Online dating has become pretty mainstream over the past decade, but more so these past two years during COVID as other alternatives for meeting singles have been somewhat limited. And while various sites have made it incredibly easy to create a profile and browse their pool of eligible people, none of them provide a step-by-step guide of how to navigate the process once you actually match with someone, that is a skill you are either expected to have or quickly develop on your own.

Before you even dip your toe in those waters, most experts would recommend that you develop a list of must haves and can’t stands.  What do you absolutely need in a partner, and what are your non-negotiables?  Be honest with yourself, aside from wanting someone attractive (that is obviously important) ask yourself: (1) What’s an appropriate age range?  (2) How far are you willing to travel for a date?  (3) Are you focused on getting married or looking for something casual?  (4) Do you want children or are you an empty-nester that prefers people in a similar stage of life?  (5) Do you want someone that shares your passion for sports, travel, or a healthy lifestyle? (6) Do you want a partner that has a similar education or professional status?  (7) Would you get involved with someone that is separated but not yet divorced? 

Once you have answered these basic questions for yourself, you should be able to quickly start screening inappropriate matches just by reading someone’s profile or asking some direct questions in your first few exchanges before you ever meet up.  While you are communicating, also try to look for these 3 things:

(1) Availability– can they hop on a call or meet for a walk, or do they have a million excuses for not being able to schedule a time to have a real conversation? It should be a red flag if they only want to communicate by text and delay an in-person meeting for more than a week.

(2) Responsiveness– does it feel like this person takes forever to respond, or maybe their responses are too immediate, like they have nothing better to do?  Pay attention to the pace of your communications.

(3)  Engaging– do your conversations flow easily?  Does this person know how to take turns asking questions, and does the volley back and forth seem natural?  It’s not normal for one person to have to carry the conversation and ask all the questions, nor is it okay for someone to go on a monologue that seems to last forever.

Assuming you get past this initial screening phase, when you go out on those first few dates pay attention to details.  Actions speak louder than words.  Do they show up on time or let you know if they are running late?  Does it look like they made an effort to put themselves together, or do you get the feeling they just rolled out of bed?  Are they generous and complimentary, not in a creepy way?  Do they follow up afterwards, making sure you got home okay and letting you know they had a good time?  A decent person does not leave you hanging for long, even if they reach the conclusion that it’s just not a good fit.   

If you are going to experiment with online dating, the number one thing you have to be prepared to do is not take things personally.  It is a numbers game, and rejection is inevitable.  It could just be you are too smart/successful; your kids are too little; you are geographically inconvenient; you have too many other competing time commitments; or maybe they are just intimidated because of your friendships with those of the opposite sex.  You should not feel the need to apologize for who you are, and you certainly shouldn’t try to change for some stranger.   

And now we get to my final piece of advice: stranger danger.  It’s bad enough that terms like ghosting, cushioning or breadcrumbing have become commonly used in today’s dating world, but what’s worse is  the serious risk of becoming a crime victim.   Common sense would dictate that you don’t give out your personal information to someone you have not met in person, but once you have done your due diligence it’s inevitable that someone you are dating for a while will come to your home and learn some of your routines.  If the relationship ends, and they continue to stalk or harass you, do not suffer in silence- send them a stern cease and desist notice, keep all evidence of their violations, and contact the police. 

Some people you meet online will work very hard to quickly gain your trust, and then start asking for favors– particularly of a financial nature.  Avoid moving in, buying a car, or opening any bank/credit card accounts with someone you have not been with for at least one year.  Some of the worst divorce cases I have seen (but cannot discuss) did not follow this guideline. The worst non-divorce related situation that I actually can comment on is currently on Netflix: The Tinder Swindler.  As you watch it, I hope you too will see the immediate red flags these women ignored.

In the end, particularly on Single Awareness Day (aka Valentine’s Day) we need to acknowledge that it takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there.  Also, you need a lot of patience to sort through unsuitable candidates online, and sometimes you might need to take a break or try other alternatives to meet people organically.  Eventually, we will get passed this pandemic and singles will have more options.  In the meantime, be smart, make no apologies for being more discerning, and protect your heart.

By Regina A. DeMeo