If You Don’t Want to Write Back to a Stranger, You Probably Shouldn’t

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I have been getting random Internet messages from people I don’t know for a very long time. Certainly these days — but well before. Back before I wrote daily in public or managed a large social media page, I still got a steady stream of outreaches from strangers.

I’ve never quite reasoned why. If there was something about me that seemed approachable. If it had to do with the fact that I was a woman. Or owing to my appearance (displayed in public profile pictures). For the record, I consider myself to be pretty average looking. I clean up okay and generally look like a nice person but I’m far from celebrity beautiful or even the hot girl at work. I’m definitely among the two-thirds of us who are statistically within plus or minus one standard deviation from the mean.

So I figured it was also possible that this was just how the Internet worked. That it created a culture in which people typically just felt free to send random messages to other people, regardless of who the recipient was. Especially if the recipient of the message were female.

Talking to my friends about their experiences, there seems to be some truth here.

For the longest time, I basically never wrote back to people who wrote to me — unless we had some kind of connection. A mutual acquaintance. Or some kind of obvious and rare/niche interest that had a reasonable chance to make us very good friends indeed. Even if I were actively dating, and it was a dating site, I rarely wrote back to people. Because I felt like I had a pretty good inner compass that would let me know if it was worth my time — and by extension, theirs.

I felt absolutely rude not doing it, but I also had a well-developed fear of stranger danger in those days. And fear won out.

I Experimented for a While with Writing Back to Everyone

And then one day, I woke up and decided I was possibly being unfair. Perhaps I was ruling people out that I would click with before I got a chance to really know them.

Perhaps it was arrogant to place so much stock in the quality of an original outreach message, a profile, and an overall gut feel.

Every “rando” was a real live human being. And perhaps I wasn’t treating them kindly, with the respect I would want if I were in their shoes.

So I performed an experiment. No matter who wrote to me on dating platforms, I would write back to them. And I would continue to write back to them no matter how bored or irritated I was.

It was actually kind of an exciting decision at the time. Here’s how I wrote about it, shortly before I tried doing it:

Morbid curiosity: Sometimes I wonder how my life would have been different if I’d dated (or at least started conversing with) every single random person who blatantly played the Internet numbers game by sending a generic message like “your cute, how r u.” Would I have some additional interesting stories? Would I be chopped up in a trunk somewhere? Would it have resulted in a lot of bland and vaguely offensive awkward interaction that was neither fun nor interesting? Would I still have met someone wonderful eventually? Don’t get me wrong. I’m super happy about how things turned out with the dating strategies I used. It’s just fun to ponder. I’ve read a few dating e-books by people who did just that, and while those books are entertaining and give me a good sense, I’m wondering if all the poly/alt sex stuff would have cranked that shit up to 11.

Some of my friends chimed in on this post, including one who had actually done it. They shared that for them, it hadn’t even turned into any additional dates. Often the other person would even let the conversation fizzle, even if that person had initially complained that they never got replies from people (in their original outreach or early replies).

I charged forward.  I spent many, many hours conversing with people who I didn’t seem to have much in common with and who also didn’t put a lot of effort into the conversations.

The answer to my earlier question “Would it have resulted in a lot of bland and vaguely offensive awkward interaction that was neither fun nor interesting?” was YES.

And just like my friend, it didn’t turn into any actual dates, let alone relationships.

These Days I Don’t Have Time to Write Back to Everything I Get

While I’m not on any dating platforms these days (don’t like them, don’t have time, and my love life works for me as is at the moment), I get even more messages these days, mostly from readers of this blog. While I do my best to write back to as many people as I can, I just get too many messages to reply to all of them. So I do so fairly selectively, when I know the answer to a good question they’re asking or have resources or something.

My friends are well aware that I tend to pop in and out of their lives virtually. I spend so much time reading, researching, and writing for my job, I get behind on my personal messages — so replies to people I don’t know are far from a sure thing.

And oh, forget it when anything stressful or disruptive in my personal life is going on. There’s nothing left for me to give people then.

So I’m forced by circumstances to ignore anything that I don’t feel called to address — either because of the topic or because of my relationship with whoever is sending it to me. And timing is everything.

People Pleasers Struggle With Feeling Like It’s Okay to Not Write Back

I recently started thinking of my old experiment after a friend posted a conversation she’d had with a stranger when she’d briefly made one of her social media presences public. Not a dating profile, mind you. As far as I know, she is monogamously married. Has a couple kids. Really lovely person by the way. Someone I have only hung out with in person a few times but managed to make a quite strong impression on me in the short time we spent… and since then via social media.

Anyway, even during that small window, some random person jumped into her DMs and started harassing her about her lack of clear face pictures among her content. I haven’t seen the profile in question, but I want to say it’s mostly food and nature pictures she’s posted. That sort of thing.

After a few courteous replies, she found herself at a loss for words and didn’t reply back right away. So this stranger accused her of being fake. Which I believe means having a fake profile? Which is honestly really strange since it seems like this profile is just a place where she shares nice photographs of other things — not some grand platform where she delivers a message from on high or masquerades as an Internet personality or anything like that.

When she posted the exchange, she shared that she’d spent considerable time and effort trying to figure out how to reply in a way that wouldn’t hurt the recipient. Riddling over what they must be feeling and where they could possibly be coming from.

She shared that she was pretty confused why she was even doing this. Why she felt compelled to expend all this effort on some random person — even though they were being really rude and intrusive. But she shared she’d always been this way.

And the answer to that is that she’s a people pleaser. I say this as one myself — I consider myself a recovering people pleaser. The truth is that you don’t ever really stop recovering from being a people pleaser. You don’t stop having these weird moments where you’re wondering why you’re doing whatever it is that you’re doing (often for someone who doesn’t deserve it) and having to consciously move away from your odd concern for people who themselves don’t seem to have a shred of empathy for anyone else.

If You Don’t Want to Write Back to a Stranger, You Probably Shouldn’t

Anyway, if you don’t want to write back to a stranger, you probably shouldn’t.

Oh, I know, there are lots of people who say it’s rude. Or that you need to exercise common courtesy or any of that.

And I’d be willing to accept that if I’d had a single surprising positive experience with a situation where I ignored my inclination to not write back.

But I haven’t.

Perhaps it happens sometimes to someone somewhere. But far less than the laments of certain folks would have us think.

And even if there is a possibility of some small return after a ton of wasted effort, I’m convinced that you’re probably better off to spend your energy elsewhere. In the places that naturally resonate for you, without a lot of forcing.

Confessions of a Recovering People Pleaser

I’ve been writing essays about what it’s like to be a recovering people pleaser. Up until this point, it’s been informal, but now it’s more of an official feature/series here on Poly Land. Here are some other articles in this series,  Confessions of a Recovering People Pleaser:

11/25/2019 – Discovering Places Between Pushover and Pusher

11/29/2019 – I Didn’t Want to Change 

12/11/2019 – I Still Do More than My Fair Share, Just on a Smaller Scale

1/6/2020 – It Was Terrifying the First Time I Dated Someone Who Was Really Good to Me

1/13/2020 – The Unappreciated, Accidental Romantic Upside to Being Solely a “Freezer” and a “Fawner”

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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