Basics of Online Dating…

Basics of Online Dating…

Current estimates are that 30% of couples find each other online; by 2030, it will be 75%. Technology has gifted us with this major new route to “true love.” It’s a good addition–it helps you meet people outside your current social circle. But it isn’t like saying “Hi” to someone at a football game. Be ready to learn to do things a new way.

If you’re not tech savvy, doing anything online is intimidating. Don’t let that stop you. YOU CAN LEARN THIS. Even if you don’t end up coupled because you did, it’s worth trying.

Online dating helps you clarify what you want in a relationship and how you want to spend your time–and your life–if there’s a special someone. You also get a lot of practice at interacting with those who might be a good match (assuming you do more than lurk). And you become more comfortable saying “No” and “I want”–words that are difficult for many of us.

The negatives? First, pay attention to the current advice about scams. They are pretty easy to spot once you know the characteristics. Second, communication on social media is more self-centered and disconnected. It’s far more likely that you won’t get a reply when you message someone than if you spoke with her/him face-to-face. The give-and-take of a regular conversation takes a while to develop. So you hear a lot of “nothing” at first. To put it bluntly, the response rate on messages is pitiful. I don’t think this is just me. Some guys actually rant about it in their profiles. People blow off others more readily online. Know that going in.

It’s different than how we dated in our youth. Since you’re outside your actual life, you don’t have a context (like work or church or the pool table at your favorite bar) where you get to know the person first. On an online dating site it’s all about meeting potential dates–no other dimension that gives you a good start on whether or not you like a person enough to know more. You decide to approach someone using only oversimplified metrics like age, height, and geographic proximity.

You may have a photo or two and maybe a few paragraphs of text. But that’s all. The whole thing can be terrifying if you are seeing that first contact as approaching your new helpmate/playmate/soulmate. That will paralyze you. It’s a lot easier if you see it as “a chance to talk to men” (or women). Who’s interesting? Who might be fun to get to know? Save the heavy duty decision making for when you have more information. You’re gonna kiss a lot of frogs to get that far.

The online dating process has been described as looking for a needle in a haystack. I’d amend that…it’s like looking for a microneedle in 200 acres of recently mowed hay using the magnifying glass from a kid’s science set. But let’s face it, in the last third of life, you don’t even have haystacks to look in if you don’t try new things–like online dating.

Get a sense of what’s involved before you join.

Doing general research first gives you more confidence when you join a site. You can read everything from academic research reports to a wide range of blogs about personal experience by googling “online dating”. The results will include tips on how to “message”….reviews and comparisons of the dating sites….articles on how to spot and avoid dating site scams….and lots of advice on how to create a good profile. All of that will make it easier to actually do it.

Check out the promising site(s).

Once you have a basic idea of which sites do what, do specific research on the ones you’re most drawn to. This can be online research or talking to people you know who’ve tried them. At a minimum, read reviews of the site. (Expect they will be more negative than positive. People write a review when they don’t like what happened.) Reviews–even negative ones–offer a lot about how best to use that site.

Accept that it will cost money.

Some sites offer “free memberships” as a way to get you interested. But a free membership only lets you see who’s on the site. (At least sometimes. Some of the sites blur the photos.) To actually make contact with interesting prospects, you need access to messaging, which typically is offered only with a paid subscription.

Don’t “cheap think” this. The sites are for-profit. They put time, money, and talent into creating and administering a service that you want to use. They should get paid. But don’t sign up for a lot of extra features (at an additional cost) until you’ve been on the site long enough to know whether they are worth the money for you.

Study the membership options before you join.

Their “best value” will only be that if you want to be on the site that long. When you first start out, it will take some time to get the hang of it. A single month isn’t long enough to do that, even if you start with some coaching from friends. But the longest length subscription might not be what you need either. Signing up for a 3-month membership and then renewing it may be wiser than starting with a 6-month commitment. That way you can decide if you want to spend money for the second three months after you have experience with the site.

Once you join, that money is spent. You don’t get a prorated portion back if you don’t like the service or decide you don’t like online dating. Make peace with that before you get involved.

Last….and this is IMPORTANT: Turn off the automatic renewal function once you enroll. Otherwise, your credit card will get billed at the end of each subscription period, even if you never go to the site. You can turn this off immediately after you get notification that your membership is active if you want. (You’re already on the hook for your first subscription. If you turn it off, it just means they can’t renew it without you telling them to.) This is your job. Do it. And no whining about how the sites shouldn’t set it up this way.

(Note: Look for a “cancel subscription” kind of wording. DON’T “deactivate account” unless you are sure you want nothing more to do with it. Deactivating removes you immediately, so you won’t be able to use what you already paid for.)

Create a profile that projects who you truly are.

Don’t be one of those people who gives only the check-a-box info ….age, height, body type, level of education, location, marital status, and astrological sign. (Don’t get me started on that one.) Leaving it at that is like getting the car out of the garage and then just sitting in it in the driveway.

There are a gazillion excuses: “I don’t write well.” “I don’t have a photo.” “I don’t know how.” “I don’t have time.” “I’m embarrassed about my hair loss”-Or whatever. If you don’t want to put solid effort into a profile, don’t join. Once you’re on the site, that half-effort labels you. Blank space where words are needed says “I don’t care.” Who wants a date with someone who doesn’t care? A single, out of focus “mug shot” photo with you scowling isn’t going to leave anyone swooning either. You can “shop” hundreds of profiles, looking for the perfect person, but unless YOU have a good profile up, she/he may not even reply when you reach out. No one’s going to make the first move either unless you’ve offered a decent amount of information.

Be honest. Write about what’s important to you and what you like to do. Try to show who you are rather than just using general terms. Cover the deal breakers if you have them. (e.g. I can’t be around cigarette smoke.) Talk about what you like best of being with a special someone. Most sites help you organize this information. But don’t write same thing in every text block. That’s just a different verse of “I don’t care.”

Use current photos. Notice that’s plural. You need more than one, with a full length shot and a good headshot in the mix. Use the headshot for your primary photo. Try for four or so. Use photos in different settings with different poses. Use more photos of you than of your pets, toys, home, yard, and/or family members.

Make sure what you put up is in focus. And, be sure they are not posted sideways…(Yes, this really happens.)

If you don’t already have current photos of yourself, ask a friend or family member to take some. Also learn the art of taking selfies and cropping them to help fill out “your porfolio.”

Get permission before you include anyone else in what you post. Be especially careful about using photos of your grandkids or other children. (If I want a photo about being with them, I crop all but a small portion their image out of what I post.)

The effort you put into what you post is critical. You can claim to high heaven that you prefer to “just talk when we meet” but if you don’t describe yourself in your profile, it suggests you won’t be able to carry on a decent conversation in person.

If this is more than you can pull off, find some help. Maybe that would be your kids or grandkids. Sometimes it’s friends. Or you can hire a person to write what you want to express or to take the photos you want to post. If you’re going to do it, do it right.

Get involved in it. Period.

This isn’t a classified ad where you put it out there and wait for something to happen. You need to take an active role. The old “rule” that the guy makes the first move doesn’t apply. Whoever is interested enough to reach out is the right one to go first. If you want to connect, you have to take the risk of trying.

Messaging, via the site, is the basic tool for getting things going. Once you find someone you’d like to get to know, you have to be willing to type words into the text box and hit “Send.” If you get a reply, you can start to build a substitute for the context that you would start with in regular dating. But to do that, you both have to provide enough information via that text box to sketch out the terrain. Two word texts don’t go far enough and jumping from “Hi” directly to “Let’s go to the beach” isn’t going to work. You have make the other person comfortable before you can actually talk about going on a date. Ask questions. Offer information about yourself. Pay attention to what doesn’t get answered when you ask, too.

If “typing in that little box” is a problem and you’re using your computer, write what you want to say in your word processing software and cut-and-paste it into the text box. Send lengthy messages in segments. (Long text blocks are even harder to read than to input with a dating site messaging box.) After some back and forth using the site’s messaging, you can suggest “graduating” to email, texting, or phone calls until you’re far enough to decide if you want to meet in person. (This varies. Sometimes, you end up meeting after only a little messaging, because the profile information was outstanding. Sometimes, trying to get to where you feel you know what you are getting into moves at glacial speed.)

One thing to note: The site will nudge you along. They will send you notices that “so and so has viewed your profile” or that “so and so wants to meet you” (because he/she hit the heart instead of the X when going through profiles the site suggested). I’ve had experience where the site sent words “for” the person to make me think he initiated. Or so he claimed…. Just be aware that the system takes steps to get people interacting. If there’s a misunderstanding, laugh it off and keep going. Sometimes these “mistakes” lead to nice surprises. And they always help you learn more.

While you’re learning, the site is also learning. Every time you choose, whether it’s yes or no, that’s more information for the site to use in figuring out who, among the many users on the site, might be the right match for you. The reason dating sites work is that they use the power of the computer to sort a huge amount of data for you. (There are over 40 million users on the site I’m currently on.) You can also create your own searches on most sites, setting limits on variables like distance, religion (which includes non-religious options), age, education, etc.

The big thing is to keep it light and to wear you thickest skin. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear back; just find someone else to message. Don’t assume that you’ve seen everyone because of what your search offered today. It’s can take time. And new members join all the time.

Be realistic.

If he/she seems too good to be true, pay attention to the details. Scammers have an uncanny way of hitting all the right notes and making it seem like you are in a full blown romance before you even meet. They also say things that don’t add up. In general, be wary of anyone who is not interested in meeting fairly soon after you meet online. That online conversation is only a place to start. You want someone in real life, not a pen pal. The only way to see if there’s chemistry is to meet.

And when you do that, stay sane. Agreeing to go for a walk on a secluded beach as your first glimpse of each other is not sane–nor is any other situation where you are alone with a person you do not know in a place where there aren’t other people and you can’t get away if you need to. Meet for coffee. A glass of wine. At a museum. In a restaurant for lunch. And be up front about who’s going to pay for what if there’s a cost to it. Paying your own way is best.

Keep going.

To get to where you’re comfortable at it, you’ll probably need to work through an awkward stage where you feel like you’re back in 6th grade, trying to get the boy (girl) across from you in English class to notice you. I did. Just keep going.

When I first started online dating, it was to “talk to guys.” I was grossly out of practice so it’s what I needed. Now I still use it to “talk to guys” but also to learn what does and doesn’t work for me; to stretch my comfort zone without taking stupid risks; to say “No thank you” graciously and move on; and to be intentionally aware of what I am feeling as I proceed.

After a while things get stale if you just let what’s already up run, too. Tweak your profile. Change out your photos. Freshen it however makes sense to you. Have some fun with how you message. Keep it light. See it as an online adventure.

If you get to where you are enjoying the process, you can continue for decades. If not, take what you learned and move on to something else as a way to meet prospective mates. Or maybe you will be in that 30% who do find someone special via online dating.

Note for 2019: I am hoping we recover from this current plague of national political rancor quickly, because it’s making a mess of dating (and everything else). This is sad…and frustrating, but hopefully temporary.

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