Online dating sites are for nice, smart, good-looking, normal midlifers - not just losers or psychopaths.
Today even psychologists recommend looking for love on the web. "It's very much mainstream now, even though some people react to my suggestion as if, 'What do you think, I'm desperate or something?'" says Nashua, N.H., psychologist Carl Hindy, co-author of If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure? "I think it's a sensible and efficient way to go about looking for a good match."
The sites increase the odds of a love connection. "There are so many people, and if you set your criteria properly, both in the software and in your head, there's the potential for finding a much better match than on the chance interactions that happen in your everyday life," says Hindy. "If you were looking for a manager for your office, you wouldn't just go to a bar and see who talked to you."
People look at dozens of job applicants before they hire one and dozens of houses before they buy one. Why just date three? "If you're looking for someone to share your life, why would you do less?" says Hindy. "Like the other important decisions in your life, you look through many alternatives."
Some advice for using online dating sites successfully:
Narrow your focus. "Because you're fishing in such a large lake, there's the potential of meting people who are very outside of your normal walk of life," says Hindy. "You're going to meet the whole bell curve of people out there...Be very clear on who you're seeking."
Take steps to stay safe. "You have to use due diligence and spend a long time emailing back and forth, talking on the phone," says Hindy. "I have no qualms about people googling and searching." Three arrests? Reconsider those lunch plans. (Also, check if a website screens for sex offenders.)
Keep the first date short. "You've got to be very cautious and not trust everyone at face value," says Beverly Hills, Calif., psychotherapist Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent. "Always meet in a safe, open space like a Starbucks, and make it time limited." Meet for coffee for just an hour. At the end of that time, decide whether to give out your phone number.
Don't let someone pick you up at your house right away.
Decide what feels like a good fit for you. One site does not fit all."Everything's out there," says Walfish. "Everyone has to define the parameters of their own comfort zone. You have to define what works for you and not let your girlfriend who goes to the cougar site intimidate you. It may not work for you."
Choose your site wisely. Walfish and Hindy both like eHarmony. It makes users "jump through a whole series of hoops" before they can email each other openly, says Hindy. "It's more likely to scare away the impulsive people, or the people who are married and cheating. Not only do you pay your money to join, but you have to go through a process that takes weeks...You've got to let your head work before your heart is allowed to run free." Walfish likes the way eHarmony focuses less on physical appearance. "They are really looking at internal character, personal interests, personality, ethics, morals, values," she says. (She also knows good people who have met partners on match.com and JDate.)
Write a non-boastful description of yourself. "Be cautious about how you present yourself so people don't think you're inflating yourself," says Walfish. "Remember to be humble." No bragging!
Check out online resources. See about.com's write-up on best online dating sites, including free ones like OK Cupid, Loveawake, and Plenty of Fish.
Set ground rules. If you start dating someone regularly, talk with him or her about whether you both plan to take your profile off the dating site. (Typically you can put it on hold and reactivate later if your love connection breaks.)
Think of online dating as a time saver. "You can go through a checklist faster and kind of rule people out," says Walfish. "For instance, let's say you're someone who definitely doesn't want a ready-made family. If someone has children, you know right up front I'm not wasting my time even having coffee with that person. No feelings are hurt. It's not personal." It's a good tool. "It helps you sift through the overwhelming numbers and narrow it down to the few you'd like to meet," says Walfish. "You narrow it down to the smallest few you want to meet and hope that magic is there when you meet the person. All you need is one!"