Online Dating 101: Three Reasons You Aren’t Getting Replies

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People often tell me that one of the most frustrating experiences in online dating is finally finding someone to message in a sea of profiles, then waiting to eventually hear… Nothing.

Unfortunately, data suggest that this scenario is all too common. In one study, as many as 71% of men’s initial messages went unanswered, and that number was only slightly better for women (56%). The online dating sites are surely trying to prevent low response rates, but even the most sophisticated algorithm can’t write a witty introduction or force a reply.

So why do so many contact initiation attempts fail?

Aside from the obvious (that the other person just isn’t interested), it could have something to do with the initiator’s approach. The following are three explanations you may not have considered for why your online dating messages aren’t getting many replies – and advice on how to fix it.

1. You need better content. As part of an online dating project that’s currently underway, we’ve noticed that it’s not uncommon for people to resort to familiar pick-up lines when striking up a conversation (think lines like, “Is your last name Waldo? Because a girl like you is hard to find.”) But trite clichés – known as cute-flippant pick-up lines in the research literature – are notoriously ineffective. In a classic study, Kleinke, Meeker, and Staneski found that cute-flippant lines were the least desirable form of introduction, especially among women, who are often the targets of such advances.   

Instead, people seem to prefer an individualized approach, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of time coming up with a message. For instance, in his book, Dataclysm, OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder described something peculiar: Some of the site’s users were sending long introductory emails, but hardly typing anything at all. That is, they were copying and pasting. And although the copy-and-paste strategy wasn’t as effective as tailoring a message directly to the recipient, it was certainly more efficient. Still, I wouldn’t advocate sending the same message to everyone. But if you do find yourself constantly laboring over what to say, it might help to work from a template that you can adapt to each person.  

2. They can’t tell what you look like. Would you reply to a profile with no picture? As much as we might not want to admit it, online dating is still a visual game. Studies indicate that people –men, in particular – are more likely to respond to messages from physically attractive senders. Others have found that just having a profile picture isn’t enough – you need multiple photos, and they shouldn’t be too fuzzy or out of focus. If people have to guess what you look like, they won’t have much of an incentive to respond.

3. You have popular taste. It’s also possible that you have the same taste in partners as everyone else, in which case the people you’re contacting may be inundated with messages from potential suitors. As Rudder explained in The New Yorker, “In a bar, it’s self-correcting. You see ten guys standing around one woman, maybe you don’t walk over and try to introduce yourself. Online, people have no idea how ‘surrounded’ a person is. And that creates a shitty situation. Dudes don’t get messages back. Some women get overwhelmed.” One way to avoid this kind of overcrowding is by broadening your search to include people outside of your usual “send zone.”

And if you’re doing all of this and still not getting as many responses as you’d hoped, don’t despair: Sometimes it just takes finding the right match, which I’ll save for a future post.


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