Cooking Light, Saveur and Natural Health.

And now that I’ve rambled, for all I know I could have deciphered your email address incorrectly (someone’s probably getting a big kick out of this if that’s the case), or you may have moved to Micronesia or gotten married—perhaps even twice by now—and forgotten to remove your ad from the Web. ;-)

Hope to hear from you.

The feedback:
“It’s a bit lengthy for an initial response but it’s interesting, not the norm. I like her wit and sense of humor. It’s creative, fun to read, and I love the ending.”
-Roman Griffen

“Kim’s adjectives are all very general. What kind of live music does she like? How much yoga does she practice? And I’d suggest she express some interest in the notee by commenting on specifics in his ad.”
-Sandra Lamb

“By not taking herself too seriously, this woman appears confident, which is attractive. If I were the recipient, however, I might want to hear more about how she connected with any of the various points I’d made in my profile.”
-Evan, 31, Exton, PA

“This writer gives me a variety of conversation-starters to help the first date flow. And learning someone’s bedside reading is a great way to get to know them. But the list of adjectives is overwhelming. I’d probably have a better idea of who she was if she chose a few adjectives and fleshed them out.”
-Greg, 30, Potsdam, NY

“This struck me as too long-winded for an initial email. Some of her ‘I talked my way out of a police station’ moments were interesting, but I don’t need to know that she has mended relationships with family members. I would probably reply to her, but I would already have a preconception of her as a little eager.”
-Whit, 25, Portland, ME

The verdict: Our panel dug Kim’s whimsical, self-deprecating tone, but most agreed that she doesn’t need to give that much information in the first email. Chances are she’d get as many replies — and invest a whole lot less time — focusing on a few specific moments that illustrate who she is.

Real-life result: Success! He emailed her back, and the two are dating.

Case study #4: Woman writing to a man
Well I’m a little out of your height range, but perhaps us seeing eye to eye wouldn’t be so bad. I do like to speak my mind, no worries there, and will do my darndest to make you laugh. I’ll admit I’m a bit of an anglophile, but you sound fun and smart and laid-back and balanced, so it’s not just the
“It’s creative, fun to read, and I love the ending.”
anglophilia speaking. Promise.

A little email back-and-forth perhaps?

The feedback:
“I wouldn’t state right off the bat that I don’t fit someone’s profile. Make him look you up, and let him decide whether or not he’ll bend his parameters. I would leave out ‘a little email back and forth, perhaps?’ It gives the impression you’re seeking a pen-pal.”
-Roman Griffen

“Alison starts off by eliminating herself. She might do better to show more enthusiasm and introduce some fresh, reader-focused topics.”
-Sandra Lamb

“This email lacks enthusiasm. Why sabotage yourself in the first line? The sender seems burnt out on dating and not willing even to add enticing tidbits about herself.”
-Evan, 31, Exton, PA

“I found this email refreshing; so many others seem like job cover letters... Alison seems less frenetic, less self-obsessed, sweetly humble.”
-Greg, 30, Potsdam, NY

“I actually like that she offers very little information about herself—she keeps me guessing, and I like her playfulness with words. It makes me look forward to ‘a little email back and forth.’”
-Whit, 25, Portland, ME

The verdict: While two online daters appreciated her brevity and casual way with words, our other panelists were left craving a warmer tone and less emphasis on why she’s not right for the profilee.

Real-life result: No reply.

Case study #5: Male responding to female
(Note: The woman’s profile asked suitors to respond to a few questions, reprinted below)

Q: What are your thoughts on Jersey?

A: 'NJ Guido in the Hooooouse!'

Q: Should one roll their eyes and scoff at Modest Mouse for being on MTV?

A: Seriously? This test is so easy and I didn’t even study or nothing. Of course, one is welcome to roll their eyes at whatever they please as long as they look cute doing it.

Q: You purchase what you thought was the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction on vinyl but then discover you have purchased the movie on laser disc. What do you do?

A: Frame that bitch!

The feedback:
“I’m not a fan of the questionnaire, but if you feel compelled to answer, try to be as clear as possible. I always think it’s cool to counter questions with more questions—something along the lines of, ‘I’m more than glad to answer, but first, let me ask you this!’”
-Roman Griffen

“The responses are opaque. If you reveal nothing about yourself, chances are the ‘Reply’ button won’t be engaged.”
-Sandra Lamb

“While I understand this guy is trying to be funny, his answers are coming on too strong. Try toning down the rough language and blithe comments—show you’re taking me seriously, and I’ll take you more seriously.”
-Alicia, 30, Philadelphia

"He also doesn’t take the questions seriously, so that’s shutting the door."
-Christine, 35, L.A.

"The guy’s first two answers are amusing; the third could be construed as slightly frightening. I wouldn’t write back unless he added more to the email, perhaps some comments/questions of his own."
-Kendra, 30, New York, New York

The verdict: Our panel was unanimous: The writer makes it clear he has a sense of humor, but he also telegraphs that he’s not taking her seriously. Following up with a paragraph showing his sincere side—what does he like about her profile?—would create a more well-rounded first impression.

Real-life result: No reply.

Caroline Tiger is the author of The Long-Distance Relationship Guide: Advice for the Geographically Challenged.
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