Navigating Online Dating

Posted by: Center for Growth Therapists

You’ve picked out your best pictures, you came up with a cute/sexy/funny (whatever you’re going for) tagline, you’ve had your friends read over your profile and now, you’re ready to go. How do you navigate this new world of dating and what do you expect? Before you can learn to navigate the online dating world, you must identify what it is you’re actually looking for.

Are you looking for a casual relationship, or maybe just a hookup partner? Or, are you looking for someone who can possibly be “the one”? Identifying what you’re looking for relationship wise will help you, not only sift through possible candidates, but it will help you pick out which site you want to use in the first place. Do your homework. Ask around. Google different websites/apps and figure out what each dating site is really used for versus what they advertise for. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship you probably shouldn’t be on websites like Tinder, Grinder, or Adult Friend Finder. However, there are exceptions to every rule and you may find someone using a site in a non-typical way.

After you’ve figured out what you’re looking for, start to set your profile up to seek out people looking for the same thing. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship, a picture showing your chiseled abs with your face cut off in the mirror or a duck face picture with your cleavage hanging out, though sexy as they may be, should not end up on your profile. On the other hand, if you’re looking for someone to just have a sexual, ‘no strings attached’ relationship with, those pictures may be appropriate. Think about what you would find attractive while looking through the plethora of pictures and aim to put that on your profile as well.

If you’re on a site that allows you to have a tagline or a short sentence, to grab the on seeker’s attention, make it appeal to what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a partner who is funny, don’t put a serious quote. Speaking of quotes, stay away from overused, cliché quotes; they will only get you passed over. These include, but are certainly not limited to, Marilyn Monroe’s “…if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you don’t deserve me at my best…” or Ron Burgundy (Will Farrell) “… I have many leather-bound books, and my apartment smells of rich mahogany…” or Mark Twain’s “wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.” At the same time, if you see a profile with these quotes, and something else about their profile catches your eye, try to give them a chance before you roll your eyes and move on. 

Meeting every person on a dating site is not what we are advocating. Moving on when you don’t like a profile is an important skill.  You have the power to move on to the next 1000 people at your fingertips at any point. In other words, don’t settle. At the same time, be realistic. If you message 5 people, you’re lucky if 1 answers you back! Not everyone is truly available. Nor will everyone like your profile, and that’s okay. That is the point of online dating. Online dating makes thousands of people who meet your basic criteria available for you to conveniently peruse without having to get nervously dressed up, spending money at the bars just to have the person you’re pursuing go home with another person. Online dating makes the “scoping” portion of dating easy, cheap, and less stressful.

The difference between not settling and being too picky can be a fine line. It is hard to know just what you’re getting when looking at someone's profile. There are a few things to be aware of as you view a profile. Note that you, and everyone else, are looking to put your best foot forward. People are not going to spill all their dirty secrets on their profile, and neither should you. Also, people are going to pick the best pictures as possible for their profile, you should as well. With that said, do not put the best picture of you 15-years ago; this sets you up for failure. If/when you finally meet a match, they’re going to be disappointed. The date will be over before you've even said your first word. Thus, we strongly encourage you to post several pictures of yourself. Include just one “best ever” picture, one good picture, one average picture, and one “less than desirable” picture. Of these four pictures, one should be a close-up headshot and one should be a full body picture.  By posting these four types of pictures the other person has an appealing, but “accurate” idea of what you look like. You are showing off your weight, height, and physical attractiveness.

In addition to using pictures to market themselves, people tend to embellish their professional world. Their $50k job might turn into a $75k job and their age of 36 might go down to 34 so they make a different cut off in the filters. Similarly, others minimize their achievements or even looks. With that said, we recommend using these categories on a person’s profile more as a guide but not as concrete accurate information. Pay more attention to the personality that shines through in the profile rather than the hard “facts” such as marital status (single, separated and divorced) height, weight, education, career, salary, religion and whether or not they have kids.  Usually, within a few dates, people will clarify some of the misleading information they posted to lure you into responding to their ad.  Just remember, getting to know a person takes time.  The way things appear are not always the way they are.

Once you’ve gotten passed the profile viewing and you decide that you’re going to message this person and they decide to message you back, it's important to note that they have time to think about what they’re going to say. Are you getting the actual person in the profile? Maybe. You are, however, getting the best foot forward, edited, well thought out person in the profile. You are not getting the really nervous, stutters through words, first date person in the profile. Give them a break if on the first, and even second, date they don’t seem as cool and collected as they are in their messages. That’s part of the reason online dating works, to help people who aren’t so good at meeting people meet people! On the other hand, if you’re a person who needs someone to be collected and outgoing at the first meet-up, maybe this isn’t the person for you and you shouldn’t be giving any breaks. Understanding your needs, desires, and wants before you sit down for a date is important.

It is very easy to hide online. Do not assume that if information wasn’t in their profile that it doesn’t exist. For example, a lot of people put their children on their profile. Some do not. Some check the box “single, never married” when in reality they’re in the process of a divorce. The lack of honesty doesn’t mean they’re trying to trick you or manipulate you. It just means they are aware of how to market themselves. The idea of people not being 100% upfront on an online profile means that you have to do your homework.  That is not to say that it is appropriate to bombard your potential partner on the first date with millions of questions. The first date is simply to see if you have chemistry. Could you go on a 10-hour road trip with this person and not get bored, angry, frustrated, or any other negative feeling? The first date is the fun date. Later, when you’re figuring out if this person is someone you want to be exclusive with is where the more serious questions come into play.

Know what your expectations are for how fast/slow you want the relationship to go. If you are both on Match, JDate, or eHarmony, it is likely that you both are looking for something more serious. If the first few dates go well, great; however, this does not mean shut down your profile and start picking out rings. Treat relationships that started online in the same manner you would if you met them organically. Just because a computer matched you, and date #1 went well, doesn’t mean you’re a good match. Take the time to figure that out on your own and have fun with it. The honeymoon stage of relationships is often referred to as the best and most fun, why rush it? On the other hand, if you were simply looking for a hookup and received it but are now finding yourself kind of liking this person, be open to that. Do not be afraid to ask the important questions even if you weren’t expecting to ask them.

As you gain some experience in the online dating world, you will start to learn some things. Pay attention to the types of people who are messaging you or matching with you. What patterns do you find emerging? Based on who is responding to your profile, what type of image of yourself do you believe you have portrayed? If you don’t like the types of people responding to you, create a new page with a different twist. You may need to tweak something in your profile if you keep getting rugged cowboys but you’re looking for a city guy.

While having multiple choices at your fingertips can be looked at as a positive, it can also serve as a kryptonite. Once you’ve gotten a date, treat the people you meet the way you want to be treated. Treat a person like you worked hard at the bar, or in the park to get their number and had to convince them to go out with you. If you’re not feeling well, or are tired that day then drink coffee, go for a run, take a nap but don’t cancel on your date. Yes, you have future choices back on whichever dating service you’re using but you’re also practicing bad dating habits.

Technology has also allotted the dating pool many forms of communication. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call the person, rather than text, PM, DM, pin, or Snapchat them. Also, save the conversation for in person. So much can get lost in translation and the relationship can be over before it even started.  Have a few messages back and forth to get a feel for who the person is and to set up the date but then don’t message all day. This sets a precedent that you may not be able to live up to in your regular, day-to-day life.

Online dating also takes being okay with getting rejected and/or disappointed. Your chances of getting a date are increased tenfold, therefore your chances of being rejected and/or disappointed increases as well. On the other hand, let yourself be surprised. If you really hit it off with that rugged cowboy through messaging, let him take you out. Do not close the door too soon, if the first date didn’t go so well, give them a second, and possibly third, chance.

Online dating can also be looked at as a way of increasing your social circle. So you went on a few dates and there just wasn’t that intimate chemistry, however, maybe there was great friendship chemistry. Or, maybe you found someone who would be great at doing your taxes, fixing your car, helping you legally, or checking you for cavities. Each time you meet a person from your online world, be open to new things. You’ve opened yourself up to a pool of people you would have never met on the streets. Allow yourself to be submerged into a new world. Do not cut the people out of your life completely if you don’t hit it off romantically. Invite them to your next party or friend outing. Ask them to invite a friend. Again, this allows you to expand your friend circle and sometimes finding the perfect match is just one degree of separation.

The last piece of advice for navigating online dating is to be safe. Meet in public and never leave your drink unattended. Do not invite someone to your house or give out too many details about your life.  Play the name game; see if you can identify anyone in common, so that you can know him or her in context. Google their name, see what you can find out about the person. Always let someone know who you are meeting, show your friend/family member the person’s profile and where you are going and what time you expect to be home. After a few dates introduce him/her to some of your friends and get their feedback. Similarly, meet his/her friends. This will further help you get to know this person in context. Another safety tip is to use your Smartphone location app so that just in case everything that could go wrong does, your friends and family have a way to locate you. Lastly, listen to your gut. If something is telling you that the person you are about to meet up with is off in some way, don’t meet them.