While we received a fair amount of gratitude (mostly from online daters tired of finding such hapless missives in their inboxes), we also received many a request for tips on what to write in a successful first note. (One humanity-loving reader also took the time to inform us he suspects we are "two former high school cheerleaders who now have an inferiority complex," a flattering if inaccurate assumption that we were once capable of killer herkies and immense pep.)
While it's infinitely more fun to tell you what not to do than it is to give you helpful pointers (hey, the Ten Commandments weren't written in the negative for nothin'), this week we're heeding your call.
Before we proceed with the advice-shilling, though, a big disclaimer looms. Even if you write an excellent first letter, there is no guarantee that the recipient will write you back. If there were a magic formula, some genius would have cracked it by now.
Every online dater has had the experience of reading an impossibly sweet, heart-bursting message and thinking, "Oh, sigh, I wish we could use this site to arrange dates for our friends or make new totally platonic acquaintances, because the sender of this message is clearly a lovely person. Alas. [hits delete]."
This is simply part of the numbers game that is dating (online and in real life), and it's the reason online courtship is not for those with rickety self-esteem and hair-trigger rejection sensitivity. Because most of your messages will go unanswered, doesn't mean there's anything wrong about you. (Certainly you're brimming with foibles, but your intended date doesn't necessarily know that yet.)
Maybe you look too much like said recipient's ex, or you have three cats while he or she is deathly allergic, or he or she is not really interested in meeting dates IRL and just likes the ego boost of a bursting inbox. And as we've said before, you simply cannot take it personally
if you don't get a response.
That said, there are a few ways to at least make it past the person's "Oh God delete and possibly block" filter:
Indicate that you have actually read through their profile.
Some OKCupid data-crunching
found that phrases such as "notice that," "good taste" and "you mention" yield a high response rate. This makes sense: They indicate you took the time to learn about your target, instead of just peering at his pictures, letting a drop of drool roll slowly down your chin and then sending a generic message that makes him seem totally unspecial.
Everyone wants to feel like a unique and sparkly snowflake, so pick out something intriguing from his written profile (his love of "X Files," his advertised salad-making skills, whatever) and mention it in specific.
Relatedly, praise is always an easy way to endear people to you (and a much less slimy approach than the famed "neg.") Just limit the praise to something personality-related ("Excellent discernment of good vs. embarrassing mumblecore movies," "Sweet ballet skiing pic,") and avoid physical compliments ("Your legs go on for miles and miles.") Such superficial remarks make you look as creepy and reptilian as an aforementioned neg-er, who drops insults in an attempt to buy himself some social capital.
Make like an ape.
Uh, a literate, typing ape, that is. Research consistently shows that we like people who look, move and -- critically -- talk like us. So tailor your tone to match that of the apple of your eye. She's wry and sarcastic? Turn on the drollery. He's earnest and passionate? Amp up the sincerity.
But -- cue the sappy learning-moment-in-"Full-House" music -- don't start blathering in a voice that feels totally phony to you, mmkay? We're assuming you're interested because you have some personality traits in common ... and if you don't, he/she is gonna figure it out very swiftly.
Maybe some people out there love receiving verbose messages, but we'd argue that brevity is a virtue. Who's more intriguing -- the hottie at the bar who wanders over and rattles off a six-minute monologue blending compliments, autobiographical bits and small talk, or the Cool Kid who drops a quick remark and waits for encouragement to continue? Cap your first message at three or four sentences, tops. No need to waste all your witticisms in one shot.
Urban 20-somethings, take note: This tip is especially important for piquing the interest of that tattoo-riddled OKCupid user with a few too many Instagram profile pics. You see, in real-life pickup scenarios, hipsters are elusive creatures who spend hours exchanging information via eye-flashes and hair shakes with nary a word exchanged. Taciturnity is hot.
Make it easy for them to answer.
Generally, this means you should include a query, or at least a comment that obviously begs for a response. Sounds obvious, but you don't want to send a message so pithy and focused that the recipient is back at Square One trying to come up with a zingy response. Simple litmus test: Ask yourself, "If I received this message, could I come up with a few different ways to respond?" You're trying to get the ball rolling, not heave it over like a deflated basketball.
One more uncharacteristically earnest tip: Feel free to ignore everything we just said. Seriously, some future spouse of yours may totally dig your long-winded, tautological, self-aggrandizing, question-free treatise. Do your thing. Just don't blame us when the first 837 similar notes go unanswered.