Dating is complicated enough on its own; when you add in the confusion of online dating sites, it can be just plain intimidating. But it’s easier––and more fun!––than you think. Not to mention effective: Each day, an average of 236 people who met on eHarmony.com get married. That’s over 86,000 people a year! So, how do you go from logging on to finding your perfect match? There is a technique to navigating the virtual playing field. “I equate online dating to looking for a job,” says Julie Spira, cyber-dating expert and author of The Perils of Cyber-Dating. “You’d want a rock star résumé for your perfect dream job, and you should feel the same way about your online dating profile.” And the profile is just where it starts—we have plenty of expert tips, from sending the perfect first e-mail to picking your first date location. Here, everything you need to know to find love on the World Wide Web.
1. Your Profile Picture
It can seem difficult to stand out in the vast sea of online daters; the best way to do so is by creating a great profile—and be sure to always include a photo. “The amount of times that people are approached when they have photos is multitudes more than when they don’t,” says Gian Gonzaga, PhD, eHarmony’s senior director of research and development and head of eHarmony Labs. So, how do you decide what photos to post? Leave behind group shots, which can make it confusing for other people to identify you, advises Spira, and choose a headshot in which you are smiling. “Your primary photo should be all about you.” She recommends posting between three to five photos only—any more and “it’s as if you’re already smothering your future partner.” Also, be sure to include a shot where you can see your body. It doesn’t have to be provocative (and you most certainly do not have to have a perfect figure!), but it gives the impression that you have nothing to hide; confidence is always attractive. While the pictures you post should be clear—giving the viewer an accurate glimpse of what you really look like—don’t completely discount self-taken shots (the ones where you hold out your camera to take your own portrait). OkTrends, the data-analysis blog for the dating website OkCupid.com, says that self-shot photos can actually be very effective in attracting partners, most likely because they are approachable, casual and make the viewer feel close to the subject—all good things!
2. Your Profile
Your goal should be to create an engaging profile that piques people’s interest and makes them want to know more about you. To do that, “talk about yourself in anecdotes,” says Gonzaga. Instead of saying that you like to cook (which plenty of people will do), describe in detail what your favorite meal to make is. “It gives a richer picture of who you are,” he adds. According to Spira, the tone should be uplifting and happy. Steer clear of sarcasm. “The problem is that because you don’t hear people’s voices, it’s hard to tell if they’re being sarcastic or being rude.” If you write something and are afraid that it might be taken the wrong way, it’s probably best not to post it.
3. Take Advantage
Dating multiple people at a time is a strange habit to get used to, and can often seem irresponsible, but when it comes to online dating, meeting a variety of new people at once is a smart move. “It’s a numbers game,” says Spira. “I know people who go on dates three times a day, every day! It may sound like serial dating, but if you’re interested in really connecting with somebody, then there’s nothing wrong with going out with several people at a time.” Keep in mind, too, that most of the time you’re paying for these sites, so getting your money’s worth means being efficient about seeing who’s out there.
4. Make a Move
In your initial e-mail to a potential partner, it’s crucial to indicate that you’ve read his profile and took an interest in it. According to OkTrends, the top three phrases in initial e-mails with the highest response rate are “you mention,” “good taste” and “noticed that.” So, describe something that resonated with you from his profile, advises Spira, but avoid physical compliments because “they seem too clichéd.” And keep it brief: OkTrends found that the ideal first message length is only 200 characters, or one minute’s worth of typing for the average writer. The shortest messages get the best response rate; the reply rate goes down as messages get longer. This is likely because an initial message serves mostly to make your profile available to the other person. The lesson: Spend time on your profile, and don’t stress too much about your first e-mail!
5. Be Direct
When it comes to virtual dating, forget playing “hard to get.” If someone you’re interested in contacts you, it won’t pay off to “casually” wait a few days to reply. “If you play games and wait to get back to him, he may have already run off into the sunset with someone else,” says Spira. You need to show your interest right away; in the world of online dating you never know how many women one man has contacted, and how quickly the others may express their interest. If you contact someone and haven’t heard back in a week, it’s OK to send a second e-mail. If someone is new to a site, his or her profile is often featured in the community and the person becomes inundated with e-mails. So, assume that your interest hasn’t had time to open your message. But if there’s silence after two e-mails, cut your losses and move on.
6. Taking the Relationship Offline
The time to take your relationship beyond the boundaries of the dating site will eventually come. And according to Spira, it should be sooner rather than later. Exchanging two or three e-mails is a good way to get a sense of each other’s personality. After that, have a phone conversation—trade cell phone numbers, never home numbers. Or better yet, call him so that you won’t have to give out your number at all. “If you don’t have any phone chemistry, then it’s unlikely that there will be a spark in person,” says Spira. But if you do, it’s time to meet.
7. The Ideal First Date
The perfect first date is a personal decision. For some, a midday coffee is especially effective. “You can get a good feel for someone in 20 minutes,” says Dr. Gonzaga, “and since you both probably have to get back to work, there’s a specified end time if the date doesn’t work out.” Spira prefers dinner dates because the extended length can give you a deeper sense of your date’s personality. If you show up and your date looks nothing like his photo––and this does happen––don’t run screaming for the exit. The best thing you can do is be polite and keep the date short, says Spira. You don’t need to call attention to it. “You know he looks nothing like his photo; he knows he looks nothing like his photo. There’s no use in putting him down.”
8. Becoming Exclusive
Since being on an online dating site puts you out there for everyone to contact, it can be hard to know when you have become exclusive with a partner. You may have stopped checking your profile and messages, but has he? Until you’ve had a conversation about retiring your profiles, says Spira, assume that he is still dating other people. “And don’t go to bed with him,” she adds. How do you approach this delicate subject? Be upfront. If you broach the topic and he says that he isn’t ready to pull down his profile, Spira recommends saying something like, “Well, I am. I think that you’re great and I hope you catch up. I guess I’ll keep mine up as well and continue dating.”
9. Breaking Up
If your relationship fizzles after a few dates, it may be tempting to revert back to e-mail to end it. Resist the urge, says Spira. “Don’t go down in history as the guy or girl who dumped someone over e-mail, especially when e-mails can be forwarded.” Instead, apply the Golden Rule and treat others as you would want to be treated. Make a phone call or meet in person.
Taking safety precautions is always crucial, whether you’re dating someone you met online or in person. Never give out your home phone number or address until you get to know someone, and always choose a public place for your first date. Spira employs a buddy system for initial meet-ups: Tell a friend where you’re going and whom you’re meeting. Midway through the meal, go to the bathroom and call or text your friend to let him or her know whether you’re OK or feel uncomfortable. If it’s the latter, don’t hesitate to leave.
11. Be Patient
If at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up! Even if sparks don’t fly with someone you initially meet online, it doesn’t mean that he won’t turn into a great friend or helpful business contact. “Online dating used to be a strictly matrimonial endeavor,” says Spira. “You’d go online, find your husband and get offline. Now, I look at it as a combination network of dating, socializing and business. So cast a wide net, and always be polite. You never know whom people can introduce you to.”
12. Where to Look
Lost in cyberspace? Check out these top dating sites and pick the best one for you.
eHarmony: Fill out a detailed questionnaire and this site will use its unique compatibility matching system to electronically pair you up with other users. In general, eHarmony users are interested in a serious, long-term commitment. The site also features an internal e-mail and phone system, so you don’t have to worry about giving out personal information.
Match.com: Search this wildly popular site’s huge (over 20 million) database of singles to find your perfect match. They boast that they help over 250,000 people a year find a relationship.
OkCupid: This free dating site is a mix of social networking, compatibility testing and online dating. It includes an option to compare your profile to other users’ with the click of a button.
Perfectmatch: A popular site for older users, Perfectmatch is focused on serious daters who are looking to settle down. It features a free personality assessment (though you do have to pay to use the rest of the site).
Yahoo! Personals: As long as you have a Yahoo! e-mail account, you’re free to join this no-cost dating site. The chat feature makes it easy to connect with other users.
JDate: Jewish users can take advantage of this popular site as well as its planned events for Jewish singles across the country. The site’s mission is to strengthen the Jewish community, so it’s a great place to find potential dates or friends.