Wait, is the three day rule still even a thing? When you’re flirting with someone, don’t you just hand them your phone so they can add their number to their contacts? And normally, you’d text them back within the next few minutes with your name and maybe a cute emoji so they have your contact, too.
So at its core, in the text era, the moment you’ve decided to exchange numbers, that first text back to share your contact negates the three day rule from the start. Or maybe you expressed your romantic interest in someone by deep-liking some of their selfies then sliding into their DMs.
So maybe you’ve never even heard of the three day rule. It’s worth knowing about, because some people (especially those who started dating in the pre-text era) do know about it and may even take it seriously.
Whether you count the day you exchanged numbers as day one or start the Day-One Clock on the next full day, the idea behind the three day rule is to not look too eager or desperate. Sustained, immediate contact via text or DM can come across as a sign of having a poor sense of boundaries…or it may just seem like a normal conversation. The definition varies from person to person.
When does the clock start ticking? There’s no single answer. In the pre-text era, the movie Swingers summed it up nicely: nobody’s actually sure, it could actually only be a two day rule, and for some people, it’s a form of game-playing or ingrained social norm instead of what it’s meant to be. Think of the three day rule not as gospel, but as a sign that you’re not the type of person who will smother them or otherwise be too clingy or move too fast.
If you get the three day rule timing wrong by an hour or two, or even an afternoon, the world isn’t likely to end. While boundaries are important, someone who is an absolute stickler over an arbitrary rules may not be worth pursuing. Where else are they rigid and inflexible?
Nowhere on earth does the three day rule apply less than on a dating app. There are multiple dating apps that cut off access to matches completely if either of you takes more than a day to respond. Whether or not you’re using an app that sets those kinds of limitations, there are some things that are unique to online dating that are still rooted in three day rule thinking.
First, once you connect online and have the chance to say hello, do it. This doesn’t mean ditching your shopping cart in the middle of the produce section. You’re allowed to wait until you’ve had a chance to formulate a polite, engaging hell of a paragraph or less.
Somewhere between “hey” and your life story. This is the equivalent to an IRL introduction, but waiting three days after that message…well, it just makes you look like a disinterested jerk. They’ll unmatch long before you hit the day three mark.
Here’s a short progression of how things should go in a dating app: The brief introduction. Then, hopefully, a brief pleasant exchange where each of you gets to tell the other a little about themselves, and a short back and forth with some flirting involved.
Ideally, one of you will politely end the conversation (you both do have lives outside of dating, after all). If you’re still not sure, pick up the conversation in-app and repeat the short convo. By this point, one or both of you should be convinced enough to proffer up their number.
End that first or second conversation by offering up your number (or accept theirs). Sometime in the next few hours (or the next afternoon, if it’s late…or if you’ve been drinking do not send even the most well-intentioned text while drunk) send a quick text that says something like “Hi, this is [name] from [app]. I wanted you to have my number, too. Hope to talk soon!” And that, of course, takes us back to the core question…
Does the Three Day Rule Exist in the Texting Era?
So you’ve moved the conversation to text. Follow their lead. If they don’t respond, leave it alone. Inaction is its own action. If they’re a three day rule person, they may choose to wait a bit before responding.
In most cases they’re not being insincere; they’re either following what they think is conventional wisdom or asserting boundaries and expectations early. Pushing it too much can close a door when someone is in fact just busy, while pushing it can close a door that could have stayed open.
This goes for the conversation itself, too. There’s no need to play games, but if one of you is more engaged in the conversation than the other, that’s an indication that they’re either busy or not interested. There’s a little wiggle room for a single, polite follow-up text, but that’s it. Not “hey, where’d you go?” but something that’s a continuation of whatever light conversation you’d been having before—the newest episode of a show you’re both watching, or a follow-up on a movie recommendation.
If the last text was an invitation to meet in person—a “real date”—and they ghost, take the hint. Don’t follow up at all. It’s impolite, but they’ve told you what you need to know.
Are There Exceptions to the Three Day Rule?
If you believe the three day rule exists at all, there are indeed a few rare exceptions. If the two of you discussed going to an event that happens within that three day window then yes, absolutely ignore the rule.
If something comes up that might trigger conversation but isn’t immediately actionable, show restraint and mention it to them outside of the three day rule window. It makes for a great “Oh, I ran across x and thought of you.” Make sure there’s no way that “I thought of you” could apply to anything creepy or disrespectful.
Remember, it’s not so much about a specific length of time but about showing someone you’re interested in that you’ve got a good sense of boundaries. Once you feel that’s in place, text away!