In Finding Love Online, we’ve heard from listeners about their many and varied experiences of the online dating world, as well as getting much-needed advice from the experts. Dating online can seem daunting to many, with the risk of heartbreak and the possibility of rejection just a swipe away. So, if you’re about to dip a toe in these potentially stormy waters, what can you do to maximise your chances of success?
Fresh from chatting to Jeremy Vine about setting up an online dating profile, which you can hear in the clip below, we asked broadcaster (and reformed “industrial dater”) Andy West and Nichi Hodgson (author of The Curious History of Dating) for their best tips on finding love online.
1. Know what you’re looking for
Whether you’re taking this dating lark seriously or are a bit more laid-back, it’s a good idea to work out what you want from an online dating service. Are you after true love? Do you just want to see where it takes you? Whatever it is, let that ideal be your guide when preparing.
Andy recommends trying to figure things out ahead of time: “Before you even download an app, before you even open a website, you have to think about what you want – that should guide you on what to put in your profile.”
It’s not only about being truthful with yourself, Nichi says, it’s also important to be honest with other people too. “I think a lot of people looking for something casual feel like there is something wrong with them for wanting that. There isn’t. It’s completely acceptable to only be able to offer that right now. You’ve got to be upstanding even when [other] people are not being. Be your best self.”
It’s important to join dating apps for the right reasons too. As Andy states: “You certainly should never go to a dating app looking for approval or validation. That’s the wrong psychology for it. It simply won’t give it to you.”
2. Choose the right app
There are a lot of different online dating services out there and they aren’t all the same. Some are pretty fast-paced (like the swipe-happy Tinder), others give women the control over who they speak with (Bumble), there are even sites like TrekkieDating which – you guessed it – are aimed solely at Star Trek fanatics. It’s good to shop around then: read reviews, ask friends for recommendations and their experiences on certain services.
3. Pick your photos carefully
First impressions are important, especially if someone is glancing at your picture, ready to swipe right and move on. So, having a good first photo is really crucial. “A head and shoulders shot of you, preferably taken in natural light,” advises Nichi, “You don’t want sunglasses on, that’s a no-no. If you can’t see someone’s eyes you’re not going to look any further. Don’t wear a hat, don’t try to hide behind anything.”
And if you’re feeling happy, show it. “These are the things people will be looking for,” says Andy, “You’ve got to choose a photograph that makes you attractive to the people you are trying to find.”
It’s a good idea to back up your main pic with a couple more options. Andy explains what works best: “You should choose a picture your friends think you look really good in, even if you hate it. If you’re laughing, or not looking at the camera, something really natural, that’s the photo where someone who wants to meet you gets a sense of who you are. They get a hint that you’re not a kind of computer-generated robot.”
4. Your bio is your friend
What you write in your bio is key to letting people know who you are and what you’re all about. It can be the springboard for those crucial opening gambits in conversations too.
Spend some time writing about the things you love and what sums you up. “You have to think of your profile as your dating CV,” explains Nichi, “Have a really good think about what to put in and what to leave out. Three paragraphs that roughly outline what you enjoy doing, what stimulates you, maybe a little bit about where you come from.”
If you’re funny, be funny, and trust that the people who don’t find you amusing wouldn’t have laughed in real life either. But don’t try and stuff your bio with jokes if that’s not you.
Don’t be afraid of rose-tinting things a smidge either. “Every single profile, to one extent or another, is misrepresenting the truth,” argues Andy. “They’re giving you a very airbrushed view on who they are.” But don’t say anything you can’t back up later on. Don’t misrepresent your height, for example, as it will only cause a lot of awkwardness when you finally meet in the flesh.
5. Opening lines
Okay, so you’ve matched with someone you like, now what’s the best way to start a conversation?
Andy has a few key pointers: “First of all, don’t just send a smiley face, that’s a bit creepy. Don’t say something sexual. Don’t go off on some big monologue about yourself. What I suggest is that, if you’ve read their profile, there should be something in there [to talk about]. If they really like cooking, you say ‘hi, you like cooking, what’s your signature dish?'”
“You’re trying to engage with another human being here. Ask a non-invasive, open question. You’ve set the tone then for a nice, normal, relaxed conversation.”
Nichi agrees: “Always make it an original message to that person. Nothing cut and pasted. Your first message is your elevator pitch. You’ve got to sell yourself. You have to put a bit of thought into it. The most important thing is to read the other person’s profile before you start messaging.”
6. Don’t get hooked
It’s not a good idea to spend hours a day on dating apps – and not just because you’ll be neglecting other aspects of your life.
“Research suggests that if you spend more than around 20 minutes on any dating app, the positive vibe in your head starts to become negative,” says Andy. “So you must only do it in short bursts.”
7. Be prepared for disappointment
Online dating can offer hope, but it can also be a source of hurt. You must enter the world of online dating with the possibility of disappointment in mind, the experts say.
“If you’re someone that gets hurt easily, and you’re thin-skinned, it might not be for you,” Andy says, arguing that your expectations should be grounded in reality.
“If you’re going to do it, say to yourself ‘I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and I know if I go on dates, some of them are going to be awful’.”
8. How to arrange your date
In-app conversations are great and all, but it’s best to arrange a meet-up as soon as you both feel a connection. Talk too much online and you’re likely to exhaust a lot of the chat that you could be saving for your first date.
“I would say to everyone get offline as quickly as you can,” advises Nichi. “It’s been proven that the longer you talk to someone online, the less likely that chat will translate into a date. I’d say five days maximum, and maybe three conversations before you translate that into a date, you need to act quite quickly.”
But Nichi also points out that this can be a risky move, as moving too fast could alienate your potential date. A good tip is to take things slowly, with a short initial meeting, rather than anything grander. “If you’re a guy, ask to meet for a coffee or just one drink. Don’t go all in. Also, offer to go somewhere that’s convenient to them, and not somewhere that’s near your house. You’ll know within a minute if you fancy someone, and nobody wants to be on a three-hour date with somebody they have zero interest in.”
9. Don’t give up hope
Andy concludes that online dating may not be for everyone, but it has great potential: “Believe always that somewhere in your phone or computer is someone that will make you happy. None of those [other] people will matter when you’re sitting in a restaurant opposite someone who is perfect for you. That’s your goal.”