Travel & Leisure

Internet Dating Dos and Don’ts

Not for you, you say? You might be in for a surprise

By Olev Edur

here was a time when you met someone you liked at work or school, the attraction was mutual, you went out together a few times, and the rest was history. Oh, how times have changed. In the fast-paced, compartmentalized, technology-driven 21st century, online dating sites have become more and more popular.

Talk-show icon Dr. Phil recently stated on his website that there are “more than 40 million men and women online looking for love,” while Oprah’s website offers statistics from Match.com claiming that 20,000 users register on its website every day and from eHarmony claiming that it has 20 million registered users. The eHarmony website also has claims that it’s responsible for four per cent of all marriages in the United States—or 600,000 couples—based on a 2012 survey by now-defunct market research firm Harris Interactive.

In a 2013 article on Women’s Health magazine’s website, author Jessica Gross writes, “Online dating [had by 2013 become] the second-most common way couples meet, with 30 to 40 per cent of singles trying out some 1,500 services, from sites to apps. So if you’re single and don’t want to be, shunning digital dating is kinda, well, dumb.”

Whatever you think of it, online dating does offer great convenience and flexibility, with at-home access to countless partner prospects locally, across the country, and even abroad—it’s a global phenomenon. Most of the big dating sites are based outside Canada, but that’s unimportant because they have listings from all over the world; both Match.com and Zoosk.com (see box, below), for example, have thousands of Canadian listings.


You can find partners based on age, looks, personality, lifestyle, hobbies and pastimes, likes and dislikes—whatever suits you. There are sites for every taste, and the basic personal information is all laid out for you on the websites’ pages. Most sites make it easy to get going, although there are some cautions to consider—online dating is not always all wine and roses.

The Nature of the Game

So how do these online dating sites work, and is there anything good for retirees who are looking to reconnect?

Basically, online dating services amount to two-way want ads for partners, and many sites cater specifically to retirees, although the larger companies have plenty of members in the upper age brackets. They all work in much the same way, and they’re pretty easy to master, even for computer novices.

First you register by creating a unique “profile” for yourself, with an online name and password, and with information about yourself and the type of partner you are seeking. Each website requires a certain minimum amount of information, such as age, sex, and area of residence, but beyond that, you’re free to add as much or as little information to your profile as you like.

On Match.com and Zoosk.com, for example, you can get going simply by entering a username and password along with your age and sex and those of your desired partner; EliteSingles.com, which caters more to the professional crowd, also requires you to rate yourself on a number of subjective criteria, including “trendy,” “plain,” and “sexy.” In many cases, you need only check the applicable boxes, although you can also add as much text as desired. Photos aren’t required, but they certainly make your profile more substantive and will attract much more interest to your page.

Generally there’s no charge for putting your profile online and once you’ve done so, most sites will allow you to browse their listings for free. If you want to start contacting people, though, you’ll have to pay a fee that typically ranges around $20 to $25 a month (or the equivalent in US dollars), less if you’re willing to commit for longer periods such as three or six months, and sometimes much more for some sites’ premium services.

Creating an Attractive Profile

Even with a minimal profile, you’ll get responses. I registered on the five sites listed below to see what was involved, posting little information and no pictures, and received more than 150 responses over the next four weeks (although most of the replies were listings of suggested matches provided by the websites themselves and based on the information I provided, along with some suggestions for improving my profile).

If you’re looking for meaningful connections with like-minded people, you typically must provide more than the minimum, and doing that is something of an art. All the dating sites have extensive instructions on how to create an attractive profile, with further tips and suggestions all over the Web—just key “online dating profile tips” into Google and you’ll get almost two million results.

It can all become a confusing information overload, though, so Oprah’s website suggests it’s easier if you break your profile down into its component parts and tackle these separately:

1. Username. 

Create a unique and attention-getting username that preserves your anonymity (yes, as with any Web endeavour, there are plenty of people out there seeking to take advantage of your desire for companionship) while perhaps reflecting some aspect of your personality and interests. Don’t get too cutesy or esoteric, though, as this may backfire and confuse or turn off others.

2. Headline. 

You should include a heading for your profile page, summarizing what you’re about or perhaps what you’re seeking. Friendly, fun, and inviting are the basic watchwords, perhaps teasing a bit, maybe a bit of mystery—you want people to be interested enough to read further. Use a friend as a sounding board.

3. Text. 

This is the meat of the profile, where you can be as detailed as you want about yourself and your desired partner; the less you write, the broader (but perhaps less meaningfully) the net will be cast. On the other hand, Oprah cautions against getting too verbose, recommending three short paragraphs: one about who you are, one about your pet peeves and personal quirks, and one about what you’ve been doing lately. Be honest about yourself, try to be interesting, and avoid the tendency to portray yourself as superhuman or, conversely, negative or nitpicky. Again, friendly, fun, and inviting are the watchwords.

4. Picture(s). 

You should include at least one and preferably a few pictures in your profile. They should all be recent, including a head-and-shoulders shot and a full-body pic. Smile, look into the camera; try to appear relaxed and casual. Avoid pictures with clutter or with other people.

 

Making Your Overture

Okay, so you’ve found a dating site or two that you like, you’ve created an attractive profile and paid the fee, and now you’re ready to get out there and start connecting. At the outset, you’ll probably be daunted by the number of prospective partners you see (at least on the more extensive websites), so it’s helpful to make a list of essential requirements and definite no-nos beforehand; that way, you can cull the prospects to a more manageable number.

In case you’re nervous at first, most sites offer a variety of privacy and security options that can be adjusted relatively easily. You can, for example, browse profiles without revealing your presence and even restrict the messages you’re willing to accept. Some sites also offer expanded publicity features if you want to draw additional attention to your profile.

Most of the big dating sites also provide various tools for effortless initial contact. For example, Zoosk.com and Match.com offer a range of communication options from virtual “winks” to online icebreakers and instant messaging. Once you’ve broken the ice, the next step is to arrange a meeting. But at this early stage, some degree of caution is in order.

First and foremost, bear in mind that what you’re dealing with are virtual facsimiles, meaning that you can never be sure with whom you’re actually communicating—and as noted above, the cyber-world is rife with less-than-desirable elements, dating sites being no exception. Until you meet in person and get to know each other a bit better, limit how much personal and especially financial information you disclose.

In making contact, be alert and wary of warning flags such as wedding rings in pictures, the absence of pictures, and errors or inappropriate grammar in communications. “Trust your gut,” the scambusters.com website advises. “If something sounds wrong—a lawyer who says he’s 35 years old but has 25 years of professional experience—start asking questions.”

Although most respondents are probably genuine and sincere, people can sometimes have rather unrealistic images of themselves, and the natural tendency is to exaggerate positives and overlook negatives. As a result, don’t put total faith in what you see and read—again, you can find out for sure only when you meet in person.

 

The Fine Art of Dating

Reams have been written about how to make a good impression on a first date, and there are many millions of pages of advice on the Internet (including a lot of silly ideas—use your own judgement). But the basics are to make yourself as attractive and presentable as possible, to be upbeat, and to prepare some mutually agreeable areas for dialogue beforehand so that you’re not completely tongue-tied when the moment arrives.

Pick some subjects from your date’s profile and give some thought to what you might say about them. Entertainment is usually a good bet, as are music, the outdoors, and nature. Avoid controversial or potentially inflammatory subjects, at least at first. For example, stay away from politics, and venture into religion only if you’re sure you’re both on the same wavelength. Similarly, stay away from boring topics such as the weather and (again, unless you know you’re on the same frequency) sports. Let the profile be your guide.

“Make a list of questions and things to talk about, and be creative,” advises Shannon Tebb, a Toronto-based online-dating consultant. “For example, what are you proud of in your life, or what are you passionate about? Do some research on the other person’s interests so you can talk intelligently about them.”

If you’re nervous about dating, there are numerous dating coaches and consultants online, too, such as Tebb (shannyinthecity.com) and the experts at LifeMatesCanada.com, who can provide guidance on presenting yourself, as well as on screening prospects.

And finally, if you find a match and no longer need to use a dating site, make sure you cancel your subscription to your chosen service—most will renew automatically and your account will be charged until you cancel.

Photos: iStock/Tommaso Colia (phone and laptop), 
Franck Boston (mouse), and Godfried Edelman (heart key).

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