Here it is, the third installment you've all been waiting for! Yes, you can sit back from the edge of your seat and stop biting your nails now. :P
Previously, we covered tips for creating a successful online profile. Now that you've posted your bio and smiling pics minus exes and phantom limbs, we'll concentrate on how to attain level one of Internet dating, reciprocal communication. Then, we'll wrap up with "Part IV," which should send you on your way to an actual date!
6. MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME AND MONEY.
This tip I've never seen recommended anywhere, although I'm sure there are other enterprising people who've figured it out on their own. In case you haven't, I'm offering it to you upfront: You don't have to pay for paid dating services.
Most online dating sites let you create a profile free of charge, and some even let you respond to other members, but few allow you to initiate contact, which, as we'll see, is important. However, many dating sites give out free trials of three to seven days. These deals usually stipulate that you hand over your credit card and register for a subscriber package but permit you to cancel your subscription within the trial period. As long as you remember to cancel, you have several days to milk the service for all it's worth. Here's how:
A. Before you register, take an afternoon and complete the search process described below in 7. (Yes, it probably will take a whole afternoon if you're thorough, so set aside a day when you have no commitments.) Make a list of singles who interest you.
B. As soon as you register for your free trial, follow step 8. and write to all the singles on your list. Let them know you're just checking out the site on a free trial and may not continue your subscription or simply say that your subscription ends in ___ days. Then ask them to contact you outside the service at a personal email address. (You can create a free account for this purpose at Google, Yahoo, or any other email provider if you don't already have an address that you feel comfortable sharing with strangers.) Be forewarned that some dating services take pains to mask anything in your communication that resembles an email address, so when in doubt, write it out (eg., "Mary1983 at Gmail" instead of "Mary1983@gmail.com"). Non-subscribing members are such an enormous slice of the online dating population that most paying members expect to receive some communications like this and, if they like your profile, will probably be happy to write to you off the site.
C. Invariably, a few members will answer through the site anyway, sometimes because Big Brother Dating Service managed to filter out your address, sometimes for other reasons. This is why you should send out your emails as soon as you subscribe. You want to have as much time as possible to answer anyone who responds to you through the site as well as to monitor their activities via subscriber privileges that reveal who's looked at your profile, read your email, added you to their list of favorites, etc.
D. Be sure to cancel your subscription before the trial period ends or you may be charged for a full month or more!
Obviously, if you take this hit-and-run approach to online dating, you'll be limited to the current crop of profiles, and you might occasionally miss a response. Plus, most Internet dating services restrict free trials to one a year or less, so if you don't get lucky the first time, you're out of luck for at least 12 months. But if saving money is important to you and you're willing to pack a lot of effort into a few days and leave the rest to chance, this could be the perfect compromise between big, overpriced, feature-rich matchmaking services and free dating sites with only 10 members, eight of whom live in Calcutta.
7. TAKE THE INITIATIVE.
Don't sit around waiting for your soulmate to drop out of the sky! Unless you've signed up on a very small startup site, this is a big haystack, and there are lots of needles besides you. Instead of making your future date go fish, throw him or her a line. Most online dating sites have a search feature. Use it!
Depending on the site, the search capabilities may be quite rich. Take advantage. The more specific you are, the greater the probability that you'll find the person you're looking for. If your search only returns 20 profiles, you can always broaden it, but as a benchmark, I used to live in a town of about 30,000, and when I searched within a 50-mile radius, the engine always returned the maximum number of profiles allowable in one search, so don't underestimate the dating pool in your region even if you live in a small town.
(A word to the wise, though: If you do live in a remote area, you may be tempted to widen your travel range, but if you're seeking a serious relationship, be honest with yourself about how far you're willing to travel on a regular basis. Even an hour's drive each way can become tiring very quickly and put undue strain on a new relationship.)
When browsing the search results, don't immediately skip over profiles with photos that don't quite match your ideal. First see if the profile includes other photos that may give you a fuller picture--literally--of what the member looks like. Even then, if the single in question has a profile that really speaks to you, don't rule him or her out before a face-to-face meeting. Sometimes people aren't that photogenic, and more than once I've been surprised by how attractive someone was in person after assuming the worst from unflattering photos.
Speaking of that profile, READ it carefully. Don't let a gorgeous photo blind you in its angelic light! It doesn't matter if that guy looks like your favorite actor's long-lost twin if he wants a practicing Catholic with blond hair and a PhD when you're an agnostic brunette who dropped out of college to start her own business. And who cares if that girl belongs in a Victoria's Secret commercial if she wants a fellow jazz fanatic to go biking with and you think Billie Holiday was a phat dude and a Mongoose is a weasely little animal? You may think you can remake yourself to fit the bill, but ultimately, the strain of pretending to be someone other than you are will leave you unfulfilled and resentful, not to mention how deceptive you'll seem if your sweetheart catches on. So take the logical approach and choose members who are looking for someone like YOU.
That said, if you fall slightly outside someone's guidelines but are a match in other respects, it doesn't hurt to write, mention that you're aware of the discrepancy, and call attention to all the other things you have in common. Many singles are willing to, say, extend their age range by a year or two or their travel range by five or 10 miles for someone who otherwise seems like a great catch.
Conversely, you'll want to be selective, as well. When you have a smorgasbord of singles an email away, it's tempting to send out "winks" willy-nilly without stopping to ask yourself if you're genuinely interested in any of the members you're contacting. Research proves that commonality is a primary indicator of attraction and relationship success, so your top candidates should be those who are similar in interests, values, and lifestyle.
In addition, try to ascertain upfront whether the member's dating goals are compatible with yours. He or she may simplify this for you by stating that he's in the market for a long-term relationship or that she just got out of a committed relationship and wants to date casually, but oftentimes you'll have to read between the lines.
Though this isn't a hard and fast rule, a single who is seeking a serious commitment will often take the time to write a more detailed profile and will have thought about what he or she wants in a partner, reflected in a list of desired qualities that one would expect in "relationship material" (think: intelligence, ambition, a sense of humor, compassion, faithfulness, etc.). There may be references to family values, a longing to reach the "next stage of life" or "settle down," or traditional coupling activities like reading the paper together on Sunday mornings, cooking meals for each other, or taking weekend trips.
On the other hand, an online dater who wants to play the field may write a vague or incomplete bio that reveals next to nothing about him- or herself, list requirements that are mostly based in the physical (i.e. "hot," "in shape," "good dancer," "sensual") or nonspecific requirements that give off the impression it doesn't matter who responds, or use buzzwords and key phrases like "have fun," "just hang," or "likes to party." This member will concentrate on the rip-roaring good times he or she has dancing, drinking, driving fast cars, and maybe even yachting around the world and invite you to join in the fun, but there will be no mention of love, relationships, commitment, or family. While all this may sound romantic, it will probably be a hit-and-run romance, so be forewarned.
Finally, a picture's worth a thousand words, so be a detective and piece together what you can from the snapshots of his or her life. Pictures of him and his family barbecuing, fishing, and camping suggest he's a family-oriented outdoorsman who enjoys simple pleasures. Shots of her in designer clothes at dance clubs, karaoke bars, and VIP lounges imply that dressing up and hitting the town is a big part of her life and that she may have expensive taste. Members post photos of people, places, and events that mean something to them, so you can tell a lot about their interests, values, and expectations just by taking note of how they represent themselves photographically.
8. SEND IT IN A LETTER.
Many online dating sites give you the option of initiating contact with a "wink," "flirt," or "icebreaker," the equivalent of a smile across a crowded room. While it can be reassuring to get a smile in return, some Internet daters, especially women, are inundated with these gestures of affection and can't respond to or even open all of them. Not surprisingly, online dating experts agree that singles are more likely to respond to those who show they're serious and distinguish themselves from the masses by writing an actual message.
This isn't as hard as it sounds, trust me. You don't have to write a novel, and, in fact, you shouldn't. The goal is to intrigue the member as he or she intrigued you, so save the details of your autobiography for coffee or drinks. A concise paragraph or two will do.
So now that the blinking cursor is staring you in the face, what do you write? Since you want your potential date to know you took the time to read his or her profile, referencing it is always a good tactic, especially if you can do so in a clever or humorous way. Careful, though--one man's one-liner is another woman's cheesy pickup line. When in doubt, opt for straightforward sincerity instead. In your own words, tell your prospective date that his or her profile caught your eye because you could relate to so much of it. Then elaborate with examples of how your interests, beliefs, values, experiences, etc. coincide. Remember that similarity increases attraction!
If you want to throw in a compliment, go ahead, but don't go overboard--fawning will make you look desperate--and stay away from comments on his or her appearance. Any member you write to already knows you find him or her attractive, or else you wouldn't have written; what he or she wants to know is whether you're interested in the person behind the flashy grin.
Conclude by inviting him or her to view your profile and respond if interested. If you're a paying member (and if you're not, see 6.), don't immediately solicit contact information or suggest taking the interaction offline. That's too fast for many people, especially women, and can seem stalker-ish. Besides, you want to put the ball squarely in your online crush's court and force him or her to pursue you if interested. (More on that next time.) If you took the time to write a good profile, it will now speak for you, which is exactly why you don't need to write a novel in the first email.
If for some reason you haven't posted a picture on your profile, this is also the time to attach a picture to your message if the dating service will allow it or, if not, to reassure the member that you have a picture and can send it privately. Be aware, though, that some members will not reply to profiles without pictures as a rule, no matter what you promise.
And now we interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post for a special announcement: A lot of members won't reply, maybe even most. Prepare yourself for it and try not to get caught up in the idea that you're getting rejected because you're not "good enough."
There are myriad reasons why site users might not respond, and many of them have nothing to do with your quality as a potential mate. Some of them have nothing to do with you, period. For example, a member may have recently found someone special and stopped answering correspondence even though his or her profile is still visible. Or, as is the case more often than major dating hubs would lead you to believe, you may have unwittingly contacted a non-paying member, who can't write back.
Even when someone isn't attracted to you, it doesn't mean he or she is looking for someone better, just different. Some people are only ever going to be attracted to blue-eyed blondes. Others want an athletic partner who can go jogging, rock climbing, and sky diving with them. Still others are searching for singles who plan on settling down in the suburbs and raising a brood to rival Brangelina's. If you're a brown-eyed brunette who prefers quiet activities like reading and moviegoing and doesn't want kids, that doesn't mean you're not good enough. You're just not what the above members are looking for.
So don't get down on yourself if the most common response you get is silence. If anything, consider yourself lucky to have eliminated someone who wasn't a match without pumping your hard-earned money into a failed date. Now you're one step closer to finding someone who is right for you!
And, whatever you do, don't "stalk" a single who has indicated he or she isn't interested. If you suspect that someone never received your message, send it once more, but if you still hear nothing back, move on. Pestering someone who obviously doesn't want anymore contact could get you banned from the site and certainly won't land you a date.
9. WHEN FROGGY COMES A-COURTIN', SEND A "NO, THANK-YOU" NOTE.
Inevitably, you'll get some unsolicited emails from other site members. If you check out their profiles and like what you see, terrific. If you don't, you can either ignore the communications or respond with a "no, thank you." Some sites are making it easier than ever to let someone down gently by providing form responses.
As a humanist blog, Singletude believes it's preferable to grant the courtesy of a kind "sorry" than to leave someone hanging. But use your best judgment. You don't owe a response to someone who has sent you a vulgar or intimidating message or who persists in contacting you after you've specified that you're not interested. Many dating sites enable you to block members who bother you or, if all else fails, contact management and complain.
BE WARY of anyone who writes to you from another country and/or asks for money for any reason. Report such people immediately. Internet dating fraud is a growing problem that everyone should be on the lookout for.
Ready for the all-important step 10.? Tune in to Singletude very soon for the big reveal! ;)
Have you tried any of the above methods to find potential dates online and encourage them to respond? If so, did you reach the communication stage? What other approaches to online dating have successfully elicited responses from singles you contacted? How do you deal with the inevitable rejections in the search process?
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Clever Elsie is a freelance writer and a successful online dater. If you need help making your online dating profile the best it can be, finding matches, or polishing your emails to potential dates, please contact her for rates and more information.
Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about online dating or some other aspect of the single life? Write in, and you just might see your question posted in a Singletude Q&A!
Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Here it is, the third installment you've all been waiting for! Yes, you can sit back from the edge of your seat and stop biting your nails now. :P