How to navigate the online dating scene’s hierarchy of chat


You’ve spent hours looking at profiles on online dating sites and someone catches your eye. After sending off an icebreaker message the conversation seems to going well. When deciding to exchange contact information with this would-be-date, there’s probably a goal of meeting up offline.

How you choose to chat with this person is a huge part of the getting to know you game. There are a plethora of communication options available to you, so it’s understandable that you may feel lost about the best way to go about it.

When is the right time to exchange social media profiles? How soon can you ask for a phone number? Once you have a number, should you call or text? Read on and we’ll provide you with some insight into how to navigate the hierarchy of chat.

Hierarchies of communication, or the “Totem of Chat”

In the pilot episode of the HBO show Girls (not exactly the geekiest show on the planet, but hey it won a Peabody award), Hannah (Lena Dunham) and her best friend Marnie (Allison Williams) discuss what they refer to as the “totem of chat”. Insensitive appropriation of aboriginal terminology aside, this phrase is being use to describe the ranking of some forms of chatting as more desirable than others. Marnie suggests Facebook is lowest form of chat, Gchat is a step higher, texting is better yet, email is getting up there and phone calls are the best.

While the ranking of these mediums may seem somewhat arbitrary, these types of hierarchies do exist. However, the rankings for preferred methods of chat aren’t necessarily universal. Instead, they are largely dependent on personal preference, as well as age.

Any method of chat that allows you to hear and/or see someone while you speak to them is generally best because of the subtle cues that come from tone of voice and body language. It’s easier to misinterpret someone else’s words when they’re only in writing. However, many younger daters don’t make long phone calls on a regular basis. Think about it, how many people do you know who use a smartphone for everything except for making calls?

That being said, e-mail, IMs and social media are great ways to initially screen compatibility with your new crush. They also are some of the main channels used by people who have met on dating sites use to formally ask each other out.

When to exchange contact info & which to give out 

There are basically two schools of thought around when you should be exchanging contact info:

1) For the utmost privacy, all the initial conversations are kept on the site where you met until after your first date.


2) Exchanging contact information and friending each other on various social media profiles is done sooner in order to further screen the other person, continue to flirt and to make plans to meet up.

The second approach is more popular on most dating sites. Exchanging contact information usually happens before or shortly after the first date.

This may seem ridiculously simple, but when in doubt, ask your would-be-date how they like to be contacted! Some people prefer IM to text, others may want to talk on the phone or Skype. You can also offer up your own preferred contact details. If the other party reciprocates, then go with that method.

None of these rules are set in stone; it will take some feeling out with each person you converse with. Some online daters like to meet offline as soon as possible. Others like to take it slowly and message back and forth for some time before having their first date.

Protips for successful online dating communication

Here’s some additional tips to help you navigate your chatting adventures:

  • If someone gives you their mobile number ask what the best time to call is. Once you have someone on the phone it’s also courteous to ask if it’s a good time to talk.
  • Some people get weirded out about talking on the phone, but will exchange text messages like champs. This is more common with younger folks (generally under the age of 30). Do ask your new crush what their preference is!
  • Resist the urge to Like every status update she posts, retweet everything she writes, or send novella length text messages. Yes, you should show your interest through active and engaged communication, but doing any of the above can make you appear too eager, or at worst, desperate.
  • Take a reciprocal approach to all forms of messaging. Wait for a reply to your last message before initiating a new one. If you haven’t heard back in a reasonable amount of time, it’s usually okay to send a follow up a few days later but try not to bombard the recipient. Basically, don’t be this person.
  • Just because you connect with someone online doesn’t mean you’ll get along or have a spark in person. Likewise, the reverse can also be true. Some people use these tools for purely utilitarian reasons but are not particularly charming or witty via IM or text.
  • Don’t expect an instant responses to your messages, no matter what medium you’re sending them by. If the person is interested in dating you, they will get back to you!

Good luck, brave online daters. Leave you comments below and let us know what you your preferred method of contact is with people you meet online?

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