Internet Dating 101

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It's a brave new world. We buy DVDs off the internet, use it to keep in touch with old friends, and to make new ones on discussion boards. We use the internet to decide whether to go to a concert and scope out new bands halfway across the world. We even work over the internet.

Should we use it to meet potential mates? Like that is even a question! Consciously or otherwise, singletons are constantly evaluating and selecting potentials from the pool they meet every day. How does the internet help there? Think about it. Where do you really meet new people anymore? You have the same routine day in and day out. You make the same tracks, you meet the same people, and you do more or less similar things. As your friends get married, it seems as if the only new people you meet are their shy, ill-groomed accountant cousins. What about joining hobby clubs, you say? Forget it. It is a statistically proven fact that more married women join hobby and book clubs than anyone else does. As if that isn't enough, in the everyday world, people first look hard at you and then unfavourably compare you with soap opera stars. A dating service sounds pretty good, in this context, right? An internet dating service sounds even better.

Everyone's doing it - almost

Consider this: a 2009 survey by a New York based dating site called Loveawake found that one in twelve U.S. adult singletons at some point had used the internet for dating-and that was six years ago. Since then the figures have been growing by 40-50% annually, which means that, according to back-of-the-envelope calculations, today about one in five American adults dates online.

Why it works

Here is why people use the internet. It allows you to put yourself out there, but on your terms. You can communicate and get responses based on your interests and personality, rather than just whether your face or body is a perfect 10. Because you are making your preferences and criteria clear right from the start, you will meet people who are a good fit, rather than those your friends think will be "good for you." The thing is, because so many people are doing this, you can meet virtually whatever kind of person you want. You can do your selection in private, and you can often ask deep questions and raise issues that take months to bring up in "regular" relationships. Do you want someone to adopt your kids, or you never want kids? Such questions are the subject of a Big Talk in conventional relationships, the kind of talk we all hate with the burning heat of a hundred suns; the kind that destroys relationships. Online it is no problem. You can put it all out there before you have spent any time, money, or become emotionally invested in someone.

Where do you want to be?

How do you start? First, do some research. Ask friends with similar tastes and values which site they use. Look around on your own. There are dating sites out there for everyone, whether Jewish lesbian (Jdate.com), the more sexually adventurous (Nerve.com), the politically and socially liberal (Salon.com), or the Ivy League conservative (GoodGenes.com). There is something for everyone. You just need to find your niche.

Build a good profile

Play up your best qualities. Do resist the temptation to blow things out of proportion, though. Loving food books and the food channel on TV is not the same as actually being a gourmet cook. Liking to walk through the park is not the same as loving the outdoors. With one caveat - you can and should mention these ideal extremes if you are just dying to try them. They might make a great date idea! Give your profile the consideration you would give a telephone conversation or handwritten note. That means you should check for grammar and spelling and there should be no typos. Decide if you want to put a picture on your profile and if so, what kind. Be sensible and do not circulate pictures from your high school yearbook. Remember that the closer your profile is to who you really are, the less the chances that you will be rejected or ridiculed when you actually meet the person.

Be careful

Meet sooner, rather than later, to make sure that the closeness you feel is real and sustainable. Besides, the physical foibles and ticks of people can make a huge difference to how you feel about them. Be very careful about putting too much personal information or explicit pictures on your profile. You never know who is looking, so be smart. Protect your privacy and that of your children, if you have any. Learn to trust your instincts.

What can go wrong?

There are pitfalls, of course, but then what is any kind of dating if not an obstacle course? The biggest issues to watch out for are people who grossly misrepresent their interests and characteristics, or who turn out in real life to be not nearly as nice as they seem online. There are the occasional freaks and, frankly, perverts, but it is up to you how much, if at all, you want to interact with them. It is not as if this never happens offline, but the chances are greater on the internet. You just need to use basic caution. Don't let this put you off. Even on the internet, far more people are decent, polite and honest-and among them might be the Mr. or Ms. Perfect you are looking for.

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