TRADE SCHOOL: Online dating guide

Remember when online dating was for weirdos, anti-socialites, Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts, the odd psychopathic killer and the old, unmarried desperate person? Well those people are still there, but now, so are some really hot, successful, outgoing, fun people. It seems setting up an OK Cupid account in New York goes hand-in-hand with signing your new apartment lease agreement—welcome to the City! And I’m sure you know at least one friend or friend of a friend whose online dating has worked out successfully (and even more friends who have horribly amusing horror stories).

Some people have said, the bigger the city, the more difficult it is to date. Why is that? With more than eight million people in New York, you’d think you’d have a date every night of the week—especially for you good looking folk. Apparently that’s not necessarily the case.

For those of you completely against online dating for fear of encountering weirdos and feeling just plain pathetic—I’ve asked my good friend, whom we’ll call Summer Stone, from London to give us some online dating tips for the novice online dater.

Summer, 31, is a journalist and began online dating, on and off, in 2007. She stopped this past June 2012 when she got into a relationship with her current boyfriend, whom she met online. Perhaps this will be another success story… Summer has been on free and paid sites such as Guardian Soulmates, and Summer said she’s lost count of how many men she’s dated, but estimates about 80 men. She’s been in two other relationships with men from the internet, one lasting two months and another lasting one year.

Here, Summer shares her experiences, her tips—her wisdom!

What prompted you to try online dating?
I wanted a boyfriend, but nearly all my friends, housemates, classmates and colleagues are female. The men I knew were in relationships, and their friends were too. And I don’t like going to busy bars.

How many dates would you have a week when you were online dating?
It depends; once or twice I had a date a night for 10 days straight, but that was unusual. Maybe 2 to 3 dates a week for a few weeks.

Which dating site did you think was the most successful (or fun, productive, had better quality of guys)?
I’d definitely recommend Guardian Soulmates, as the men are more liberal, educated, cultured and creative compared to other sites. I didn’t meet many guys on MySingleFriend. On there were more men who were less educated or cultured, and a few more weirdos.

Take us through your online dating routine. Do you wait until a guy contacts you or do you contact guys you find attractive/like what they said in their profile? What do you say when you approach them?
I contact men I like. I pick one or two things out of their profile to comment on, like something I’ve never done but would like to try; a shared experience; or something I’ve never heard of and am curious about. I’ll also tell them something about me, maybe something that isn’t on my profile, so they can ask questions if they want. I might also say what I’ve done that week, as I usually do interesting things! I keep it short though, no more than this answer.

Then what happens? Do you go back and forth messaging or do you meet up with them right away?
It’s good to message for a while to get an idea of what they’re like first, especially if their profile isn’t very detailed. But it’s always good to meet up ASAP, because if you spend weeks messaging then don’t click when you meet you’ve wasted both your times. I think it’s best to message a lot in a short space of time, one night or a week or two, then meet up. It’s also a good idea to talk on the phone before you meet. That can tell you a lot. One man seemed lovely online, but on the phone he was overly flirty and that put me off—he probably flirts with every woman he meets, which doesn’t make me feel special.

Do you respond to each message you receive, or solely to the ones you’re interested in?
I try to respond to every message I receive. If I’m not interested, I’ll say, “Thank you for your message, but I’m afraid I don’t think we’re a match, all the best.” That’s kind and polite. If I receive a rude or offensive email, or one from a man I’m very clearly not suited to (and I think he’s only messaging me because he thinks I’m attractive, or he’s clearly spam messaging every woman!), then I won’t bother replying. Nearly every guy thanks me for the response. But one went on a racist rant!

Ok, so the big day has come. You’re meeting up with the guy. How do you decide where to meet and what to do? What if you don’t want to do what the guy suggested?
I usually suggest 3 to 4 activities and he’ll pick one. If he suggests something that doesn’t interest me I’ll say so, and give my reason! I might say “Oh I’m not keen on Thai, how about Japanese, Italian or Indian?” Or “Would you mind if we didn’t go to a bar? It’s a sunny night—let’s make the most of it and have a picnic in the park or something else.”

How long does it take you to realize this guy is not for you? Do you tell him right away, wait until the end of the date, wait until you’ve left and text or message him when you get home? What’s the proper etiquette?
There is no proper etiquette. I usually know within five minutes if I don’t like him. But if he’s nice and wants to see me again, I’ll agree to a second and maybe third date because it’s important to give him a chance. After three dates I’ll call him to say thank you, but it doesn’t feel right.

If I’m sure I definitely don’t want another date and he asks to see me again at the end, I say “I’ve had a nice evening, thank you, but I don’t think we’re quite suited.” It’s nice and polite, although some of them seem a bit shocked. That’s so much better than agreeing to a second date then avoiding his calls or ignoring texts. That’s mean.

If he doesn’t ask for a second date and I don’t want one, maybe we’ll both just leave it. Or one of us will say so via text and the other will agree, and wish each other luck. We’re all adults! If he doesn’t ask for a second date and I do want to see him again, I’ll send a text. I think I’ve covered all the scenarios!

What about safety? What should people, especially women, be careful of when online dating? How much information should one share online?
Obviously I never give my real name on my profile, and never give my surname until maybe date three when I trust them more. I’m very wary of what I put on my profile as you have to be aware of jigsaw identification—tell them small bits of info and they can piece together your whole life through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. without you realising. On a date I feel totally safe—it’s no less dangerous than meeting a man any other way. I would never get in their car. If I did, I’d text a friend their [license] plate. The first time I go to a man’s house, even after we’ve dated a while and I think I know him, I still text the address and his full name to a close friend. If they realise what I’m doing and get upset by it then he’s not a decent guy. The men should understand safety is crucial.

What if your co-workers, or an ex sees your profile? Would you be embarrassed? Or what if you saw their profiles? Should you send them a message and say “hi,” or just pretend you never saw it?
If someone I knew saw my profile I wouldn’t really care, although it’s not ideal. It depends which colleague or ex saw it. Chances are I’d never know they’d seen it anyway.  But there’s nothing really personal or embarrassing on it. It’s just my likes and dislikes, and some photos. If I saw someone I knew on a dating site I’d probably ignore their profile. Or if I was friendly with them I might say “Hey! This is coincidence!”

OK, so you REALLY like a guy and want to start seeing him exclusively. When do you decide to take your profile down for good or even temporarily? Would you expect your new beau to take his down too?
I’ve been in this situation three times. The first time I suggested exclusivity and the man said he was going to bring it up that night too, so we became boyfriend and girlfriend and took our profiles down. The other two occasions the men I was dating asked me to be their girlfriend. The second one asked me to take down my profile (he already had). The third one took down his profile early on, and when we became boyfriend and girlfriend I removed mine too. I would definitely expect a boyfriend to remove his profile! Why does he need to advertise his single status if he likes me? If he didn’t he obviously isn’t keen and we’re not a match—time to move on.

Any tips on writing a good and interesting profile? Dos and don’ts?
Don’t make your first sentence or paragraph all about how difficult writing a profile is! Snooze! Avoid being negative. Avoid being picky in terms of preferences: I prefer blondes, It’d be great if you had an Irish accent—that immediately puts off lots of amazing people who aren’t blonde or Irish. Don’t mention your ex or say you’ve just come out of a relationship! Why would anyone do that? But they do! Honestly, I despair sometimes. I personally dislike nonsensical profiles or ones that try to be clever (i.e . written like an advert); they’re different, but annoying.

 What kind of photos should you put up without looking like you’re desperate, lonely or narcissistic? I mean, unless that’s the look you were going for. Or which kind of photos should you not put up? I’ve seen some men put up photos with them and their grandma. Does that actually make you want to go out with a guy? I’ve also seen guys with photos of them and their cats. I’m not a cat person.
I think it’s good to have a variety of photos which show the different sides of your personality. A dating site recommended that in their tips and I think that’s good advice. For example, on a night out, on holiday, doing an activity etc. I would be put off by photos of topless men, even if they had a great body, as it seems vain and I’d worry they’d be too flirty—and not just with me. I’d avoid photos with kids as people will assume they’re yours even if they’re not.

What’s the best date you’ve ever had?
So many great ones! Hide and seek in a rose garden, a one-off 24-hour photography exhibition in a pitch-black warehouse—we had to be guided in by the arm, and the photos lit up when you stamped on the floor. Ice skating outside in winter. But the best was the first date with an ex boyfriend—I felt I had hearts in my eyes like in cartoons and knew I was falling in love even then.

What’s your strangest online dating experience?
A florist was our meeting point. The man bought me a single red rose –aww. He also bought one for his sister.

Worst? (maybe this is the same one, but just thought I’d ask)
On a first date the man asked: “What kind of butter do you like?” I answered, “Er, not sure. Olive oil ones?” He seemed interested and replied: “Oh really? I like Lurpak.” He asked for a second date!

Another one spent the whole evening talking about sport (I said I don’t like sport) and cars/ car racing (Odd when a few people have described me as the most feminine woman they’ve ever met). Another one—the rose guy!—had a gold front tooth.

What’s the shortest and the longest date you’ve ever had?
Longest: A 12-hour first date from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. with a man who later became my boyfriend.
Shortest: 1 hr.

Would you kiss on a first date?
Usually no. I don’t kiss a guy unless I like him. I’d prefer it if they didn’t try to kiss me properly on a first date. If it’s gone well, a quick kiss on the lips. Otherwise, a wave goodbye!

Would you encourage others to try online dating? Why or why not?
Yes, definitely. Why not? It’s fun. It can be time consuming reading profiles and emailing, but if it leads to what you want, it’s worth it. At best, you’ll fall in love. At worst, you’ll have a nice evening with someone not quite right for you. I’ve had the odd boring date, but I’ve learnt so much from them—about different careers, hobbies, cities, what I do and don’t want, and about myself—my best features—and faults.

Thanks Summer Stone!

Here are some more tips and things to consider:

-When messaging someone for the first time, don’t simply say “Hi!” Make a comment about the things you read on their profile or ask a question to engage them in a conversation—especially if you’re a guy. Most likely, girls are getting tons of messages from guys, so you want to stand out. “Hi,” isn’t going to cut it.

-Profile: When writing your profile, don’t put too much information, otherwise, what will be left to talk about on your date? You’ll simply be repeating yourself.

-Photos: Most likely people will place most of their decision on the photo, so you want to look your absolute best. Have a friend take a photo of you specifically for the site or set the timer on your camera. Having lots of photos where you’re taking photos of yourself in front of the mirror with your phone makes you look… lonely and pathetic. And put a shirt on! You want to leave some mystery for the first date, geez!

-Spelling/grammar goes a long way. It’s just like when you’re reading an article in a newspaper; if there are spelling mistakes it distracts from the message the writer is trying to give. For online dating, it makes you look stupid.

-Speaking of stupidity, if you’re smart, there’s no need to continually state it in your profile. It will clearly come across by the books and films you list and the proper grammar used in writing your profile. So stop saying “I’m so smart, ya’ll.” You know who you are.

-Don’t mass message people by copying and pasting the same message to lots of people. It’s obvious what you’re doing, not matter how many compliments you write in the message.

-I read a column in the FT yesterday. It talks about veteran Cosmo Girl Helen Gurley Brown. According to the article, Brown said, “Never fail to know that if you are doing all the talking, you are boring somebody.” Don’t simply talk about yourself on a date. This is your chance to learn something new. Otherwise, why go on dates? Just stay home and talk to yourself while looking in the mirror.

-Don’t take this online dating business too seriously. Online dating should be an additional way to meet people; not your only source. If someone doesn’t reply to your message, don’t get discouraged or take it personally. Perhaps try a new approach. I still say meeting people face to face is the best way to show off your best qualities. Do this by staying active and doing things you love doing. You’re bound to meet someone with similar interests.

-Be yourself and be honest with both yourself and your dates about what it is you really want. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship then say it. If you’re looking for a short fling, also state it.

Anybody else have any online dating tips, horrifically hilarious stories, love success stories or complete disaster online date stories you’d like to share? Post them in the comments below or email them to me anonymously The best one might win a prize!


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