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Online dating has grown immensely in popularity as the internet has become a global phenomenon. While singles used to be restricted to often embarrassing newspaper ads, singles events and awkward set-ups, the world of online dating allows a more personalized and private method of finding potential romantic partners. The internet dating world is not foolproof, however, and basic caution and common sense can help protect users from damaging or even dangerous experiences.
With thousands or even millions of users venturing into the world of online dating, one of the major issues becomes narrowing down your options. Many websites use extensive personal questionnaires meant to determine your compatibility with other users. Questions range from your age, marital status, and income, to what ethnicities you prefer, what height you would like your partner to be and whether you consider yourself stylish. Some websites claim to have these questionnaires created or evaluated by mental health or relationship professionals, but at the very least they can serve to narrow the field.
While some online dating sites allow you to set up a profile and review potential matches for free, others charge a monthly or yearly fee to be a member. If you are having difficulty deciding whether or not the online dating world is for you, some websites offer a free trial period, or a refund option if you are unsatisfied. Be sure to read the fine print carefully before handing over your credit card.
Most early contact with potential dates is through email or instant messaging. No reputable website will give out your phone number or address without your express permission, so be wary of services that do not guarantee your privacy. Many sites will allow you to set up a site-based email address, so even your personal email address remains private until you choose to give it out.
If you find a person you would like to meet with, consider setting up an introductory date. Be sure to choose a public, well-lit location, and let at least one friend know where you are going. While the majority of online daters are simply looking for someone to date, using basic precaution can only protect you from harm. For at least the first date, avoid alcohol or anything that could inhibit your decision-making abilities.
Use common sense as much as possible. If your new true love lives in Tokyo while you live in Germany, the likelihood of building a successful new relationship is very low. Many believe it is important to meet face to face early on, rather than basing your decisions on phone or email contact. Knowing who they are in person will prevent you from fantasizing them into the "perfect" person, and allow you to confirm your attraction to the real thing.
While it is tempting to post the most beautiful and perfect photo of yourself, you will probably get more sincere results if you use a picture that reflects the day-to-day you. Eventually you plan to meet some of these potential partners, and if the only image they have is you ten years and twenty pounds ago, you are setting yourself up for serious anxiety over their real opinion. Just remember, you want someone to love you, not only you on your best day ever.
The online dating world can be wonderful for those re-entering the dating pool after divorce or the end of a long-term relationship. When you have been emotionally damaged by a partner in the past, it is important to take dating at your own speed and comfort level. The detachment of the online world can allow you freedom to make clear, conscious decisions about your dating choices, without being overwhelmed by the fluttery feelings of new love.
Remember, online dating is meant to be fun and experimental. If you find yourself miserable after a few failed blind dates, don't feel obligated to keep trying. The benefit to the many fish in the dating ocean means that you don't need to be in any rush to find your great love. While the online world can offer you a wide variety of friends and partners you never would have found otherwise, your true love could just as easily be working down the hall, or adding a few extra sprinkles to your morning mocha.
@Phaedrus, I'd also add that just because an online dating site purports to filter their client list according to religious beliefs or age or occupation, this isn't always a reality. Some people deliberately provide false information in order to get listed on those sites, so if you're looking for a devout Christian partner or a fellow professional, you may want to ask some probing questions to weed out the fakes.
One thing to keep in mind is that many online dating sites have major fraud issues. I read in the paper where one adult film actresses' image was submitted over 11,000 times to one popular online dating service. The services themselves often don't have much control over what images their clients decide to upload as profile pictures. I'd say if you're going to participate in online personals dating, don't be swayed by the current profile picture. Ask the other person to send an informal shot of themselves, not a studio portrait.
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