Your Call: What Are the Rules for Online Dating?

We get a lot of advice questions coming in at EMandLO.com, but sadly, we just can’t answer them all. Which is why, once a week, we turn to you to decide how best to advise a reader. Make your call by leaving your advice in the comments section below.

Dear Em & Lo,

I live in NYC, recently started online dating, and I’d like to get your input on how to navigate through it wisely. I feel that when you start seeing someone, before you become intimate with him, you should become exclusive. At least in an ideal world, things should go that way, right? However, intimacy usually comes to the picture before you get to know that person well enough to even bring up the exclusivity thing. On the other hand, being intimate with someone and then seeing him online the day after is not a good thing either. Looks like a vicious circle to me. So how should a girl navigate the online dating waters?

— Getting Personals

What should G.P. do? Let her know in the comments below. 


  1. I think the best thing with internet dating is to not expect too much. I have looked online for love and I did find it but I had to kiss a load of frogs before I found my prince and despite finding my prince online the vast majority of my experience online was overwhelmingly negative. In fact, the bad guys were so bad that they just didn’t really make up for that small minority of decent guys and it really did significantly damage my opinion of the male gender. I met men who used me as a personal therapist to get over their girlfriend, men who insulted me, men who promised me the world but ultimately used me for sex then ditched me and I even met a guy who tried to con me into handing him a load of cash. I also had a lot of creepy messages too and a couple of guys that was bordering on stalking. Now I have terrified you my advice is that you really have to filter through the sh*t (and there is a lot of this) to find that rare pearl. Unless you really have no choice I would look elsewhere for love because people simply don’t behave as they would with a stranger than they would with someone who has a social link to them, even if it is a weak one. The best advice has already been given by J and that is to be explicit about what you want. This should do two things: a. filter out men who are unsuitable and b. should ensure there is no room for misunderstandings. Good luck!

    1. You said it did “significantly damage my opinion of the male gender.” But women do this also.. You shouldn’t have been so sexist when writing that comment.

      1. Well, it didn’t damage her opinion of the female gender because her experience was not with the female gender. She shared “HER” experience.

  2. I am engaged to a boy I met online, and I couldn’t be happier! No matter what you do, I think the most important thing is to just be honest about your intentions and what you want of a relationship. The joy of online dating is that you know there are lots more options, so you don’t have to worry about being upfront about your needs right away. If they dont like it, then move on. No hard feelings! I slept with fiancée pretty quickly, just because I wanted all the necessary info before committing to anyone. I agree though, that it would’ve really sucked to see him back online after that, still looking for more dates. It wasn’t a problem for me, since we talked about it right before we had sex, and he said he wanted to be exclusive. I was more than thrilled! So don’t worry about bringing that up, if that’s what you need to have sex with someone. A lot of guys want that too!!! Now that you’re trying online dating, I think you’ll find that your standards go waaaaay up, since you always know you have options if someone doesn’t do it for you. This is a great thing, and it meant for me that I didn’t waste time with people who were really wrong for me. I stopped agreeing to have sex under terms that made me feel really crappy about myself!!!

  3. If you are not comfortable talking to someone about being exclusive, you sure shouldn’t be sleeping with them.

    I let my partner know that for me sex MEANS exclusivity. Sometimes we decide on being exclusive before then, but once we become physically intimate it starts then if not before.

  4. “I feel that when you start seeing someone, before you become intimate with him, you should become exclusive.”

    Ok… It seems like you’ve answered your own question there? Look, you have to feel ok with setting the boundaries you’re comfortable with, and you have to feel empowered to make choices with your body, regardless of how those choices fit in with the expectations of others. Will you render yourself off-limits to some? Sure – we all do, with every choice we make. But you’ll render yourself in-limits to others.

    And remember, once you truly own your choices, you can freely change your mind, for your own reasons. But in the meantime, if exclusivity is the price of admission to your pants, I don’t think you need to question yourself on that. They’re YOUR pants, after all.

    So the question of “how”. If you’re on a date, and it’s going well, you can drop the “yeah, I’m taking things slow right now” line… and later if he makes a move, you can say “I really like you but I’m not ready for XYZ yet”. Have a few dates, maybe two or three, at which point I think you two should know each other well enough to have a talk about your expectations.

    Some dudes will freak out and run away. No question. But the ones that don’t will have demonstrated that (a) they’re into you and (b) they are a good match to your intimacy requirements. The ones that run may be good guys, but they’re less likely to be the right guy for you.

    Good luck!

  5. Yes, also stating your preferences for a relationship (exclusivity) doesn’t mean you are suggesting you have a relationship (or exclusivity) with that person on a first date. It’s entirely reasonable, since a first date is really a sort of screening situation, to make sure that person shares your interests, values, etc

  6. I agree with Johnny – exclusivity before intimacy is your ideal (and often mine, too) but it’s certainly not everyone’s.

    Seems like the best way to handle this is just to be pretty explicit about your expectations. Everyone’s working from really different expectations, and a lot of us forget in the moment that not everyone shares ours. So talk! Talk about what you want your relationships to look like (and try doing it without that pesky “should” if you can, since it’ll make YOU feel a lot better too).

    (Also, if you saw him online the next day…doesn’t that mean you were online too?)

  7. Becoming exclusive before physical intimacy may be your ideal, but it’s a personal choice really. There are plenty of guys who share your values. Screen for those guys.

    Also, physical intimacy isn’t this all-in thing. There are degrees. You know, bases. Intimacy before exclusivity doesn’t have to mean sex on the first date.

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