It may seem obvious, but writing a great first email in online dating is often critical to success or failure in your dating life. As I discuss in my free online dating guide, successful online dating relies in part on making great first impressions. Whether the first impression is in the photos you select for your profile, how you describe yourself, or the first email you write, taking time to make the best first impression is important.
For this discussion email refers to your online dating first message. This will include whatever method the service you are using allows you to write a message to another member. I also most often write as if I’m speaking to men writing to women since that was my experience but my hope is that the thoughts here are helpful to anyone.
This discussion is primarily for sites such as Match.com where you will need to begin the communication on your own. This advice may still be helpful for sites such as eHarmony or Chemistry.com, however these services guide the communication and there is less “emailing” early on.
Writing a first email is the area where I made the biggest mistakes for the longest period of time when dating online. I would write overly long and, in my head, witty emails that very rarely received responses. Once, I wrote no less than two pages based on a girl’s heading to her profile. The HEADING! I thought I was making conversation but all I was making was a girl scared. I really did mean well. I just didn’t know what I was doing.
Writing a Better First Email
My rule here is very simple: keep your first email very short. Give anything longer than three sentences a good, hard look before sending. There are several reasons I’m for short first emails.
- Your profile is what you use to sell yourself, not your first email. While I feel that your profile should be a constant battle between brevity and substance, it should definitely hold enough for someone to make a decision about communicating with you. If it doesn’t, don’t try and fix it in your emails: go back to your profile and improve that first. The email should be the bait to get someone to view your profile.
- If they don’t like your profile, long-winded emails are wasting your time.
- You have to keep your weird factor low. Never forget that you are working against the bad impressions created by every weird person who has come before you (or even the good intentioned people who just come off odd like I used to!).
- Short emails can come off as confident. Worded wrongly they can come off as cocky but even that is more acceptable than crazy/weird.
Okay…So What Should I Include?
So what do you include in this short introductory email? It goes without saying that in online dating a first message can have a huge affect, but what helps the most? Here’s my short 4-point list of easy to follow ideas:
- First, try to include something in your first email to prove you read their profile. Many guys out there spam the same email to every girl they find attractive; most girls catch on to this and then look for it in other emails. Obviously, women can be initiating emails too, so this rule applies to them as well…but I’ve never heard of women who spam like this.
- Second, if you find something in a profile that you have in common or there is something you like about the profile, mention that area in your email (if there are multiple things you really like, just mention one).
- Finally, I’d recommend that you ask a question in your first email. That might seem obvious but I’ve been surprised at how many people don’t do this. Often this question can be about a common interest you mention but any question is better than none. If you can’t think of any questions, why not ask them out on a date? As I’ve discussed in my thoughts on the first date, better to ask too soon than waiting too long.
- Never, ever, ever title the subject of your email as “Hi” or “Hello” or whatever. A large majority of emails sent are titled this way and if you contact a woman who received 15 email contacts since the last time she logged on, your email is going to get lost in the mix. Sure, she might review it and respond but why not try to stand out even before she opens your email?
Exaggerating Your Thoughts on Shared Interests
One optional approach to emailing that I recommend is something I learned worked well: if I had something in common with the profile I was reading, I would sometimes express more excitement about the similarity than truly existed. I wouldn’t flat-out lie but I would go out of my way to emphasize the shared interest.
For example, I enjoy an occasional day walking around a big city. If a woman mentioned this interest in her profile I wouldn’t say “I like going to big cities, too.” I would say “I love walking through the city too…although some days I think I must be the only one!”. Saying that I love walking through the city is a stretch but I would want to add some strength to my statement.
Why? Most emotion is lost in online communication (and anyone who has used a :) in emails agrees with me). To avoid this, I would try to show my true level of interest by exaggerating it. Also, I felt that making someone feel “liked” early on would help them feel more comfortable and more likely to respond. Even though sometimes I felt like I was going over the top, I still saw a lot of success going with this type of emphasis.
Let’s look at a few real profiles, although I am shortening them, that I’m pulling from a popular dating site. I’ll write a first email that I would send if I were interested in meeting the woman. The first profile is what I would consider a “normal” email where contact is made but not much else. The next two are special cases where asking the girl out occurs in the first email.
In my online dating life, it was uncommon for me to ask a girl out in the first email but I felt that in both the second and third example, it was the best option based off of the profile. So don’t see this as a suggestion that you should be asking women out more often than not in a first email; that’s not my point. These are just examples and ideas on writing a first email and you should go with what your comfortable with.
I’ll be changing some profile details to avoid intruding on someone’s life, but I will keep the general ideas expressed in these profiles the same.
This young lady devoted half of her profile to talking, in some fashion, about being social. This seems like one of the better points of focus when writing the email:
My approach here is to be positive but brief. I make it clear I read her profile (even in my subject) and let her know that I’m interested in who she is. I don’t ask her out but the swing dancing reference is there to say “If you write back, I just might”. I chose swing dancing because I’ve done it a few times and by mentioning it I’m backing up the statement that I enjoy social activity. The goal here is to get her interest, have her look at my profile and if she likes what she sees, move forward.
Now this is someone I would not likely contact but I’m trying to be fair by grabbing profiles at random, not just those I can write an email to easiest. She openly admits concern over stalkers (enough concern that she’s included no photo of herself) so not coming off as weird is very important. However, something about her profile makes me feel like she may not respond to many emails, perhaps due to her confidence in what she wants, so I’m more willing to take a risk. The important parts again are: don’t appear like a stalker and to be brief. In this case I’m going to play off her professed “likes” by attempting to be unique and creative when I write my email:
Hopefully right now you’re saying, “Ah, I see what you did there”. Would this work? Maybe yes, maybe no. Chances are it would be the most unique email she’ll get that day and I bet she’d really enjoy it. Even in the case where she decides it is horribly corny, she might appreciate the unique quality it had. I still keep the email short and include information that proves I’ve actually read her profile. I also ask her out in the first email because:
- someone adventurous doesn’t want to email for long, they want to meet people
- I’m asking before I’ve seen a picture which may improve my odds of not being stalker material.
This is an example of how sometimes profiles are too short and give you no clues to who the person is. With this type of profile, I always felt like simply asking them out on safe date in the first email is fine. There’s not too much to work with here aside from asking travel questions which, by looking at her profile, probably already happens in every email she receives. In this case, I’d just flat out ask her out. I know this looks like nothing but I’ve had success with these types of emails (my wife being the best example…although her profile was actually good!):
For all these examples, I’ve intentionally chosen profiles that were very short to keep the examples to a reasonable size. Most profiles should have much more information for you to work with but you can apply the exact same ideas:
Also, regardless what any book or person tells you (including this guy), you need to be making decisions for yourself. I spent too much time blindly follow good-intentioned advice and not thinking for myself early on when dating online. So better to listen to your gut and break any “rules” (such as keeping the email short) when you think it would work to your favor. For example, in the Profile 3, creating an invitation to have a drink that looked like a travel itinerary might work well if she had mentioned enjoying creativity or if her profile was very creative. Sometimes we can get so caught up in following “rules” that our online dating first messages don’t end up reflecting us very well and…
[Related: Read more first email examples from my working with a reader of this site]
What If I’m Still Struggling with My First Emails?
I hope my advice here is helpful for you however I also realize success is also often easier said than done.
My advice in this article is based mostly on sites like Match.com where we find ourselves having to initiate contact all on our own. If you continue to struggle writing your first emails or struggle with getting responses with a service like this, trying a service like eHarmony might be helpful.
Why This Service?
eHarmony operates in a different way where they control much of the early communication for you. I have discussed the features of this service a lot on my site so I don’t want to cover all of that again here but I will point out that:
- eHarmony is very friendly to those new to online dating as it helps guide you through the process.
- The service makes the first contact easy for both men and women since it’s more of a process than a traditional first contact.
- Because communication is controlled, making mistakes (like writing a 5 page first email!) are much harder or impossible.
Now it’s not all rainbows and butterflies: eHarmony does tend to aim for what they measure as quality over quantity, which at times can limit the opportunities you have on occasion. However, while I met my wife using Match.com I felt that it was eHarmony that really helped me become more comfortable with online dating.
If you read my online dating guide you’ll know that my first 6 months or so I had very little success. However, during this “bad” phase of my dating life eHarmony was the service where I was having some success (even if limited). You can learn more details on my thoughts on this service in my article on How eHarmony Works.
Again, I hope my advice here will help you with your first communication steps no matter what service you choose!
Learn more in my free online dating ebook…