By: Lisa Bower
Online dating seems simple. All you need to do is sign up, post some information about yourself and wait for prospective dates to roll in. You don't even need to leave the sofa. But you aren't likely to meet the perfect person unless you follow a few basic online dating tips.
Not all online dating Web sites are created equal. You want to choose a Web site that speaks to you and your interests. Some dating Web sites are directed toward a specific age group, ethnicity orsexual orientation.
Think about the type of person you want to meet, and give yourself some parameters before you begin. This will help you narrow your search because you'll be surprised at how many people are trying the site along with you.
Also talk to your friends. More and more people are meeting not just dates but also future spouses, and they'll have preferences about which sites worked best for them. Commercials for online dating sites may seem promising, but the only test of their effectiveness is experience.
Making a Profile
If you sign up for an online dating Web site, you will need to make a profile that other users can view when searching for a person to date. Your profile is the first impression other users will have of you, and it should represent your personality and intentions.
You will have to choose a screen name for your profile. A screen name is the name other users will see when you send messages. Choose a screen name that fits some aspect of your personality; think about your passions and how to hint at them. For example, if you love music, you might think about incorporating this detail into your screen name. However, you should avoid anything too cutsey or a name that you might regret a few years down the road.
Oftentimes, you will be asked to include a photograph in your profile. Make sure to choose an image that is flattering but true-to-life. You want to give people an honest representation of what you look like so they aren't surprised or, even worse, disappointed when they meet you for the first time. Remember that successful online dating means you get off the computer and meet face to face.
Part of a making a profile is listing qualities about yourself. If you're interested in photography, make sure to mention photography somewhere on the profile. Whatever you would enjoy talking about or doing with friends should appear.
No matter what, do not lie. If you don't like sports, don't say that you like them because you think it will make you look more desirable. You want to attract people who like you and want you for you. If you lie, you're wasting your time and everyone else's.
Think about the tone of your profile. If you are serious and introspective, relay this instead of trying to seem extroverted and overly friendly. You want to give the Web site's users a realistic picture of who you are, what you want and what you might be like in person.
A note for safety: Consider creating a separate e-mail account for all of your correspondence and Web site information. This will help protect your identity and help you manage the Web sites' information and contact you have with prospective dates.
When to Meet in Person
Be selective. You don't have to meet each and every person you chat with, share e-mails with or talk to on the phone. Don't meet someone in person unless you truly believe you would want to spend time with that person.
Once you've made the decision to meet someone face to face, choose a public location so people will be around in case something goes wrong. Bring a cell phone with you, and tell friends and family where you are going and what time you expect to be back.
Keep the meeting casual. You may know a person well on the Web, but getting to know them in person will take time. A meeting at a coffee shop would be more appropriate for the situation than a candlelit dinner.
Make sure that you put a time-cap on the first meeting. If you like this person, you can always schedule another date. The time-cap will make things easier, and it may help if you schedule another appointment after the first brief date. You won't have to think of a way to excuse yourself, and you can keep things casual.
More Safety Advice
We've all heard the horror stories of predators and sociopaths surfing the Web to take advantage of the lonely. Most people you would meet through Web sites are not dangerous, but you do need to be on your guard. Not everyone is going to have the best intentions and, if you are cautious, you will protect yourself from dangerous situations.
Make sure that the Web site you use for online dating has a reputation for being safe. Research each site's privacy guidelines and poke around in online forums to see what people are saying about the Web sites you are considering.
Safe online dating also calls for protecting your information. Make sure your personal information is not given to the Web site's users or sold to other companies. Also, you want to make sure that this Web site is secure and will not share your credit card information if they charge for their services.
Do not list your address or workplace information online. Dating is always tricky business, but you want to make sure you keep personal information off of the Web. Once you list your phone number or address on the Web, anyone else online can access it. You don't want people showing up at your home or work unannounced; this can lead to a dangerous situation.
Keeping yourself honest and safe should be your top two priorities when dating online, after finding someone who interests you, of course.