Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.
The appeal of online dating is that you can sort through and communicate with far more people than you could in an immediate social circle. In theory, you could find better matches faster than you would with a thousand first dates.
However, online dating isn’t a practical choice unless you find a dating site that fits your objectives, set up a profile that helps the right people find you and weed through the scammers. Then you can find someone online that can turn into an offline relationship. The goal of online dating should be to find someone you’ll join with in the real world.
How do you navigate the world of online dating and make the transition to a real world relationship?
What to Look for in an Online Dating Site
Check the male to female ratio on the website. If the odds are too great against you, consider a different dating site.
Before you set up an online dating account, see how many profiles there are in your area. There's no point setting up an account if no one is in your area. You don’t want to find yourself comparing a great match two hours away versus a lesser quality match who is a thirty minute trip from your home.
Review the user base of the website against your long term goals. For example, you’ll find hookups on Tinder, but you’ll find potential long term partners on many religious dating websites. You won’t find a potential spouse on Ashley Madison, but you may find your soon to be ex. Match the dating website to your intent or you’re just looking in the wrong place.
Setting Up Your Profile for Online Dating
A female oriented profile without a picture will still receive messaging. A male profile without a picture will not generate responses except spam and scams. So put up a picture so people know you’re legitimate. Put a good picture of you up, but not one that is filled with five of your friends or a picture that you wouldn't want a potential boss to see. And don’t put up a profile picture of yourself with three other friends where the viewer wonders which one is you.
Put actual information about yourself on the profile. Give them something to work with. Conversely, don't make it an essay. Include favorite movies, what you do for a living, the information you share when introducing yourself.
List your must-haves so that people don't waste their time or yours. If religion is important to you, say so. If you want kids or don't want kids, say so, if you're looking for a long term relationship. If you are not looking for anything serious, say so.
When someone sets up a user name for their account, it is often related to their name. First names, last names, initials, professions and hobbies are common. These user names give someone a lot of information about you. Make sure the user name gives information you want them to know and not too much personal information you don't intend to share, such as a birthdate.
Missionary dating (to convert people) is offensive to the person you are dating - whether for a religious ideology or political one. Any profile that appears to be a case of this will get ignored.
Fill in fields like age, gender and location. These are usually required by the website. For other fields in the dating site profile, filling them in honestly increases your odds of finding a decent match. Having most fields blank can cause others to mistake it for a mass produced scam entry. Always fill in the sortable fields to maximize the odds that you show up in the results of someone sorting for someone like you.
If you have children, you should include this in your profile since children are a make or break trait for so many potential partners.
Men, if you have a job, include it in your profile. This increases your attractiveness to those who are interested in a stable partner. Otherwise, say whether or not you are in school.
Hobbies, lifestyles and interests are less important unless it is something that would become a deal-breaker. For example, carnivores aren't going to be a match with a vegan. The homebody won't want to date the world traveler.
The Briggs-Meyer personality test results are showing up more often in dating profiles, but know that these results vary from day to day. They are akin to astrology in value in finding a good match. Be careful about including it since you could end up excluding a lot of people. And leave out your astrological sign for the same reason.
Making Contact and Messaging
For average guys, you'll get a 1% to 3% legitimate response rate. For men who command a premium due to high incomes or great looks, it may be higher by a few percentage points. For women, the real response rate will be higher because most dating sites are dominated by men looking for women.
The bad news is that when women first create an account, you have to see yourself as fresh meat in the marketplace, because everyone else on the site will. You'll attract a lot of people based on the fact that you're new. When many people have been online for a long time, they've probably filtered out a lot of profiles - and they'll sort the accounts by creation date looking for the new users. This means you may want to be ready for an influx of interest when you first sign up and a drop off later.
A man's new account gets hit with the scams and spams of "hey, do you want to see my webcam?" up front. The spam for a man's account is worst when you've first set up the account and then drops off. Actual interest, though, remains low and steady.
Check the activity on the account before you message, since an account that hasn't had any activity for months probably won't respond to your message. The website won't remove the inactive accounts because it boosts their membership numbers.
Don't send introductory messages to other members like "Hi" or "You're hot!" You'll be mistaken for a scammer or spammer for sending a message that brief. Paid websites do a better job of filtering out the scams and spammers.
Free dating websites let you post profiles for free to boost their numbers. You get permission to send so many messages, and you have to pay to receive more. If you have a subscription to the dating website and the other person you are messaging doesn't, you can run into their message limits quickly, so send as few messages to others as possible and maximize the content. Don't treat it like text messaging or you may lose the ability to finish that chat until your messages bounce.
Emojis and exclamation points may or may not hurt you - it depends on the person you are talking to and messaging with. Study their communication style before you over-do it.
Remember that online dating doesn’t replace the need to actually meet someone. You can get the equivalent of first or second dates out of the way, though you still have the awkwardness of the first meeting when you get to actually meet them.
Identifying the Scammers and Spammers
There are many fakes and jerks that will kick in as soon as you set up an account, whether they are requests for nude pictures or spam suggesting you sign up for various services.
Report the scammers and spammers so that they get removed from the site. You can block them, too.
A fake profile that says I can't use this website because of the cost but the site is actually free is a scam.
If you see the same picture on multiple profiles, the account is fake. Ditto when the profile names are Arianne001. Arianne002, and Arianne 003. These are batch created accounts for bots.
Not all accounts with a wall of generic text on their profiles are fake, but many are.
A broad acceptable age range is more likely to be fake than real, like someone who says I'll date anyone 30 to 70.
You know it is a fake profile when it says come see my webcam at this address, or come see this other website.
The DOM user profile is used by many dominatrix themed bots. Avoid these profiles.
When someone's user name has a number 69 or 420 with a sexual reference, you should probably avoid them unless you aren't looking for a long term relationship. However, a common user account name like Joseph124, this isn't an issue. Note that some sites will append a number on the end to make it unique.
When You Meet
The objective of online dating is to weed through many prospective candidates and get through the equivalent of the first few dates. Then comes the often awkward moment of meeting the person in person on a real world date. You know them somewhat from the online conversations, but there is still the possibility they are very different in person than their online profile. Any dramatic differences should be a red flag and cause you to end contact with that person. If they’ve lied about critical details like their age, employment status, weight or values, you can’t trust anything else they say. This is proof that the person isn’t a match.
Meet the person somewhere other than your home with transportation options that let you leave when you want. Choose somewhere like a restaurant or entertainment venue so you have something to share other than silence if you don’t know what to talk about. Make this first date together a date to get to know each other better and vet them more thoroughly.
If that date goes well, plan the next one and the one after that. You may choose to use the dating site to continue to stay in touch, but it is better to move to more personal types of contact like phone calls and Skype.
Online dating should never progress to the point you’re considering moving in with them or marrying them sight unseen. There are too many news stories of men fall in love with a woman and send her money to come to get married, and the woman never arrives because she was the creation of a scam artist. Anyone who asks for money so that they can come see you is likely to be conning you, and you should cut it off.
Questions & Answers
Question: I met an Australian man, and I know he is waiting to hear from the court for sexual assault. What do I do?
Answer: That's one heck of a red flag. The safest answer is say goodbye and look for someone you don't need to be afraid of hurting you or someone else.
Yoleen Lucas from Big Island of Hawaii on August 08, 2016:
These are great tips! I especially like the one about lots of potential dates listed in your area - though I find that part the most painful. Awhile back I tried eHarmony, and out of the hundreds of matches I got, only 3 were on the Big Island of Hawaii, where I live, and none of them responded to me. What I really wanted was to meet someone who lived in a ski town, and move there. One man from Oregon did come out to visit me (he was on vacation), but nothing came of it. I'm just going to have to make that move before resuming the man hunt!
dashingscorpio from Chicago on August 06, 2016:
"However, online dating isn’t a practical choice unless you find a dating site that fits your objectives, set up a profile that helps the right people find you and weed through the scammers." - Very true!
Too often people don't bother to research sites before selecting one to join. They "assume" they're all the same.
That's the equivalent of saying a night's stay at Motel 6 is the same as staying at The Ritz Carlton just because they both have beds and TV.
The more a person (knows) what they are looking for in mate the easier it is for them to determine which site to join by studying the demographic of it's members gender ratio, education, income, race, religion and so on. There are lots of niche sites for those people with "specific" must haves. In addition everyone should have their own "mate selection process". It's not the job of the site to screen people for you. Their role is to provide forum for people to meet other people.
Online dating sites are nothing more than a "tool".
Much like a fork is a tool for eating. However you will never hear of an obese person blame their weight gain on their fork!
And yet people who have bad online dating experiences will blame the online dating industries for (choices) they made!
Ultimately you're responsible for "yes" to engaging with someone, exchanging contact information, deciding to go out on dates and so forth.
Each of us (chooses) our own friends, lovers, and spouse.
Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on August 06, 2016:
The well known "best" sites have all been investigated and prosecuted for doing absolutely nothing to stop scammers and fakes. Like uber they can cop fines and still make huge profits.
This has been frequently reported in the media.
Police in Australia warn people to keep well away from "dating" websites.
Reported successes have been reported and proven to be shareholder couples who pose as success stories. Such couples have been caught posing as avaliable persons to reel in the carny marks.
Al Wordlaw from Chicago on August 06, 2016:
This is a very good hub in regards to searching online for companionship, friendship and perhaps more.