How To Do Life

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Making Dating Sites Work for You

Keys to finding the right person amid the millions.

In theory, dating websites offer an efficient way to find Mr. or Ms. Right. Alas, poor vetting of potential matches and deceptive profiles and photos have caused more mismatches than matches. Here’s how to improve your results.

The sites

Generally, it’s wise to cast a wide net and then screen rigorously. So consider joining more than one site. The most popular are OKCupid, Chemistry, Match, and Eharmony and, for short-term hookups, AdultFriendFinder. There also are myriad niche sites, for example, OurTime (50+,) DateMySchool (elite college graduates only), and JDate (Jews.) Wikipedia has a list comparing dating sites.

Your profile

The goal is not to maximize the number of responses. It’s to screen out people who are unlikely to accept you as you are, beauty marks and warts. Dating is time-consuming so you don’t want to waste time dating people who could have been screened out before Date One.

So, post realistic pictures: a recent headshot and a full-body pic wearing what you like to wear. It should reveal your core demeanor. For example, if you’re serious, a big painted smile would attract people unlikely to like the real you. Have a good friend take the photos: You’re more likely to look natural. Just be sure you’re well lighted, no shadows, and that the person holds the camera steady.

Describe your strengths and weaknesses that your partner would have to accept. For example, if you work long hours and want limited time together, say so. If you love sex, say you’re passionate. If you’re not, even though it’s unconventional, you might say something like, “My sex drive won’t win any awards.”

With so many profiles out there, you have to present your differentiating essence fast. Say what’s most important and different about you in your screen name and first sentence. Mine might be “Kind Workaholic.” In describing what you’re looking for, list the non-negotiables first, then the would-be-nices. Don’t embed the essentials amid the less important. Don’t dilute; distill.

Similarly, in describing the sort of person you’re looking for, focus on the non-negotiables. And acknowledge weaknesses that you could accept: for example, being quiet or overweight. So many ads ask for a Goddess: attractive, funny, well-employed, great personality, easy-going yet energetic, blah, blah, blah.

In answering the personality questions that represent the core of many dating sites’ matching paradigm, again don’t answer so as to attract the most people. Answer honestly and you’ll screen out more misfits, leaving a higher percentage of those that might actually work out.

So you’ve picked out someone

Whether it’s their response to your ad or you're responding to theirs, start with email. And no matter how desperate you are, read them with an eye toward rejecting them. Dating sites have millions of people on them, thousands each in every major metropolitan area. There almost assuredly is a better fish in the sea. Unless you’re just looking for a quick nibble, you only want to date someone who could be a prime catch.

If the person takes longer than a day, maybe two, to respond, it’s a sign they might be irresponsible, a procrastinator, or inconsiderate. If their email focuses mainly on themselves with few questions about you, it’s a sign they're self-absorbed. Does their humor and intelligence feel matched to yours? The cliché is that opposites attract but in reality, it’s easier to make a relationship work with a kindred spirit.

Of course, the same advice applies to you: Respond within a day, focus on them as well as you, make your email long enough to show you care, short enough to demonstrate respect for their time. Yes, humor helps but don’t try too hard. Better to be serious than to make a joke that makes readers roll their eyes.

Don’t bring up sex too quickly unless that’s all you’re looking for.

If the email exchange is good, opt to talk on the phone before jumping to an in-person get-together. Some people are better in writing than in real-life. A few minutes on the phone can be revealing.

First date

This advice is old but still valid: Have your first date in a public place. A coffee house is great. Unlike dinner, you can exit an uncomfortable meeting in less than a half hour. Unlike at a movie, you get to talk. Unlike a bar or club, you can hear yourselves talk and you’re sober so you’re likely to be your best self and assess the person validly.

In judging the person, is s/he talking roughly half the time and as interested in you as in telling about him/herself? Does s/he seem kind? Interesting? Low-maintenance? Solvent? Without a substance abuse problem? And of course, there is that ineffable thing, chemistry. How does it feel to be with that person? Indeed, often that’s something that, if you’re paying attention, can be discerned on the first date. If the chemistry is lacking, yes, sometimes it grows, but the odds are against the relationship being lasting and fulfilling.

From there

Half of marriages end in divorce and some of the happiest people I know are grateful they decided to divorce or never marry. No longer is singlehood a badge of shame. Better to be single and happy than married and unhappy. But with wise use of dating websites, you’ll increase your chances of finding a partner you can love and keep loving. Invite me to the wedding.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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