Online dating

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About

DISCLAIMER: I wrote this article in 2010 and a huge amount has changed since then. The stigma of online dating has very much shifted, and it's more or less accepted that people these days often meet the love of their life sitting on the toilet with a mobile phone. That said, you might still find this an interesting read. It was written at a time when it was quite shameful to admit you were on an online dating app. Nowadays I live in the states, and if your single and have never tried online dating people will ask "why". The chance of terrible dates is still real, but there's such a huge volume of people there you can still meet someone wonderful if you bide your time and are smart with your interactions and profile. Best of luck!


In today's busy world, online or internet dating is becoming more and more popular. On this page I discuss the hot topic of online dating: what's good about it, what to be careful of and how to increase your chances. If you're interested in a list of dating sites I've put this on a separate page here:

While I'm not an online dating expert (or any dating expert for that matter!), I'm definitely an advocate. If you're simply not meeting the right type of people in day-to-day life then why not try something different. I started this article to help out friends who I've encouraged to try online dating, but are still too scared to try. Hopefully it helps you too.


What's good about online dating

The rise of internet dating: a generational shift

It seems to me the increasing popularity of online dating is largely a due to our changes in lifestyle over the last decade. In this new "information generation", we're busier than ever, we're not good at waiting and we've become dependent on technology for just about everything. In addition to spending most of our time in front of digital screens (computers, televisions and mobile phones), most of our communication is now conducted via e-mail, sms, internet relay chat and social networking sites! Not only are we in danger of slowly losing our face-to-face social skills, but we seem to have less time than ever to get out and meet that special someone. What we do spend a lot of time on, however, is the internet. Clearly internet dating is here to stay, and with the popularity of social sites like facebook, the rise of online dating to a "mainstream way of finding life" is inevitable.

"Twenty years from now, the idea that someone looking for love won't look for it online will be silly, akin to skipping the card catalog to instead wander the stacks because 'the right books are found only by accident.' Serendipity is the hallmark of inefficient markets, and the marketplace of love, like it or not, is becoming more efficient." -- Wired magazine 2002


Why do people use online dating?

Nobody wants to be lonely forever, so if you're not meeting new people and/or the right type of people in your current routine then it's time to take a risk and explore new avenues! Depending on where you live there may be quite a few new avenues you could try: mixed team sports, dancing lessons, adventure clubs, pub crawls, speed dating - but the reason people chose internet dating is it's convenient and easy to do from home. Even if you've had a bad day and you're exhausted you might be able to have fun and flirt online for a bit. If you are of the opinion that "only desperate people use online dating" I suggest you quickly shake this old stigma before you get left behind! When you sign up to a dating site you are NOT admitting defeat in the game of love, you're merely opening another avenue. Think of it as using a tool or adding another arrow to cupid's bow.


Let's be honest, finding Mr Right or Miss Right in real life is a game of luck, and unfortunately, the odds of this game are not great. How many new people do you meet each year who are: (a) of interest to you, (b) of appropriate age/gender/height, (c) lacking critical flaws and (d) not already taken (the big one). Depending on your age, job, group of friends, social life and hobbies (if in fact you have time for any), you might be able to count this number on just one or two hands. And when you do meet someone who catches your eye it's not necessarily easy to get a good opportunity to talk with them alone without noise or interruption and even if you can isolate them there is a good chance they have some hidden attribute that dooms any relationship prospect before it even begins!.. Conflicting personality, no humour, emotional baggage, messy breakup, not ready for a relationship, mentally unstable, bad place in life, lives too far away, old and living at home, hates kids, has kids, gay, unintelligent, poor moral fibre, infatuated with someone else, interested in cheap thrills only, smoker, drunk, strong conflicting religious beliefs, about to leave the country, different goals in life, alternative lifestyle and so one... and that's just a few of numerous possible "dealbreakers" you (or they) might have. Even if they pass all these requirements, inhibitions can easily hold your back from doing anything - you may simple be too scared, poorly positioned or shy to initiate anything - especially if you're worried this person won't be attracted to you. Unless you're exceptionally hot, outgoing and confident person the odds of finding love (let alone your "perfect match") in your everyday life are stacked against you.


The big advantage of internet dating is that most of this chance is taken out. And better yet: so too is the inhibition! It's much easier to send an online message or "wink" to someone to tell someone you find them interesting or attractive, than say it face-to-face. The great thing about dating sites is that everyone (well almost all!) is in the same boat: single and looking for some form of relationship. In addition to specifying an appropriate age range, you can also search based on any number of other traits in the search for a good match: particular age and height range, non-smoker, wants kids, university educated, interested in short, medium and/or long-term relationship etc. After clicking their profile picture, you can read how they've described themselves and their ideal match, and maybe send them a "wink" or some other expression of interest. This part is free. If only contacting them was free too! While the number of people looking for love in cyberspace has increased rapidly, so too is the number of people trying to exploit this.


Why can't love be free?

Most online dating sites make their money by charging you monthly fees before you can contact any other members. To avoid paying these high fees people often try to put their contact details hidden within their profiles - even as their username - (I know I've tried!) and to prevent this these sites will typically pay employees to manually vet profiles by "approving" or rejecting your changes every time you make them. I really don't blame people for trying to advertise their contact details because (a) the idealist in me believes love should be free and (b) the amount most sites charge is a rip off. The good news is there are now a couple of sites, plentyoffish.com and okcupid.com, which are completely free and growing quickly in popularity. For the rest of the sites out there: most charge in the order of $30-50 per month. Part of the reason for high prices is to pay people to vet profiles to circumvent people trying to contact others without paying (kind-of a catch 22), some of the money is for infrastructure, but the main reason is greed.


If like me you might initially refuse to pay $30 for a service "out of principle", but before long you might put things into better perspective. Not only are restaurant meals more expensive than this, but I've had friend spend hundreds of dollars in one night on alcohol at clubs (where they're often searching for love), so suddenly $30 to try a website for a month isn't so bad. So long as you do your research (eg: on some websites BOTH parties have to pay membership to communicate your chances of replies are infinitely less) your chances of starting a decent relationship through a website are way better than your chance of staring a decent relationship by getting drunk at nightclubs!


Who uses online dating?

According to a BBC 2010 survey one in three web users, spread fairly evenly over all ages, regard the internet as a good place to find love: including 60% of Indians, 28% of Brits, 21% of Americans and 25% of Australians surveyed [1] [2]. Unfortunately it's hard to measure or find reliable statistics for the number of people using online dating, so my advice is to take any figure you find with a grain of salt! One interesting article claimed "40% of American adults" and "50% of Europeans date online" [3] - I hope and refuse to believe the figures are this high as this claim because most adults I know are already married or in relationships. The estimated that 10% of Americans have used online dating is a far more realistic figure [4]. Australia's largest dating site alone (rsvp.com) claims to have over 1.5 million single (~one in fourteen Auzzies) [5].


If so many people are supposedly using online dating, it might seem certain you'd sign up discover half your neighbourhood online and find your perfect match before tea-time. Not so! What makes internet dating tricky is there are so, so many dating sites wanting a market share, many of these sites featuring fake users (i.e. ridiculously hot profiles "in your area" put in there to lure you to join), many of them dodgy scam sites, and almost all trying to take your hard-earned money before you can actually talk to anyone and exchange contact details. There are over 1000 lifestyle and dating services out there and growing [6]! Depending on size of your city and the site you sign up to, it's possible you won't find a single match in your age-range. Find the right site however, and you just might find the love of your life, and dozens to hundreds of nearby people you can try connecting with. Countless relationships each year start via online dating. And if you're wondering how many people you might find in your local area why not try the search feature of large site like match.com now. It will only take a few seconds to find out.  :)


So why should you join?

If you haven't been convinced already, I'm going to end this section with a story of one of my best friends from Brisbane, Australia. Unlike me, this friend dated quite a lot during his teens and early twenties, but found himself always ending up with the wrong type of women. He then tried online dating (I won't mention what site, but it was one of Australia's biggest), and this lead to a couple of "okay" medium term relationships, but again not a life-partner. At that point he moved overseas, but years later upon his return he revisited the site and, determined to find a life-partner, he entered in the most specific search he could manage trying to girl who shared his same values and dreams in life. The girl he found, like him, had cleverly made her username match her MSN username (as he had done) - so he reckons straight away he was on a winner! When he met her he described it as love at first sight. Not long afterward they married and now have two beautiful boys. Keep in mind, both of them had left their profiles sit idle for years (in fact they almost forget they had profiles) but they're incredibly thankful they signed up. I've never met a happier couple. :-)

Something he commented to me once was that love is the most important aspect of people's lives, and yet we invest almost no time in it. We work forty or more hours a week, but love is something we merely *hope* will find us. It's a romantic idea but very flawed: if you are unemployed and don't look for work what do you honestly think are the chances of work finding you?! Considering how important for our well-being it is, my friend it's amazing we don't invest more time trying to find a good match. Even if you make mistakes you should try, and you can treat each relationship as a learning experience while you continue in search of your dream job.


What to be careful of

There are several things you should be wary of if you join online dating, but I believe the biggest danger is that you sign up to a "dodgy" site. By doing this, you'll almost certainly have no luck meeting anyone and this bad experience is likely to sour your opinion of online dating and make you reluctant to trust any other sites! The worst kind of sites are those that try to lure you with cheap tricks: for example indicating that they have numerous hot available females (or males) in your area, all sending you expressions of interest, but in fact none of them are real. After you create a profile you'll probably get lots of e-mails encouraging you to sign up, but my advice is shy away from the sites that are so quick to talk you out of your hard earned cash. Work out what type of site you want to join (different sites often target different demographics), do your research and then check out how many users live nearby before you enter your credit card details.


The other form of cheats on the internet is often other users. There is always a danger that someone who seems perfect on their profile is in some-way dodgy when you meet them. For this reason it's probably wise not to spend a little while chatting to that person online and keep a strong look-out for any inconsistencies between what they tell you and their profile! If they've lied about one thing they may well have lied about a lot of other things, so trust your instincts. Although rare, there is also a possibility of other users wanting to scam you. A friend of mine once met his "perfect match" in Russia and after "bonding with her" on an emotional level she convinced him to send money for her flight to Australia. He waited at the airport, but (of course) she didn't show up. Now you might laugh at someone for falling for such a scam, but I don't judge so quickly, nor underestimate how much of an effect loneliness can have on a man (or woman for that matter). Lots of people do most of their communication online, and so it's not uncommon in our age for people to "fall in love" before meeting each other. When they do meet sure it *might* be disaster, but you'd be surprised how often it's wedding bells soon afterwards. And so I'd say that it's good to only search for people nearby and if you are developing a connection with someone online, try and meet that person in real life before you fall too deep. In their profile picture they took might be them several years ago - before the accident/weight gain/sex change or seven kids! Or more likely, you just won't feel the same spark, you had imagined, either way - at least you're getting out there and have an awesome story to tell. One guy I chatted to randomly in a club told me his internet dating story: finding a wonderful woman, dating for months then suddenly discovered she was married, he was quite upset at the time, but can laugh about it now. These things do happen, people do lie about themself in their profile, but hey - the same thing often happens in real life, so it goes without saying to keep your wits about you and make sure you pay attention to any "inconsistencies" between a person's profile and the way they answer their profiles.


It should go without saying that when you agree to meet someone for the first time (especially if you're a woman), make sure it's somewhere public for the purposes of safety and comfort. A coffee shop is a good idea because if your cyber date isn't going well you won't be stuck there too long (which can happen if you commit to a dinner), and if it does go well you can hang around and chat as long as you like. As a warning: the first time you meet someone from the internet in real life it will probably make you very nervous but hey, it's good to feel alive like this and it will be easier the next time. Unlike a blind-date the great thing is you know what they look like and probably already have a lot to talk about. It's quite normal to actually feel like you "already know them" as you've already chatted online!


A summary or pros and cons for internet dating

Pros

  • Can setup a profile in minutes, and quickly see if there is anyone nearby you might be interested in meeting.
  • Chance to meet, flirt and build confidence with other singles.
  • Ability to search people who match what you are attracted to.
  • Much less inhibition than real life.
  • Much of the chance is taken out.
  • Easy to do from home, at your own pace.
  • Easy to remove your profile at any time.
  • After creating one profile, it's easy to reuse the same text and picture and try searching lots of sites.
  • You may have many great matches out there just waiting for you!

Cons

  • Many sites represent poor value for money.
  • Many sites send constant spam.
  • Many sites contain fake users.
  • Many users are not as they appear.


How to increase your chances

So you've decided to sign up! Great for you. Just because you've created a profile doesn't necessarily mean you'll get contacted (or contacted back) though. You have to make sure your profile stands out from the crowd.


Username and tagline - make it intriguing

On most sites the first couple of lines of your profile and/or your "tag line" is what is displayed next to your photo when people search matches, so this part is critical! If you tag line is uninteresting or timid ("I've never tried online dating before but my friend said blah blah") people will click on the next guy (or girl) instead - it's as simple as that! Your tag line needs to be playful ("Smart, funny and hot, what more could you want!") and/or capture peoples intrigue ("I have a secret, guess what it is!"). Many people will be attracted to certain keywords such as "smart", "tall", "affectionate", "funny", "independent", "romantic", "hugs", "travel", "athletic", "confident", "playful", "exotic", "adventurous", and since each person has their own buzzwords they are attracted to (for example if I see the word "intelligent" I click that profile immediately!), so you may as well try include a few in your profile! More importantly: make certain you don't have any spelling/grammar mistakes (this can be a huge turn-off to many people) and if you really want to attract someone intelligent make sure you throw in a couple of great words like "eclectic". Don't forget your username is just as (if not more) important, so pick a good one. As an alternative to using buzzwords (eg: "tall_funny_doctor", "misses0hugs"), you can opt for something playful (eg: "how_you_doing_lately", "bubblegum85") or may even chose to name yourself after a famous character (eg: "catw0man", "casanova_23", "jack_sparrow").... have fun with it.


Profile text - positive, confident and straightforward

Depending on where you live there may be tens to hundreds of other people the same gender and age you are (for want of a better word) competing against - so your goal is to stand out from the masses. Generic cliché's like "long walks on the beach", "easy-going" and so on are done to death, so you're goal is to find out what makes you unique and emphasise that. Something like "I love giving massages and I'm told I'm really good, but I'd let you be the judge" makes you sound confident and fun. Self-deprecation in an online profile is a big no, even if you're trying to be funny and if you come across as intense or strange (eg: "if you want to contact me don't bullshit me" or "my friend think I'm weird but that's just...") most people will run a mile. Just as some words can turn people on, some words (and stereotypes) will turn people off. If in doubt, leave it out and by all means you can and should leave a few things unsaid or open-ended to create mystery and a window for people to ask you questions. Both men and women are attracted to people with confidence, ambition and a sense of humour. As my biggest piece of advice, make sure you search lots of other profiles and write out a few bullet points of the type of profiles you find attractive. Use some of these ideas in your own profile!


When you write you profile remediable that it's okay to portray yourself in the best possible light - everyone else does so you'd be a fool not to. However, be very careful when you start nearing that fine line of telling fibs - if you don't appreciate other people lying then neither should you. Honestly is the best policy and will ultimately help you find a better match - especially when it comes to describing your values (if they ask these question) and what you really want in your next relationship.


Selecting a profile picture - something recent with great lighting

When it comes to the photo the same principle applies: portray yourself well, but don't be dishonest. In other words find a great photo of you, but make sure it's a recent photo (not one taken ten years ago) and keep in mind people will be expecting/hoping to meet the same person from those pictures. People usually look their best in natural light (i.e. sunlight) and when they smile. Ideally you should take a photo specifically for your profile picture. To supplement that you might have a few holiday or fun photos of yourself to show your playful side. As they say on most site "people with a picture get contacted 10 time more" and the more pictures the better (so long as they're all good ones). Get a friend to help you picture out the best ones.

  • Pictures that work well: outdoors, smiling, laughing (my personal favorite as it shows humor), dancing, travel, funny pics (hugging a statue, unusual pose, etc), slightly coy photo, doing something you enjoy but not showy (ab-sailing).
  • Pictures that don't work: hugging someone of opposite gender (even if you cut them out, people wonder "is that an ex?") , shirtless photo, muscle photo, cheesy bathroom mirror photo, photo of a guy playing a guitar and/or leaning against a car, unhappy or weird facial expressions, anything kinky.


Contacting other users - cast the net wide!

In real life, girls often expected guys to "approach" them, but in online dating it goes both ways - guys are impressed when a women contacts them, and on a dating site it's easy to do so. If you want to be successful the message here is reach out to lots of people. Forget contacting one person at a time then waiting - it's a game of numbers, so write to lots of people. The best way to get a response is to really read that person's profile carefully and show an interest "Dear lovelygirl, I really loved your profile and your smile! It sounds like we have a lot in common. I'm curious to know what you think about ... . If you want to have a chat some time my e-mail/MSN/facebook is XXX". Notice that it's a good idea to add someone to facebook or a program like MSN that that you can hopefully chat online. By typing a thoughtful message you're much more likely to get a reply than just sending a "wink". If you get a reply back that's great, but if you don't hear back don't take it to heart. Not surprisingly, the really attractive users tend to get hundreds of hits and sometimes are too overloaded to reply - hence you should increase your chances by opening communication with several people at a time. When it comes to physically dating people, I personally am put off by anyone who dates more than one person at once, but when it comes to flirting online, go crazy!


If after a month (if you paid for a month) you don't have any luck think of it like fishing. If you don't get a bite you have to try new bait or a new fishing spot. First of all chance your profile picture and profile text, and if that doesn't work try another dating site. Soon you'll see what works and what doesn't and it's definitely a good idea to ask your friends (or other dating users) what they like and what you should change in your profile.


When people contact you with a personal message as opposed to a wink, even if you don't find them attractive it's polite to reply. Who knows, you may get to talking and then find you have more in common that you think - or maybe it will just boost your confidence to flirt - or maybe you can help each other in other ways. When you read other people's profiles, you really shouldn't be too judgemental, superficial, fussy and/or selective. Just because someone has a few items that don't match your "ideal partner" doesn't mean they're not fantastic for you. You may find you love chatting to online so much you can't resist meeting in person... and even if there is no romantic interest, there's still the chance of a great friendship, some great conversation and even a chance they'll "refer you" to a friend of theirs whom they think might be perfect for you. You should login regularly (once a week at least) for two reasons: (a) so you appear as an active user and thus more likely to show up near the top of people's search lists and (b) because new people add themselves all the time, so you don't want to miss out.


To summarise my advice in bullet points:

  • Upload a great profile photo of yourself - but one that is recent!
  • Paint yourself in the best light, but don't tell any fibs.
  • Try your best to stand out from the crowd and avoid clichés.
  • Write an intriguing tag-line which makes people want to read more.
  • Don't tell your whole life story; by leaving a few things open ended people will be more likely to contact you and ask questions.
  • Type full sentences (not text speak) and triple check your spelling.
  • Be confident and playful. No-one likes needy or self-deprecating profiles.
  • Visit regularly (one a week) and check for new users.
  • Contact anyone and everyone. Keep in mind many people won't/can't reply because they haven't paid or have something else going on - so take no offence.
  • In the message you send, demonstrate an interest in their profile and give them your e-mail /facebook and/or MSN.
  • If you aren't getting any contacts try changing your profile or try a different site - think of it like fishing.
  • The best way to improve your chances is to pay for the service (after doing research of course) so you can actually write people messages. A month should be more than enough.


And the three best pieces of advice I can give are thus:

  • Before making your own profile look through many other profiles of people - especially people your same gender - and this will help you work out how to stand out and get a feel for what does and doesn't work. ***
  • Get one or more friends to help proof-read and improve your profile and they'll probably be flattered you asked. If you're too embarrassed ask me! I love that kind of thing.
  • Have fun with it! Your state of mind is half the battle.

Conclusion

Even if you've never tried internet dating, chances are you already have several opinions. Hopefully after reading this article you'll be convinced that internet dating isn't for "desperate" people, it's for smart people. Unless you're super hot, confident and outgoing it's hard these days to find that special someone... and if you're lucky enough that you are super attractive and extraverted, you might just have a different problem: finding a decent person. Online dating takes out most of the chance and inhibitions that keeps so many of us single, and so you really have little to lose from giving it a try. I certainly wished I tried during my first few years of university when I barely met a single woman thanks to my choice of degree and all-male group of friends.


If you are interested in giving online dating a try I suggest you visit this next page where I've listed some sites which others have recommended. Half the challenge of internet dating is finding a good site.

If you're curious why I invested time making this wiki page there are many reasons. I invested time in writing this page, researching online and talking to people is because it's such an interesting topic, but more than that I wrote this article for the "glory". What I want more than anything is to convert some of my friends (male and female), have them sign up to online dating sites, find love and write back to me to say thanks. That to me is glory.  :-)


I've written lots of helpful pages on site wiki site, but none have the potential to impact people quite like this one, and so any feedback would be much appreciated.


All the best in finding love!

Regards,
... Andrew.



Keeping an open mind (some afterthoughts!)

With the old stigmas about internet dating dying, what was once a topic people avoided discussing is now a hot topic - its fun-to-talk about and it's more fascinating than ever! If nothing else I hope this article helps you realize there's nothing stopping you from discussing it with your friend and asking other people about their own cyber-date experiences. In my case, the first girl I met via online dating (also the only one at the time of writing) was a wonderful experience, and one I am very thankful for. We met, we liked each other, we went on three "cyber dates" (as we called it) and we became friends - and that in itself was a beautiful thing. On my way to meet her for the first time I was definitely a little nervous, but as soon as I saw her smile (and yes she looked exactly as she did in her profile - even wearing the same clothes which helped) it felt like I already knew her, thanks to chatting online. Without even thinking I gave her a hug. For me it feels awesome to know my inhibitions about meeting someone from online have now gone - they next time I'm sure I'll be more excited than nervous. Before you ask, no nothing happened! Just before our first cyber date I discovered I was leaving to San Diego in a few weeks, but we talked about it online and decided we still wanted to meet for coffee and then a short hike together. :-)


Rachel is a great girl and got me thinking about several things: in particular she really made me question the way we typically stereotype people before meeting them. Of the five cyber dates she's met: four resulted in friendship, one in a great romance, one a bit creepy and one in some awesome dance moves (me!). In addition to helping me proof-read this article (which I'm very grateful for) she's contributed some of her own advice which I wanted to finish on:

"Never stereotype someone before you meet them. The trick is go in with no expectations, rather than sitting there and dreaming about what they would be like in person. You could adore them online, then you'll meet them and they are not what you expect. Or the opposite can happen; you could fob someone off and they could be perfect! Stay safe and just give it a shot!" -- Rachel

If you have your own stories or feedback to add, don't forget to e-mail me: andrew.noskeATSIGNgmail.com.

See Also


Interesting videos


Links


Acknowledgements: The incredible Rachel Densmore in Australia, plus an array of other wonderful girls I met in the United States on online dating - many of them now good friends.  :)