You've probably heard of online dating. You may even have a few friends that do it. But, despite your curiosity, you haven't been able to convince yourself to actually try it out. We're here to answer some of your burning questions.
I'm like a walking commercial for online dating. I tried OkCupid for about a week, met a girl within a couple of days, and two and a half years later, we're getting married. Dating sites would like you to think this is a common occurrence, but the more people I talk to, the more I learn that everyone's experience is different.
However, I've also learned that there are a lot of misconceptions and fears about online dating that prevent people from giving it a try. And, while I can't promise everyone's experience will be as great as mine, I do think it's worth a shot. Here are a few questions I often get from people who are curious... but haven't yet taken the plunge.
Are people really doing this?
When it comes to the internet, there's not much people aren't doing. The question is whether the people doing it are the ones you'd want to date. And you'd be surprised.
Online dating is kind of like farting in public. Most people won't admit it, but plenty of them do it. Unlike farting in public, though, online dating's stigma is quickly going away. If you ask around, you'll be surprised how many people you know are doing it. It's not just internet-addicted geeks (myself notwithstanding).
What if someone I know sees my profile?
What do you have to be embarrassed about? Didn't you read the answer to question 1? Remember: there are more people doing this than you probably realise. If one of your friends is going to judge you for trying to find love, then maybe they just aren't very nice. And if you're saying stupid stuff on your profile... well, don't. If you wouldn't want a friend to see it, you probably wouldn't want it to be the first thing a potential date sees.
More importantly: On most dating sites, your profile isn't truly "public". The only people who can see your profile are other people signed up for the site. So if someone you know sees your profile... well, they're on the site too, aren't they? Neither of you have anything to be embarrassed about. I ran into a couple friends on OkCupid, and it ended up being really funny — and we ended up talking a lot more about our experience later on.
Isn't online dating unsafe?
Sure, meeting strangers can be unsafe. But consider this: meeting someone online, especially after you have a chance to vet them, is no less safe than meeting someone at a bar or a club. In fact, unless you have a buddy system with Batman, it's probably safer.
That said, it's only safer if you take the necessary precautions: don't post personally identifiable information (like your phone number or address) on your profile, and only give it out after you've messaged with someone enough to feel comfortable giving it out. Schedule your date for a public place, let someone know where you are and so on. We've talked about this in detail before, so check out that post for more info.
Doesn't everybody just lie online?
Slow down, Dr House. Sure, this person adds a few inches to his height, that person hides a few inches from their waistline, and you get a big surprise when you meet in person. But that guy you met at the bar lied about being married too. People don't lie because it's the internet. People lie because sometimes people are dumb.
Fortunately, not everyone does it. Plenty of people realise that it's better to be honest, lest they lose points as soon as they walk in the room. You'll have to deal with a few liars, but you'll quickly learn to read between the lines. (By the way, it should go without saying, but this goes both ways: don't lie on your profile either.)
Online dating seems really impersonal.
That's not a question, but I'll forgive you. Keep in mind thatyou're only "online" for a small portion of your interaction with someone — after a few messages, you're usually out on a date, interacting in meat space.
That said, the "searching for dates" portion of the process can feel impersonal — scanning people's profiles, looking at pictures, responding to some messages and X-ing others out. But we often do the same thing in real life: we walk into a social gathering, size people up, ask who's single and so on.
"But what about just meeting people organically?" I can hear some of you say. Think of it like this: instead of waiting for Mr or Mrs right to appear in front of you, you're taking an active role in finding someone who shares your interests and values. It hardly feels impersonal when you put it that way. (Well, most of the time).
Are paid sites better than free ones?
"Better" is relative. You probably have a chance of getting less "spam" on paid sites, but that's just one portion of the equation. Free sites might skew younger or have more members, while some paid sites might contain more serious relationship-seekers. There are pros and cons to each, and it's better to evaluate each site's advantages rather than worrying about free vs paid.
What should I say in my profile? How much should I reveal?
Let's start by going back to a point I made earlier: don't lie. We all try to put forward the best version of ourselves, but try to avoid forming your persona based on success statistics. You'll have better luck if you're honest.
Most importantly: don't overthink it. Talk about yourself, what you like to do, and who you are. If you're funny, be funny, but don't force it. Don't be overly self-deprecating, don't make offensive comments, and try not to write the same tired jokes as everyone else ("The most embarrassing thing I'm willing to admit is that I'm on OkCupid" or "I'm so bad at talking about myself!"). You can write as much or as little as you want, but be careful — too much and you run the risk of oversharing, too little and people won't have anything to go off of.
Lastly, choose a good picture! We have a whole separate article about this, so I won't go into too much detail here, but don't fill your profile up with boring head shots. Instead, try something active. Choose photos of you doing what you love, you with friends and family, and something that shows your face and body well enough for people to know what you look like.
What should I say in my messages?
Like your profile, keep your messages fairly short — but not so short that it's generic and useless ("hey girl u r cute"). Write a couple sentences about something you saw in their profile that interested you, something about yourself that you share in common, and ask a question — that way they have somewhere to start with their response.
At what point should we meet in real life?
Meeting in person varies from site to site, and from person to person — but err on the side of early. This isn't an online forum for endless chatting. It's a dating site, so once you've established that you're both interested, ask them out on a date! If you wait too long, they may think you aren't interested in and move on.
I'm getting no responses to the messages that I send out. It's frustrating!
This is a common complaint — often from men — and there are a few reasons it could happen. Give your profile a once-over and see if there might be any off-putting remarks. Make sure you're sending messages that aren't too short and quippy, or too long and detailed. If you need some help, have a friend critique your profile, or post it in a forum like /r/okcupid (or whatever site you're using). That helped me a lot when I started out.
Secondly, it's hard at first, but you have to think of online dating as a numbers game. Don't get too attached to people's online profiles. Send out as many messages as you can to anyone that seems cool — you'll get a few messages back, and maybe a few of those will turn into dates. It becomes a lot less stressful once you realise that the first stage is just about initiating contact, not looking for the "perfect person" based on their online persona.
I'm getting a billion messages without having done anything. It's overwhelming!
A more common problem for women, chances are a lot of the messages you're receiving are junk. Just like an overflowing email inbox, don't keep checking your messages throughout the day. Turn off notifications, set aside a block of time to go through it all at once and respond to the good stuff. It's much less overwhelming, and pretty easy to weed through.
Tell it to me straight: Does online dating actually work?
Honestly? I don't know if it will work for you. That's a crap answer, but it's the only answer I have. Sorry.
Like I said, I know other people who are success stories, and other people who gave up (or have been on for years with no success). Online dating's usefulness is dependent upon a lot of factors — your location, your age, your personality type, what you're looking for, and so on. It's easier in densely populated areas than in rural areas, for example.
I said this earlier, but choosing the right site can go a long way. If you're a bit older and looking for people your age, you aren't going to have luck on younghawtthangs.com. Check out the demographics of different sites to see which one is ideal for you.
I can't tell you whether online dating will work for you — but I can say, with certainty, that you won't know until you give it a shot. Just relax and enjoy it — you may not meet your future spouse, but you'll almost definitely meet cool people and have fun.