You were dumped. Or you dumped someone. Maybe you just can't find that new someone to love, or just make out with. Why not try online dating? We pulled our team of experts together to guide you.
Online dating might seem scary, anxiety-inducing, embarrassing, or complicated. Sometimes it is. But it doesn't have to be. I've stormed the beaches and talked to the smartest people in the game. Let's use the internet for more than just laptop comparison shopping.
Which site should you use?
There are a lot of sites out there! Each one's a little different, attracting distinctly different clienteles. eHarmony users are probably more likely to put a ring on it than those from OkCupid, who are more like the people to rub up against in a dimly lit bar (and I mean that in a great way).
• OkCupid: Kinda hipstery/nerdy
• Match.com: Square.
• eHarmony: REALLY square.
• Craigslist: Scary.
• OK Cupid: 50% people who claim to be "musicians" or "artists" but who actually make their money "waiting tables," 20% hipster hotties who take themselves and their tattoos too seriously, 15% left-leaning preppy guys who decorate their bedrooms with pictures of stadiums, 10% inexplicable rednecks, 4% dudes with kids, 1% of people who are doing it as a joke
• Match.com: Uncreative types who aren't yet ready to admit that they kind of want to get married. More conservative/less weird than OK Cupid.
• eHarmony: People who want to skip over all of the fun stuff and just married. Women who love Anne Geddes and still have "The Rachel" haircut. Sexually frightened men who own nice dishes.
• Craigslist: Human traffickers.
With that in mind, mount up! It's time to hit the trail of JPG leers and tears.
Choosing a Name
It's the first thing people will see, whether they're browsing a list of search results, or getting an incoming message. You've only got one chance to make first contact, and there's a hell of a lot of difference between CoolDude495 and SPANKMEHARDER. So choose wisely. But not too wisely—reaching far at cleverness is a surefire way to turn someone off: "Rest assured," says relationship author Tamsen Butler, "that if you think you've come up with a really great username that makes you feel clever, there is a good chance that you may be the only person who gets it." Wit is great, but cramming it into your handle will reek of effort. So no puns, obscure literary figures, or film references. "Try to think of something that describes you in one or two words without being too smarmy."
Choosing a Picture
First, check out OkCupid's exhaustive breakdown of what makes you pretty. It's science!
Should you put pictures of yourself with the opposite sex in your profile picture?
We understand the impulse—if you're straight, you want to say to the internet, Hey, look, other people just like you have found me attractive in the past! You might potentially be one of those people in the present! But there's a good chance you'll send the exact opposite message. "You wonder, ‘who are these extra people? Do they know they're on this guy's online dating profile? Are they okay with it?,'" North explains. Your stab at captivating might come off as creepy. Notable exception: You can score some major aww points with elderly family members. Just make sure to caption accordingly, lest someone think you used to date an 80 year old.
Photos of you drinking/partying—"I'm fun" or "I'm a douchebag"?
Much like the "posing with chicks/dudes" option, you might be tempted to show how much fun you are with party photos. Check out me holding this beer! Look, I spilled red wine all over my pants! I don't remember any of these! I'm fuuuun! Actually, you're an asshole.
Good news: It is possible to shoot off social vibes without looking like a tipsy 9th grader. You just have to be conservative with your choices. "It depends on what you're drinking or how you're partying," says Ryan. "Body shots? No. Wine glass? Okay. Brandy sifter? Fine, as long as you're wearing a monocle. Solo cup? Probably not. Bottom line: the picture of you at a party should highlight something about your personality in addition to I'm at a party."
Profile picture recency—How far back is dishonest?
We realize it might have been a while since you were in your physical prime. Maybe you just got a terrible haircut. Maybe you just looked really hot summer of '07. Naturally, you want to put on your best face as your e-face. But dishonesty can scuttle the whole mission. "Remember that the goal is to eventually meet someone in person, so if you only place pictures of your ‘skinny days' on your profile, you're eventually going to wind up looking deceitful," Butler says. Don't risk it. Pick a pic that lets your potential date know what they have in store. Don't advertise what you ain't selling. "The picture(s) should be after your most recent noticeable change in appearance," reminds Erin. But definitely, definitely include something. People want to see what you look like, because nobody wants to get drinks with a troll: "Realize that not including a profile picture is going to result in your profile getting skipped over by most people," says Butler.
Skimpy/Shirtless/bathing suit pics—ever attractive, or always sleazy?
Pictures of shirtless dudes and cleavage-pushing gals swirl around the internet like a giant, tacky nebula. While I'm sure there's a crowd that's into the 6pack.jpg thing, you don't want to be part of it. It's the most transparent thing you can do. LOOK AT MY BODY pictures scream that and nothing else—so if you're going to bare some skin online, it better be in a context that tells the world more about you. Our experts agree. Skin pics are okay "If you're simultaneously doing something awesome or tough, like scuba diving or waterskiing or building a cabin with your bare hands or wearing a He-Man Halloween costume," says Ryan.
However, if you are looking to just bag some meat, then sure, sell yourself as a piece of steak: "For casual encounter situations, fine. For dating…no," explains sex columnist and researcher Dr. Debby Hebernick.
What about pictures of yourself as a kid?
OMG, look how adorable I was! Look! I'm holding the book upside down! I'm at the beach playing with a starfish! I was sooo cute! Shhh. People aren't going to think this way. It's irrelevant. No one cares: "Everyone was cute at 5. Tells me nothing," says North. Ryan agrees: "I'm not going to go out on a date with someone because they were cute in 1985."
How many pictures can you put up without looking self-obsessed or vain?
Here's where the fine tuning can get tricky—one picture isn't going to cut it. You need enough of a spread to be helpful, but not so many that it looks like you just sit around cropping and uploading flattering photos of yourself all day. Give the audience enough to infer the Real You from: "A couple or three pictures that actually look like you (in actual circumstances in which you live your life) should probably suffice, says John Bridges, author of How to Be a Genleman.
Talking About Yourself
What are the risks/benefits of sharing your religion?
This is dicey territory. Unlike your love of Modest Mouse, stepping into religious issues can get very serious, very fast. The only thing the internet is more full of than cleavage mirror-shots is bias. Putting up your faith has a good chance of irrationally turning someone off before they even have the chance to meet you and see how cool you are. "The risk of sharing your religion is prospective dates could stereotype you and disregard the rest of your attributes," agrees Pamela Eyering, President and Director of The Protocol School of Washington. "Only share your religion if you are only seeking a date who follows your faith."
What are the risks/benefits of sharing your income?
Don't. If you share your income, whatever it is, you will look like an jerk. Nobody cares. There's a reason you don't ask someone how much money they make when you first meet them IRL. It's rude, crass, and creepy. And anyone who cares only does so they can get a chunk of it. But feel free to include your job.
What are the risks/benefits of sharing your political views?
Politics, like religion, are a dark, choppy part of the dating ocean. It's not something you bring up with strangers. A lot of the time, it's not something you bring up with friends—disagreements can easily turn into fights. But our political views say a ton about us: what we value, what we disapprove of, and who we might hate. The liberal/conservative crossover happens (in laboratory settings, maybe), but it's rare. So making your political views explicit sends a strong message; but it's probably one worth sending. "Some prospects will be turned off by your political views if they have strong ties to a certain party and might avoid you all together," says Eyering. "The benefit is you could have a date who shares your views and have great discussions." It's definitely a flag—either a red flag or a glorious, glowing flag of likemindedness and steamy policy-based makeouts.
What should you say about your body/age/height/weigh?
Do not be dishonest. For the same reason you shouldn't put up a misleading photo of yourself, misleading potential matches about you appearance is a huge mistake. It's… lying! And it's self-destructive. "Consider your profile as an initial introduction; any relationship where the initial introduction is based in lies is destined to fail," says Butler. But this doesn't mean you have to retreat to a cave of solitude and depression just because you might not be the fittest of specimens. Being hot is hot, but honesty is also kind of hot! You're not going to get away with anything less, and hey—there are people out there just like you. "Be proud of who you are," encourages Butler, "Whether that's skinny, short, middle aged, or whatever. Present yourself as who you really are, not who you want to be or what you think people want to see."
How do you share your taste in things (ie favorite books, music)?
People want to meet and maybe make babies with interesting people. Interesting people are interested in interesting things. The arts! But it's easy to go way, way off the deep end. Sharing an exhaustive list of every film, album, book, painting, sculpture, TV show, YouTube clip, and Homeric verse you love will make you look stupendously pretentious. The giant-list-of-bands is the intellectual equivalent of the shirtless dude pic. "If you list lots of bands, books, and movies as your ‘favorite,' it probably means you're not very critical and have poor taste," points out Vice magazine Editor-in-Chief Rocco Castoro.
Conversely, you need to have something up about what you like. So pick just a handful of your actual Favorite Things.
How much should you reveal about what you hope to find online? (marriage, kids, etc)
There are plenty of ways to use a dating site. You can treat it like a sloppy basement dance party. You can treat it like striking up conversation with someone at a book store. You can look for someone whose name you'll never remember, or search for someone whose name you'll change. But if you want a shot at either of these (or anything in between), you have to make sure you're not going to freak the hell out of anyone who reads your profile. Regardless of your ambitions, don't shout them into the internet. Just keep things simple: "It might be best to start with where you are, at this precise moment in time," suggests Bridges. "‘I'm single, but I'm interested in a life that involves kids—maybe two or three.' Or, "I'm divorced and my son is still important to my life.'" Be frank without being alarming.
How do you best protect your privacy while using an online dating service?
This is very, very important, and very, very easy to handle.
Don't give a stranger your address! Even a really hot stranger! Don't tell a stranger where you work! Even a really hot stranger! Once you've established some substantive contact with an online amor, divulging personal details happens just as it would with anyone else you'd meet offline. Be prudent. The bottom line is, don't give anyone a way to find you: "Avoid placing information on your profile that would easily lead someone to you in person, such as your home address, place of work, or the name of the school you attend," cautions Butler.
So it's as easy as that. Be honest, be confident, be brave, and you'll never be alone. Well, we can't guarantee that, but if you take the above to heart, you've got a hell of a fighting chance. The internet's your big singles bar around the corner—so put on some internet pants (real pants optional), shampoo your laptop hair, and get the hell out there.
Illustration by Robert Grossman