I’m the kind of person who likes to research before I start a mission. For this reason, before I made my midlife foray into the dating world, I read many articles with online dating tips.
I found most articles to be identical and packed with, well, common sense. Don’t get me wrong, common sense is hugely important when you date, but I’m an adult, I don’t need to be reminded to use it. I needed some golden advice to prevent me from making rookie mistakes and save me the drama of learning the hard way.
Ultimately, I did learn the hard way and made lots (I mean LOTS) of mistakes. But don’t they say that experienced-based learning is the best?
Now, as a seasoned online dater (who is happily dating one of my online dates), I’m ready to share the lessons I learned in the form of valuable, genuine advice about online dating that you won’t find anywhere else.
Further reading: 10 Best dating apps for absolute beginners.
If you are entirely new to online dating, you’ll likely find it daunting, overwhelming, intimidating, invasive … and a million other uncomfortable emotions.
You are marketing yourself online to a world of complete strangers! It feels so wrong!
Many women I know try online dating for a couple of days and then run screaming for the hills, vowing NEVER to do it again. And sadly, many don’t.
This is likely to be your first reaction too.
For this reason, my advice is to plan a short test run. Pick an online dating app, sign up, create a profile, and give it a whirl. But know (and this is key) that it will only be for two or three weeks. Then, stick to your plan and come off the app.
Honestly, online dating is so all-encompassing, you’ll be ready for a break (whether you realise it or not).
You can then take stock of your experience. Think:
Yes, you can stay online and work through these questions, but you really need space and time to speculate on your experience.
By doing this, when you start online dating for real, you’ll be better prepared, knowledgeable, and in the right headspace.
Give yourself the best chance with online dating by planning a test run and learning from it before going in for the kill … as it were!
So, you’ve done your test run, and armed with your new-found knowledge and marginally thicker skin, you have settled in for the long haul.
Or have you?
You will have learned a lot from your test run but online dating is still challenging. It is also extremely time-consuming and exhausting. Not just practically, but emotionally too.
You are trying to think of witty things to say in your messages while deciphering what other people mean in theirs. Worrying if you came on too strong to the guy you like or that he might be married, a nutter, or a crypto scammer in North Korea. The excruciating first dates. The let-downs and having to let people down. The countless discussions with friends dissecting messages, dates, or the meaning of a particular emoji.
While online dating can be fun, it can also be a total mind screw. Which is why I suggest you have a time limit.
I did this purely by chance. I started dating in May and was going overseas for a few months in October. This meant that whether I met someone or not, I would be app-free by October.
My plan not only saved me from the eternal Tinder spotlight but also amped up my online enthusiasm. Instead of drifting into 2050 and earning a dating app long-service award, I was driven to give it my all in the time I had.
Why not try this yourself?
Think: I’ll give this until Christmas or until my next holiday and then take a break and re-assess. It will make the task ahead less daunting and more enjoyable.
Leading nicely on from my last point, you’re either in this dating game or not. Swaying uncertainly in the middle ground won’t get you results.
This is one of the best pieces of advice a friend gave me. I told him I wanted to start online dating but was worried a past boyfriend might see my profile and how I could keep myself partially hidden online. My friend said, ‘You’ve just gotta go for it. Get yourself out there and be seen by as many people as possible’. He said, ‘You’re either in it or you’re not’. And he was right.
Own your decision to get out there and find a partner. Don’t be embarrassed. Instead, be authentic, proud and honest with potential matches. Don’t act like your mates have forced you onto the app and you don’t really want to be there (which sooo many people do). Instead, tell people why you’re there … that you’re looking for love, a relationship, a friend with benefits, or whatever you are searching for.
I’d say 80% of the guys I met online were negative, unenthusiastic and a little embarrassed about being on an app. I believe many women come across this way too.
Be the one person who makes the most of their online experience and give it everything you’ve got while on the app. Not only will this make for a more enjoyable adventure but you’ll get good results too.
Note: Most dating apps allow you to block your phone contacts and certain people from seeing you online. You can also use a mode that only allows people to see you if you swipe right on their profile first. This is helpful if there is a particular person you want to avoid crossing paths with online.
While I’m telling you to jump in with both feet and go for it (advice I stick by), you must also have some boundaries/rules to ensure you are not consumed whole by online dating.
Warning: As a woman on a dating app, you’re gonna be popular. You will not be short of messages.
Being English and a mum, manners are of enormous importance to me. Therefore, whenever I received a message, it was only right to respond, and to do so promptly. And, I do still believe this is important … but not at the peril of the rest of your life. I found myself messaging guys first thing in the morning, last thing at night, on the toilet at work, cooking dinner, and everywhere in between.
My solution, which I am now sharing with you, is to have set times in which you message. I allowed myself 15 minutes with my morning coffee and wouldn’t look at the apps until 4pm.
True story: I broke this rule for the guy I am now seeing. His messages had me hooked at morning coffee and we texted all day long. Rules are made to be broken, and broken rules could be a sign of something special happening.
Set online dating boundaries that work for you. It might be setting active times to chat, like the example I gave. Or, it could be other things, such as not wasting your time on a guy who takes over 12 hours to respond or only allowing yourself a certain number of dates each week.
When I online date, I believe everyone deserves a little of my time.
It’s so easy to swipe at the speed of light based on one profile photo … but I strongly urge you not to.
Think of it this way: You probably put a lot of time and effort into your profile. You may have agonised over which photo to put at the top, spent hours getting the wording just right, and carefully picked several photos to give a feel of who you really are. So, how would you feel if someone made a decision about you in a split second based on just one photo?
Even if you’re on a popular app (unless you live in a busy city or move around a lot), you will run out of matches eventually. So why not take your time? Click through and discover a little more about your potential matches before swiping. Their profile pic might not do it for you, but your interest might be piqued when you check out the other photos and see what they’ve written.
Give each profile a little time and respect, the same way you would like people to treat yours.
When I think of profile photos, I use the same thought process as when viewing a potential new home to buy or rent. You check out the photos online and the place looks great. Big rooms, sweeping views. Yet, when you see it in real life, it’s smaller, darker and more poky. It’s a let-down.
The same goes for your profile pic.
Don’t post photos of that one time you had a professional makeup sess five years ago because that is what you date will expect when they meet you. And unless you’re planning on losing five years and having professional makeup done before every date, he’s going to be disappointed.
Instead, post photos that look like you, with and without makeup.
It’s hard to get a perspective on your own photos. I asked a friend and was surprised when she told me which pics to take down as they didn’t look like me.
Ideally, you want to look even better than your photos when you meet, so use just above average photos that depict the real you.
Another profile-focused tip is about ‘interests’.
Dating apps brag about their algorithms that carefully match you with potential partners but the truth is that you are matched on two main things:
Yes, location is super important.
But how important really are the interests?
App profiles are designed to show interests as one of the most important features of your possible match. They simplify who we are as humans and the matching process in the hope that we might think: ‘Oooh he’s hot and he also likes Japanese food and hot yoga … that’s it, we are made for each other.’
It also works the other way. You might see someone who takes your fancy and see he’s into golf and car racing, so swipe left (that means not interested btw).
Please. Don’t. Do. This.
Honestly, do interests matter all that much?
I actually like my partner to have different interests to me so we can enjoy time apart as well as together. For example, my current guy loves playing pool, a game I have no interest in. And that’s cool, he plays in his pool comp and I do my stuff.
While interests are, well, interesting. They are not the be-all and end-all. They should not be a reason not to give someone a go. That is, unless their interests are dangerous, scary or illegal … if so, you have my permission to swipe left.
Ok, someone has caught your eye, and they like you too. We have a match!
Next: To start communicating.
I urge you to stay on the app to do this.
About 90% of the guys I messaged in-app asked for my phone number. And, in my early virgin-dating-app days, I gave it out … and learned the hard way.
Note to self and readers: With one simple phone number, you can be stalked. And will be.
One guy I gave my number to stalked me while talking to him on the phone, telling me what he found out about me online as he found it – including where I worked, my ABN, the sex of my kids. That’s how easy it is. I felt violated.
After this and a few other horrible experiences, I changed tactics. If a guy asked for my number, I would say no and explain I’d rather communicate through the app. Their reaction to this would vary and ultimately serve as valuable insight into the kind of person they were. Some would be kind, say they understood and carry on chatting (green flag). Others would complain or abuse me (red flag).
Try it. Not only will it keep you safe, but you’ll get the measure of the man super fast.
A common mistake when dating online is staying safely tucked away behind your screen and procrastinating about meeting people.
I get it.
First dates are unbelievably hard. We are not simply outside our comfort zone; we are rocket-launched out of it and into Planet Awkward.
It is normal to feel this way.
However, it doesn’t matter how many messages you send one another, you will only know if there is a spark once you meet. Therefore, you might waste hours texting a fella only to meet up and decide he ain’t the one.
Several times, I’d build a great digital rapport with someone, only to meet and for the virtual bubble to burst instantly. Pop.
Likewise, some people don’t come across well online, but you might really enjoy their company in-person.
How will you know if you don’t get off your arse and go?
If you think there is even a hint that this guy might be the one, arrange to meet as soon as possible. It is the only way to know if you might hit it off.
Further reading: Does there have to be a spark on a first date?
I use a fairly wide search radius and that’s not because I’m desperate, I promise. It’s because I wouldn’t mind meeting a guy who lives a few hours from me. The problem is that it’s a long way to go for a first date which will likely come to nothing.
In these cases, I take advantage of the video feature, which you will find on most apps. I mean, weren’t we all doing this during COVID-19, and yet it feels all weird again now.
However, I urge you to use video calls rather than driving 100 km for a first date or waiting two weeks when you are both available to meet in person.
One ten-minute video and you know where you stand. Yes, it’s worth a meet. Or: Next!
Word of warning: We women check the lighting and position ourselves to look our best during these calls. Guys don’t, and the camera isn’t flattering. I didn’t fancy a single person during a video call, but the guy I am going out with is one of them. It’s a long story, but it proves that having a video call can work.
OK, so this one may have been mentioned before. But it’s so important that I can’t share my online dating advice without mentioning it.
Let’s start with information from Medical News Today which proves that:
“Even a single alcoholic drink can impair our ability to make decisions, though we’re not aware of it. Importantly, because our motor control appears unaffected by alcohol, we’re likely to proceed with certain physical actions, under the illusion that we’re making the right choice.“
Add to this the nerve-calming wine you necked before leaving home, and your brain is not where you need it to be for date No.1.
Instead, you need all your senses to be in top-notch condition and on high alert. You want to pick up all the signals he’s giving off and process them accurately and correctly so that you have complete clarity about your date when you leave.
Alcohol will stop this from happening.
Like the ‘phone number’ point above, tell a guy you would rather meet for coffee because you don’t drink on the first date, then sit back and study his reaction. Does he respect your decision and take you up on the coffee? Or can’t he handle a first date without a drink? You’ll get the measure of him fast enough.
Right, you’re on your first (sober) date. You’ve checked his profile photo so you recognise him and …
Could that be him? But he looks so different from his pic.
Hold on, he has a high-pitched voice that didn’t come across in his hilarious text messages.
Eeek, I just don’t fancy this guy.
I’ll tell you: You keep going.
So what if you don’t fancy him. You’ve committed to spending the next hour or so with him, and you’ll never get that hour of your life back … so make the most of it.
I made a point of taking something from every date I went on (even if it wasn’t the waft of sexual chemistry I was hoping for). It could be handy advice, useful information, or a funny story to make my friends laugh.
In my last bout of online dating, I met a refuse disposal guy who told me whether they actually check our bin contents, a stock-broker who told me how to play the sharemarket, and I did a whole first date with my flies undone – a funny story to share time and time again.
First dates don’t have to go exactly as you hope for them to be fun and enjoyable. Make the most of meeting someone new, even if you never see them again, and curse them for not being the hottie you had hoped for.
Further reading: 55 First date questions to break the ice.
Something about the nature of online dating allows us to present ourselves as how we want to appear and not necessarily as who we really are.
It starts when you set up your profile. It is only natural to want to come across as quite the catch. You might add some interests you’re not interested in because you think they make you look good. Or upload a rare photo of the one time in your life you went water skiing, even though you have never done any water sports before or since.
It’s not actually lying, but you are presenting a distorted version of the real you.
And, it is possible to get through a whole first date being that cool, water-ski-loving, crazy, fun chick. You might even be able to keep it going for a couple more dates.
But it will be exhausting.
Instead, be you.
Being genuine, honest and authentic will make your dating experience much more enjoyable. You’ll attract people who are right for you, and you’ll be matched with the right people. It will also save you a lot of time, as you’ll be more likely to hit it off sooner.
Remember that you are enough.
As much as you might feel like an alien in a new alien world when you first start online dating, it helps to remember that you already have something in common with every single person … you are all looking for someone via an app.
I’m not saying that you and everyone else on the app are kindred spirits, but it’s fair to say that everyone is in the same boat.
Thinking this way is a game-changer.
I found it made me more open-minded and kinder.
You might feel like laughing at some honest words on a profile or think someone looks a bit of a dick in his photo. But pull yourself up on it. They are simply trying to display an honest, if slightly polished, version of themselves, the same as you are.
Most people you engage with on the app likely feel as awkward and nervous as you do, so cut them some slack.
Sticking with the theme of the last point, I want to remind you to be kind.
Ok, his chat-up lines are laughable and his compliments make you cringe but he’s doing his best. He might be out of practice, have low self-esteem, or, like you, is getting used to the concept of chatting with strangers.
And, if you don’t think he’s for you, don’t string him along. Tell him.
I don’t care if ghosting, shelving, simmering and icing are all new ‘things’ people do online. They are not things that decent people do.
In everything you do with online dating, think: ‘Am I treating people the way I want to be treated?’ and use this as your guide.
This might seem obvious, but many people overlook the value of kindness … and it goes a long way in the dating world.
To the hilarity of my friends, I found it helpful to list the dates I went on.
I was going on so many dates that they all started to merge. I couldn’t remember each one, and reflecting on your dates is essential to learning and moving forward.
My list was simple:
Making a list is maybe just for the dating geeks like me, but I found it helpful to keep a simple record which meant I could, not so much reminisce, but at least remember my dating adventures.
I used my list to see that it took 18 dates to meet the guy I am now seeing. That’s 18 awkward first dates to get a spark. If you’re still waiting for your spark, keep going, as it can take a while.
As mentioned in the previous point, my last round of online dating lasted three months and I went on 18 dates. That’s 4-5 dates a week!
I realise this sounds like a lot but online dating is best treated as a methodical numbers game. The more people you go out and meet, the more likely you are to hit gold.
I once did four dates in one weekend (it would have five but the last one cancelled as the surf was up!). None produced so much as a second date and I’ll admit I felt a little deflated but I kept going because that’s how you find what you’re looking for.
I know we want dating to be romantic but the truth is that online dating is more systematic than steamy. That is until you find someone who floats your boat which is when you can go from logical to loved-up.
Last on my list of online dating advice.
While you should not share your dating stories with everyone, it is important to have a select few, or at least one friend, you can talk to about them.
When I very first started online dating, I was so nervous about first dates that I felt physically sick. I even cancelled a few at the last minute as I couldn’t bring myself to go through what felt like a traumatic experience.
After explaining this to my good guy friend, he started talking me through my dates. He’d chat with me during the car journey to the date venue, and I’d have my headphones in with his encouraging words until about 30 seconds before greeting my date. Then, as soon as I was done, I’d dial his number for a debrief. Luckily, he no longer has to do this, but I will never forget his support which gave me the confidence I now have to date so easily.
Think who you have in your life who would be perfect for this role.
Ideally, they will be someone who:
And remember, once you’ve removed your own learner plates, you can help other people in this way. Similar to how I am helping you with this article.
I hope my online dating advice in this article has given you a fresh perspective if you’re considering an app.
In 2022, 366 million people worldwide had a whirl on a dating app (Source: Cloudwards)! So when I say you are not alone, I seriously mean it.
It’s funny how we all whinge about online dating, yet so many of us do it. That is because it can be a fun, easy way to meet new people and there are many success stories, sadly drowned out by the horror stories.
I urge you to give some of my ideas a go.
Whether you do a little test run, keep a record of your dates, or set a time limit for your dating experience, these simple ideas can relieve the pressure and create a better mindset for tackling Tinder or whatever app you choose.
Most importantly, be kind and respectful. This means giving each profile more than a millisecond of your time and not laughing at corny jokes and chat-up lines (unless they’re your own). Always be mindful because everyone is nervous and trying to put their best foot forward without looking desperate.
So, grab yourself a dating support mate and build an authentic profile about the wonderful person you are. Happy dating everyone, and remember, if I did four first dates in one weekend, you can too!
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