Digital Manners


“Looking for Love Online”

Question: I’ve joined a number of the most popular dating sites and apps over the past two years (paying good money) and have hooked up with some beautiful women. Now I’m in my mid-thirties and I’m looking for love (or at least bona fide dates), not just sex — but I’m sure not finding it electronically. Trying to find a girl to get to know who is seeking a long-term relationship — that’s been like mission impossible. What do you think I’m doing wrong?

Answer: Congratulations on your successful run in the world of online hookups — and on feeling you’re ready to graduate to a long-term relationship. A nice boy like you (and I’m sure you are) should have no trouble finding love, but you may be looking in all the wrong places. Sites and apps that are great for hooking are usually not the best places to find your long-term princess. And whatever electronic matchmaker you use, you’ll need to change your strategy if you’re looking for your one true love instead of your next one-night stand.

The first step in your new strategy is to be sure you’re in the right place. Just as some bars are known for their uptown clientele, others have different reputations. Dating sites and apps follow suit. Fortunately, it’s easy to tell which ones are which: The home page of one site boasts, “We know you not only want to go on dates, you want to go on great dates . . . with someone you’ve made a connection with.” Contrast that with a service that promises it’s “the Hottest Hook-up site for singles seeking casual relationships.”

Once you’ve chosen your venue for finding love, follow these rules for success:

Rule #1. Be smart about choosing your screen name. First impressions are just as important in online dating as in the terrestrial kind, and your screen name, or username, says a lot. Choose one that says something genuine and compelling about you, and that stands out in the crowd. Cryptic abbreviations of your real name (for instance, “samljnes34” for Samuel Jones) are not big attention-grabbers. And the names that worked well for you on sexually oriented sites (were you “HottestBabeHere” or “SexyStoner”?) could be a turnoff to others seeking deeper relationships. Upbeat, confident screen names are a good bet, like “SportyNSpiritual” or “MensaBeauty,” and so are those that reveal some physical attribute of yours, such as “BlueEyes” or “Swimmr.” Short names are generally more effective than long ones. Using a combination of upper- and lowercase letters (not all caps, which is just irritating) can be easier to read and more noticeable to others. And it can help in finding dates near you to use a screen name that geo locates you (simply change “Swimmr” to “LASwimmr”).

If you’re maintaining profiles on different kinds of sites, go ahead and create a different screen name for each.

Rule # 2: Write a winning profile. Your profile, or bio, is what others will see when they find you online; it’s also your “calling card” when you reach out to someone who looks interesting. Don’t take this step lightly! The key is being yourself, but putting all the good stuff out front (all those teeny tiny flaws you have can be revealed later). When seeking an honest-to-god relationship, answer the questions and fill in the blanks about who you are and what kind of person you’re looking for with as much candor as you can muster. As you complete your profile, pay attention to how you’ll come across. It rarely works in your favor, for instance, to refer to a broken heart or a long single stretch. Stand back, if you can, and imagine clicking on your profile as a stranger: Does it scream “desperate”? What about “raunchy”?

Consider asking a close friend to look at your profile; it’s amazing how many people play down their best strengths and give negative impressions they really didn’t mean to give.

Rule # 3: Choose the perfect picture(s). You can’t expect your profile to work it for you without at least one photo because online dating surveys report that those who post pictures get more matches. Several photos are even better than just one – they can show the different sides of you. If you can afford it, consider a headshot by a professional photographer to capture the real you.

Select at least one picture that shows you smiling, or at least upbeat, and make sure your face is visible: Don’t go for the shot where you’re in the shadows but the background shows how cool your life is. Ix-nay on the group photos — you want potential admirers to know who you are, not that you have two best friends who summer with you on the Jersey Shore (and you shouldn’t be posting other people’s pictures without permission anyway). And no cheating: make sure that at least one picture shows you within two to three years of your current age. If you have some great shots from your thirtieth birthday party and you’re now forty, it’s fine to post them — as long as you caption them to indicate it was some time ago.

What you’re wearing in your photos can say a lot about you and what you’re seeking. If you’re looking for a romance, choose a photo of yourself in casual dress. (Nude or seminude shots are for sex sites.) Remember that the photos help describe your life to someone: If you spend most of your time in jeans and tees, don’t post only the photos from your cousin’s wedding with you in a tux. And acknowledge any changes: If you’re blond in your photo but now go as a redhead, or if you’ve shaved the goatee, mention that in your profile or a subsequent e-mail. You never know what it is about you that attracts another.

Rule # 4: Be clear about what you want. At some point you’ll make contact with someone, perhaps with flirtatious e-mails, texts or IM conversations, phone calls, or even arrangements for a rendezvous. Expectations are among the first things to get matched on those connections, so don’t waste time (yours or someone else’s) barking up the wrong tree. Make sure you’re on the same page as your new prospect. Do you want conversation, friendship, sex, a relationship? Be clear.

Rule # 5: Be careful. Not paranoid, of course, but careful. Continue to use the anonymous e-mail address the dating service provides you, and don’t give out your last name, address, or personal website URL, or reveal where you work, to someone you’ve just met. If or when you decide to give out your phone number, start with your cell instead of a landline — it’s harder for someone to track down personal information about you that way.

With a little bit of luck — and a good, honest strategy — you should be setting up your new homestead and registering for a china pattern soon. Or at least have someone you can introduce as your girlfriend.

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