How long is too long to wait to meet online dates?

There’s got to be a sweet spot between accidentally dating a freak and talking to a ghost for two months.

I’d love to watch a debate between Charlotte and Samantha as to the appropriate length of time to chat online before meeting someone in real life. There’s gotta be a formula to work these things out, like ten minus the number of photos they have on their profile multiplied by how many messages they have sent divided by the number of friends you have in common equals days or weeks to wait.

I like rules and formulas. There aren’t any good ones for dating.

I’m lost. I never get the ratio of online to real life chat right. This means I’m stuck with penpals who fairly quickly fade into the digital abyss, or going on dates with guys who I should have screened out. Where’s the middle ground?

Four weeks is too long

Recently a friend of mine, who is new to online dating, confessed she was pretty sure she’d been catfished. I think she used the term ‘scammed’ because she didn’t know what catfishing was. She shared her story in a group chat with a bunch of us seasoned daters and was quickly met with screams of;

“Delete and block… NOW!”

This is a story that begins on Happn. For the uninitiated, Happn is one of of the many apps out there but has the distinguishing feature of telling you how many times you’ve ‘crossed paths’ with the people it presents. It’s pretty loose on deciding if you’ve actually crossed paths with someone, as my app tells me I’ve crossed paths hundreds of times with people I’ve never seen, so it really just means they’ve been in your general vicinity. (Either that or I should be more concerned about the number of stalkers lurking outside my door.)

My friend’s disaster went like this. Four weeks ago she matched with a guy on Happn who she had crossed paths with a hundred times, which she took as proof he was actually in Melbourne. He had a few cute profile pictures and claimed to be from somewhere in Europe. Pretty quickly he suggested they meet up (they never got around to that), but also gave his email address and insisted my friend download Google Hangouts to make chatting ‘easier’.

She did, and quick smart he deleted his Happn profile. Okay, that’s not so bad.

Then came the classic dodginess…

He told her he had to go to Ukraine for business. They kept chatting and at some point, apparently while he was there, he had a problem with a shipment which would delay his return to Melbourne. He said he needed to pay a $20,000 fine and was sorting out gathering the money with his business partners.

Of course, a day or two later he just needed the last $5k and asked my friend if he could borrow a thousand dollars. Thankfully she said no and didn’t fall for his sob story about how hard it had been to ask for help and how desperate he was.

She took our advice, blocked his account and changed her passwords. She’s fine, not one of those madly in love types, but she is pissed off she wasted four weeks talking to someone who was wasting her time. I think we can all relate to that!

A few days is an awful risk

So to avoid wasting weeks on a guy who doesn’t actually exist (or who does exist but is unsuitable), should we be meeting for coffee or a drink in the first week? This plan has some clear advantages, in that you can save yourself hours of wasted text messaging.

Inadequate screening has been my undoing so many times. It’s usually a result of chatting to someone else for a few weeks who goes cold, disappears or just gets boring and a snap decision by me to change tactics, shorten the messaging and meet in person the next few guys I match with.

It’s inadequate screening that has seen me drinking coffee with the unemployed, still living at home, and once, to my horror, a vegan! (Sure, you do you, but I’m firmly in the camp that good steak once in a while makes life worth living.)

Then there’s the phone call option

You’d think a phone call is some smart middle ground, but there’s the whole issue of giving out your mobile number, or calling a guy with Caller ID hidden. I’ve tried both. One leaves you open to a barrage of dick pics, the other makes you seem paranoid.

I’m pretty sure the answer is a burner phone, but that does seem like an awful lot of work just for dating. And then if they’re okay, you’ve got to have an awkward conversation at some point where you give them your ‘real’ number.

I have a sneaking suspicion that dating apps are not the way to find the perfect guy… but surely there’s no harm in trying, as long as you don’t get tricked into transferring funds to some stranger in Ukraine!

Share your best (or worst) dating lessons in the comments below.