Thanks to the Internet, we now have a host of new ways to offend, enrage, misinterpret, creep out, or alienate people. In Tangled Web, we field your questions about how to be a decent human online. Have a question? Ask firstname.lastname@example.org.
I got a super-long message from a guy on OkCupid who I have no interest in—he’s too young for me, I don’t find him cute, and he doesn’t read. But he seems like a nice enough dude, and he clearly put a lot of effort into this message. Is it better to respond and say “not interested,” or is it better to just ignore? In the past I’ve gotten some shade when I tried to tell people “thanks but no thanks.”
It’s hard to give a blanket answer for this one, because people are very persnickety about their preferred modes of rejection. Some prefer to be let down gently, some cleanly, some silently. And people also have different ways of relating to online dating. Some fire off a bunch of messages and then forget all about them until something comes back; others start imagining their future with someone as soon as they hit “send.” Of course, there are various levels in between.
You don’t know for sure how much emotional investment this guy has in your response, even if he clearly invested some time in the message.
If I had to generalize, I’d say that more people want—or at least say they want—a kind but straightforward “thank you, no, good luck.” Plus, doing that allows you to feel like you’ve taken the high ground, with everyone being honest and above-board and communicative with each other. That’s always nice.
That said, you should only do this if you feel you can honestly say, “I don’t think we’re a match, but you seem like a nice guy, and I wish you good luck.” One good thing about the preliminary stages of online dating is that you’re not required to have any more mutual contact with a person than you feel comfortable with, and one shitty thing about OkCupid specifically is that it’s massively popular, so statistically there are a lot of creeps. If anything about this guy is rubbing you the wrong way, or making you concerned that he’ll meet your polite “no thanks” with hostility, you don’t have to answer him at all. (Sometimes these dudes don’t respond any better to being ignored, but then at least you’ve set a precedent of ignoring them.)
Oh, and this probably goes without saying, but don’t get too specific. Nobody needs to hear, “No thanks, I don’t think you’re cute and you might be too dumb for me.” A simple “I don’t think we’d be a good match” will do fine—unless OKCupid says you’re a 99 percent or something, in which case, are you sure you don’t want to give it a shot?
Jess Zimmerman has been making social blunders on the Internet since 1994. Most of her current interpersonal drama takes place on Twitter (@j_zimms).
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