Should you respond to someone about whom you’re ambivalent?

emailYou receive a nice, personalized email from a man on a dating site. He’s crafted an message specific to you, commenting on items from your profile. His profile is fine, but something is a borderline deal breaker. You vacillate whether to respond with your nice boilerplate “Thanks but no thanks” email, or to encourage more interaction.

No doubt like you, I’ve received lots of contacts from guys who clearly weren’t a fit, or of enough interest for me to meet for coffee. Those were easy to deal with. I simply sent them my “Thanks but no thanks” email.

The slippery slope begins when you have ambivalence but decide to write back anyway. There was nothing odious about his profile or communication, but also nothing really compelling. And there was that one (or more) issue that raised a yellow flag. Not to say this is always bad, as I’ve met some great guys who I initially thought weren’t of interest, some of whom I dated multiple times or others who became beaus.

But more often than not, I knew we weren’t a match from the get go. However, his email was so nice, or he was articulate, or there was something interesting in his profile to offset the borderline deal breaker. So I answered the email, which progressed to a phone call, which led to coffee. And after you’ve built a bit of a bond through multiple emails and phone calls, when you meet and there’s no spark, it’s uncomfortable to have to tell him so.

In “Hello — goodbye: How to say ‘no thanks’ after meeting” I discussed how to gently yet clearly let a guy know you aren’t a match. I always feel badly when I must have that conversation when I was pretty sure we wouldn’t be a match from the beginning.

“Then why even encourage him?” you rightly wonder. Because some of my most special guys were ones who I was close to emailing a “no thanks” message. But after some emails, phone calls and coffee, I warmed to them. In “‘I only want to date someone I would marry’” I shared that as long as there aren’t glaring red lights and he seems interesting, go ahead and meet for coffee.

Sometimes you respond to his initial email out of selfishness. You haven’t had a date, let alone an interesting, flirty email conversation in a while. Maybe you are lonely. Or bored. And there’s no one else on the horizon. He seems nice enough, so who knows? So you respond, even though you’re 90% sure you’re not a good match. That’s not really a good way to start any relationship, even if it’s only a one-time coffee one.

The wisdom lies in knowing whom to turn down at the beginning to save you both time and possible rejection and who to respond to, in the hopes that there will be a spark. How do you get this wisdom? I wish it were just from reading these missives. But unfortunately, it is usually from having lived through a few experiences where you have to turn someone down for a second date, knowing you should have done so before the first.

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3 responses to “Should you respond to someone about whom you’re ambivalent?”

  1. Avoice Avatar

    Here’s what works for me.
    Of the profiles I see, about 10% fall into the “I got to meet this person, they seem very good!” I am very enthusiastic about them and if they write me, great and if they don’t I write them. Owing to what led to that enthusiasm the meetings and conversations are typically about shared interests/experiences and the conversation flows and I take it from there. If something sticky develops I use it to refine my classification criteria 🙂

    About 50% of the rest fall into the “neutral” area. Not wild about them. Sometimes and less and less so, I write them. If they write me, I’m open to meeting them and sometimes things develop well owing to factors I missed in their profile (or they didn’t include…) and I use it to refine my criteria. Usually though they remain in the neutral zone and we politely recognize that and release.

    The remaining 40% isn’t a fit. I don’t write them. If they write me I either tell them right away I’m not available or it isn’t a good match or, if it looks like a phone conversation is worthwhile, I have a few of those and that might (very rarely) lead to our first meeting.

    I guess the key is to set expectations right. If we engage in behavior that sends the wrong signals then we are faced with undoing its effects later and that results in the sticky situation you describe. If we are managing what signals we send out consistently from the outset those situations are less likely and less sticky too.

  2. Stan Avatar

    Of the two who’ve responded positively to an initial message and with whom I followed up with longer messages, I didn’t get any reply to either one of those. Presumably I didn’t address whatever ambivalence there might have been, but there is this sensation of “ok, now that you’ve gotten to know me a little better, you’re really sure you’re not interested!” – ouch. I know I’m not supposed to take it personally, but it makes me a little skeptical about this whole online dating idea.

  3. Bookyone Avatar

    Hi DG,

    Being new to the whole OLD thing I’m taking it slowly, just penpals/friends for now. I have gotten e mails from a few guys who just aren’t my type, (uneducated and/or fairly illiterate – either that or they’re just too lazy to use a spellcheck, neither of which goes over well with me), but I usually just reply with a nice generic e mail, the ‘thanks for writing’ type that doesn’t say a whole lot else. Generally they quit writing once they see I’m not available for dating, so there’s no need for me to do the whole let them down easy thing.

    I have met a few great guys that I correspond with on a semi-regular basis as their worldviews and ideals seem to match up fairly well with mine. Unfortunately, they are all much younger than I am and even if I were up for dating, I wouldn’t date a guy who is young enough to be my child, so that is that. It does help to renew my faith in men, however, and in the next generation.

    Best wishes from bookyone 🙂