The internet has given us unprecedented access to everyone. Not only can we see what our exes are up to on multiple social networking platforms, but we are now (for better or worse) privy to the passing thoughts, candid photos, and incoherent ramblings of our favourite celebrities and personalities. We can also slide right into their DMs.
As someone who once sent a handwritten letter to an address for Jonathan Taylor Thomas that she found in a copy of Tiger Beat, this is a dangerous situation. Unless your fave has their profile on lockdown, the temptation to reply to every little thing they post can be mighty strong, and it’s quite easy to come off as a creep. Even in the case of normal, not-famous crushes, sliding into the DMs can be a tricky thing.
When I first started writing on the internet (for the now defunct xoJane) my comments sections and Twitter mentions were mostly filled with wonderful, supportive women and non-binary people. There would be the occasional angry man in my inbox, but writing about food for a woman-focused website meant I didn’t deal with men on the internet on a grand scale, as they weren’t reading what I wrote.
This does not mean it cannot or should not be done, but some restraint is in order. In fact, one of my dear friends and former editors—Emily McCombs, formerly of xoJane and now of HuffPost—is in a loving, long-term relationship with a man who DM’d her from several states away. And, as an attractive woman who has been On the Internet for some time now, she has received many of these types of messages, some good and some bad, and was kind enough to share some sliding tips.
The DM sends the message
Sending an unsolicited communication of any kind means you have to be open to not hearing anything back. If this makes you deeply uncomfortable, don’t send it. Even if the recipient replies in a friendly way, it’s not necessarily an invitation to keep having a longer conversation. If they are interested in doing so, they will keep it going.
“When a guy slides into the DMs in the first place we pretty much know you’re interested. You don’t have to be explicit about it,” explained Emily, adding that if you are hoping to take things in a flirtatious direction, you have to have patience, particularly if you are DMing a woman.
“Polite is good as long as you follow our cues when it’s time to take it up a notch. Keep in mind the constant flow of misogyny and objectification every woman receives on the Internet—don’t add to that.” (Does this mean you can be overtly sexually explicit with men? No, keep it respectful there too, but this kind of thing can be particularly exhausting for women and non-male-presenting people.)
Don’t force it
The best conversations are about things and stuff, and a comment on someone’s appearance is not the best jumpin- off point. To make things more natural, Emily recommends having a topic, and Instagram or Twitter can usually provide one. “I would respond to a story—it feels more natural, like you’re just hopping into a conversation. And you have a reason for DMing besides “I like your boobs.” (Twitter does not have stories, which makes this harder to pull off on that platform, but you can always respond to a tweet, provided you don’t do so in a reply-guy manner.)
Another important thing to think about is whether the person you’re messaging is open to this type of communication. If their profile is plastered with pictures of or references to their significant other, they are probably not looking to strike up a sexy conversation, so keep things neutral and respectful, and follow their lead. (You never know if someone is monogamous, but don’t assume they aren’t.)
A thirst trap can be an opportunity for spicier stuff, but sometimes it is not, as people post all sorts of photos of themselves for all sorts of reasons. Even if you’re sure the person is inviting flirtatious attention, keep it cool and respectful instead of busting in, boner blazing. “To be honest, I had a few flirtations going on through Instagram so it was something I was open to,” explained Emily. “When he messaged me, I went to his page and looked at his pictures and I thought he was cute so I responded.
Given the distance between us I didn’t expect it to be more than a flirtation, but those are fun! Also he was respectful—he didn’t make it sexual immediately or say anything lewd. He waited for me to take it in a sexy direction. I don’t mind receiving flirtatious DMs, but it’s just like approaching a woman in person—don’t say anything you wouldn’t walk up to her and say to her face.”
Don’t expect much
No one owes you anything, and just because you send a message does not mean you will get a reply, even if it is a very nice message. This is something you have to be ok with. In fact, a no reply is itself a reply. According to Emily, if someone is not replying to your first message, they probably won’t respond to your second “There are some guys who DM me constantly and I’m not interested so I don’t respond,” she said. “The crazy thing is that they just keep DMing. Take a hint! If a woman never responds to you she’s probably not interested in your attentions. The whole thread is just you talking to yourself!”
Of course, not all DMs are of a sexual nature, and maybe you’re not even trying to flirt. I personally have received many messages that were simply compliments on my writing or responses to a joke, and these are always welcome, particularly when I don’t feel pressured to respond or continue a long conversation.
Giving the recipient of your message space is important, and letting them know you respect that space can go a long way. It certainly did for Emily, “I posted the odd thirst trap on Instagram stories and he responded to one. He just answered a question I had asked and then complimented me on my writing and said something like “I’ll back out of your DMs now.” We chatted and sexted for about a month on DMs and texting and then I went to visit him in Chicago. I’d say by that time things were serious.”
Pestering, whining, or otherwise demanding that this person give you attention is never a good look, and don’t even think about trying that pick-up artist nonsense. “I also don’t respond to backhanded compliments or negging DMs—don’t praise me for my ‘confidence’ because I’m a plus size woman showing skin, for instance,” said Emily.
In the end, it all comes down to respecting the other person’s boundaries and time. It’s nice to say nice things to nice people, but demanding a response is demanding access to their time, and they may not have time to spare, or they simply may want to use their time in other ways. The key to sending a good DM is being cool, calm, and comfortable with having sent it and never receiving a reply. I never received a response from Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and everything turned out just fine for me.