You only have to go on a couple of Tinder dates before you discover that people have wildly different ideas about how to appropriately communicate. There was the man who began carrying on a full conversation with himself in our text thread when I didn’t answer quickly enough, for example. Or the man who texted me repeatedly at 3 a.m. when he was high, and then, when I stopped responding, started in with the phone calls.
And these were the supposedly better times — the times when someone actually deigned to text after a date at all.
The appeal of texting is obvious, but its casualness inevitably leads to a lot of ambiguity. How much is too much when it comes to the volume of messages? How long should you wait to text after the first date? How quickly should you reply? Is there such a thing as “too soon” to contact someone you like? Do you need to brush up on your grammar before making your move? And what about emojis?
I (and my friends) have been involved in enough text post-mortems to have learned some of the basic rules of the road, and because I’m a generous soul, I’m passing them on to you.
Clarity and honesty are the main things to focus on here. My coworker Ashlee remembers a guy whose initial message was mostly emojis and not much else. “I didn’t know how to respond [but it] turns out I didn’t need to. He sent me another message with even fewer words and more emojis. It was a horrible downward spiral,” she says. Some people may be sticklers about grammar and spelling, but most will settle for just knowing what you mean. “I like someone who can communicate well and effectively in most situations, but I’m not expecting APA [style] in a text,” my friend Daniela says. “Candid as opposed to formal [is the way to go].”
So what kinds of things should you be texting? You can gauge that by how well you know the person you’re messaging with. Ashlee loves good morning messages because “it’s nice to know someone was thinking about you.” She also values honesty. “Let me know what your intentions are, or if you’re hesitant to start things,” she says. When both people are up front about their expectations, there’s much less room for misunderstanding.
There are some clear don’ts, too. Ashlee says she doesn’t want to talk about sex in the early stages of dating, and asking for her Snapchat “automatically makes me think you want to send or receive nudes.” Making general demands for pictures reads the same way and comes across as bossy. “I don’t take commands,” Daniela says, so texting, “Send me a pic,” or “Come over,” is a surefire way to end a conversation.
Speaking of which, I’d like to think it goes without saying that unsolicited d*** pics are an absolute no, but according to Daniela, “You do have to say it! Women aren’t attracted to the penises of men they don’t love, usually,” especially not “in a surprise text message” and especially not during the work day.
It’s also important to pay attention to the cues you’re getting from the conversation. My friend Lauren recalls a friend who received “a barrage of questions” ranging from personal to philosophical to mundane, in spite of non-committal responses. “It wasn’t a conversation, it was just conversation-like noise,” she says. As Daniela puts it, “Don’t be a freak and blow up my phone.” If you’re sending way more messages than the other person or getting mostly short, unencouraging replies, the person’s probably not as into the conversation as you are, so stop pushing.
As far as time of day, no one wants early morning texts (“What the hell are you doing texting me before 6 a.m.?” Lauren wonders). My friend Caileigh judges whether it’s an appropriate time of day based on the person’s work schedule: If someone works at a bar or restaurant, a 3 a.m. text might mean they’re just getting off work, but if they work traditional office hours, it’s a different story. Lauren would see texts after 11 p.m. as questionable, especially if they come from someone she doesn’t know well, and as Ashlee points out, late-night “WYD” texts read pretty clearly as booty calls.
It also turns out that some people have strong feelings about particular emojis. Lauren and Caileigh agree that emojis should be more accents than the primary form of communication, but Caileigh finds the 😙 “weird and offputting.” And: “If someone used 💩, that would be an automatic disqualification,” according to Lauren. “There’s a thousand different ways to express something similar, better.” Daniella agrees, and also vetoes the 😈, 😛 😋.” “Unless we’ve gotten lewd together, don’t be sending lewd messages!” What you might read as humor or flirtation, someone else might read as weird or inappropriate, so be careful.
In terms of response time, you can’t always expect an instant reply. Daniela, for example, has a demanding job and isn’t usually free to text during the day. As Caileigh points out, just because you can receive a text immediately, it doesn’t mean you’re required to answer right away, or even as soon as you’ve seen it. “Not responding isn’t a direct sign of ‘I’m not interested,’” she says. “Sometimes you want to take time to answer thoughtfully.” And as my friend Julia points out, it can take a lot of time and energy when you’re getting to know someone. “I’d sometimes wait a day just because I knew the other person would reply immediately, and I didn’t have time to have a longer conversation that day,” she says.
Generally, the same day or within a day is an appropriate response time, depending on your schedule. Longer than that without some kind of compelling reason “feels negligent” or shows lack of real interest, according to Lauren. “I’m not interested in a lukewarm romance,” Daniela agrees. “Keep your tepid affair to yourself.”
The Post-Date Debate
My female friends agree that current etiquette dictates some kind of night-of follow-up after a date. My friend Veronica expects her dates to want to know when she’s safely home (especially in a world where ride share app horror stories abound). She’ll usually take that opportunity to text a thank you for the evening, which gives her date space to respond in kind. “That little exchange when the night’s over doesn’t have to make any promises about anything in the future, but it’s just polite,” she says.
As far as a more official follow-up in the days after the date, the people I talked to were all looking for genuine expressions of interest, within a timeframe that feels organic to the moment. Sometimes you leave a date so smitten that you want to text immediately — my friend Julia texted her now-girlfriend “about 20 seconds after she left my apartment,” while Anna’s partner Chris texted her “on his subway ride home” after their first date. If that’s you, go with the feeling! If your date doesn’t reciprocate with an equal level of enthusiasm, it’s a bummer, but it’s also part of life. You don’t need to double-down or try to win her over. (And why would you want to have to convince someone of your appeal, anyway?)
There’s also the opposite version: The kind, but direct, expression of a lack of interest. Daniela would much rather hear, “I had a great time with you, but I’m just not feeling it romantically,” if that’s really the case. That kind of message is far less hurtful than a pretense of interest for politeness’ sake (probably later followed by ghosting).
Generally speaking, as Ashlee says, “There’s no such thing as too soon” to text someone, especially if the date went well, but usually, within a day or so is considered polite. “If someone waited three days, I’d wonder, are you just bored and/or horny? Are you following some kind of rule?” Caileigh says. Don’t play games with it — do what you actually want to do. As Lauren points out, “There’s a kind of vulnerability in showing your eagerness and willingness to communicate,” and it can open the door for an actual relationship to grow, if that’s what you’re both looking for.
But again — and I can’t say this enough — you should be focusing on the signals you’re getting back. If you’re not getting the same level of response (or any response at all), you need to learn to just accept it and let it go.
Speaking of Ghosting…
Is this ever okay? It depends on the seriousness of the relationship and the existing level of communication. “I’ve certainly ghosted people before, and I’ve been ghosted. I’m never offended by it unless we were semi-serious,” Ashlee says. If you’ve been texting or sending snaps with any real frequency (say, every day) and then you drop off the face of the earth, it’s “unbelievably rude and not very mature,” says my friend Sarah. It’s far better to face up to the unpleasantness of ending it now, rather than leaving someone to wonder what the hell happened.
Then there’s what my friend Melissa describes as “mutual ghosting.” Sometimes things just don’t click and you can both feel it: If communication tapers off and neither of you sends a check-in text within a week or so, you don’t necessarily need to belabor it with an official goodbye.
If you have ghosted someone, you should certainly not do what one man recently did to me: He elaborately ghosted me three months into dating, followed me on social media under a fake name several months later, and then, after being discovered and blocked, texted me directly to ask, “Hey, how’s life?”
If you are tempted to contact someone you haven’t talked to in a while — sexual nostalgia is a hell of a drug — spend some time consulting your memory first, and be honest with yourself: Did you part on bad terms? Did you behave badly at the end? Are there any reasons that person might not want to hear from you? If the answer to any of these questions is yes and you still want to contact that ex, you’d better start by addressing whatever mess was left at the end, or you’re not likely to get a friendly reception. After all that, she still might not want to talk to you, so you should be prepared to accept that with good grace.
That was a lot, wasn’t it? Fortunately, you can boil all of this advice down to two simple rules, which, despite their simplicity, seem to be alien to most post-date texters:
Rule #1: Pay attention and respond to the signals — the actual words! — your love interest is sending. It really is that simple.
Rule #2: Keep that 💩 on the shelf unless you’re 1,000 percent sure it will be appreciated.