11 Tips for Online Dating

Whether it's the commericials you've seen on T.V. or the stories friends have regaled you with at dinner, you've heard the stories of people meeting Mr. or Mrs. Right through online dating. Still, you're a little wary of the whole idea. (Don't just people who are desperate use the sites? Isn't it dangerous?)

Online Dating for Dummies

Here are the top 11 strategies for first timers, from Mary Jo Rapini, LPC, a relationship expert, and Irina Firstein, LSCW.

1. The importance of the profile. Your profile for an online dating website is essential. Think carefully about what you want to say and project when writing up your profile. It's like writing an essay for college--except you are looking to attract a suitable mate. And don't be overly generic or general. If you're having trouble coming up with something that doesn't sound completely boring, get together with some friends, have a beverage, and have some fun with it, Rapini suggests. "You have to do something catchy," she says. "A lot of people put up a very boring profile, which is a big mistake."

2. Be specific in your profile, but be willing to take some risks. "You're not going to put a blemish up front, but don't be afraid if you have an interest that is a little out there," says Firstein. "If you have a certain quality that is important to you and describes you, put it in there."

3. Don't give away personal and private information. It may sound obvious, but it's important to stress the point. Personal and private information, like phone numbers and addresses, will come later--much later, when you and a potential date meet face to face.

4. Do put a photo online; it's weird if you don't. But don't send an out of date picture. You want to put a flattering picture out there, but not a photo of when you were 20 pounds thinner.

5. Once you've been in touch with a potential date, think safety before you meet. Be aware of some red flags. Such as: if he or she talks about sex all the time, close him or her out. If you do some checking and find out that he has not been honest, take the same measure.

6. Don't wait too long to meet. Sure, it's easy to carry on an online dialogue, but it's also easier to lie when you're talking virtually. "Be aware that 90 percent of people lie a little bit," Rapini says. "But it's harder to lie in front of someone because you can see their eyes and their face."

7. Approach online dating as a project, Firstein says. "You know going in that chemistry is elusive, and that it may or may not work," she says. "Online dating does take time." But let's face it, it could be the investment of a lifetime.

8.When's the best time to meet in person? There is no hard and fast rule, but in general, once you have the basics out of the way, it's a good idea to meet. Set up a one on one. Make sure it's in a public place, and make sure that a close friend of yours has the person's contact information, and knows where the two of you will be.

9. A meeting during the day is often better than a nighttime meeting, Rapini says. It's a lot more casual if you meet for coffee or lunch, and it's not so open-ended. There's somehow less pressure, too, when you meet during the day.

10. Choose the site that works for you. As for which sites to use, there are others out there besides the biggies: www.eharmony.com and www.match.com. Rapini also recommends www.itsjustlunch.com and www.eventsandadventures.com. This last one's great because it's all about groups of people doing activities together, such as dancing or white water rafting. Some people especially like this site because there's a lot less pressure.

11. One last thought: Assuming you meet someone you like a lot, chances are that you'll take your profile down. You may assume that the peron of your dreams will do the same, but then again, he or she may not. So when the time comes, this is definitely a subject you will need to discuss.