Why Online Connections Fizzle Out

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online dating behavior

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Over 32 million Americans use online dating apps, and globally, we make up about a third of all online dating app users. And how many of us know someone who is fond of making connections by sliding through DMs? Having multiple ways to meet and communicate with potential matches online is both a gift and sometimes a curse. So much is detected when we meet someone in person. You can just pick up on a vibe that either works for you or…doesn’t. It might be their tone of voice, their facial expressions, their body language, or how they interact with other people who are around. You don’t get any of that when all communication happens through a keyboard. But, the existence of dating apps and social media that puts us in touch with one another makes it much easier for those looking for love (or something else) to find someone looking for the same thing. Communicating over the Internet gives us a chance of pacing things a bit slower, which can be good. But it can also cause some bumps in the road, and even make some connections that could have been great fizzle out prematurely. We spoke with Damona Hoffman, a TextNow dating expert and host of the Dates & Mates Podcast (pictured below), about when and how online dating falls flat.

Damona Hoffman

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Online communication is tough overall

Hoffman says that any form of communication that isn’t in real life poses many of the same risks as online dating. For example, that could mean chatting on an app, but also messaging with someone on Facebook or just talking over text. In fact, it’s the latter that she thinks causes most issues. “It’s easy for people to blame dating apps for the downfall of dating society as we know it, but I actually see texting as having a bigger impact on the way we build in that early phase of dating,” she says. “It’s really changed the way that we communicate. The way you talk to someone and pace the relationship in that early phase is absolutely vital to the way things play out over time.”

online dating behavior

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Avoiding the texting trap

If an online connection moves to a texting connection, be wary of how long that goes on for. Keep in mind that some people just want the fun of the back-and-forth communication and the attention it brings but could be wasting your time. “The worst thing that happens is we get stuck in the texting trap where we are getting some of our needs met. Someone is responding. We get a dopamine rush because we get a notification. We go back and forth.” Hoffman says. “Every time they send a message, it lights up that part of our brain.  But it’s a snack when we are craving a meal. It’s not a real relationship.”

online dating behavior

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Don’t use it as a confessional

Another issue that can come up if you stay in the texting phase is that you can reveal too much information, too soon. There’s something that feels low-stakes about texting with someone new, so we can say a lot of things we should keep to ourselves to someone we barely know. “People will reveal too much in text,” says Hoffman. “They will say things in text they never would have said in person at that phase of dating.  They just think ‘I’ll give them all my stuff. Let me just drop my stuff off here, and if it’s not too much stuff for you, then you’ll pursue me. But if you don’t like my stuff, then I know you’re not one of the real ones.’”

online dating behavior

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Set some ground rules

If you’re not the one trying to give up too much information, but the other person is pushing for it, Hoffman has a tip for that. “Somebody has to earn the information about your past, dating history, etc. Use online dating or texting as a tool to connect but then move forward in the real world,” she says. “So if someone is asking something that is too in-depth for that phase of dating, or it feels like the texting is dragging out instead of moving towards a date, I’ll have clients say ‘I’d love to tell you more about that when we meet in person.’”

online dating behavior

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A little withholding can propel things forward

When it comes to moving the ball forward, “Sometimes it requires someone pulling back and saying, ‘We aren’t just going to text back and forth. I’m setting a boundary here,’” Hoffman states. “When you say ‘I’d love to tell you more in person,’ that’s an invitation that will require action from the other person. They will either need to lean in and say ‘Why don’t we get a drink?’ or ‘Why don’t we do a hike?’ or you get to see that they’re not serious. There are plenty of people who are bored, lonely and will be happy to talk your ear off over text, but don’t really have the intentions of meeting face to face and you have to be able to separate then.”

online dating behavior

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Why do people hesitate to meet up?

It can be confusing – not to mention frustrating – when someone shows immense interest in you via hundreds of text messages, but then pulls away when you ask for an IRL meetup. You can wonder what they actually wanted out of those communications. “Sometimes the need is being met for them through texting. They can feel that somebody wants them. Or, people get caught up in the fantasy,” Hoffman says. “When you stay online, the fantasy can exist. But they can fear ‘I don’t know if we’ll have chemistry in real life. If we stay online, we can stay in this fantasy.’”

online dating behavior

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How long will this drag on?

I hate to admit that I was once stuck in the texting phase, stubbornly waited for the guy to move things along and did another three weeks of texting before realizing it was never going to happen. He had no incentive to put in more effort, as I wasn’t giving him one. “People will waste as much of your time as you’ll allow them to have,” says Hoffman. “I tell clients, no more than three exchanges before moving onto the next phase. I’m a big fan of the phone call. A lot of people skip that. But it’s more important in the pandemic because you don’t necessarily have an in-person date to lead up to. So if the FaceTime or Zoom date is the date, if you don’t have anything in between, there is no anticipation that can be built.”

online dating behavior

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Maintaining your privacy

Here’s a major issue online daters can face once moving to text: one person can decide they no longer want to communicate and the other doesn’t respect that. You’ve likely had a guy who wouldn’t stop texting you long after you told him you were no longer interested. It feels invasive and sometimes disturbing. Hoffman is a spokesperson for TextNow, an app she regularly recommends to clients. It allows users to set up a second phone number so you don’t have to give out your real number to text with someone you met online. Research has found that an astounding number of women have dealt with someone continuing to contact them after stating they wanted the communication to be done. TextNow can help prevent that issue.

online dating behavior

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Why the call matters

If you do decide to take it from text to calling (or more), there’s value in adding a phone call or virtual chat in there. Hoffman says, “The phone call gives you something to build up to, which we have to fabricate that magic in today’s world since it could be three more months of just virtual dating in this pandemic. Once you do the video chat, it’s an added layer of your first impression. Sometimes people don’t prepare themselves like they would for a regular in-person date. There is so much more information in the frame. It’s almost more intimate than meeting someone out and about because they know what your apartment looks like, if you have a loud roommate, and so on. You’re inviting someone into your home. So I like to add that step of the phone call whenever possible.”

online dating behavior

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He can’t hide behind a Zoom call

“I also find that real-time communication is very important to building that bond,” Hoffman says. Keep in mind that someone has total control over the impression they make when texting. “When someone is on text, they can take time to think of the response. When you have real-time communication, you can get to see how they think on their feet. You get to see what that energy flow is back and forth. Could you sustain a Zoom date or an in-person date with them? You get much more a sense of who they are, unlike when you’re texting and they have plenty of time to be cute and charming.”

online dating behavior

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Plus, text is cheap

Texting can be fun for a while but it’s also easy to completely miss the fact that someone is being a bit fake. “I really pay attention to when messages are sent. So many of my clients get these guys that send the ‘Good morning’ or ‘Hi beautiful’ texts that in my book don’t mean anything. It’s a way to keep top of mind but there is not any substance in it. But it makes them feel they bonded with someone,” Hoffman says. “Half the time I hear the guy was checking on three girls. He’s just hedging his bets on which one is going to respond. Also if you only get the ‘U up?’ text at night, that means they’ve been through their entire day before they thought about connecting with you.”

online dating behavior

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A few other texting tips

“I am bullish with my clients about telling the people they’re talking to which method of communication is best for them. You can tell them you’re not great at texting, or you’re busy during the day but like to talk on the phone at night,” says Hoffman. And on the topic of the ever-popular emojis, she does warn there can be misinterpretations of emojis (so maybe lay off the kissy or winky face ones for now), but she says some have their value. “I just tell clients to use emojis as a mood modifier. It gives the other person a sense of the tone you’re talking in.”

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