Many people wrongly assume that using an online dating service is the equivalent of throwing in the towel and screaming, "All right already, I'll do it - I'm desperate!" Actually, online dating is not for the desperate. In fact, research shows that more than 40 million Americans (40 percent of all singles) use online dating services. It has become a very successful way to meet that someone special.
These days you're in the minority if you don't know at least one person who met their current husband, wife or partner on an online dating site. According to a recent Match.com survey, one in five people in a new committed relationship and one in six couples married during the last three years met their significant other using an online dating service. Last year alone, twice as many marriages occurred between men and women who met online than took place among couples who met in bars, clubs and at other social events combined.
If you've been considering taking the plunge into Internet dating but aren't quite sure how to get started, here are my nine key tips to ensure that your experience is a positive, safe and successful one.
• Tip #1: If you're not familiar with technology or unsure what to write on your profile, ask a younger friend, relative or co-worker to help you. Don't let a lack of familiarity keep you from participating in online dating. Chances are excellent that someone you know already knows the ropes and would be willing to help coach you. Most online dating sites also offer tips to help you get started.
• Tip #2: Be completely honest in your profile and photo. You don't want to lie about your age, your background or your personality. Not everyone will take this advice, but you don't want to start a relationship on a lie, and somewhere down the road, others will know that you aren't what you say you are (or you don't look like your photo).
• Tip #3: Many online dating sites are tailored to specific interests. These days, there are dating sites for every type of person and interest. For example, BlackPeopleMeet.com appeals to individuals looking for a partner based on racial preference; JDate is a popular place to go for Jewish singles. Others, like SeniorPeopleMeet.com, appeal to people over 50. Browse the Internet and ask your friends: There's bound to be an online dating site that's right for you.
• Tip #4: Protect your identity and anonymity. You wouldn't give personal information out to a stranger over the telephone, so why would you do so over the Internet? It is best to use your first name only during initial conversations and provide more detailed personal information only after you've met in person and gotten to know one another well. Legitimate online daters will understand the reasons for doing this and will be doing the same themselves. Also, when you decide to give someone your phone number online, use your cell, rather than your home or work phone. If things don't work out, cell phone numbers are much easier to change.
• Tip #5: Never provide your last name, address, or other personal or financial information to a person you have not met. And never, under any circumstances, give money to someone you don't know well and have not met in person. This applies to anyone you meet online, regardless of whether it is within the confines of an Internet dating or other site. Beware of any potential partner who asks you directly for cash, or to cash a money order or check.
• Tip #6: Take your time getting to know someone on-line. Studies show that relationships develop faster online. My advice is to wait at least one week before you meet face-to-face. And, before you meet in person, move the conversation from online to phone. During a phone chat you'll get a better sense of whether your personalities click. Also, by taking it slow, you are more likely to see inconsistencies in their behaviors and actions.
• Tip #7: When you are ready to meet, arrange to do so in a busy public place, like a coffee shop, bookstore or other retail outlet. Don't have your date pick you up or drive you home. It's a good idea to let someone else know your plans, where you're going, what time, and your date's name. You can even have a friend drop you off and pick you up from this first in-person meeting. Keep your initial meeting short and if you like the person, there's always time later for a longer date!
• Tip #8: Listen to your gut. Online dating is a great way to find people with common interests; however, building a relationship takes time and attention. Look for consistency in behaviors and answers to your questions. Pay attention to early warning signs that someone might not be legitimate or might not be presenting themselves honestly. For example, does he want to know all about you, but seems disinterested or vague in sharing details of his life? Is the telephone number she provides out of service, or is it unable to accept messages for days? Does he or she profess love or devotion within a matter of hours or days? Is he never able to meet you in person, because he is always out of the country?
• Tip #9: Don't be talked into any action that is not in your best interest. Think before you act. As with anything you do on the Internet, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.
Online dating can be a wonderful way to meet someone special with whom to share your life. Taking the time to do it well and protect yourself is a matter of common sense and the best way to ensure that your online dating experience is safe, satisfying, and successful.