Stages Of Online Dating

Online Dating

The 8 Stages of Online Dating, According to Experts (Feb. 2024)

Julie Spira

Written by: Julie Spira

Julie Spira

Julie Spira is a leading online dating expert and founder of She’s the bestselling author of The Perils of Cyber-Dating and creates irresistible profiles for singles.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of journalism experience to ensure DatingAdvice articles have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. She has worked at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Gwinnett Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun covering lifestyle topics.

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Did you know that most singles who create online dating profiles despise the word “dating?” The thought of going on three dates a week for six to 12 months can feel daunting and overwhelming.

I frequently hear from singles who say that they’d like to pass the necessary stages of courtship and go from a right swipe to in a relationship in a split-second. But, as the songs say, “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “Love Takes Time.”

While it would be ideal to have a magic wand for your dream date to appear in the first three days that you’re online, it’s an unrealistic expectation.

Like traditional courtship, there are different stages in the online dating process, and following them will help you realistically achieve your relationship goals.

1. Deciding to Join a Dating App

Gone are the days of whispering to your friends that you’re thinking of signing up for a dating app, but you don’t want anyone to know. Going online is the most popular way for couples to meet, and it’s never been easier to find love from the convenience of your mobile phone.

To help you get started, you should decide which dating app (or apps) you’d like to join.

I always suggest joining one well-known mainstream site, such as Match, OkCupid, Tinder, or Bumble. Then, once you’re comfortable with the platform, add one to two more, including a niche dating app for pet lovers, astrology enthusiasts, or gamers, for example.

2. Creating Your Profile

Once you take the plunge, it’s time to go to stage two of the online dating process. Consider your dating profile to be your resumé for love, and the first place to start is in the photo selection.

If you have six awesome photos, you’re ahead of the game, as singles are swiftly swiping left and right based on your primary image.

If your mobile phone is filled with endless selfies, it’s time to enlist the help of a pal or a professional photographer to snap photos of you in a variety of outfits. Make sure your primary photo shows your smile, and wear a bright-colored top (red is my favorite because it’s the color of love).

Include a few closeups and full-length body shots in your profile. If you have a pet, I suggest posting a photo with your four-legged friend in the sixth photo position.

Photo of a dating profile

Your dating profile should be honest and full of unique photos.

Most dating apps ask you to answer some basic questions, including your age, age range preferences for your date, and how far you’d be willing to travel for a date. Since dating during the pandemic went virtual, many singles have expanded their search parameters from 50 miles to 500 miles or more. Keep in mind that many single daters are now working from home, and people will readily move for love.

Some dating apps, such as eharmony and OkCupid, require you to answer a long list of questions so the algorithms can send you compatible matches. I suggest taking the time to answer as many as you can to help hone in on the match percentages.

Remember to be specific about your dating goals by adding LTR, the acronym for a long-term relationship, if you’re looking for a serious and committed relationship. If you’re interested in something casual, be honest about it and say you’re not looking for anything serious.

3. Swiping and Matching

Once you’ve perfected your profile, the fun begins. Being the fresh face on a dating app is similar to finding a new listing in real estate.

During the first few weeks of posting your new dating profile, you’ll appear more frequently in searches, and more people will view your profile.

It would be best to open your dating app at least three times a day to spend a few moments swiping right or left on matches sent your way.

You can proactively search or set your search parameters using your favorite keywords, such as “travel” or “foodie,” on some apps or focus on age and distance factors.

Remember to enable push notifications in your mobile phone settings to receive notifications of new messages and matches. This way, you can respond quickly to get the conversation started.

4. Chatting and Communicating

When you finally match with someone you’re interested in, know that you should respond the same day or within 24 hours, so the match doesn’t go stale.

It’s time to ramp up your vocabulary skills. Writing messages with little content, such as simply saying “Hey,” may come across as being lazy and won’t grab people’s attention. Unless you’ve already established a connection, don’t ask “How’s your day going?”

On dating apps, messages that are shorter and include a question get the most responses. Make sure you take the time to send a witty ice-breaker, and mention your match’s name.

An excellent example of this would be, “Hi, Jenna! Has anyone ever told you you’ve got a killer smile?” or “Hello, James. I’m so happy we matched! We must have similar taste in TV shows. What was the last series you watched?”

Photo of woman texting

Whether you’re messaging in the app or texting from your cellphone number, you want to be engaging and ask your match questions.

Once you receive a reply to your message, remember to keep the momentum going, as you would when texting with a friend. Add a smile or wink emoji to show that you’re flirty and fun. Messages should typically be no longer than five sentences, including a question, to encourage a response.

Everyone has the travel itch now, so if your match has posted travel photos, ask them when they last visited one of their favorite locations. If their dream vacation on their bucket list matches yours, that’s a great ice-breaker.

Remember, you’re not looking for a digital pen pal, so once you’ve exchanged a few messages back and forth, suggest hopping on the phone or a video chat, and schedule a 20-minute conversation to see how you connect.

5. Meeting IRL

Whether you’re on a string of one-and-done dates or decide to focus on meeting one person at a time, after a few text exchanges, it’s time to agree on meeting your new digital crush. I say the sooner the better.

If you’re chatting with someone you like but aren’t scheduling a date, your connection will start to fade after a while. So will their interest in you. That’s why, if you click, don’t play hard to get. Remember that your match is chatting with multiple people, and so should you. But typically one thread of messages will stand out over the others.

The old rule of never going on a first date on a Saturday night is as archaic as a fax machine or a VCR. If you’re chatting on a Friday and are available the next day, don’t stand on ceremony because they’ll find someone else with whom to meet up with spontaneously.

When deciding where to go for a first date, remember to meet in a public place and provide your own transportation so you can feel safe. I also recommend you have a friend whom you can text to let them know how your date is going. Safety is the priority, and if you feel uncomfortable for any reason, just cut your date short and thank them for their time.

Some fun and simple dates include going on hikes, strolling through museums or art galleries, or grabbing a light meal.

I suggest limiting your alcohol intake to only one drink if you’re meeting in the evening, and if you prefer going on coffee dates, don’t book back-to-back dates with someone else. If your chemistry is off the charts, you may end up talking for over an hour, so leave ample time in between scheduled dates.

If your IRL date goes well, make sure to put a second date on the calendar before you leave, and try to schedule it within one week from your first date.

6. Dating Multiple People, Multiple Times

Dating takes time, and patience is a virtue. Try enjoying the process by chatting with multiple people.

If one person stands out from the rest, then continue to schedule dates with him or her until you decide if you’d like to date this person exclusively.

I often get asked if it’s acceptable to date more than one person at a time. It’s a challenge to keep your dates and conversations straight, and being organized with a notebook or spreadsheet isn’t a bad idea.

Photo of a couple on a date

It’s totally fine to date several people at once, but you want to be upfront about it.

Some people like playing the field, and others prefer to focus on one person when they click. Decide what works best for you, but realize that the person you’re crushing on may have a different approach to dating.

If you’ve had a series of one-and-done dates, that doesn’t mean you need to settle on the first person you’d be willing to go on a second date with. New people join dating apps every day, so enjoy the getting-to-know-you phase of meeting exciting people.

7. Deciding Whether to Date Exclusively

Dating labels are typically more important to women than to men. The typical labels include dating, seeing someone, almost boyfriend or girlfriend, and finally boyfriend or girlfriend.

If you like someone and have gone on multiple dates for a few weeks, you may want to ask them to become exclusive. Be prepared if they aren’t on the exact timetable as you are. Let them know you don’t want to put pressure on them and are willing to wait for them to catch up.

It’s easy to get excited when the chemistry kicks in, and you find yourself daydreaming and projecting to the future. But that’s a path that will prevent you from savoring each moment.

For some, saying you want to be exclusive means that you’ll never have sex with another person ever again. For many, that’s an enormous commitment. For others, it’s as simple as saying, “Let’s go steady and see where this journey takes us.”

8. Becoming Official and Retiring Your Dating Profiles

Once you’ve agreed to become exclusive and are officially in a relationship, it’s time to have a conversation about taking down your dating profiles. This is a momentous time for singles entering into coupledom, and it should be a celebrated moment. The popularity of becoming Facebook official, a pop-culture phenomenon, often occurs at the same time.

Whether you permanently delete your dating profile or cancel your membership and select your profile settings to hidden, this final step shows you’re committed to the relationship and aren’t looking for other options.

Photo of a cancel button

Deleting your profile is usually the end game in online dating.

Taking down your dating profiles is the ultimate goal for singles who feel like they’ve won the love lottery, so embrace this time together as you continue on your journey in your committed relationship.

As You Learn the Stages of Online Dating, It’ll Be Easy to Go From One to the Next

Once you recognize these eight stages of online dating, you should effortlessly flow from one phase to the next. If your new relationship doesn’t work out, look at it as an “almost relationship,” and reactivate your profile, tweak it with a few new updates and photos, and click on rinse and repeat to find another chance at love.

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