Do’s and Don’ts of Internet Dating

The Internet has both broadened and widened the playing field for dating. There are literally thousands of folks out there just waiting to circle or be clicked on — so how do you enjoy and profit from this brave new world? Listen up and read on.

The To-Do List of Online Dating

Many of us just love lists as a way of being organized and encouraging a sense of accomplishment as just generally feeling we are in control of our own destiny — so here is a way of condensing a complicated, multifaceted process into succinct, comprehensive, forward-moving steps.

Be precise

When writing an Internet personal ad or filling out an online dating questionnaire, it’s useful to pretend that you have to pay by the word, whether you actually have to pay for it or not. Be as specific as possible. Think about who you are and what makes you unusual and list both your successes and your failures. Don’t allow yourself to wander into abstractions or use trite phrases.

No moonlight strolls, walks in the park, or I’m a true romantic; these descriptions of yourself are meaningless, overused, and silly. Remind yourself that a very focused intent is time saving, practical, and useful, so be thoughtful and specific. For example, you might say, “I’m a homebody who really loves cooking, but also likes camping.” That description gives somebody a clear idea of your snow-flakicity, your unique self: Saying, “I’m looking for someone who is not afraid of snakes, but also is not a carnivore” sets you apart as a vegetarian camper with a big vocabulary.

Make your English teacher proud

Check and then double-check your grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Nothing will make you look more like a doofus than misspelled words or incorrect grammar in your ad. Have somebody proofread your ad even if you’re doing this on the QT and you’re trying to be very clever and have nobody know. Ask a discreet friend to read your listing over to make sure it makes sense and has no major lapses of logic, taste, or grammar. Always do a spell check.

Keep the fibs to a minimum

Okay, I could say be completely truthful, but no one ever is. For those of you who know me, I think people are allowed to lie about three things in life: their age, their weight, and their sexual history. Unfortunately, on an Internet dating site, those things tend to be the minefield.

Use an appropriate photo

You don’t necessarily have to post a picture with your description, but the number of responses increases dramatically if you do. Here are some tips on using a picture:

  • Use a fairly recent picture.
  • Don’t be tempted to use your cute friend’s picture or your brother’s bar mitzvah picture.
  • Avoid unduly flattering, glam shots because you want very little discrepancy between the picture and what you really look like (you don’t want your date to receive any nasty shocks!). It’s much smarter to elicit a comment such as “My goodness, you’re much better looking in person” instead of “Oh my God, is this what you really look like?”
  • Don’t even think about using a picture of yourself with your arm around somebody of the opposite sex (duh), and if you’re thinking about cutting the person out or pasting someone else’s face on the body, fuhgetaboutit.
  • Be careful about using props like dogs, boats, or a fancy car. This is about you, so it should be a good head shot of you alone.
  • Women, don’t be tempted to be too sexy in your picture because unless you’re looking for a one-night stand, you’re going to send the wrong message. The same type of info applies to guys: Keep your shirt on.

Provide only a cell phone number

There’s a joke about the guy who gives his baby doll wife a cell phone for her birthday with instructions to keep it turned on whenever she leaves the house. To test her, he calls her, and she is thrilled: “Honey this is wonderful.
I just love my new cell phone, but how did you know I was at the mall?”

Joking aside, you need to remind yourself that a person who found you on the Web is a stranger. So don’t give your home phone number, which someone could track to your address. Practice safety first by giving out only your cell phone number, which also offers the protection of caller ID, an off switch, and mobility. A cell phone allows you to be anywhere without anyone knowing where you are. In case of a lunatic or a stalker, in the worst-case scenario, you can get rid of it if you need to.

Date within a 25-mile radius

You may be one of those people who looks for potential dates on vacations or planes, or with someone who is traveling through town. Be careful, however. Long-distance relationships are initially thrilling, but soon become poisonous because they’re often more fantasy than reality. Have people met other people on bike trips through Provence? Yes, but leave that happenstance to happenstance.

When you’re investing in the specific intent to find somebody, be reasonable and sensible and play the odds. Find somebody who is in your zip code if possible, your area code preferably, and your time zone certainly, so that you can actually get to know each other without the constraints that a long-distance relationship places on things. Make it as easy on yourself and your date to be as geographically close as possible, to allow for emotional and physical intimacy as an organic, unfolding project.

Meet publicly and make sure someone knows where you are

Remember that the person you meet online is a stranger. Let me say this again: This person is a stranger! If you wouldn’t meet a blind date at your house, if you wouldn’t get into a car with a stranger, if you wouldn’t give someone you’ve never met before your phone number, don’t do any of these things with someone you meet online. Please reassure me that in fact you wouldn’t do any of the above. Meet in a public place, and make sure that somebody you know and trust is aware of your whereabouts. Practice a modicum of sensible behavior. In real life, you wouldn’t go off with strangers, and this is indeed still real life — with the computer as intermediary

The Never-Do List of Online Dating

If common sense were common, I’d be out of business. I’m just reminding you what you already know when you’re thinking with your head — consider me your favorite Aunt Mathilda who’s looking out for you.

Don’t stay online too long before a meeting

Studies show that looking at a computer screen gives a false sense of intimacy with a resulting loss of inhibitions. When you’re dealing with strangers, as you are in online dating, inhibitions serve a valuable and healthy function.
So if you lose your inhibitions without knowing to whom you’re making yourself vulnerable, you put yourself in a careless and dangerous situation.

I know that receiving those first e-mails from an online dating prospect is a thrill. What’s not to love about coming home to hear, “You’ve got mail!” A week or two of fantasy fun is sufficient, but then it’s time to bite the bullet and actually meet face to face, with a brief pit stop at phone calls so you can at least be assured of gender and voice recognition. If you spend any more time in fantasyland, you’re creating an artificial sense of intimacy, which is very difficult to overcome. Remember that you want dating, not danger, as the eventual outcome.