It really does not matter why they are doing it. It has to stop. Talking at length to a stranger about their thoughts and feelings is a service. If you’re good at it, people will pay a lot of money. You can monetize your skill by becoming a bartender, therapist, or sex worker. But if you let him, some guy named Brad will keep you locked in a 24-hour Brad news cycle, plugging away on a back-and-forth about his weekend that he considers “banter.”
We have to stop lavishing total strangers with the full scope of our creative writing abilities. We must ask ourselves—are we laying the groundwork for dating, sex, and adventure? Or are we embarking on a mutual five-year journal? “It’s just small talk, it’s boring, it’s not building to anything, it’s not revealing anything about you,” says Ury. And if you do end up, by some miracle, meeting up after all that chatting, “even if the person is great, the person doesn’t match the fantasy of who you thought they were, and then you’re disappointed.”
She recommends no more than four or five days of chatting on the app to establish whether the person meets what she calls “your minimum threshold of connection.” One of Ury’s favorite tricks—when the person is about to tell you something, say, “Wait, I’d like to hear that story, but I want to hear it from you in person.” You can cut out a lot of back and forth scheduling, she suggests, by saying something like, “‘What are you doing on Thursday at seven? I really want to try this new tapas bar in Greenwich Village.” Whatever it is, she says, “Say a specific place, a specific time, and a specific activity, and then the person can respond to that, versus just saying ‘Hey, do you want to grab drinks?’”
This date doesn’t even have to be in person—especially as COVID numbers spike again. “A video date is a really low pressure way to have a vibe check. See if you like the way they look, if you like the sound of their voice, if you can maintain a conversation,” Ury points out.
The flip side of this problem is the occasional person—often a straight man—who has “not looking for a pen pal” on his bio. Maybe he’s just jaded from bad experiences, but maybe he is trying to bully you out of asking basic questions before you invest your time in him. Sadly, this man is also bad.
Thinking about all of the people who will be drawn into pen pal relationships this year, I feel like a grizzled old military commander, looking at troop movement on a map, muttering, “I have seen too many precious hours lost to some guy who works in finance and is probably not responding because he is on cocaine!” Please remember: A person who doesn’t want to enjoy the pleasure of your company in real life is not worth spending time on. And for every person who isn’t messaging you back, there are countless people who would love to meet you. Friday, the weekend, even dreaded, villainous Monday—whatever day it is, you’re worth it.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.