How to Do the Online Dating Thing by Eva Langston

So, you’ve decided to take the leap into online dating?  Welcome!  I’ve been here for a while.  That doesn’t sound altogether promising, does it?  Well, don’t worry.  I seem to be the exception to the rule.  I know quite a few people who have met their significant others through online dating.  And, lucky for you, my many years of online dating experience mean I have lots of advice and suggestions…here they are.

#1  The Site

There are a lot of dating sites to choose from, but keep in mind that if you pick a lesser-known site (I once tried one called CreativeMates.com), you’re not going to get as big a pool of potential love interests.  (In fact, there was no one in the DC Area on CreativeMates.com.)  Also, if you live in a small town, you may have to widen the distance you’re willing to search, just to give yourself a good pool of potentials.

If you’re religious, there are sites like Jdate and ChristianSingles, but I’m not religious, so I’m not going to discuss those.  You holy people can go check them out on your own.  I’m going to discuss the big three:  eharmony, match.com, and okcupid.

eharmony is for the super serious I-Want-to-Get-Married-ASAP crowd.  Think Charlotte from Sex in the City.  It tends to cater to the conservative.  Personally, I think everyone should boycott eharmony because you can’t choose man-for-man or woman-for-woman as an option, which I find rude.  Eharmony requires you to fill out an exhaustive profile.  This is how they weed out the riff-raff.  You have to be super dedicated, and quite honestly, I’ve seen many a single gal give up halfway through and say, “it’s easier just to go to the bar.”  This makes me wonder how many males, (as they often have less patience filling out reflective personality questionnaires), make it through the process.  A few years ago I actually did fill out the whole profile just to see what it was all about, and, hours later, after I clicked my last answer, it told me I couldn’t be matched at this time.  The other annoying thing about eharmony is it doesn’t let you freely browse profiles.  You have to wait until they send you matches, and even then, you don’t get to see the people’s pictures.  You have to choose from a list of pre-made questions to send to them.  I found the whole experience boring and tedious, but I guess some people like how structured it is, and supposedly eharmony uses proven personality-matching techniques that seem to work for some people.  My roommate recently went to a wedding, and the couple had met on eharmony.

Match.com is middle of the road.  It’s pretty basic – you make a profile, you browse other people’s profiles, you message whoever you want.  It sends you alleged matches, but these are usually pretty ridiculous, like, “Hey, Eva, check out SlyGuy12.  Like you, he enjoys athletic activities and likes cats.”  You can’t rely on the matches they send you.  You definitely have to do your own browsing.  But the good news is, because match.com costs money, most people aren’t just signing up on a whim or for a joke.  When I was doing match.com, I put a lot of effort into it.  I spent time browsing and messaging people and making dates because I wanted to get my money’s worth, and I think other people do that, too.  I ended up dating one guy I met on match.com for about seven months.  So I suppose I got my money’s worth.

Okcupid is pretty popular right now, and I’d say it’s the best of the free sites.  Because it’s free, girls are going to get the occasional “Hey, u r hott,” message from a guy whose profile picture is of him without a shirt on in the bathroom mirror (see “never post the following pictures.”)  And I hear that guys sometimes get messages from robots.  Beware of any message that comes from a Russian girl with bad grammar – she’s probably a ‘bot.  The quality and quantity of people on okcupid seem to differ by region.  It’s definitely big in DC and New York and LA, but I’m not so sure about other areas of the country.  Okcupid sends you matches in something called your “Quiver,” and their system seems to be a bit more sophisticated than match.com.  The nice thing is, you can answer as few or as many of their questions as you want, but the more questions you answer, the better matches you will get (at least in theory.)  You can set up your profile first, and then, as you have time, you can go in and answer questions.  You can also browse profiles in two different ways.  I like doing Quickmatch because it is, literally, quicker than the regular search.  In Quickmatch you’re supposed to rate people with stars 1 through 5 as you click through them, but I don’t do that because it feels awkward.  Instead, when I see someone interesting, I just go to their profile and send them a message.  I’ve gone on a lot of okcupid dates, and though I haven’t met my boyfriend, I’ve met a lot of decent guys who will probably end up being good boyfriends for someone else one day.

#2  The Profile

Photos.  Yes, you are going to be judged on your pictures.  Even still, don’t be tempted to post something that doesn’t look the way you look now.  Yes, other people do it, but you don’t want to stoop to their level.  There’s nothing worse than going to meet up with someone from online and not being able to recognize him because he looks nothing like his picture.  Do you want to do that to someone else?  And, I will also say that I’ve actually gone on a few dates in which the guy looks better in real life than in his pictures.  Sometimes we just aren’t a good judge of our own appearance.  Ask your friends for advice on which of your pictures look the most like you – you on a good day –  and post those.  It also helps if you post some fun ones that give people something to talk about when they send you messages.  For example, I have a picture of me with a zebra, and one of me pretending to choke a child.  They say something about my personality and give guys jumping off points for a message, like “hey, cool zebra picture.  Where was that taken?”  That said, you want to post fun pictures, not pictures that are trying to prove how fun you are.  There’s a difference.  Here is a list of no-no profile pictures that I think can apply for both males and females.

Never post the following pictures: 

-You in some exotic locale, like Machu Pichu, or the Taj Mahal.  That just makes me jealous, and I feel like you’re bragging.  Also, you’re usually very small in the picture, so I can’t really see what you look like.

-You finishing a marathon or a bike race.  No one looks good in biker shorts.  Yes, I’m sure that was a proud day for you.  Tell me about it sometime.  I don’t need to see the picture right away.

-You in the bathroom mirror (shirtless, perhaps), holding a camera in one hand.  This is tacky and it makes me think you have no friends, otherwise you could have asked your friend to take a picture of you.  And for girls, no face shots where you’re holding the camera with one hand and trying to look sexy.

-You with your arm around someone who seems like they could be your significant other.  Yes, I realize it’s probably just a friend of the opposite sex, but it’s weird.

-You with a big group of other people.  Yes, I know you’re trying to prove (after that bathroom shot) that you have friends, but I don’t know you, so therefore it’s hard for me to pick you out of a crowd.

Some dos and don’ts about the Profile:

-Do spell check and proof-read (Yes, I know I sound obnoxious saying this, but please do it.)

-Do use humor, but don’t fill out the entire thing ironically or with nothing but jokes.  If you’re serious about meeting someone you mesh with, you should probably give at least a few real responses.

-Do try to be a bit creative, if creativity is something you value.

-Don’t lie.  I’ve come to expect that every male under 5’9” lies about his height by 2 or 3 inches.  If you say you’re 5’6”, and you’re really 5’3”, I’m going to be able to tell as soon as I meet you, and I would rather know ahead of time so that I can wear flat shoes.  Don’t lie about anything, but especially don’t lie about things in which it will become immediately apparent that you lied.

-Don’t write too much or too little.  Too little says you don’t really care, or that you don’t have much of a life to write about.  Too much says you don’t have a life because you spend way too much time writing your online profile.

-Don’t list all one hundred of the obscure indie bands that you like.  It looks juvenile. Just pick the top few.

-If you are a guy, don’t list your favorite book as Catch-22.  First of all, have you actually read the whole book?  It gets kind of boring after a while.  Second of all, every male in America lists it as their favorite book, and I’m getting tired of seeing it on everyone’s profile.

-Do try to stay positive in your profile.  Don’t say things like “I’m not looking for drama,” or “I am not into girls who only want to be waited on hand and foot.”  It makes you sound angry and bitter.  Just stick to talking about yourself, and, if you want, you can mention a few positive traits you’re looking for in a significant other, like “I’m looking for someone active,” or “I’d love someone to go see bands with.”

-Do have fun with it.  This is your time to write about yourself and what you like.  That should be enjoyable.

#3  The Messages:

First of all, you are going to have to message people if you want this to work.  You cannot just sit back and wait for people to contact you.  Make a rule for yourself that you have to message a certain number of people a week.  And don’t feel bad if they don’t respond.  Have online dating parties with your other single friends in which you get together with your laptops and a few beers and compose some messages.  Don’t just “wink” at people or rate them with stars.  That’s lame.  Put yourself out there.  Send them a message.  Find something in their profile that interests you or appeals to you and comment on it.  Then find a way to mention something about yourself in conjunction.  End with a question so that they have a place to start when they message you back.  Don’t just send the same message to everyone.

If they message you back, try to wait a day before you respond.  Too soon seems too eager.  I think it’s a good idea to have a few back and forth messages with people before agreeing to meet them in person.  I’ve also at times had phone conversations with people, although I admit that can be a little scary to initiate.  Sometimes, after a few messages or a phone call, you can pretty much tell that the person is not for you, and then you can decide to maybe not see them in person after all.

#4  The Date

You have to go into online dating with the right attitude.  Think of it as entertainment.  Like going to Vegas.  You might not win, but it can be fun to play.  You can suggest going places you’ve been meaning to check out, or places that you love no matter what.  And if the person you meet turns out to be interesting, all the better.  Notice I said interesting.  They could be interesting but you’re not attracted to them, and that’s okay.  Or they could be interesting in an “oh god, this will make a great story for my friends,” type of way.  And that’s ok, too, because you’ll laugh about it later.

The main thing is, you cannot get your hopes up too high, and yet you have to remain optimistic.  It’s a tough line to toe.  It’s easy to get your hopes up.  Everyone seems awesome online.  They’ve put their best pictures up, they’ve stretched the truth, they’ve spent hours composing the perfect message to you.  When you meet them in person, there’s a good chance you’ll be disappointed.  And yet, you can’t lose your optimism that maybe the next person you meet really will be awesome.  You just have to keep trying.  Because it’s either this or the bar.  And at least this is a bit easier on the liver.

The world of online dating is ridiculous.  I don’t deny it.  This is a ridiculous world we live in.  And maybe I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about since I’m still single.  But hey, online dating gives you something to do, and it puts messages in your inbox, and, if nothing else, it gives you a story to tell.  Good luck.

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