At this point, everyone knows about online dating. If you haven’t tried it, probably many of your friends have. I used it back in my single days and found it very effective for reaching out to many people who I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to contact or interact with.
However, a lot of people aren’t using online dating to their best benefit. One of my recent female clients had only two pictures up, and both were professional shots. This is a huge red flag to men. It suggests that this is the best she could possibly look, and, in fact, she might be much less attractive. Also, it conveys that she doesn’t have friends, doesn’t do anything, and isn’t active. It doesn’t necessarily mean any of these things, but that’s the perception it can give. And online dating is all about perception at the beginning.
For people who are dabbling in the virtual dating world, I’ve compiled a list of tips to help out in as many ways as I can. Now, remember, advice is not one size fits all. What works for one may not work for another, so experiment and find out what works best for you.
Online Dating Rules: Etiquette (#1-4)
Growing up, my mother used to teach etiquette classes, so I grew up knowing which fork to use when, how to be chivalrous, and how best to communicate your ideas. While I may have rolled my eyes about this as a teenager (who didn’t?!), it’s so nice to be able to have a good base of etiquette and manners. That doesn’t mean I use them all the time, but at least I know what they are. Online dating, like anything else, has some etiquette rules everyone should follow.
1. Don’t Hide Who You Are
It always amazes me how much people willingly disguise who they are online. I’m not talking about anonymous trolls — I’m talking about how you represent yourself. Listen, I have no problem if you want to add 1 inch or subtract five pounds. That’s called a white lie.
But, if the profiles I read are any indication, EVERYONE seems to be “a world-class traveler who’s happy chilling at home on a Friday or hitting the town, loves to explore ethnic restaurants, and enjoys outside activities like hiking, kayaking, or biking.” And then when you go on a date, they’d rather Netflix and chill, or they enjoy sleeping in on a Saturday and lounging around eating pizza.
All of these choices are OK. It’s just that you don’t want to misrepresent yourself. We’re all saying these things because we think that’s what others want to hear, but the more you disguise yourself, the less chance you have of finding someone who’s totally into what you are into. Author Laura Zinn opines, and I agree, “Be exactly who you are, though this means you’ll get rejected.” That is, until the person who loves everything about you comes along!
2. Don’t Start Spouting Opinions Before You’ve Met
I know this election, in particular, has been extremely divisive, but this is not the time to start sharing your opinions on politics or any other possibly fiery topics. I have friends who are all over the spectrum. We just avoid those topics because we are adults and enjoy our friendship.
If you draw out a position that is different from yours right off the bat, you might completely discount the person. However, if you spent some time getting to know them and have built a foundation of mutual respect and, hopefully, interest, then you can start to share more controversial topics.
On every topic that exists, I have some friends on one side and some on another. Even my wife and I don’t agree on some things. And you know what? That’s OK! It prompts interesting discussions and opens our eyes to multiple sides of an issue, so keep your convo light and fun at the beginning.
3. Use the Same Style of Language You Would Use in Polite Company
“Damn girl, you hot!” Do not say this or anything like it! The woman you’re talking to is a human being, not an object. Act appropriately. I know men tend to just say what enters their heads without passing it through a filter. It can be understandable in person when they get their wires crossed and trip over their tongue. However, when you’re online, you have plenty of time to think about your message.
Imagine you met this person in real life. Is this how you would start your interaction? When I am instructing my male clients, I tell them to imagine they are talking to their sister or grandmother at first. The opening is just to start a conversation. The flirting can come later after you’ve had a few emails or calls. You are a human being first and a potential mate second. Be respectful, be engaging, and be excited to meet them.
4. If You Connect, This Doesn’t Mean You Get to Add Them on All Social Platforms
You met on an online dating site. You’ve exchanged some emails and had a phone call. You know their real name and possibly their social media handles. This doesn’t mean you now can blast invites over Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Kik, WhatsApp, Tumblr, LinkedIn, or YouTube. While both men and women do this, I find the ladies do it a bit more. It makes sense as women are usually more communicative than guys.
Take the social media dive slowly. Learn about each other in person instead of scrolling through their posts. When you’re smitten, you want to know and learn everything about your new flame, and it can come across as needy and smothering. Do what normal people do and just silently stalk them from the shadows! (That’s a joke. Nobody should be stalking anybody.)
Online Dating Rules: Texting & Messaging (#5-8)
As with just about everything else, there’s a right way to message people through email and texting. One of my current clients met someone on OkCupid, and they exchanged numbers. They sent a few texts back and forth, but then he started blowing up her phone. She started getting four to five unrequited texts, and then he was wondering what she was doing since she wasn’t answering his texts. This guy basically sabotaged his chances. Don’t let this be you!
5. Mirror Their Style
Biologically speaking, humans are pack animals, and to be accepted into the pack, we must be similar to the others in the pack. To do this, we’ve developed a psychological tool called mirroring. This means we do what others do in order to seem like them. Many times, it’s subconsciously. We like people who are similar to us in actions.
If they write two sentences, respond with two sentences. If they write two paragraphs, write two paragraphs. If they tell you a slightly embarrassing story, guess what you should do? Right! Tell them a slightly embarrassing story! It doesn’t have to be exactly the same, but there shouldn’t be an obvious imbalance. If someone writes to you “Hey, I like that picture of you in Tulum! I’ve always wanted to visit there. Did you like it?” Do not respond with a thousand-word story about how you liked it at first but lost your wallet and had to find a way to get your family to wire you money so you could pay the skeptical boutique hotel owner. People are just testing the water with their first emails. Don’t cannonball in.
6. For the Love of Everything, Use Proper Grammar
There is no correlation between bad spelling or grammar and intelligence. Einstein was notoriously bad. However, there is a perceived link. Meaning, if you use improper grammar or have many typos, people have the impression that you are not that smart. Online dating is all about first impressions. You want to have everything going for you as much as you can in the beginning.
Keep your homonyms straight (your, you’re) and your possessives minimal (it’s, its). I know you use internet slang and text language to your friends, but this is not your friend. This is someone you’re, well, hoping to sleep with or be in a relationship with. You want to impress them at least a little. Re-read your messages once before you send them to make sure there are no glaring mistakes.
7. No More Than Four Back-and-Forths
You’re looking for a potential mate, not a pen pal. I think three back-and-forths (six total emails) is the sweet spot before exchanging numbers or setting up a date, but I’ll allow four for those nervous types.
Part of dating is maximizing your time as well. You want to find out sooner rather than later if this person does or does not mesh with you, so get out there and meet them. Also, many people are using online dating as a form of entertainment. They just want to flirt and chat with people and have no desire to actually meet them in person. You want to weed these people out as quick as possible.
8. If You Exchange Numbers, You Must Call Before Texting
Yeah, you got his number! The minute you do, you send him a cute text with an adorable kissy face. Then he responds, and you jump right into a textual relationship. What are the chances you’ll actually meet in real life? They lessen with each text.
I know talking on the phone is soooooo last century, but we’re all about making sacrifices to achieve a heart’s desire. So if a number is exchanged, use it to call each other. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation, and you don’t have to talk every night. But, you do need to continue to build your foundation, so have a chat. See what they sound like, hear their tone, enjoy their laughter. Once you’ve had your talk, go ahead and text each other.
Online Dating Rules: Safety (#9-12)
With the ease and openness of our communications these days, sometimes we forget about our safety. There’s a certain “it won’t happen to me” mentality. But guess what? It does happen to some people. I’m not here to scare you, but I’m here to make sure you’re being cautious. I once had a stalker who was a guy and catfished me into thinking he was a woman. He found out where I lived and started sending me really creepy messages. It’s scary! You feel like your life has a sudden lack of control. So use these tips to keep it all fun and (mostly) safe.
9. Be Careful About the Kind of Info You Share
This is about what you share in your profile as well as what you share in messages. Your first pet, the street you grew up on, your elementary school, and other seemingly innocuous things can be used to glean your password for online trolls. And I don’t think it needs to be said at this point but NEVER share your financial information, home address, or your full name.
We want to think the best of people, but there are a lot of unkind people in the world. No sane and rational person would ever ask some stranger they met online for a quick cash infusion so he can get home from the airport because he lost his wallet.
10. Be Internet-Savvy
If this perfect person and you are enjoying long chats, flirty emails, and fun texts but, for some reason, can’t quite meet up, it should raise a red flag. Multiple cancellations, excessive “travel,” or working abroad are mostly red herrings. This person might be grooming you for a scam.
Likewise, if things seem to be progressing too quickly or sound too good to be true, be wary. If he talks about destiny or fate bringing you together, be wary. If she seems to quickly share her trials and tribulations (that later may come up, asking you for help or money), be very careful. If they insist on using Skype or another third-party app like WhatsApp instead of a phone, your Spidey senses should be tingling. At the end of the day, use common sense and trust your gut. If something seems off, it probably is.
11. Meet in a Public Place
For your first few dates, always meet in a public place. I mean, really, your date should want to meet you in a public place like a bar, coffee shop, or restaurant. That’s where the fun and excitement is! There’s plenty of time later to have dinner dates or game nights or Netflix and chill with your future paramour. There shouldn’t be any rush to meet you privately.
If they really want you to come over to their house or apartment for a first date because their azaleas are in bloom and a garden picnic would be great, tell them you’ll take a rain check. If there’s ever the slightest feeling of pressure, back off and rethink your plans. If I met a fantastic woman, I’d be totally fine with whatever she wanted to do and wouldn’t even think of trying to get her straight to my place. And, yes, he might seem like a total sweet puppy dog and all around good guy, but, not trying to scare you, most serial killers are very charismatic people.
12. Stay (Relatively) Sober
I know New York City is jokingly referred to as a city of functioning alcoholics. That’s just because no one ever has to drive anywhere. And while, yes, it’s fun to have fun, leave those crazy, raucous nights for the future. I recommend the first date doesn’t involve alcohol. Both of you are going to be a little nervous, and sometimes it can lead to the drinks going down too easily. And nobody wants a sloppy date, especially right at the beginning.
For the second date, third date, and onward, go ahead and have some drinks, but keep your head on straight for a while. Always get your own drinks, and don’t leave them unattended. If you feel him or her pressuring you to get drunk (TEQUILLA SHOTS!), use the “early morning meeting” excuse for why you’re not tossing ‘em back. And then reevaluate to make sure you’re not dating an alcoholic.
Follow These Tips & You’ll Have a Great Time!
Online dating is a fantastic way to meet people of all sorts, and I highly recommend it to my friends and clients. But it’s not a panacea that will fix all of your problems, and you’re still going to meet some weirdos out there like you do anywhere. So be ready for that, but the absolute ease of being able to browse hotties in your skivvies makes it a must in today’s digital world. Just follow these tips to help make the experience better and more productive for you.
And if you’re one of those purists who scoff at meeting people online, just know that I met my wife on Myspace, and we’re both relatively normal people. So get out there and connect!
Photo sources: stopassistedsuicidemd.org, theonion.com, bigthink.com, theatlantic.com, idtheftwarning.com, lovepanky.com