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Cyberflirt: 6 Do's and Don'ts of Email Courtship

Post date: 2006-09-14

The art of making a good first impression on a man has changed considerably with the advent of online dating. Using this medium, it's not necessary to check if there's lipstick on your teeth but rather if there are typos in your profile. And how can you tell if the guy who sounds so great on "paper" is the real thing? Most importantly, once you and a cyberbeau initially ‑- pardon the pun ‑- click, how can you gracefully move it offline? Here are the do's and don'ts of email courtship:

1. May I Have This Dance? Feel free to initiate contact with a potential Mr. Wonderful. As in real life, male online daters commonly make the first move, so a note from an attractive woman like you will be the highlight of his day. Keep it short but include something that shows you relate to particulars in his ad: "I was drawn to your love of swing dancing." He wants to feel singled out, not receive a cookie-cutter response that could be sent to every man on the site.

2. Capital Offenses. Your mom likely told you it's rude to shout, but she didn't forewarn you that USING CAPS IN YOUR EMAILS is the same as yelling. The woman who gave you life probably also neglected to advise you to beware of men who communicate via "winks" (an option to contact another member to convey interest, without writing a message ‑- or paying), one-word responses and "collect calls." The former two are lazy with a side order of obnoxiousness; the latter expects you to pay for the privilege of receiving his email.

Online dater Sharon Hodgson has her list of top tacky transgressions. "Obviously looks are important and you should expect the other person will want a photo. But when the first thing a respondent asks is, 'Do you have a picture?' ‑- often when he hasn't posted one! ‑- my radar is up." Hodgson also cites emoticon offenders. The University of Maryland social worker sniffs, "I can't take anyone seriously who is constantly doing LOL or smiley-facing or even writing shorthand. People shouldn't be so casual in emails."

3. Just Say No. Women typically get swamped in emails, so they let slide the ones from men that don't interest them. While not a cardinal offense, it's a little cruel to keep him hanging. Send an acknowledgment along the lines of, "I'm complimented that such a great guy wants to know me a little better. Unfortunately I don't see us as compatible. But thank you so much for writing and best of luck."

4. Honesty Lite. Emily Calvo explains, "I am not advocating lying. It's important to tell the truth." The author of 25 Words or Less: How to Write Like a Pro to Meet That Special Someone through Personal Ads quickly adds, "However, don't tell too much too soon. A little mystery is better than a lengthy soap opera detailing all that analysis has taught you." Give the essentials with a positive spin. For example, it's important for him to know you're a single mother. But don't complain about your stresses. Instead, share that while you love your kids, it's time for you to develop a personal life.

At this early stage it's also important to share information that might quickly uncover a major incompatibility. Say he's allergic to animals and you have two kittens. Or you're a vegetarian and he's a butcher with a rib roast fixation. And he'll realize you're a night owl if the timestamps on your emails are 2am rather than 8pm. Better to suss out potential roadblocks sooner than later.

5. From Computer to Coffeehouse. Resist the temptation to get caught up in an online love affair where each of you writes increasingly lengthy and intimate life histories. It's impossible to discover whether you're suited until you're sharing oxygen. How many emails should it take before you get together? National dating coach Patti Feinstein says, "Emailing back and forth for a month never works. Once a mutual agreement is made that there is interest, it's best to meet in a public place as soon as possible."

Online dater Sherry Alpert attempts to set up a phone call and/or a date after two or three reciprocated emails. "The ones who won't do it I call 'toe in the water' guys. I've noted to them that prolonged emails are a waste of time." Her firmness usually eliminates the vague "let's get together sometime" emails. If the man refuses to be pinned down for a meeting without a valid excuse (ie, an out-of-town trip is on the horizon), she's soon outta there.

6. Post-Date Email. Scenario 1: If you like the guy and don't hear from him within a few days, it's fine to shoot off a quick email: "Thanks for the drink and the fun company. I really enjoyed meeting you." He'll either contact you for a date or not. If it's "or not," cut your losses and move on. Scenario 2: You don't like the guy and he keeps bugging you for a return engagement. Just send a quick note: "While I truly enjoyed meeting you, I just didn't feel we were compatible enough to pursue a relationship. But I wish you all the best."