Why Are We Acting Like Penpals Instead of Dating?

By: Rosie Valentine |

Happy couple using smartphones

Has anyone else noticed that there’s more ‘digital small talk’ going on these days than real-life face-to-face dating? A friend and I got talking recently about this modern day penpal-esque dating dilemma.

With the multiple options of being able to text, email, tweet, send a Facebook message and of course communicate via a plethora of other dating website and apps, is it becoming the norm to replace in-person interactions with remote alternatives? A virtual connection is made but it never becomes a reality. My friend expressed his frustration at the fact that he was texting a girl but the conversation wasn’t going anywhere and there was no indication of meeting up. He said this seemed to be happening more frequently, but I told him that it’s not just a woman thing – I’d experienced the same thing with guys too.

Are you currently stuck in a penpal dating situation and wondering why you’re not meeting up in real life? I brainstormed with some friends who had experienced this dating dilemma, and here are some of the reasons that this might be happening:

1)Already in a relationship
Have you ever considered that the person you’re messaging might already be in a relationship? A recent poll revealed that 21% of people between 18 and 35 on dating apps/sites were already in a relationship. 44% of those who had used dating apps/sites behind their partners’ backs also admitted to going further than ‘window shopping and actually met up with people off sites/apps too.

2) Loneliness
Sometimes people simply need someone else to talk to, to combat their loneliness, but it goes no further than that. Communicating through technology is a way of filling a void in real life but that person may have no intention of meeting face-to-face as that digital interaction is all they need.

3) Plate-spinning – chatting to several people at once
Plate spinning refers to someone who feeds just enough into a conversation to keep it going, but has no intention of taking it further. If you’re chatting to a plate-spinner for months and months, don’t waste your time letting them dip in and out of your life.

4) Boredom cure
Ever been stuck in a long queue? Bored on a train journey? We all look for distractions and ways to procrastinate at times like these. Maybe the reason for your penpal-esque dating is because this chat is nothing more than a boredom cure for the other person.

5) Ego-boost
Sometimes people use dating sites and apps for reassurance that they are still desirable and attractive. It’s sad but sometimes true – perhaps the conversation with the person you like is nothing more than an ego-boost for them.

6) Mate entertainment
Uh oh! If someone is only messaging you when they’ve admitted they’re out with friends, or asking you for photos but not sending any in return, don’t fall into the trap of being entertainment for their mates.

7) Back-up plan
A reason that penpal style dating scenarios don’t develop into real-life meet ups is that sometimes the other person has already pigeon-holed you as a back-up plan If things don’t work out with someone else.

8) Waiting for you to make the move
You might be complaining that your relationship hasn’t progressed to real-life, but have you considered that the reason for this is because the other person is waiting for you to make the first move?
If it’s a girl in question, you have to remember that women sometimes like to be chased – so it could just be a case of her playing hard to get in this scenario.

10) Too much choice
Blame the technology. Dating isn’t like it used to be. Apps such as Tinder provide a constant stream of new faces to potentially date. Maybe what connects us to people also disconnects us from potential relationships – too much choice means there’s less of a likelihood of committing to meeting up with one person and we’ll end up interacting online more but meeting up less.

11) Busy lives
It sounds like the worst excuse ever but sometimes people are genuinely busy, so the reason this hasn’t converted into a face-to-face meetup is because work keeps getting in the way.

12)Too shy
It’s virtually impossible to judge someone’s character solely from speaking to them over an app or website. This person you’re speaking to might be incredibly shy and anxious about meeting up, so that could be why it’s taking a while for it to happen.

13) He/she doesn’t look like their photo in real-life
The dreaded catfish! This person knows you wouldn’t go for them if you saw them in real life. Their photo could be very old/photoshopped/of someone else. Let’s hope the reason isn’t the latter. This person may prefer the fantasy life rather than facing up to reality, so will keep the penpal scenario going on as long as possible.

14) Its still early days
Give things a chance to blossom – yes, you may have been talking for a while, but perhaps the other person just wants to get to know you a bit better and feels its too early to meet up. Be patient…

15) (S)he’s just not that into you
This is the one that no-one wants to hear. Maybe the other person is happy talking to you but they’re just not that into you to take it to the next level and meet up.

What to do if you’re stuck in the penpal-zone
It’s certainly a frustrating place to be and as you can see from the above, there may be lots of different reasons why you’re stuck at this dating dead-end.

If you want to date, why wait? You’ve got nothing to lose by asking, so why not suggest meeting for a coffee? Sometimes it’s just a case of the other person waiting for you to make the move and test the waters. You’ve got over the difficult part of finding someone you like already.

If the other person keeps makes excuses, you’re going to have to make a decision. Is the conversation really interesting enough to continue this digital small talk? Or would you be better off moving on to someone new?
Remember, you can never lose something you never had in the first place, so it might do you better to cut out the person who is showing no interest in meeting up. You could see if the person would be keen on a Skype chat, and if it’s still a no, then the situation is probably a no-go. Admittedly, with the growing number of dating apps, sites, social networks and ways to communicate, maybe we all need to step back and reassess our reliance on technology.