Needs Must: Online Dating in a Social Distanced World

Needs Must: Online Dating in a Social Distanced World Reading Time: 5 minutes

(Part 1)

In the age of Covid-19, with its lockdowns; social distancing and quarantining… not to mention its encouragement of many young people to fly back to the nest, the opportunity for meeting people is, well, slim: Online, or not at all.

Initially, many of us opted for the latter: all this would be over in 3 months, right? 10 months into this ‘new normal’, however, and one might call it desperate times. And I needn’t tell you what that calls for…

I recently surveyed 71 people (note, not a large, representative net of people by any stretch, this survey was a bit of fun more so than a scientific study… take this with a pinch of salt) on their thoughts around dating and relationships. I plan to publish several posts around the results. Today’s post focuses on “Phone Etiquette”; tying quite nicely into our current dependency on online dating.

Text Games

So, the first myth that NEEDS debunking, so that we can all crack on with this tap-tap-swipe-swipe world of ‘romance’ with maybe a little less anxiety: no-one likes text games.

Of those asked, not one person said they get put off by people responding within a couple of seconds. So, please please please, stop waiting the same amount of time they took to reply to your last message, plus a little extra for good measure, to get back to them. If we all played this ridiculous, brain-smushing game, conversations would continuously grow longer and more spread out until a ‘relationship’ constituted a message per year. Or, more likely, everything will just fizzle out. Text games are not sustainable.

Plus…. this silliness makes it far harder to to figure out whether you’re being ghosted, or just ‘played’ – for want of a better word.

One lady explains the situation perfectly:

“A text back right away actually works in their favour because chances are, I’m messaging them because I actually want to talk in that moment!? Sometimes if they take too long, I feel as if they’re not interested and then I lose interest…”

That is not to say, of course, that your responses need to be immediate every single time, nobody has time for that, and such pressure can cause just as much anxiety. Besides, in my experience, you run the risk of running out of conversation before even meeting. As one gentleman puts it:

“Quick replies definitely show someone gives a damn about about you, but at the same time, we’re adults trying to get our sh*t together. So if someone doesn’t reply within the first half of the day, they may just be busy guys and girls!”

So, to summarise, text games ought to be a thing of the past. Equally, we’re all busy… so actually, what ‘response time’ is appropriate and will help to prevent assumptions of ghosting and/or losing interest? One male responder suggests the following:

“I don’t like it when people play games too hard. If you want to be talking and you are interested then I would deem a 24 hour reply window respectful and acceptable. “


So lets talk about another myth we need to debunk in the name of de-anxietising (made up word and I like it) online dating. Ladies, we often assume that it’s just us who overanalyse and overthink text messages (Indeed 80% of us said so in my survey), and that men sit comfortably on the surface level. Or, as one woman puts it: “boys tend to be oblivious” to the overworking of the female brain.

Wellllll ladies (and maybe gents), news for you: in a actual fact, 61% of the men asked do sometimes really overthink a text message! Three different men gave the following answer when asked if they ever really overthink text messages: “Always.” “Constantly.” “All-The-time”.

Many of us are in the same boat on this one guys… overthinking is somewhat hard-wired. Several people answered with variations of this lady’s response:

“The more interested in someone I am the more I over think, it’s awful really gets me so anxious for no real reason”

Another woman articulated the way her brain tends to overthink a text message, an experience I can certainly relate to: “I try to imagine the texts in different tones of voice to imagine the possible ways it could be interpreted..” And here we come to the frustrating reality that, surely, meeting in person is simpler, better and far less stressful!? Indeed, 55% of people asked agreed they prefer to save the ‘getting to know someone’ bit to the first date rather than doing it over the phone. (50% of men, 60% of women).

But, alas, we cannot. Covid puts pain to any kind of ‘stranger’ interaction… which is basically what a first date is. So, one guy suggests the solution:

“I would love to pretend I am this cool cucumber but I really am not. I think there is so much miscommunication with messaging over technology, you loose the tone of conversation and I think I’m guilty of reading things as more blunt than they actually are. So I think it’s important, when meeting people online and beginning relationships via technology, to try and get to communicating in person or even over FaceTime ASAP.” 

FaceTime Dates

If you’re the kind of person who’s prone to overthinking a text message… perhaps suggest a call/FaceTime as soon as possible. Now this is easier said than done, asking to do a ‘FaceTime Date’ can be as nerve-racking as asking someone on a real date, so let me put your mind at ease… when asked, 59% of people said they prefer a phonecall to texting, so you might as well suggest it! Take a big deep breath and pose the question. They can only say no, in which case it probably wouldn’t work anyway. (FYI I’ve been on 3 FaceTime first dates now, and they’re not nearly as awkward as you’re making out in your head).

When all we can do is online dating, there’s no real point in holding out to see if communication improves in real life… because no-one can say when that opportunity will be. Here’s my two pence on the matter: ‘Texters’ (those happy to stick to texting) should date other ‘texters’. ‘Callers’ (people comfortable and who prefer to converse over the phone/FaceTime) should date other ‘callers’. That really is the only way I foresee this working.

To conclude…

The thing with online dating, and in fairness with any form of dating, is the uncertainty. What works for one person simply will not work for the next… hence the what-if anxiety that comes with suggesting ‘the next step’ (i.e. a FaceTime date). The bonus of online dating of course is that you can hide behind a screen, and no doubt this is the fundamental reason for the early-adoption of dating apps. Now, of course, their popularity has vastly grown as a result of pure necessity.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

So now that it is our only real option, let’s try and follow this advice (as garnered from the survey, and selfishly, a touch of my own preference):

  • Reply as quickly as you like, within a 24 hour window. If they think you’re ‘too much’, they’re not for you.
  • Remember that most people have a tendency to overthink/overanalyse messages. So, either write phonetically, read neutrally or send voice notes.
  • Even better, if you’re a phonecall person, do that ASAP. Phonecall people, seek and date other phone people, you won’t work with a text person. And vice versa.

Anyway, I think this topic requires a part 2… so stay tuned.

Thank you for reading loves, send me your thoughts!


Cover image: Photo by René Ranisch on Unsplash