Let’s imagine a scenario. You are enjoying a conversation with someone you’ve met on a dating app. You guys are discussing where to have your first date. They suggest coffee.
How would you respond?
Some think coffee dates are cheap and low-effort; others think they are fine. But unfortunately, this is just one of many instances in the current era of online dating where we haven’t quite figured out how to navigate.
Other areas of ambiguity and contention:
What is an appropriate first date?
How long should you chat before taking it to a face-to-face meetup?
Should you vet the person via a video call before meeting up?
In navigating this uncertain, confusing, and sometimes treacherous terrain of online dating and making your experience a lot more bearable, I share some tips on what has worked for me in my online dating experience.
#1 Reduce the texting; take it to a face-to-face
Personally, a two-week window is just enough time to discern if the texting chemistry is going well enough that I’d like to take it up a notch and meet in person.
If one is uncomfortable meeting so soon, there are also phone or video call options. But ultimately, those options should ease into an in-person meeting at some point.
Some people are amazing texters – confident and witty over text but utterly different in person. There is always room for preparation and editing with readers, less so when facing a living, breathing person and where interactions are spontaneous.
In-person meetups also offer clues about someone technology can never replicate – body language, how they treat people around you, chemistry, and whether you both vibe.
Another purpose of the in-person meetup is that you weed out the “forever-texters,” those who have absolutely no intention of ever meeting up. They prefer spending so much time typing pages of text to conversing.
I consider these types to be relationship-avoidant and time-wasters who have little to no intention of ever making things severe.
#2 Keep the first date quick and cheap (hence coffee)
This serves two aims.
It not only helps to lighten the atmosphere of date – which can be anxiety-inducing and stressful. But it also lets you get to know the person without the pressure of sitting through a long meal or event.
When things aren’t working out, a coffee date makes it easier to end the evening quickly and part ways. But if you are having a long dinner and your date is annoying, you are stuck with them; leaving is not as easy.
There is also the cost issue; coffee dates are a lower financial investment, which may not feel so bad if the date turns out poorly.
#3 Check your comfort levels and boundaries
I’ve always made it a point to be wary of two things on dates – where I was being taken to and the topics they discussed. It is sometimes incredibly easy to be lulled into a false sense of comfort, especially if you have been vibing well with your date – some of them take advantage of that.
I’ve had dates which seemed gentlemanly but would suggest meeting up late at night in poorly-lit areas and others who would bring up sexual topics barely 20 minutes into the date, despite saying they weren’t looking for a hookup.
It can feel difficult to leave situations like that, especially if you are in the middle of a meal (hence why coffee dates always work!). But what I’ve found works is to call out the behavior and to tell them to stop.
This may sound paranoid to some, but we do not know this person at all yet, so a degree of caution still needs to be exercised. We may vibe well with them, but they are still practically strangers.
#4 If you aren’t feeling it, don’t force it
I’ve known people who went on dates with people they did not feel much attraction to but were doing it because the person was “nice” and they should like them. I think what is genuinely “nice” is to let the person know you aren’t feeling the same way and free both of you to date other people who might be a better fit.
You can’t force yourself to have feelings for others, and prolonging the date when you aren’t vibing with someone will make you feel empty after a while.
Online dating is here to stay, and as we try to figure out what is acceptable dating behavior, we all can keep in mind a couple of things that will make our experiences more enjoyable and safe. It is also worth paying attention to our date’s behavior and seeing if it aligns with what we seek in a partner.
Sonia Alonso is a researcher, writer and coach, with an MSc in Psychology and Mental Health from King's College London. She helps curious, sensitive individuals regain their personal power and get closer to their dream lives through a unique combination of spiritual and psychological tools. She recently published a book, Breaking Up with Limerence. Her books and coaching services can be found at her site, abstractedcollective.com