Most online daters have had this experience: you start a conversation online, it seems to be going well, then someone drops the ball and nobody picks it up. Often, when a conversation dies down online it's not because anyone said anything offensive. People just can't work up the energy to craft a clever message without any guaranteed return on investment. As I started to realize these aimless conversations were the rule on dating sites rather than the exception, I wondered how to prevent them and save everyone time.
When I discovered the disposable number app Burner, which provides free, destructible phone numbers for users to give out on online dating sites, at work, or anywhere else where they may not want to disclose their real numbers, I thought maybe I'd found a solution. Perhaps, the trick to preventing online dating conversations from dying down was to move them over to text — and a fake number could let me do that without compromising my privacy. After all, giving out your number shows interest in the person you're talking to and moves you one step closer to making plans.
Ever since someone from OkCupid harassed me over text, bombarding me with messages and telling me I was rude for not responding right away, I've been reluctant to give my number out and preferred to keep my conversations on a dating site's interface until I trust the other person not to abuse their texting privileges. Using Burner's disposable numbers, I felt more comfortable slipping into texting sooner. In that previous scenario, I just blocked the harasser's number, but a representative from Burner told me that some people want more security than the ability to block a number. Often, a phone number can be used to find other personal information, like your address, family members, and work history. Burner lets you create multiple numbers for different people or uses (like work or online dating) and destroy, or "burn," them as you like so that the person with the number loses the ability to contact you.
Burner's CEO Greg Cohn told me that people use the app for a lot more than online dating. Some use it on Etsy, on Craigslist, at networking events, and for business calls. When he first told people about the app, he said, "People were like, 'Oh, that's cool! I could use it for 'blank' — and everyone's 'blank' was a little different." Maybe it's deceptive, but my immediate thought was that I could give it out when someone asks for my number at a bar and I'm not interested but don't feel like causing conflict by outright denying it. Then, when they text, I can just burn the number.
For now, though, I created a Burner number to test whether giving out my number more quickly would prevent my online dating conversations from dying down. It's hard to say whether the app kept my online interactions going longer because I don't know how things would have turned out had I not given out the number. That said, here's what happened when I tried giving out my number sooner than I normally would on three different apps with the security that Burner afforded me.
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Attempt 1: Coffee Meets Bagel
First, I gave out my Burner number to someone from Coffee Meets Bagel after it became clear that we had common professional and intellectual interests. I did not receive his initial text, so I pinged him again as our Coffee Meets Bagel communication line was about to close (the app only lets people message each other during the first few weeks after they're matched).
We tried texting using Burner again, but I didn't receive all his texts, so I just gave out my real number. The Burner team investigated the issue and told me the problem was probably on the other person's end, which is quite possible given that I didn't have this issue with anyone else. Using actual texting, we made tentative plans to hang out in the near future, but nobody followed up and I'm not sure whose court the ball is in right now. My prediction is that this one will die down despite giving out my number, even my real one.
Attempt 2: Tinder
Surprisingly (given the "dating apocalypse" app's reputation), giving out my number sooner on Tinder successfully spawned a longer-lasting connection than I usually find online. Again, I'm not sure what would have happened if we only spoke on Tinder, but over text, we had a substantive conversation over the course of several weeks before meeting up.
When we did meet, he admitted that it seemed forward of me to give out my number the first night we started talking (but not with a negative tone). When I explained that it wasn't my actual number, it made more sense to him. But I think coming off forward worked to my advantage. It's hard to follow up with all your matches on Tinder, and indicating that you plan to take the relationship off Tinder helps others foresee a return on their investment. When I showed that I was invested in exploring that relationship, he probably became more invested as well. I'm not sure if we'd be at this stage by now if our conversation had stayed on Tinder.
Attempt 3: OkCupid
Lastly, I gave out my Burner number to someone from OkCupid. We were messaging back and forth so rapidly that it didn't make sense to keep checking my OkCupid messages every few minutes, and giving out my number allowed our conversation to flow more naturally. We ended up meeting up after just a few days — probably sooner than we would have if the conversation stayed online, since most people view texting as the first step toward meeting up. I wasn't feeling it romantically, so I didn't follow up, but our conversation was nevertheless enjoyable, and it's better that I met him and figured out the chemistry wasn't there before getting attached over OkCupid messages.
After reflecting on how I felt about giving out "my number" (really Burner's discrete number) more quickly, I realized something: I don't have too many safety concerns about giving out my phone number. Maybe I should, but I don't. Instead, I think what Burner gave me was the confidence to give out my number without looking desperate or "easy." If someone commented that I gave out my number very quickly (as my Tinder match did), I could say that I actually wasn't giving out my number. I hadn't realized that there was this much stigma around revealing your number, but now I see that I was in fact afraid of coming off too forward.
I think we should get over this fear, though, because it seems like giving out my number sooner helped keep my conversations alive longer. We often drop the ball on our message threads because we're not sure if they'll lead to anything, but by giving out my number, I made it clear that my interactions with someone would not be confined to the dating apps where we met.
I encourage other online daters to give out their numbers sooner. And if your real number seems too personal to give out, there are apps like Burner out there to provide a safer alternative.
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Images: Fotolia; Courtesy of Burner; Suzannah Weiss/Coffee Meets Bagel; Suzannah Weiss/Tinder; Giphy