When it comes to online dating and dating apps, are there any rules we should follow? There is so much conflicting information out there. And what about plain good manners and sexual etiquette? Watch or read the conversation I had with sex educator Paula Wawrzyńczyk. This is an interesting one as we combine our expert knowledge with personal experiences (I met my husband online!).
Paula is based in London where she works with Brook, providing sexuality education to young people. Got questions about online dating? Post them in the comments!
Anka Grzywacz: Hello, everyone. We will try to be very brief and to the point and hope to give you some hints and tips today on online dating, dating on apps, hookups and sexual etiquette, a topic which is not very widely discussed.
We will also hopefully try to figure out if there are any rules, because there’s so many articles, so many webinars, courses on how to navigate the world of dating, especially if you are looking for a steady partner and so many mixed messages around that.
So I’m kind of curious to hear your thoughts if you are listening to us now live (or reading this)
And what are your experiences with online dating? Tell us the good, the bad and the ugly. If you have any questions, feel free to write them in the comments.
Now for my guest. Paula Wawrzyńczyk is a long-time friend, co-activist, co-educator, our history runs many years. We worked together. We volunteered together as sex educators in Poland, in the group of sex educators called Ponton. And now I continue as a sexologist, working mainly with adults. And I live in Switzerland. Paula moved to the UK where she continues working with young people. Could you tell us a little bit about the work that you do?
Paula Wawrzyńczyk: Absolutely. So I’m a sex educator. I work mainly in London, in secondary schools, sometimes in colleges. We also started recently doing digital outreach, which means I also work on dating apps. So this is not my private account. This is what we do as an organization to help young people in the apps. So I have also insights coming from that perspective.
A: That’s super interesting. So is it like counselling?
P: No, this is education. This is prevention. We answer young people’s questions because we work with people under 25. And dating apps are over 18. So this is important. Within this age group, we help young people. We answer their questions about the relationships, dating, sex and sexual health.
A: Great. I’m not sure how much you want also to talk about personal experience. We both have some experience with online dating. And so we are not just talking from a theoretical point of view, but also as users of apps.
Dating Apps Are More Than Tinder
I also, way back I used an online website. Not many of you remember that there was life before Tinder and actually Tinder came to the market in 2012. So it’s been almost ten years now, that it’s been around. And before that it was mostly like websites like I think with Match.com or something like Edarling, right?
This kind of websites where you could have your own profile and also try to find mostly romantic partners at the time.
P: You still have huge variety of different websites.
A: Yes, yes. I actually I did some research and I found out that there is apps not only directed at people of certain sexual identity or orientation, gender identity, but also farmers, you can find apps directed at farmers or of people of a certain faith. And so, yeah, everyone can find something for themselves, which is absolutely cool. Have you heard of an app like for people with disabilities or with some sort of like health issues?
P: Probably there could be something also around that I haven’t come across yet. Well, I hope everyone could find that there is space also general on these general apps.
A: Yes, it’s true.
P: And some of them also specialize more, whether you’re looking for a long term partner for marriage as well, or for sexual partners. So there are different apps for every need.
A: So it’s important not to just when you want to get started, not just think there is just Tinder. There are many others. So just do your research and see what works for you. Probably in some countries some apps would not be popular. So it is also a matter of how big of a choice of people there is. But it’s. Always worth trying.
P: Right. However, I was very positively surprised when I learned Grindr, which is the biggest app for non-heteronormative identity. And they have actually a very good section on sexual health translated into all world languages, which was encouraging.
Is There Any Hope in Online Dating?
A: Yeah, that’s really cool. So our title today is Online Dating: How Not to Lose Hope. So is there any hope in the world of online dating? What is your take and what are you also getting from the community?
P: So first, dating apps are blamed for all sorts of things. So for people’s disappointment, for people’s bad experiences, unfortunately, for sexual assault, because this also happens, but this is not apps fault like this is a reflection of the culture that we live in.
And unfortunately, all these bad things, unpleasant things also happen. But this is not because of dating apps and this is because of people who are on dating apps. And this is really important.
So how I treat it personally, dating apps, these are amazing tools for just meeting people and this is an introductory tool, basically. And then what you’re going to do about it, how we are going to navigate these conversations, meet ups, everything. It’s really up to you.
I would have never met many amazing people that I’ve met in my life, if not because of dating apps. So so I’m really grateful that they exist. But it’s really important to know some rules, how to navigate them.
Are There Any Rules To Online Dating?
A: We should think about, are there any universal rules that we should stick to, especially in terms of, data security, also our personal security, like is there anything we can say, OK, this is something that it’s good to stick to? Yeah, just as a basic when you are just getting started.
P: Well, firstly, everyone has a different level of comfort. So I would say that before creating a profile have a think about yourself first:
- What are you looking for?
- What are your fears?
- What do you think are potential benefits?
- What are the potential risks?
Because then, of course, your behavior will reflect that. Because some people, for example, are very keen to give someone their phone number. And some people keep their number private for a long time. And again, I’m not saying that you should do this or that it’s up to you, but just have a think what you’re comfortable with.
So most dating apps will try to verify your identity. Many people are afraid of catfishing, which is when people pretend to be someone else, so they can trick people and I’ve heard it it happens. It’s never happened to me, thankfully, but I’ve heard it happens. But there are, again, different ways of checking if this is that person.
So what I would advise you, if you have matched up with someone, just have to have a conversation that’s either over the phone using your voice or some apps have this feature when you can have a phone conversation on the apps, you don’t have to share your phone number. Or you can do a video call, then you will see clearly who is that person if you are afraid of that.
P: Yeah, yeah, so I think what you are saying is very important to use this more as a tool. Especially now in the COVID time when for the past year things have been closed and we couldn’t socialize much. It’s just a way to spot new people. But then you take it into real life, either on the phone or to have, you know, the casual meet up, but not just use the app unless you want to, but you should also probably be clear about whether you just want to have maybe sex on a chat.
Meeting in Real Life
Yeah, but it’s also something that some people do, but there’s specialized services for that. So if you want to meet a real person, you have to be real and you have to have a real contact.
And the writing and chatting for weeks could actually lead to disappointment. Well, I’ve heard a lot of stories of long conversations going on and then a big disappointment. Have you heard those too?
P: Yes, absolutely. And it’s again, it’s a personal preference. So I’m not going to tell you that yes, immediately you have to have a call. But this is what I do actually in my private life. So I prefer to have a conversation on the phone very early just to check how we get on and if there is a good vibe between us and the conversation is going on. Because otherwise, yes, you can have amazing conversations on text for a long time, but then when you meet up, you see each other face to face. Then it’s very bad.
Why Do People Not Respond on Apps?
A: Well you have to have some initial chat, to at least establish some sort of connection and decide if you want to make a phone call or not. And what I keep hearing from women is that it’s (I mostly talk to women about it, maybe you’ve talked more to guys and, you know their perspective). So they say that it’s very hard to have some conversation, they feel they are asking questions. And the men they talk to, because I mostly speak to heterosexual women, they just reply very, very briefly.
And there’s no sort of development. You know, you feel like you are interviewing someone. And that person, they feel that other person is not making an effort to really engage. So I’m curious, maybe, you know, more of a perspective of men and like how they perceive this kind of chatting and what sort of conclusions can we draw here?
P: There could be many reasons why people don’t engage.
- They may be tired of this, tired of texting.
- They may be disappointed.
- They may be just not very chatty in general. They might be much better over the phone.
- And also they may be not that much into you.
I think when we find someone really attractive, at least from the pictures or their profile, I think we naturally will make more effort. They will try to do more. Whereas if it’s like very lukewarm kind of conversation, it probably means that this person is talking to many other people or maybe we are not at the top of their list.
Well, first thing again, but this is me. I would just offer talking to them over the phone if I like them. But of course, if there was no initial conversation, that you were just not into it and it gets boring.
So, yeah, people need to be engaged a little bit in the conversation.
How can we look at ourselves and not take everything so personally because it can be very hurtful, especially if you are starting and people start ghosting you, which means like they break contact without saying a word or if they don’t engage and like you say, maybe that’s because they are not so interested.
And, you know, it can really hurt our ego. Because we want to be appreciated and we want to feel seen and feel like we mean something. So do you need to work on that first to be capable of using these apps with success, like to build your own confidence first?
P: You need to be resilient. Absolutely. Because these people will unmatch with you without any any notice. They will not say good bye. Most people will not say good bye to you.
My perspective is I’m a straight woman. So my perspective would not be, of course general, but I hope every person here can take something from our conversation.
So so, yeah, I think especially men, I think they have this tendency to say good bye. Just, I don’t know, maybe to keep someone as an option or I don’t know why. But then you are left with really nothing and it can feel terrible.
And even if you ask someone for any clarification, firstly, if they disappear on the app, you have no contact with them. But sometimes if you have their number, of course, you can ask for clarification, but it doesn’t mean that you will get it.
So it’s really important not to treat it personally because it’s really not because of you and ghosting is not about you. It’s about another person.
And maybe they are struggling with communication. And so this is on their side. So depending how lucky we are, we can be for many years on dating apps. And yes, you have to be very, very strong actually to cope with that.
A: Yes, it’s true. I imagine that both ways it can, I’ve also heard from men that they have been ghosted. So it’s not just that only men ghost women.
Online Dating and Sexual Etiquette
Let’s talk about etiquette and manners. I feel like I’m a bit old school. I’m 40 years old now, so I really believe that although we cannot expect from other people to behave the way we want to behave, it’s important for us if we are users, to kind of set a good standard.
So the only thing I am responsible for on the app is being kind, being polite and saying, you know, things like, thank you, not interested, bye bye. It’s been nice chatting to you. I had a nice time on our date but, you know, I don’t feel the chemistry, whatever.
What is your take on the sexual etiquette? Maybe not sexual. We will get to that later. But like online etiquette?
P: Yeah, well, I agree with everything you said, so I think so many people are frustrated because they have been disappointed many times and then that’s why maybe their behavior will be not that kind. So they may be more critical.
They may give you some impolite comments. And, yeah, just if you if you have a tendency to do that or if you feel like doing that, just have a think that another person, we don’t know each other, like there is a human on the other side.
And just if you’re not interested, if you’re bored with this conversation, anything, you can just leave. But say goodbye and wish them well, that would be amazing.
Also, when you have met up or maybe you had a date with this person, maybe you had sex. Again, it’s really up to you when you want to get intimate with someone, you may hear different rules coming from different people, from your friends, your family, cultures, online. Everyone will have a different opinion.
But I would say firstly, listen to yourself and know what you’re feeling comfortable with.
So if you had sex with this person just treat this person as someone special, because imagine someone was naked with you, someone shared their body with you. It’s a big deal. Sex should be treated as something special.
And that’s why it’s more important to make it as a special occasion. Even if it was a one night stand, why not to have it like in a nice space?
A: Clean space!
P: Yeah, like you would treat your your friend coming over.
P: Just do some tidying up beforehand if you’re preparing for that. Have a towel for them. Offer them of course something to eat or something to drink. Just basic stuff, how to be hospitable.
And also because people have different expectations what to do just after sex. So some people want to cuddle, some people want to smoke a cigarette. Some people want to just go out and don’t interact anymore. I would also have a conversation about your expectations, what to do after sex.
So just to be clear, one person wants to cuddle, another person will not escape. For example, immediately, because it can be very hard but it doesn’t mean that someone had bad intentions. It’s just they react in a different way. This is called aftercare.
Giving Sexual Feedback
A: And it’s good to talk about it before the act. And well, for those of you who are more brave, I would also encourage you to use the time after sex or if you decide to spend the whole night and have a morning together, like to chat and give one another feedback, because this is a way to learn sexual skills and sexual communication as well, even if it’s a casual contact and somebody you meet only once.
And it’s actually even easier because there’s not so much of an emotional baggage. I hear from women I work with that it was much easier for them to talk about sexual needs with casual partners than with a husband, because, you know, there’s not this emotional heaviness of, you know, what if I say something and he will think I’m a pervert, I don’t know.
So really, it’s also a chance if we treat it this way.
P: Yes, absolutely. However. Be mindful of the feedback you’re giving, because, of course, if you said to someone that that was the worst night of my life, terrible sex. Not like this.
Sex is a sensitive topic for everyone. So we need to be just careful how to speak. Speak from your perspective.
- What happened?
- What could have happened?
- What could have happened better.
So in a very pleasant and calm way, I would say. And better to have a conversation then to text, because there are so many misunderstandings when you’re texting, especially when people are from different countries, different backgrounds, different communities. They may speak different languages even if it’s the same language.
Now you can send voice messages. This is very much better because you can hear someone’s voice and you know that their tone, for example, is not very serious. It can be still nice and playful.
Online Dating in Multicultural World
A: We both live in very multicultural countries. This is also a big one. It could be people living in the same country, but from different regions, but especially people raised in very different cultures, very different religions, very different backgrounds. And what sort of challenges do you see here? You talk to young people so you probably have it firsthand.
P: I would encourage everyone to have a think where have you learned all the messages about dating and relationships from? What have you heard, for example, from your family, from your community? So, for example, gender roles, which is a big one. So what are women supposed to do, what are men supposed to do, how people should behave, who should have sex and when?
Again, we are still struggling with all these rules that someone created, but some people want to follow these rules. But some people want to live on their own and create their own rules.
So firstly, yes, I would have a think where all these things come from. Like basic things, for example, can men date older women? Like so many people have an idea that men cannot date taller women, still it seems very basic, but many people were like, no, man has to be taller.
But for at least for LGBT+ relationships or dating, is a little bit easier because people create their own rules. So they may not be that bound by gender roles, so we all have this work to do.
We need to we need to know where we are coming from, who we are and what we want.
When you are aware of yourself, you can communicate it much easier.
So I always recommend to put in your profile, for example, what you’re looking for at the moment.
There is nothing wrong with looking for sex only or one night stand or just friends with benefits kind of arrangement. However, this is not as simple I would say as people think, it’s not just having sex with someone. I think it’s also something with commitment. But again, it’s up to you to decide.
So put it in your profile. It will really filter people and you don’t have to meet everyone. You are looking for one or a few people. That’s it. So you don’t have to have hundreds of conversations.
A: Yes, exactly. So it’s good sometimes to just limit yourself to a few people and make your initial choice and not just to spread yourself too thin, because then you lose track and it will also be time consuming. So it’s better to work in steps and stages, maybe one stage will lead you to finding the right person for that moment.
When is the right time to talk about safer sex?
Two things that are important in terms of sexual etiquette. Especially in your line of work, it’s important to mention discussing safety, safer sex practices. When is the right time to do that?
P: Before sex, I would say…
P: In the middle it can be tricky. And if it’s a new partner. I’m a sex educator, so we always advise to use condoms for every type of sex if you’re having sex with someone with the penis. And this is very important.
But because we didn’t get that kind of sex education at school, for many people, it’s surprising, for example, that we say that, yeah, you should use condoms for oral sex as well. So I would say if this is what you want to do, say it in advance and discuss it in advance.
You can tell them that if you’re on another method of contraception, for example, the pill or the implant. Again, it would be good to let them know because some people are, let’s say, oblivious when it comes to risks. But it’s really good to at least to start having these conversations.
You can ask them if they had an STI test ever or when recently. It doesn’t mean that they have to give you a result and show you a proof of this test. But also, I think it’s important to normalize that kind of conversations because you are taking care of your health, and you are taking care of your partner’s health.
And and there is nothing wrong with it. It’s actually great. So if someone brings up these topics, don’t feel offended. Again, it’s a good thing. It doesn’t mean that you have an STI, it’s absolutely not like that. It’s just they would like to be safe and it’s wonderful.
The Etiquette of Sexting
And the other thing is around, you know, sending naked pictures to the other person, like what would we say is a good practice here if we want to share our own body via text.
P: So first thing I would say, because I live in the UK, the first rule is that you can’t do it with anyone who is under 18. So this is only for adults.
Secondly, consent is absolutely essential. So before something anything, ask if they would like to see it because it gives them the space to say yes or no if they don’t want to see it again, don’t feel offended. It’s not about you.
I would for your own personal safety, maybe taking pictures without your face. Again, it’s your it’s your choice eventually. But if you don’t know this person, this is a good practice.
And again, have a conversation that this is something private, for example, and let them know that you don’t want them to share this picture with anyone or reassure this person that you are not going to share it with anyone.
And when this relation ends, you can also let them know that you are going to delete these pictures or if you would like to keep it, then, OK, keep it. But it would be good to have an agreement on that.
A: So just just to kind of wrap up the final topic, I’m not sure if you know how many people admit to lying on the on apps?
P: Well, yes, it’s a common practice.
A: One research. I found from 2018 said, 57 % of users admitted to lying in one way or another, age, it could be marital status and other things. I’m kind of curious to hear your take, it seems like apps are a perfect space for people to start playing roles.
We want to pretend we are somebody else. For example, we show a picture which is very photoshopped or we use a picture from 10 years ago. And I was 10 kilos younger and lighter.
Are we even pretend about more serious things like being in a monogamous marriage. I mean, pretending you are not in a monogamous marriage whereas you are.
Where does it lead? I mean, how can it lead to to good sex, good relationships if we just lie to each other, we just, you know, end up making love to somebody else?
But I’m curious, if you have any thoughts about that.
P: I think it all comes down to your confidence and how confident you are with yourself, because if you’re lying, it means that you think some part of you would not be considered attractive and you would like to hide it.
The funny thing is people lie about things that are very easy to check. For example, men often lie about their height, which is the stupidest thing you could do because because when you meet them, you can clearly see like, their height is very easy.
So, like, why would you do that? It’s just makes no sense.
But because the culture tells you that men have to be, for example, of certain height, of course they want to feel more masculine and to present themselves in a better light.
But but really, height is not the most important thing for women. If you date women, so have a think is it really necessary? But of course, hiding your family or hiding your marital status or hiding the fact that you have children…
Again, depending what you are looking for, if you’re looking for a long term partner, like you can’t hide for a long time, you have to tell.
Some people think that if they mention their children on the profile, they wouldn’t be consider again a potential match because people would just like will not swipe on them immediately. But it’s not true. There are so many people who have children and are single parents. So why not? Maybe they are a better target for you, actually.
A: I’ve heard so many stories. You know, like “I expected to meet a tall, dark, handsome man and I ended up not so tall, you know, balding blond guy or whatever.”
So I mean, expectations are nice, but also being open to adapt and to see what happens.
Yeah, I think these apps are a great opportunity for us to increase our chances of meeting new people, whether it is a sexual contact or something more serious. But let’s treat them as they are. I mean, as a tool. Yes, as a as a nice modern tool. I mean, we are on our phones every day, all day nowadays. So why not use the app to just meet new people?
And both of us are expats, we live in other countries than our home countries. So this is, I think, especially important because, you don’t have such a big network.
I mean, after a few years, you build it, but, you know, you don’t have your friends from high school, friends from childhood, anyone who can kind of set you up maybe with someone.
So it’s actually a very good way to make new connections and meet new people for sex, for love, but also for friendship. Right?
P: Well, there are some apps where you can pick the friendship option. So, they can expand your network and they’re absolutely great. But again, be honest and put everything what you’re looking for in your profile.
A: So confidence, authenticity and and honesty will be the takeaway for me from this conversation.
What about you?
P: Absolutely. And safer sex.
A: Yes, that’s for sure.
And where can we find your organization? Like where can we learn more about the work that you do?
Perhaps you have any other resources you would like to share.
P: So the website www.brook.org.uk has been designed for young people, or professionals who work with them as well.
So if you would like to learn more about anything sexual health, relationships, dating, gender and sexual orientation. You will find many articles there.
A: Yes, so if you are in the UK, you can use the services locally, but if you are anywhere else in the world, you can use the knowledge that can be found on this website. So so make sure to take a look, because it’s important to get our information about sex from a reliable source.
P: Absolutely, and don’t trust anyone telling you what to do on the dating app and what not to do and just have a think if these rules actually apply to you and this is something that you want to do because people have different opinions.
So trust yourself first.
A: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure having you and I’m looking forward to having more of these conversations in the future.
Comment below: what are your 3 main rules of online dating etiquette?