All the Single Ladies! — Online dating advice in time for V-Day

As we head into Valentine’s Day, I thought I would play Cupid by offering my personal online dating tips.

This is what worked for me and maybe it could work for you, too.

I am an educated and driven career woman who wanted a husband and a family to share and enjoy life with.  I realize that not everyone wants this, but I sure did and I would love to help anyone out there who is in the same situation but maybe needs just a little nudge to go look.

I didn’t settle on who came across my path, I went out looking for him…and I FOUND HIM.

My husband and I met during the pioneer days of internet dating sites.  It was a weird, untrusted and unknown phenomenon, with no track record yet.  Most people who participated did so under a cloak of secrecy, me included.

The ramblings below are the result of numerous tips from my best girlfriends and 1 year of personal trial and error online.

Figure out what you want in a man.  This is the hardest part. Understanding what you want and don’t want and what is good for you and NOT good in any way for you is critically important.  You hear nightmare stories of divas with superficial checklists.  I’m not saying make a list, I’m saying get your priorities straight.  Hint: Character is key.

Put yourself out there.  Find a site that is reputable and treats its members with dignity and dive in.  First thing you’ll need after a valid credit card is an accurate but flattering photo of yourself.  Great relationships are built on honesty. You want a man who is interested in you today not you 20 or 30 pounds or several laugh lines ago. Choose an appropriate and current photo.  It’s tempting to use that one photo from that time you had a stomach bug for 2 weeks and dropped 10 lbs that shows your cheekbones, but don’t.  He needs to be able to recognize you when you meet him in person.

Write a great profile.  Your profile should scream  “You want to meet me!  I’m a great catch!”  Be witty, be clever, be YOU.  Have a friend (or 2) review what you’ve written and give you feedback and then LISTEN TO THEM.  Remember that any man reading your profile already likes your picture so you need to keep his attention. Your words should show him you have your act together.  Be direct, be confident. Be careful not to sound bitter or jaded. Be positive. If positive doesn’t reflect who you are or where you are in life right now, should you be seeking a mate?

Who picks who?  Sites have different features that allow women and men to notify each other to express interest.  You will be tempted to select guys who you find interesting. Calm down missy. This is when you need to step into the feminine.  Let him pursue you.  You have made yourself available and that is all you need to do.  For the first 60 days, you can look all you want but you are only to interact with men that select you.  Yes, you read that right.  If, after 60 days of waiting, no one has picked you or you have no reasonable prospects of a date, please start over with a new picture and/or profile or try other sites.  Maybe one of the niche sites (Christian Mingle, Our Time, something local to your city) would be a better fit.  If you are truly drawn to someone and the 60 day waiting period has gone by, then gain the consent of at least one level headed girlfriend before contacting him one time.  Then, sit back and let him do the pursuing. No chasing.

OK, you’ve got some “hits” now what?  Evaluate carefully who you plan to respond to. You are not obligated.  I know this sounds harsh, but don’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings at this point. As a woman you overly empathize with how it would feel to take the risk and pick someone and how awful it would be to never hear back from them or to be rejected.  But he’s not you and he’s not a woman. He can handle it. The guy you are stressing about letting down easily may have used a shot-gun method and picked 100 different women.

Also, keep your superficiality in check and get beyond the pictures.  Read profiles carefully and read between the lines. Once you have someone you’d like to engage with, run it by a friend. This serves two purposes:  it gets you a second set of eyes looking for red flags and it creates a built-in delay.  You are an amazing woman with a full life, you are not sitting and staring at your screen waiting for any form of contact. Give it a few hours girl.  When you do respond, resist the urge to exchange life stories via email and send a brief but warm and witty note.  Without being reckless, your goal is to minimize back and forth email chit chat and exchange phone numbers ASAP.  You are not looking for a virtual pen pal or a texting buddy. Once he follows through with a phone call (and can speak intelligently) suggest a meeting.  Don’t dominate the decision making but a cup of coffee or a glass of wine sure does sound nice.  Remember to meet someplace safe and public with lots of other people around.  More tips on safety later.

Prepping for the first meeting.  Pull together a first date outfit, one that your girlfriends approve of.  You want something that you feel feminine in and that a healthy male will appreciate.  A wise girlfriend once told me to always wear a dress or a skirt on the first date and to wear soft, touchable fabrics on top.  Don’t dress like Miley Cyrus but No Turtlenecks.  In addition to a great outfit, you need a great attitude for that first date, too. Establish a first date mantra and use it to get pumped up:  You are a great woman with much to offer. You are the whole package. You are going to rock this date!

During the date.  Break out the witty banter. The lighter you can make this, the better. Remember this is a mutual decision point where you both have the right to say Yes or No to another date so relax.  Ask him about himself and make sure he asks (and is interested) in YOU.  Conversation starter: Talk about the online dating experience. Trust me this topic alone can fill an evening. Steer clear of traditional first date taboos: old boyfriends, ticking biological clocks, your Pinterest board for your someday wedding and any discussion of more than 1 cat.

Who pays?  As the date comes to an end, let him pay. This may sound old fashioned but again, this is my strategy for finding a man and men pay for first dates. If things work out, you’ll have your entire lives to split things 50/50. Don’t emasculate him. If it looks like there will be a next time, offer to get the next one.

Do I kiss him?  I leave this entirely up to you but I remind you that you don’t owe anyone anything. You didn’t tell him to order the $100 dollar bottle of wine (this story will have to be a future post!).  Also, remember that he may be going out on 10 dates in 2 weeks (as was the case with my husband — again another future post) so don’t do anything that feels unnatural to you and your values. Personally, I don’t kiss people I’ve only known a few hours but I do hug them. I’m a hugger.  I could work up a hug for my worst dates.  It was nice to meet them, I wished them well on their journey and they were helping me on mine. Totally hug-worthy.  I may never hear from them again (nor want to) so my philosophy was to not give away kisses but to embrace the hug.

What next?  You decide if you are Yes, Maybe or No on going on a second date.  You may know immediately or you may need to talk it through with a girlfriend.  You should know what you want to happen before you consider what he wants.

You think Yes, he never contacts you again.  With online dating, he can find you if he wants to. There is no “maybe he lost my number.”  If you never hear from him, it’s his loss.  Learn from it if you can and move on.

He says Yes, you say No.  If you don’t want to see him again and he reaches out for that second date, then end it gracefully.  Don’t waste his time or yours.  Isn’t that what you’d want?  My process involved a nice email note via the site a day or two later that said it was great meeting you but I had met someone else with serious relationship potential that I wanted to focus on.  (see how nicely this is set up by discussing the online dating experience on the date!)  You did not start this process to find new friends so I do not encourage remaining “friends” with any of your online dates.  He has expressed interest in you that you don’t have for him.  Is that the basis for a valuable friendship?  Wish him the absolute best in life, but don’t take him on as a friend.

When the Yes and Maybe guys reach out  (bonus points for timely contact and double bonus points if they compliment you or reference something you said on the date) say Yes and set up the next meeting.  Again in a public place.  Don’t forget to offer to treat.

Safety tips.  Unfortunately, safety concerns are a top reason people view online dating negatively.  It is understandable because the one thing an online date typically does not have that most regular dates do have is a mutual acquaintance.  Someone who says this guy checks out.  Because of this, I highly recommend using sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google to verify what your online prospects tell you about themselves.  With a few keystrokes you can verify a lot. Once the internet search criteria has been cleared, make sure to meet in public places, meet friends and family of theirs as appropriate, call them at the office or go to their place of work (a great way to do this is to offer to pick him up for a date near his workplace).  Have your friends meet him by inviting him to a group activity. Steer clear of anyone that does not want to share their world with you or be part of yours.  Also, as you suggest ways to meet in public that make you feel comfortable, he should encourage and embrace this versus poo-poo your concerns. Any man worthy of your time will bend over backwards to make you feel safe.

And then what happens?  After several dates, you may just have a budding relationship and the start of your forever romance.  Trust your instincts on when to take your profile off of the site. (a true sign that you are investing in him is taking yourself off of the market)  More bonus points for him if he does it first!