The Online Rejection Primer
Welcome to online dating
You’re finally on-line, dating. You’ve got a great profile
(because you read my article about making a great profile),
fabulous pictures, and suddenly –wham! — you’re getting email from
strangers and some of them are actually kind of interesting.
Now we’re cooking with solar energy.
Look at all the fish!
You’ve just discovered a whole new pool of fish – people who you
might want to actually date. It’s like looking through a holiday
catalog, with cute girls or guys — or both, depending on what you
like — on every page.
If you’re a particularly attractive person woman you may find that
you’re suddenly getting a lot of contacts and attention, which can be
very flattering, but not all of it is going to be from people you
want to exchange email with let alone meet.
Of course it goes the other way, too. You’re not going to be
everyone’s cup of tea, either. You knew that, right?
Rejection is good
Being able to say “no thanks” in dating is is not just a
good idea, it’s also a good thing to get good at. Whether you’re
rejecting someone else or they’re rejecting you, how you handle it
can make a lot of difference in how smoothly things go, from how long
it takes to end it to your reputation for being a jerk.
Also you find out fascinating things about a person when you see
how they respond to rejection.
When someone writes me and I’m not interested, my goal in
responding are to be as honest and kind as possible, while avoiding
spending a lot of time on the process. After all, if I were
interested enough to spend a lot of time saying no, I probably
wouldn’t be saying no. I also want to be polite and considerate,
assuming they were when they wrote me. Not everyone is.
The unpleasant ones
Some people aren’t respectful or polite when they write to me.
Maybe they think that the relative anonymity of an on-line dating
site allows them to be jerks, or maybe they really believe that they
can find a date by being belligerent and rude.
Or maybe they don’t care about a date at all, they just get off on
knowing someone is paying any kind of attention to them. Who knows?
It doesn’t matter. A rude letter or one that is suggestive or
obscene (in a way you don’t like, that is) needs no reply. The most
effective way to get rid of someone who is being obnoxious or who you
don’t want to hear from again is to simply ignore them. Don’t answer.
Anything you write back will encourage a reply and then before you
know it you’re in a conversation with someone you don’t like.
If I get a rude letter, I ignore it. They’re not worth my time and
attention to reply to. Simple as that.
Your dating site almost certainly has a way to flag or report, and
you should use it for really nasty letters or pictures. In decades of
on-line dating, I haven’t bothered to flag anything because, again,
it’s really not worth my time. If I don’t give the sender any reason
to send me any more notes or pictures, they usually just won’t.
The nice ones
It’s far more likely that someone will send you a nice letter,
even one that’s thoughtful and considerate, and — for whatever
reason — you’re still not interested. That’s okay.
I suggest a polite “no thanks” rather than just blowing
them off or ignoring it.
Why? Because, in dating as in the rest of life, if you can’t say
“no” you are not going to be able to say “yes” in
a strong and balanced way. So practice saying “no”,
graciously yet clearly, and it will help you in all your dating
interactions, both on-line and in-person.
How to say “no”
A simple: “no thanks!” will do it. I’ll often express
some appreciation, like “thanks for the flattering note you
sent” and follow up with a short conclusion “but no, I’m
not interested.” Pretty simple, eh?
That’s what I call a “closed door” answer. Most people
understand this answer pretty well, and you probably won’t hear back.
Don’t give an explanation, reason or justification. Not only do
you not need to, it’s a door that’s slightly ajar. If I say “Sorry,
I don’t date guys who can’t dance” that gives him an opening to
respond with a resume of his dance experience. Don’t offer excuses
or explanations for the other person to respond or object to, unless
you want to give them that opening. Just say “no, thank you.”
How I say “maybe”
Sometimes I do want to leave the door open a bit. In a recent
email exchange, a fellow sent me a sweet and gracious note and I
looked at his profile and didn’t see a connection. So I wrote him
something like this:
“Thanks for the note, John! I don’t see a lot in common
between us, but I could be wrong! Anyway, good luck in the dating
That’s a door that’s open a bit, because I said “I could be
wrong.” That’s an invitation for him to say “Here’s what I
think you might be missing” if he wants to.
He did just that. He read my response carefully and turned it into
a positive. By being gracious, thoughtful, and receptive to my
comments, he got my attention. We ended up meeting and he turned out
to be a lovely fellow after all.
See? Sometimes it’s good to be wrong!
And more importantly, it’s amazing what really being gracious can
The ones who fight back
When I say no, I expect it to stick. Most people are pretty nice
and will respond with something “thanks for the reply” or
they simply don’t write back. But once in a blue moon, when i say “no
thanks”, someone will get snotty and unpleasant.
Sometimes they are unpleasant. Sometimes they want to know why, or
what I’m looking for that they don’t have. I once had someone send me
repeated notes about how cool it would be if I would just try him
What to do?
Depends on what you want. Again, the fastest way to discourage
someone from writing again is to simply not answer. Remember that
you’re never obligated to answer a stranger in email, no matter what
they say. And, of course, if the letters are annoying or upsetting
you, block or report the user.
If — for whatever reason — you’re inspired to answer, you can
always just say “no” again — more clearly and more simply.
If they want to know why you’re turning them down and if — again,
for your own reasons — you want to answer, that’s fine. But unless
like me you’re offering professional dating advice, ask yourself
what’s in it for you. There’s not usually much up-side to explaining
your lack of interest in someone.
If you think you might be wrong, and this is a way to open the door
that crack to see if they want to come through, go ahead. Just be
clear that if you mean no, say no. If you say no, mean it as well.
Be clear about what you want and you’re more likely to get it.
What about when you get rejected?
If you haven’t been turned down yet, it’s probably only a matter
of time. Unless you’re a famous movie star– and even then!–sooner
or later you’re going to get turned down.
It’s a good thing to get a no! It means that someone
thought you were worth an honest reply, and that’s a gift to
appreciate. Honesty is a rare gem on-line, and if you want it, you
should to cultivate it with your own.
So if you possibly can, respond graciously. Be polite, be
Remember that no might be a maybe, a door that might
be ajar if you respond with interest. Read the letter carefully.
And also people aren’t always sure of what they want or what they
mean. On-line you can’t tell tone or body language, so you can miss a
lot, especially when people who aren’t so good with written language,
or maybe aren’t native speakers. I always look carefully at the
profile to see if there are clues their first language wasn’t English
and then I cut them some slack on the language stuff.
Door open or closed?
If you’re not sure, if someone’s answer is ambiguous and you’re
interested in them, you can always ask. I’ve done that before. It’s
Usually something like this:
“Hi. I couldn’t tell from your last reply if you wanted to
continue conversing or not. Do you?”
That’s my style — pretty direct. Not everyone likes that sort of
direct, though, and that’s worth mentioning. Even though it’s just
email, many people don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings, or be
seen as rude, or ask questions that might have answer they don’t
like. As a general rule, don’t ask questions you don’t really want
the answers to!
So if you ask for clarification, remember that you might get it.
If you don’t want it, don’t ask.
What does no response mean?
What if the shoe’s on the other foot, and you wrote someone first,
and now the days are going by but they aren’t answering? Does this
mean they aren’t interested?
No matter what dating site you use, what email tool, messages get
buried, caught in filters, or just plain lost. Every online dating
system I’ve ever used — every single one — has simply lost email
that was sent directly to me, which I know because someone followed
up and asked.
Email is not a reliable communication mechanism. So they might not
have even seen your message.
Should you follow up to find out? If you’re interested in them,
But what if they were just ignoring you to try to get rid of you?
Then you’ve asked for clarification and maybe you’ll get it. If you
do, you will know and you don’t have to wonder.
I do this when I’m interested in someone. Here’s an example:
“John, I just wanted to make sure you got my last email. It’s
cool if you’re not interested or too busy right now. I just wanted to
be sure that if you wrote me, you weren’t waiting for me to write you
back. I know letters can get lost, so I wanted to be certain you got
mine. Either way, take care.”
See? Upbeat, friendly, and not blaming. Also notice how I gave a
face-saving out, the “too busy right now”? Some people
aren’t as comfortable as I am being blunt and direct, or saying:
“You’re right, I’m just not interested” so the “too
busy” is a way of giving them an out. Heck, it might even be
How to long to wait before you follow up? If you can tell from
the profile when the last time the person was on the site, that’ll
give you an idea of how often they check there. You should wait at
least that long. Or a few days to a week, depending on how
interested you are.
Whenever you write to find out, the worst that happens is that
someone you don’t know who isn’t interested anyway tells you so. Good
to know, really.
And the best? Try this:
“I am SO glad you wrote me again! I thought your profile was
fabulous but I couldn’t get up the nerve to write. I can’t believe
this stupid system lost email to me. Thank you for writing again!”
The possible upside rocks.
Remember: in on-line dating, optimism is part of the magic sauce.
Popularity changes priorities
If someone is really popular online, they’re going become more
selective, just as someone who is getting almost no email is likely
to answer every letter. If you don’t get an answer back it’s not
necessary about you.
Imagine getting ten new letters a day from complete and attractive
strangers — ever day! No matter how attractive they all are, no
matter how nice a person you want to be, eventually you’ll end up
ignoring the majority of the letters to put your focus on answering
the few that most appeal to you. Because there’s only so much time in
So if you write to someone who is, for whatever reason, getting
more interest than you are, they might not answer you. You may have
simply fallen below the current level of their available attention,
for any number of reasons.
Including that your email got buried in the flood. That’s happened
to me when, for some mysterious reasons, I was suddenly getting a lot
of contacts all at once. I was glad when a particular fellow followed
up with me, because I’d missed his email the first time. Not lost,
but just buried. His polite follow-up brought him to my attention —
in a good way.
Assume the best and you’re more likely to get it.
When to say no
If you’re still having fun or want to keep exploring, keep going.
Stop whenever you want, for any reason you want. I usually stop when
I don’t see a future to the exchange, or I just don’t want to any
more. It doesn’t matter what the reason is.
No matter how close you seem to be to someone online, they are a
stranger. It’s okay to say no at any point, even after you’ve been
corresponding for a long time. If it feels wrong, say “no”.
Is it okay to just not respond?
Sure. Especially when you don’t have anything to say. I get a fair
number of emails that really don’t give much of an opening for me to
say much in return. Such this exchange:
Him: “I love your pictures!”
Me: “thank you.”
Him: “you’re welcome!”
What next? Maybe nothing. I’ll go and look at his profile to see
if I’m interested. If yes, I’ll say more. If not, I’ll probably just
let it drop. There are lots of people, and only so much time to
answer them all. Answer the ones you want to write you back first.
Remember that these are strangers
People who contact you via anonymous on-line dating sites are
strangers and never forget that. That stranger can lie about anything
they want to, and pretty words are easy for some people. Photos are
also easy, and the ones you’re looking at might not have anything to
do with the person who is writing to you.
People do lie, more often on-line than in person.
So be cautious. If you get a weird feeling from someone, you can
just stop communicating.
No matter how friendly or pretty, no matter how insightful they
may seem, no matter how they get under your skin or turn you on or
make you feel like you’re not alone — you don’t know this person is.
Every year thousands of people get taken in on-line by strangers who
make them feel really good and then manipulate them. Don’t let that
happen to you.
Learn to say “no” — you’ll get better at it!
Say “no” any time something doesn’t feel right. Say
“no” when people ask you for personal information you don’t
want to give. There are lots of ways to say no, and the more you
practice, the better you’ll get. Be respectful and kind when you can,
and many people will appreciate it.
Remember that you don’t owe anyone online any part of yourself, no
matter how compelling they are.
Lastly, if you can’t say “no” freely, you can’t say
“yes” freely either. Learn to say it graciously and learn
to hear it graciously, too.