Rule 1: Be persistent
Lara*, a 28-year-old publicist from Toronto, dabbled in online dating after signing up on JDate.com, a Jewish singles site, in her early 20s. "I went on a bunch of dates, but there was nothing romantic there," she says. Then, last year, she tried Tinder, sometimes known as a "hookup app," with the goal of meeting three people. She met Todd*, a 30-year-old behavioural therapist, shortly after and "something just clicked." They're now engaged and living together. "I never, ever thought it would work or that I'd find someone special so quickly," she says.
Why it works: Just because it didn't click the first time doesn't mean it won't click the next. "It can be disheartening when you've been dating online for a while and you're having no luck," says Kimberly Moffit, a relationship expert and Canadian spokesperson for Match.com. "The key is to give it a fair chance," she says. That means a six-month trial and really making an effort, including scheduling online dating time and commiting to meeting as many people as possible. "Treat it as a part-time job or a hobby that you enjoy," advises Moffit.
Rule 2: Don't let unrealistic expectations hold you back
With the wide pool of potential dates online, it's easy to paint a picture of your ideal mate. Tick off all of your preferred traits—interests and looks—and you'll narrow the field to perfect-for-you candidates. But stick too closely to that list and you can seriously limit your chances of making a great connection.
Pickiness hasn't helped 40-year-old Nancy MacEachern, a Calgary-based graphic
designer. Single for 2 1/2 years, Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer at 38, then underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy treatments and is now in remission. The experience has changed her perspective. "Before, I would go on dates with lots of different people and maybe give somebody a chance," she says. "But I became even pickier and that became frustrating." After trying Plenty of Fish and Match.com with little success, Nancy is discouraged about the prospect of finding love online, though she admits her high standards may not be helping. "I'm not interested in talking to anybody who doesn't check five of those boxes," she says. "I feel like I deserve more."
Why it works: Some self-examination and an open mind can go a long way, says
Caroline Pukall, a psychology professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. "A lot of people go online and are, like, ‘What can I find?' as opposed to ‘What am I looking for?'" says Pukall, which is ideal, since the former attitude will lead to greater success. If you are too picky and you eliminate 95 percent of prospective mates, you might not be ready to date or commit. "People have to take a good look at themselves—before they take a look at what's available online— and be clear with respect to what they're looking for," says Pukall. That may mean reassessing which qualities are must-haves and which are more flexible. "You really cannot get a feel for someone until you're in a room with that person," adds Moffit. "In our daily lives, we meet lots of people who on paper would look horrible. The important thing is an open heart because you never know who you might fall in love with."
Rule 3: Use that choice for good
There are thousands of dating websites for all types of people—from traditional relationship and dating networks, such as OkCupid and eHarmony, to niche sites devoted to horseback-riding aficionados (EquestrianCupid.com), the food allergy–prone (Singles With Food Allergies) or those obsessed with all things sci-fi (Trek Passions), for example. Meanwhile, dating apps crop up seemingly every day to meet the needs of singles looking for new friends, a long- or short-term relationship or a quick fling (Down is one such app).
The problem with the vast selection? A resulting reluctance to narrow your choices to one. Feeling like she was just an "option" led Jennifer Freitas, a 35-year-old single mother from Waterloo, Ont., to delete her online profiles after trying digital dating for four years. Judging by possible suitors' long lag between emails/texts and actually scheduling dates, Jennifer sensed the men were noncommittal "because they were waiting for something better." While she admits to having left a couple of men in the lurch, she doesn't do it anymore since she knows how it feels to be just another number in the queue.
Why it works: "Choice is a good thing," says Moffit. "We have the opportunity to find somebody who is an even better match for us. We may also be less likely to stay in a relationship that isn't good for us." On the other hand, "the Internet and dating sites give the illusion that all of these people are at your disposal," says Pukall. "Sometimes, you find one thing you don't like and you can very easily end that conversation because there are so many choices out there." Make sure you're giving people a chance before you move on.
Rule 4: Take it offline, too
The more matches you meet virtually, the more likely you are to find a partner, right? Not necessarily. A 2013 survey from the Pew Research Center found that one-third of people who have used online dating have never actually gone on a date with someone they met on these sites. Nancy has experienced that, too. "I feel like lots of guys just want to talk," she says. "They're not ready to go out, and they can't make that next step."
Why it works: When the in-person meeting stalls or doesn't happen at all, it can be frustrating for those who are truly looking to make a connection; it can also make you question the person's authenticity. If things seem sketchy, trust your instincts and move on. "Ask questions from a genuine place of curiosity while getting to know your date," says Moffit, "but, just like you would in any dating situation, be mindful of details that don't add up."
A successful entrepreneur, Jennifer, like many online daters, encountered people pretending to be someone they weren't. "In my 30s, I'm running into two pools of men: complete jerks and people who match up in terms of compatibility and say they want a relationship but truly don't." The takeaway: Be honest and up front about what you want. "People will be honest with you if you're honest with them," says Pukall.
For Nancy's part, she's hoping to meet someone in the real world and has been asking friends to set her up on dates. Moffit approves: "Don't use online dating as the only form of finding love," she says, adding that you need to be open to the experience as well. "When you go to Starbucks, try not to be totally wrapped up in your phone, and try not to avoid connecting with anybody when you're on the subway. You have to get into the mindset if you're really ready to find love."
Ready to give online dating a try? Here's how to present your best self:
1. Use a recent flattering photo. Rather than trolling your Facebook feed for photos, Kimberly Moffit, a relationships expert, recommends getting professional natural-looking head shots taken of you smiling. "People who smile statistically are more likable," says Moffit.
2. Be up front about what you're looking for. Whether you want a serious relationship, a casual date or a one-night stand, be open about it. You may run into those who try to "play the system" by stating they're looking for a long-term partner but really just want a fling. But, says Caroline Pukall, a psychology professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., at least you'll have a better chance of finding those who are truly genuine.
3. Be specific about your interests. Instead of saying what you think people will want to hear, be clear about hobbies or activities you enjoy, whether that's ice skating or attending the ballet. "A shared interest is a good start to making conversation and finding common ground," says Moffit.
*Names have been changed.
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This story was originally part of "The New Rules of Online Dating" in the February 2016 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!