This inventory of online personas derives from behavioral traits, cultural backgrounds, and individual needs that drive our expectations for online dating. Wherever applicable, I’ve tried to remain gender neutral, though certain behaviors, beliefs, and needs don’t always apply uniformly to both men and women. Single adults aren’t permanently cast as one particular type and could change their persona at any given time—whether women change their minds more often than men is an argument I’ll defer to another author. You’ll also notice some overlap between personas, the way common personality traits coincide between seemingly different people.
This type of persona defines exactly what it sounds like: a friend. Individuals with this mindset typically state up front in their online profile that they’re looking to make new friends and aren’t interested in exploring a long-term relationship. Some people state their intention to hang out or socialize. In my experience, women display this persona more often than men. But beware. Some individuals promote this friendship persona to hint at their desire for a “friends with benefits” relationship. Not an issue, per se, if you seek the same. Sometimes it takes a keen eye to discern the difference between a woman’s online profile seeking true friendship and one advertising a booty call. From a man’s profile, the difference between the two intentions is almost transparent.
The Maternity Minded
This type of persona pertains mostly to women; although, I’ve talked to women who’ve met older single men online who are eager to have a baby and start a family as well. If not explicitly stated in a woman’s profile, you can glean the desire for a baby from the half-dozen pictures with an infant niece or nephew cradled in their arms. Men interpret this in one of two ways: a beautiful expression of maternal desire if you share the same longing to start a family; or a giant red flag that says “run” if you’re not in the family mindset.
The Browser defines both men and women who halfheartedly pursue a potential match due to any number of reasons, including a preference for friendship over romantic involvement, fear of commitment, low self-esteem with a fear of rejection, high self-esteem with a narcissistic tendency, or simply a desire to test the waters and see what’s out there. Women who browse with no interest in exploring a potential relationship typically keep their emails brief and often withhold their real name. Most people involved in online dating will spend a large amount of time browsing dozens of profiles, but this persona differs with their lack of desire to engage in any revealing dialogue or pursuit of an actual date. On the flip side, it’s easy to label someone as a browser, when in reality, they do harbor an interest in exploring a romantic relationship, just not necessarily one with you.
Similar to the Browser, the Socialite describes someone who craves attention—typically an extremely attractive man or woman with professional photographs to highlight their flawless features. This persona savors the attention from the hundreds of emails and flirts he or she receives but displays no intention of getting to know someone on a more personal level. Sometimes the socialite lives several states away from your geographic search radius, often residing in a big city like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and so on. Their physical distance from your location, matched by their emotional detachment from the online dating process, makes them poor candidates for a potential romantic relationship.
The Timid enter the realm of online dating with sincere intentions of seeking out a compatible match and paving the way toward a long-term relationship. The Timid engage you in meaningful email and polite phone conversation. Unfortunately, they rarely bring themselves to leave their comfort zone and actually meet you in person for any number of reasons, such as fear of rejection, low self-esteem, a guilty conscience about falsely advertising their age, weight, height, etc. For some people, this reluctance derives more from a safety concern, where they convince themselves it’s too dangerous to meet someone in person. Perhaps they had a bad experience with online dating in the past or suffered with an abusive relationship. Whatever the real reason, they will use every excuse in the book to postpone a planned date and string you along with indefinite calls or email.
The Serial Dater
The Serial Dater, stereotypically associated with men—although I’ve come across a lot of women who fit this profile as well—enjoys the thrill of simultaneously dating as many people as their time and energy allows. The Serial Dater represents a “player” or someone driven by the urge for sex or emotionless connection. This type of person displays great charm, charisma, and good looks—traits employed to engage in one shallow relationship after another. Serial Daters frequently establish profiles on multiple sites and claim to be something they’re not—an unfortunate and pervasive theme of online dating. The Serial Dater has no desire to get to know you at a deeper level. He or she will tell you what you want to hear, take what they need from you physically and emotionally, and then throw you under the bus before they seek out their next target to fulfill the emotional void inside them.
Let’s face it, we all have to learn the ropes at some point. Online dating is no different. The rookie persona describes someone who’s never tried online dating before and struggles at first to feel comfortable with how the system works. It can be easy to mistake a rookie persona for someone who comes across as timid, aloof, or even overeager. Online dating isn’t hard to learn, but for the uninitiated, and especially for those coming out of a long-term relationship, the prospect of viewing and being viewed by an extensive Internet community of single adults can prove overwhelming. Any doubts or insecurities the rookie feels are compounded by the numerous personality types they encounter in the online dating world.
The Matrimony Minded
The Matrimony Minded have a single purpose in mind, and it’s not hanging out as friends or serial dating. As the name suggests, their primary mission involves snagging a husband or a wife. In my experience, this personality type either latches on and won’t let go, hoping to exchange vows after a brief courtship—or they won’t give you the time of day unless you fit every single criteria they’ve defined for their perfect match. The notion of spending the time to really get to know someone takes a back seat to their pursuit of wedded bliss. Perhaps I’m exaggerating things a bit, but I’ve met a few women who had no qualms about their desire to find a husband and came across as unwilling to compromise on their non-negotiable list of must-have qualities.
No one wishes to endure a bad breakup or be treated poorly in a relationship. Unfortunately, it happens to all of us at one time or another. Some of us more often than others. Even worse, some people decide to spread their misery. The Vengeful, as I’ve chosen to label them, represent men and women who lack the ability and/or desire to let go of the past. Instead of learning to forgive and forget, they derive satisfaction from toying with potential matches. I’m not necessarily talking Fatal Attraction here—at least I’ve never experienced a dating scenario that extreme. More common examples include men and women who rant about miserable experiences with other members of the opposite sex. The Vengeful espouse a negative attitude on relationships in general. Their personalities come across as aggressive or passive-aggressive, and their disdain for the opposite sex sabotages any chance at a meaningful romance. I’ve found this behavior common for women—and I suspect the same for men as well—with the ink still wet on their divorce decree. This type of persona will use you for their own benefit, if you let them. But like a Florida hurricane, you can always see them coming and have plenty of time to get out of the way.
The Real Deal
The Real Deal represents the most elusive and most sought after of all online personas. Real Deal people are genuine, honest, sincere, polite, respectful, intelligent, attractive, and full of life. They exude a positive energy and enjoy a variety of interests. They may or may not have children. They may or may not have been married before. They come from all walks of life. Different races. Different ages. Different religious beliefs. Different needs to fulfill. But they all share a common desire to find a compatible partner with the right chemistry and a bright outlook on life. They’re not online to play games or make themselves feel important. They seek more than friendship, yet they are willing to take the time to get to know someone without prejudging them or drawing false conclusions based on previous bad experiences. They garner strong communication skills. They know what they want in life and work hard for it. They have the capacity to love, to reason, to respect, to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, and to disagree constructively. They have morals and a sense of decency. At the same time, they’re not afraid to let loose and go crazy once in a while. They represent almost everything we seek in a perfect partner, yet they are not perfect. They are more precious than gold and harder to find.
Is Online Dating Right for You?
Online dating holds no secrets for success; only guidelines to follow and pitfalls to avoid. Without going overboard on this topic, I’ve tried to illustrate some of the major pros and cons associated with this prevalent, new-age forum for single adults looking for love. In the right circumstance, and with the right attitude and reasonable expectations, I do believe that online dating can be worth the time, money, and effort to help you in your pursuit of finding “the one.” To improve your chances of success with online dating, by which I define success as experiencing more positive outcomes than bad, I’ve compiled the following guidelines to help you survive the gauntlet of dating sites, profiles, and previously mentioned personalities you’re likely to meet along the way:
- Ask Yourself an Obvious Question
- Select an Online Dating Site
- Photo Advice
- Crafting Your Written Profile
- Email Tips
- Phone Etiquette
- Coping with Polygamous Courtship and Serial Dating
Ask Yourself an Obvious Question
Before you decide to give online dating a whirl, decide for yourself if you’re ready to date at all. Dating can be an ordeal no matter how you go about it. Online dating presents its own unique challenges. It also takes time and money. Sometimes it can be more rewarding to wait for the right person to come along. Other times, life seems too busy, or too lonely, to leave your next rendezvous to chance.
Select an Online Dating Site
There’s no need to treat your dating site selection as a life or death decision, but do put some thought into your decision. Of all the online dating sites I’ve come across, I’ve found eHarmony and Match to be the most reputable in terms of offering a quality site with quality people enrolled. For various personal reasons, I consider sites like Plenty of Fish and Singlesnet at the opposite end of the quality spectrum. Not because these sites are poorly maintained or lack some of the bells and whistles offered by bigger sites, but because in my experience, the caliber of single adults who subscribe to these two sites is not on par with the single adults I’ve met through eHarmony or Match. Not to say honest, intelligent, attractive singles don’t frequent Plenty of Fish or Singlesnet, they’re just harder to find, in my opinion, than on other sites. If you’d like a second opinion, No1Reviews.com provides a comprehensive look at their top ten dating sites as well as an A-Z list of nearly every mainstream online dating site available. Check it out if you’re interested, and decide for yourself which sites appeal to you. Regardless of which site you select, I recommend starting with a short subscription of thirty days. And be cognizant of your subscription start date. Once an online site has your credit card in their system, it’s easy to lose track of time and inadvertently have your subscription automatically renewed. Lots of sites will try to persuade you to sign up for sixty or ninety day subscriptions, advertising a cheaper monthly rate with the longer subscriptions that cost more over time. Keep in mind, the longer you subscribe to any online dating site, the greater your chances of getting bogged down in the merry-go-round of emails and phone calls from multiple matches. Better to limit your initial subscription and test the waters. After a month or so, you will start to cycle through the same profiles with fewer new singles to meet. If you resign for a few months and sign up again, you’ll discover new matches searching for their other half. Not to mention, you might come across a site you find more suited to your tastes. Then again, if a longer subscription makes sense for you, then go for it.
Always Keep Safety in Mind
In today’s world, there are, and always will be, nefarious individuals living among us, especially in cyberspace. Fortunately, over the last several years, I’ve come across very few unscrupulous characters online, aside from the occasional prostitute posing as the “girl next door” while pretending to search for an honest love connection. Nonetheless, never post your real name, phone number, home address, personal email address, pictures taken by your car with the license plate in the photo, or any other private information in your profile. Remember, unlike Facebook or other social media sites where you can more or less control who sees your private information, any personal information you post to an online dating site becomes available for every subscriber to see.
Concerned about giving out your personal phone number to strangers? Buy a cheap, anonymous, disposable phone. As another alternative, some online dating sites offer an anonymous, secure, call routing option that protects your true identity and can’t be traced to your residence. These sites charge an additional fee per month for this feature, but it’s usually nominal and provides an additional measure of personal safety.
If I had a dollar for every time a woman asked me, “Why do guys’ pictures always show them posing with their shirts off in front of the mirror?” Good question. Now that I think of it, I’ve never come across a photo of a woman posing with her shirt off in front of the mirror. Seriously, the more tasteful the photos, the more you’re likely to find a genuine match. I don’t mean you should hire a professional photographer to snap glamour shots—although many people do. I’m suggesting you post recent photos of yourself in a natural setting at home, at work, at a park, or anywhere you feel comfortable. I define recent to mean within a year or two. If you’re middle aged and you’re posting pictures from your high school year book, chances are, you’re setting yourself and your potential partner up for disappointment. When you finally meet in person and your date turns a blind eye toward you because you only vaguely resemble your profile picture, you’ll understand what I mean. Of course, not everyone ages the same way. Some people maintain their previous appearance from strong genes, good health, or some of both. I find it prudent to be honest and hope for the best rather than pursue a new relationship under false pretense. When you post a photo of yourself to an online dating site, keep the following in mind:
- Smile! Don’t pose with a frown, scowl, or otherwise pained or angry expression on your face. No one wants to meet a mean, angry, uptight, sad, lonely, dejected person—or someone who looks like they just found a turd in the punch bowl.
- Wear something you feel comfortable and confident in.
- Make sure your face is well lit and in focus. That applies especially for guys, as women tend to focus on the eyes and smile.
- Use photos that depict you as a positive, fun-to-be-around kind of person. A happy photo from a social situation or family gathering works well.
- Guys, keep your shirt on. Ladies, be careful with the gratuitous cleavage shots. Contrary to popular belief, not all men will find this attractive. There’s a fine line between tasteful and tawdry.
- Post recent photos, not pictures of what you looked like five years, thirty pounds, or a full head of hair earlier.
- Don’t post photos of a friend or relative pretending to be you.
- Don’t post one picture of yourself and five pictures of your pets.
- Don’t make your only photo a group pose unless it’s obvious who you are in the picture. For women, the group pose can backfire if you’re surrounded by an entourage of beautiful friends, which can cause an information overload for some men who suddenly find themselves interested in four women at once. Make sure you stand out as the center of attention. With hundreds of singles on any given dating site, you have to catch someone’s eye before they move on to the next profile. The more difficult to discern who you are in the picture, the lower your chances of success.
- Don’t obscure your features with a long distance shot. Most people try online dating because of various constraints on their personal time. If it’s too hard to tell what you look like from a shadowy silhouette at dusk taken two hundred feet from the camera, chances are, your potential match will ignore your profile and move on.
Like it or not, people will always judge books by their cover. Online dating is no different. Without at least one good picture of yourself to highlight your written profile, your chances of success with online dating decrease dramatically. Most people don’t feel comfortable on blind dates. Amplify this sentiment ten-fold when it comes to online dating. You don’t have to be a movie star, but you should follow some basic guidelines and convey a happy, confident image in your photos.
Crafting Your Written Profile
When it comes to writing an attention-grabbing profile, start with honesty—particularly about your marital status, age, the number of children in your custody, your smoking and drinking habits, and any other pertinent information a prospective match would consider important. It’s one thing to fudge how well you play piano or your prowess in the kitchen, as those abilities are subjective. But when it comes to citing your fundamental attributes—e.g., height, weight, age, martial status, etc.—or critical preferences—e.g., desire for a long term relationship versus making new friends to socialize with, wanting children, etc.—the dishonesty will only hurt you in the end.
If you’re like many people and find it difficult to write about yourself, then write less about you and more about the type of man or woman you’re hoping to find. Either way, keep your profile short but informative. You don’t need to write an autobiography to convey who you are and what you like to do in your spare time. Remember, you can always go back and add more detail later if you decide. From my experience, women tend to read more and men tend to read less when it comes to parsing online profiles.
Before your profile goes live, do yourself a favor and hit the spell check button. Better yet, ask a trusted friend to review your personal essay. Honest feedback will only improve your profile and avoid embarrassing typos or grammatical errors you’ll find prevalent with other profiles written in haste. Also, avoid the temptation of making negative comments about the dating process or the opposite sex. These downbeat remarks won’t offset your gorgeous smile or all the positive qualities about you.
The rules about honesty and brevity in your profile apply equally as well to email communications. Keep initial emails short while you’re still in the getting-to-know-each-other phase. Written correspondence serves a purpose to introduce ourselves and share a little more about each other. Consider the following:
- You don’t have to write eloquent prose. Just be candid and honest. Keep it simple at first and go from there. And check your spelling!
- If someone poses an honest question to you, send them a short reply. Don’t keep them hanging for days or weeks, wondering if you’re still interested or whether you decided to blow them off in favor of another match. If you’re not interested, simply say so, or click the button that sends a canned, but polite, message declining the invitation to communicate.
- Refrain from using slang or pet names in your correspondence. After all, you barely know this person, and presumably, you still haven’t met!
- Refrain from using your last name or personal email address until after you’ve met in person and established some measure of your match’s credibility. Online sites offer a secure email exchange within the confines of the site itself without having to divulge your personal email address.
- If you decide to “go off the reservation” early on and exchange personal email with someone you’ve never met in person, don’t send pictures you wouldn’t feel comfortable finding on the cover of the New York Times. The Internet can be a wonderful place to visit. It can also be unforgiving when it comes to futile attempts at retrieving risqué photos you wish you’d never sent.
Keep in mind, the sooner you feel comfortable engaging in a phone conversation, the better—as you will learn more about your level of chemistry with someone in a two minute phone call than you will after weeks of one-dimensional email or text message exchange.
Keep the first call short. You’ll both get a sense of chemistry early on. Everyone has a different sleep schedule, work schedule, daily routine, etc. Respect each other’s time. Don’t get long-winded trying to tell your life story. Treat the first call like an introduction, as if you’d just met in public for the first time, and see where things lead. You might hit it off and talk for hours, or you might realize you don’t share the same connection you felt through your email correspondence. If you feel inclined to meet, don’t rush. Swapping a few phone calls before planning a first date allows you to get to know someone a little better and gauge their level of sincerity. When it comes to phone etiquette, heed the following:
- Sound excited and optimistic. Don’t drone on about your miserable boss or the horrible traffic you sat in coming home from work. If you give off a negative vibe from the start, the first conversation you have with the man of your dreams might very well be the last.
- Don’t swear.
- Don’t yawn.
- Don’t eat or chew gum.
- Don’t distract yourself with dishes, laundry, the vacuum cleaner, email, a ball game, or reprimanding your kids while you’re trying to introduce yourself and convey a nice first impression. If you sound distracted, you are distracted. Your emotional absence from the conversation will be obvious.
- Refrain from being too judgmental about previous dates or the online dating process in general.
- Don’t talk over a bad connection. If you can’t hear each other over cell phone garble, then move around, or drive around for a better signal or politely hang up and try again. If that doesn’t work, try a different phone—landline if you still have one—or agree to meet in person. Don’t try to guess what you thought you heard the other person say. Sitcoms recycle this gag all the time. Not so funny on TV. Even less in real life. Trust me on this one, as I have a story to share!
Coping with Polygamous Courtship and Serial Dating
Under the right circumstances, online dating provides an avenue to meet other single adults in a casual, unassuming environment from the comfort of your own home. The mechanics of online dating make it easy to introduce yourself to several individuals at once. This affords you the opportunity to mingle online and get a feel for those you share the strongest chemistry with. On the downside, online dating connects you with multiple individuals at once, tempting you to form meaningful attachments simultaneously. Even individuals with the best intentions find themselves drawn into the notion of “there’s always someone else” or “why should I settle for one particular person when I still have a dozen profiles to review?”
A point of demarcation exists between dating socially to test the water before committing to one person—and dating several people under the false pretense of exclusivity. Many online dating fans join multiple dating sites simultaneously to increase their chances of finding “the one.” And although this approach might work for some, juggling dozens of emails, texts, phone calls, and first date plans can become overwhelming. I’m not excusing or rebuking this practice, as everyone is entitled to their own style. But from my perspective, I find this “wide net approach” much like buying multiple lottery tickets at once in hopes of stacking the odds in your favor. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but in reality, it does almost nothing to improve your chances of winning.
When you do meet the right person who stands out above the rest, and you share a romantic chemistry with common interests and a desire to spend time together, put your profile on hold. Notice I did not say “delete” your profile. Another judgment call here. If you pull the plug too soon on your profile, you risk losing out on a portion of the financial investment you made when you subscribed. More importantly, your first date might not pan out the way you hoped it would. When you find yourself committed to a happy, healthy, and exclusive relationship, then terminate your subscription. Think about it. Would you want to continue dating someone exclusively while they’re dating other people?
Despite the prevalence of online dating, it’s not for everyone. There are always other means to meet attractive, intelligent single people. Often, the best opportunities become the ones we create for ourselves through acquaintances, friends, or even friends of friends. Or, as Milton Berle quipped, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
The Zone of Disillusionment
I’ve tried to preface the subject of online dating with a discussion about some of the major pros and cons involved with meeting single adults in an online forum. I’ve also tried to enlighten you about the various personality types you’re likely to encounter, should you elect to try online dating, followed by a cursory look at the online dating process with some guidance on phone and email etiquette. In this segment on the Zone of Disillusionment, I present advice meant for those who are serious about making the most of their online dating experience by explaining how to avoida common cycle of disappointment and emotional withdrawal inherent in online dating.
I start by illustrating what I call “the process of online dating” with a simple numbered flowchart on the following page. The numbers within the flowchart correspond to numbered paragraphs that follow, providing a step-by-step progression from the moment you find a profile you like to the excitement of a first date.
I’ve written this section from the perspective of women seeking men. But the formalized online dating process I describe in subsequent pages remains gender neutral. Glance at the flowchart first to familiarize yourself with the basic content of this useful roadmap. As you read further, you can reference the numbered paragraphs against the flowchart, where I’ve shaded the Zone of Disillusionment in yellow.