If you're like millions of single people, you'll be going online this month in hopes of finding your next date -- or potential mate. January is the peak month of online dating, with dating sites typically reporting a 25 to 30 percent increase in new members registrations between Dec. 26 and Feb. 14, as well as an increase in site searches and communication between members. As a relationship advice columnist, I have 15 excellent online dating tips that will save you time, energy, embarrassment, and the pain of sitting through long, drawn-out dates that leave you feeling deflated and depressed.
1. Post a recent photo of yourself that's flattering and actually looks like you. Chances are you have one really fantastic photo of yourself that was taken at just the right angle where you look ever so slightly like Jennifer Lawrence or Ryan Gosling. Don't post that picture. Post the picture that actually looks like you -- you on a good day (in great lighting). You want people to know what to expect and not be disappointed when it's you who shows up for your date. Here are some great tips for choosing the right profile photos.
2. Be unique and specific in your profile. Everyone "likes to have fun," okay? Everyone "likes hanging out with friends," "listening to music," and "going out." So tell people something they don't already know about you, like that the beer you brewed in your backyard last summer won first prize in a home brewing contest, or that you do a brilliant version of "Tainted Love" at karaoke. Being specific helps you stand out and it also gives an easy conversation opener.
3. Avoid negative language in your profile. It should go without saying that mentioning an ex or how bad a past relationship was is a definite no-no when writing an online profile, but in the same vein, negative language (anything that starts with: "I hate," "I don't like," "I don't know") all sound lame and cast a shadow over you, too.
4. Only respond to people who interest you. If you post a flattering photo and write a unique and upbeat profile, chances are you'll get lots of responses from potential suitors. Do NOT respond to all of them. Only pick the ones who truly appeal to you to reply to. For all the others, no message is the message ... and it's a lot kinder (and faster) than saying, "Hmm, no thanks."
5. Avoid Googling a potential match. Let's say you happen to get a whole name -- or enough info about a potential match that you're able to track him or her on Google. Don't do it! It's more fun to learn stuff about people the old-fashioned way (through conversation), and you don't risk making presumptions or inadvertently revealing that you know something you shouldn't.
6. Keep your emails brief. A general rule of thumb: two paragraphs is ideal; respond to something that was shared with you; share something new about yourself; ask at least one question the other person can answer; and leave plenty to talk about for your first date.
7. If there's interest, meet in person quickly. Respond to messages within a day or two (three tops!), and make plans to meet up in person after you've exchanged a handful of messages. If it's been three weeks -- or three months! -- and you're still emailing someone you haven't made plans to meet, then what you've got is a pen-pal and there's probably a reason things haven't progressed past that.
8. Protect your privacy. Keep your address, place of employment, and other personal information to yourself until you've gone out on at least a couple dates. I mean, duh.
9. Meet in public and tell at least one person where you'll be and what time you expect to be home.
10. Plan a first date that can be short, sweet, and low-key, like lunch or a coffee date. The last thing you need is to get stuck on some long, drawn-out date with someone who bores you to tears, so use the first date to see if there's a spark (which you can figure out in about five minutes), and it there is one, you can plan something longer or more intimate for the next time.
11. Keep your options open! Just because you've had a few great email exchanges -- or even a couple awesome dates -- with someone doesn't mean you should log off the site just yet. People -- especially ones who are practically strangers to you -- have a way of being flakey and can disappear, change their minds, or simply let you down. That's not to say that won't happen at any point in your relationship, but there's a great likelihood of these things happening early on, so keep your options open until you're ready to be exclusive.
12. Don't date someone just for "practice." Let's say you've gotten a few responses to your profile, but no one is really knocking your socks off. It's been a bit of a dry spell for you and you're feeling a little rusty when it comes to dating, so you figure what's the harm in going out with one of these people just to oil the ol' engine. The harm is you're leading someone on, wasting valuable time (theirs and yours) and creating bad karma in the process. If you know you aren't interested, move on.
13. Don't take the rejection personally. Not only can you not be everyone's type, there are plenty of reasons people pass on potential matches that have little to do with the other person. Maybe you look too much like the ex who broke his heart. His loss.
14. Take a break if you're feeling jaded. This goes back to #3. You don't have to necessarily use negative language in your profile to reek of negativity. A bad attitude -- and desperation -- is just as bad. So, if you find yourself getting discouraged about the way things are going, close your account for a month or two, regroup and come back after you've cleared your head (and aura).
15. Try different sites. Another thing you can do if you're feeling discouraged, is simply try a different site. Dating sites are like restaurants -- some of them have better menus than others. So if nothing at your current spot sounds appetizing, move along.