The 5 Online Dating Etiquette Rules to Follow (and the 5 to Break)

Updated 05/17/19
Online Dating Tips
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Creating an online dating account is as easy as you’d imagine. You download an app, write a witty profile, choose a few flattering photos, and begin. Unlike sitting at a bar, starting a new job, getting set up by friends, or any of the other traditional ways to meet someone, matching with a stranger online can take just a few minutes. And if we’re being honest, that kind of ease can be daunting if you’re in it to find a serious relationship.

"When you're dating in real life, you're able to read body language, hear someone's tone of voice, and in many cases, feel their energy," Carmelia Ray, celebrity matchmaker and online dating expert, says. "But when you're dating online, the words you use and the timing of your responses are subject to all sorts of interpretations. It's really easy to make the wrong assumptions or make things mean something they don't."

Ray understands that online dating can be tricky since there are plenty of unknowns that go into the process. To feel more secure about putting yourself out there, she says that you should pay attention to the details that come before sending any messages. "The most important first step when building your online dating profile is to lead with an attractive, recent, and clear photo of yourself," she continues. "The second step is to spend enough time on your profile to make sure you're attracting the right kind of person for you."

Once you’ve matched with someone you’re interested in, and it will happen, the next thing to keep in mind is how to lead a constructive conversation. We asked Ray to describe the five etiquette rules to follow and the five behaviors to avoid so that you can navigate the online dating world with confidence. After all, we know you’re a catch, and it’s time potential dates do, too.

"I follow similar principles about what to say to a match as I do with questionable foods in my refrigerator: When in doubt, throw it out," Ray says. "If you think whatever you're about to say could be offensive or poorly timed, don't send it. Ask for an opinion from a good friend, or work with a dating coach if you need to. You only get one chance to make a great impression." 

The Five Rules to Follow

Online Dating Advice
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Keep it light. "Always message someone using positive language and a friendly tone," she says.

Show interest based on what you see. "If you're messaging someone for the first time, be sure to ask a question to keep the conversation flowing," Ray explains. "Try to mention something about their profile you liked to build common ground."

Act like an ace reporter. "Ask follow-up questions and show a genuine curiosity about who they are," Ray continues.

Be understanding of a person's outside life. "Don't assume someone's not interested if they don't message you back right away," she notes."They could be busy, and after all, they don't know who you are."

"Be mindful when using sarcasm or inappropriate jokes to get their attention," Ray says. "You could end up turning them off."

The Five Behaviors to Avoid

Online Dating Mistakes
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Don't be too eager. "Do not message someone twice in the same day if they did not respond to your first message," she says. "Most people who are online dating have a short fuse and are in the habit of ghosting. Don't take things personally."

Don't get mad. "Never send an angry message if someone doesn't reply to you right away," Ray notes.

Don't overstep boundaries. "Don't ever, ever send an unsolicited private photo," she says.

Don't use pet names. "Don’t call someone 'baby,' 'honey,' or 'sexy' that you’re just getting to know," she says.

Avoid mentioning how attracted you are to someone's specific body part," Ray notes. "Compliment something other than looks, like their style or personality."

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