Online dating is an emotional rollercoaster.
One minute you’re raving about your new #bae and all of the niche boxes they tick – “wears uniform, enjoys crime podcasts, identifies as gluten-free” – the next, you realise you’re sitting opposite a total stranger drinking lukewarm beer and wondering why on earth you swiped right.
In a sea of catfish and other equally complex creatures, when it comes to modern-day matters of the heart, it’s easy to feel like you’re drowning in the nuance of it all.
To navigate the murky waters of online dating and actually find someone you can tolerate, let alone fancy, you need to go in armed and ready. But preparation goes beyond knowing your ghosting from your breadcrumbing.
From abandoning “the waiting game” to rehearsing your bad date exit strategy, here are the 10 commandments of online dating, as supported by science and, well, common decency.
1. Thou shalt not say things thou does not mean
People like it when people like them, that much is a given. So when we meet someone we fancy online, it’s tempting to become an effusive people-pleaser in the hope that your affections will be reciprocated.
Yet going overboard with the compliments so early on (think: “your eyes are beautiful like the sun” and “you’re more irresistible than chocolate”) is risky, argues dating psychologist Madeleine Mason.
Either it will seem like you’re being inauthentic, she tells The Independent, or your over-enthusiasm will engender false feelings of hopefulness that will cause problems down the line.
If you mean it, say it. If not, keep shtum.
2. Thou shalt not be neither cat nor kittenfish
By dint of being exclusively online platforms, dating apps foster a culture of deception. This can take varying degrees, from lying about your height (kittenfishing) to creating entirely false identities, otherwise known as “catfishing”.
A study carried out by social media analytic professors at the University of Oregon found that men are most likely to lie about their occupations on dating apps, whereas women tend to have less photographs than men in that they’re either old images or recent ones that have been heavily edited.
The research revealed that most of the lies people tell on dating apps derive from wanting to present ourselves in ways we think the other person will deem attractive.
For example, if a match says they’re into fitness, you may lie about how often you go to the gym.
The repercussions of lying to a partner are obvious, but Mason says that it could keep you from finding love forever.
“Styling your online image that is not a true likeness of who you are will set your date up for disappointment and you will remain single,” she says.
3. Thou shalt not start a conversation with an emoji
Not only does this give the impression that you have the vocabulary of a five-year-old, it’s also downright lazy.
Remember that you do not know this person; if you want sparks to fly, you need to dig a little deeper than digitally enhanced fruits and vegetables.
Despite their popularity, a recent study carried out by dating site Plenty of Fish found that peaches and aubergines are the most-hated emojis when it comes to online dating conversations.
The research also revealed that only eight per cent of people think sending an emoji message will get you a reply in the first instance.
“Try and start out with at least a sentence or two, ideally including a question the person can answer you,” Mason advises.
“Basically you want to invite a conversation, not merely state your presence.”
4. Thou shalt not play ‘the waiting game’
Tempting as it may be, it’s best not to play games with your beloved when it comes to communication ie purposely delaying responses so as not to seem desperate.
While nobody wants to be dubbed a “keen bean”, it sets a toxic precedent if you’re obsessing over such trivial matters so early on.
A study from 2017 revealed that similar texting habits can be key to finding love online, but that doesn’t mean you need to match someone’s response time to the minute.
“Adopt the same ‘timings’ as you would a friend,” Mason suggests, “which is most likely to be when you have time and an answer.”
5. Thou shalt have a well-rehearsed escape routine
Whenever you meet an online match in person for the first time, you run the risk of spending an hour wincing with awkwardness, wondering what compelled you to agree to a date with this person.
In such circumstances, it’s key to have an exit strategy prepared.
Some general rules of practice: be polite (“This was great, but my Uber is waiting”), don’t tell a farfetched lie (“My cousin’s guinea pig just fell down the loo”) and never dine and dash (”I thought I’d paid via telepathy”).
6. Thou shalt ignore the advice of coupled-up friends who met IRL
When you’re single, your smug friends in relationships will inevitably try to offer their support, by repeating statements like: “you’ll find someone when you least expect it” and “patience is a virtue”.
The thing is, if they met in real life, your naive, loved-up friends know diddly squat about the labyrinthine dating landscape – they may as well be teaching a camel how to swim.
“There is a reason why there’s a rise in dating coaching,” Mason points out, “many people have little clue on how best to date successfully and for those who have met IRL, their empathetic, well-meaning advice is often inefficient, especially when it comes to things like what photos should go up on a dating profile.”
Don’t listen to your smug pals, dear single camel, you and your humps got this.
7. Thou shalt ‘play the field’ with caution
Dating apps endorse a degree of polyamory due to the way they work.
As soon as you swipe right or left on a dating app, another person’s profile appears on your phone.
If multi-tasking is what you’re into, go forth and, well, multiply, but note that things can get messy if you start dating several people at once.
Not only will you find yourself repeating stories because you’ve forgotten what you’ve said to who, but you’ll also struggle to commit to just one person due to constant distractions.
“It’s not to say you can’t go on several different first and second dates,” says Mason, “but once you start seeing someone frequently, focus on one person at a time.”
8. Thou shalt read verbal and non-verbal cues
In today’s #MeToo age, it has never been more important to be aware of what your match is and isn’t comfortable with in terms of physical intimacy.
This can be trickier with people you’ve met online, as you’re likely to have fewer ties to one another, which can cultivate irrational or erratic behaviour.
Today, we have consent apps to help assuage some of these grievances, but criminal lawyers argue these wouldn’t stand up in a court of law, rendering them futile.
Instead of clicking “yes” or “no” on a smartphone, it’s crucial to use your intuition when broaching matters of intimacy on a dating app date, even if it’s just a kiss.
“Dating is more like a dance than a game,” says Mason.
“You work out where the other person ‘is’ and respond.” If you’re unsure, be straightforward and have a conversation about it. In these instances, it is always better to be safe than sorry, even if you feel it compromises your “playing it cool” facade.
9. Thou shalt split the bill on the first date, or at least try to
It’s a debate as old as time: in heterosexual partnerships, who should pay on the first date?
A YouGov study from 2017 found that 40 per cent of men think they should always pay for the first date while just 29 per cent of women felt the same.
People feel very strongly about this, which is why it’s best to avoid the risk of causing an almighty ruckus over something so menial and vow to split the bill early on.
10. Thou shalt not social media stalk (in excess)
Curiosity killed the cat – and it may well wreck emotional havoc on the person spending hours trawling through a match’s old Facebook photos.
What might start as an innocent browse through someone’s Instagram feed can easily descend into a three-hour-long social media deep dive, leading you to the Twitter profiles of distant family members and old flames – do not fall down this rabbit hole.
Obviously it’s fairly acceptable to engage in a mild amount of pre-date social media stalking to make sure the person you’re meeting actually exists, but Mason advises keeping your searching to a minimum so you get to know the person in front of you and not a fantasy version you have gleaned from social media platforms.