The Top Eleven Dos and Don’ts for Finding a Date at a Dot-Com

"computer love and dating"You did it! You survived another year of flowers, candy, and red and pink hearts. Yes, another Valentine’s Day has come and gone, and if it’s left you feeling bitter, defeated, and lonelier than ever, it may be time to start thinking outside the box and start looking online.

For years, online dating seemed to carry a stigma around with it. Couples who met online told edited versions of their “how we met” story, and girlfriends kept their online dating profiles secret from one another. But now, as people are spending more time than ever connecting online (think Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), looking for and meeting a potential mate online has become a normal part of our everyday lives.

“When it comes to dating, the Internet has broadened and widened the playing field and deepened the pool,” says Dr. Joy Browne, author of Dating For Dummies®, 3rd Edition. “Literally thousands of folks are out there just waiting to click or be clicked on—you just have to know how and where to connect—and understand the ‘rules’ before you venture online.”

With new and updated content, the third edition of Dr. Browne’s popular book demystifies the whole dating process, including all the information you’ll need for navigating the contemporary, social media-driven dating scene where women and men Google potential dates beforehand, tweet after, and even meet on Facebook. Not only should you not be afraid to try your luck at letting the online matchmakers work their magic for you, but you’re likely missing out on prime opportunities by not diving into the online dating pool.

So how do you enjoy and profit from this brave new world? Dr. Browne says that there are eleven simple dos and don’ts that will help you to maximize your online experience and, hopefully, have you on the way to finding your perfect match.

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. In the bad old days, personal ads were charged by the word. These days most profiles are unlimited in terms of words once you’ve paid your membership fee. Don’t allow this freedom to encourage you to blather. Be as specific as possible.

“Think about who you are and what makes you unusual, and list both your successes and your failures,” says Dr. Browne. “Don’t allow yourself to wander into abstracts 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.

The trick here is to be focused enough to winnow the field and be honest and compelling without being so narrow that nobody on the face of the earth could ever meet your criteria,” she goes on to say. “You want your ad to be honest, compelling, eye catching, sane, reflective of who you are, and different from everybody else’s efforts.

Use an appropriate photo. While you don’t necessarily have to post a picture with your description, the number of responses increases dramatically—like by a factor of eight—if you do. Browne suggests using the following tips when including a picture with your profile:

• Use a fairly recent picture.

• Don’t be tempted to use your cute friend’s picture or your brother’s bar mitzvah picture.

• Avoid 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. A picture with a friend is also a mixed message.

• Be careful about using props like a dog, a boat, or a fancy car. This is about you, so it should be a good headshot 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.

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,” advises Browne. “Ask a discreet friend to read your listing to see if it makes sense and has no major lapses of logic, taste, or grammar. Always do a spell check and run it by a supportive friend with good English skills. Another set of eyes will often catch something you’ve missed.”

Keep the fibs to a minimum. While it’s best to be completely truthful, if we’re being honest, we know no one ever truly is. Browne says that on an Internet dating site, age, weight, and sexual history tend to be the general minefield of fibbing. She suggests using the following guideline for any online white lies:

• Your age should certainly be within several years of your actual age. Everybody is allowed to shave a year or two, but no decade reductions. Beware of saying things like “salt and pepper hair” if you haven’t had any hair on your head since dirt was invented.

• Make sure any physical description roughly correlates with what your mirror reflects, not what your heart desires.

• Beware of women who use “code” and say they’re “voluptuous,” which translates into “35 pounds overweight.” Be honest about who you are. If you’re a little heavy, then say, “I’m a little heavy. I can live with it. Can you?” This is a much better approach than lying about your weight. Remember: Sooner or later the intent is to meet face to face, and neither of you should be unpleasantly surprised.

• As for sexual history, don’t go there! Your indiscretions are best forgotten or dealt with in the confessional or therapy, but certainly not on a website with strangers.

Provide only a cell phone number. When you are connecting online, it’s best to keep in mind that any person who found you on the Web is a stranger. So don’t give your home phone number, which Browne warns that someone could use to 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,” explaines Browne. “A cell phone allows you to be anywhere without anyone knowing where you are. In the worst-case scenario of a lunatic or a stalker, you can always get rid of the phone if you need to.”

Date within a 25-mile radius. You may be one of those people who look for potential dates on vacations or planes, or with someone who is traveling through town. But Browne warns that you should be weary. 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,” she suggests. “Make it 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. Dealing with someone who is GU (geographically undesirable) is an avoidable hassle.”

Meet publicly and make sure someone knows where you are. Remember that the person you meet online is a stranger. And it bears repeating: 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 home phone number, don’t do any of these things with someone you meet online.

“Meet in a public place and make sure that somebody you know and trust is aware of your whereabouts,” Browne asserts. “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.”

Don’t stay online too long before a meeting. Studies show that looking at a computer screen gives you 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 as 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,” says Browne. “But a week or two of fantasy fun is sufficient, and 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.”

Never online date on an office computer. If you don’t have a computer at home, invest in a cheap laptop, a used computer, or a smart phone, but don’t date online at the office, warns Browne. Keep your personal life and your office life separate. You may think that you’ve covered your tracks or that online dating after hours doesn’t count, but the headlines and dockets are full of folks who believed that email and computers are secure.

“Not only will most companies object strenuously to your doing personal stuff,” continues Browne, “but they also have access to anything done on their equipment. Your activity leaves electronic records and might be against corporate policy. Best not to risk your job while searching for love online. Work is about competence; anything that interferes or implies anything else is a no-no.”

Don’t get seduced in online “shopping.” One of the most dramatic good news/bad news scenarios of Internet dating is that there are just so many options. Certainly that’s the major reason to indulge, but beware the seduction of the “Gee, I wonder who’s around the next e-mail corner” phenomenon. If you find somebody you like and you’ve had a half a dozen dates, you may want to consider going offline for a while.

“Beware of juggling too many people at the same time,” asserts Browne. “While it’s perfectly okay to go slowly and initially see more than one candidate at a time—especially if your dates also are continuing to look online—the giddiness of “so many profiles, so little time” can be self-defeating. If you do find somebody who you think may be a keeper, both of you can agree to take your profiles off the Internet, allowing for a more normalized dating environment. Both of you always know that you can resurrect your profiles if things don’t work out.”

Don’t rely on humor or sexual innuendo. You never know how strangers will interpret something as individual and personal as humor. Senses of humor can differ greatly depending on a person’s gender, age, culture, mood, ethnicity, or the context in which the humor is used. Given the fact that you’re not going to be privy to most of this upfront, Browne says that it’s best to err on the side of safety by being as straightforward as possible. You can be charming and witty, but be careful of innuendo or humor until you have eyeball-to-eyeball contact. That way, you can look each other in the eye and make sure that what you’re saying is going over the right way.

“Humor and innuendo are intended to soften, lighten, and divert, but you’re trying initially for clarity with very little possibility of misinterpretation,” she says. “The bottom line in all of this is to stay focused. Remember what you’re doing—this should be fun, but you do need to stay focused. Make sure that what you’re doing makes some sense.”

“Above all, you should remember this: Like dating outside in the ‘real world,’ online dating should be fun!” concludes Browne. “It should be about finding someone who shares your goals, values, and interests. Play it smart but keep an open mind. In the end, it doesn’t matter how you met your Mr. or Ms. Right. It only matters that you did!”

About the Author ~ Dr. Joy Browne (New York, NY) has a nationally syndicated daily radio show with nearly four million listeners heard on the WOR Radio Network weekdays from 12-3 p.m. EST, and is the longest running program of its kind. Dr. Joy has the top twenty-five downloads at WOR and receives half a million downloads of her podcasts on a monthly basis. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the American Psychological Association President’s Award and the Talkers Magazine award for Best Female Talk Show Host (two years in a row). She can frequently be seen as a guest on television shows. Dating For Dummies®, 3rd Edition (Wiley Publishing, Inc., January 2011, ISBN: 978-0-470-89205-3, $21.99) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher by calling (877) 762-2974.