Internet dating has become more of an option for those of us looking to find and develop a relationship. With an estimated 30% of the baby boomer age group now single - over 22 million of us - most online dating sites have seen a real surge of growth in re- cent years just by virtue of our age cohorts. Yet another example of how major an impact we boomers make as consumers! And as time passes, there is less and less of a social stigma in having to say, "we met on the internet". It seems that who we meet, is much more important than where and how we meet.
Internet Dating - The Good
- So many options available - search by locations near or far, by age group, religious preferences, common interests, and other characteristics.
- Most online sites enable the user to set personal preferences and choose their own matches.
- A growing number of niche sites base themselves upon particular areas of activity, religion, or other orientation, hence searches are more focused.
- The convenience and privacy of conducting searches from home.
- Initial communications through e-mails and telephone calls may be less awkward, allowing gradual progression to a first meeting in person.
- Assuming honesty, of course (more on this shortly), online profiles provide some degree of initial information relative to common backgrounds, interests, personal values and availability.
- Considerably less expensive than in-person matchmaker services; some sites are free to join or allow visitors to search without joining.
- Rapidly growing technology, competition, and experience offer prospects for improved safeguards and matching reliability in the near future (get ready for "virtual dating").
Internet Dating - The Bad
- Dishonesty - some men will lie about income level, age, height, education and worse (see discussion on "the ugly" below); some women will lie about age, weight, and physical appearance; both genders will often use older, undated photos.
- Misrepresentations - some sites will exag- gerate the size of their membership by inclu- ding past (no longer active) members, but still portray their profiles.
- Frustrations - current members contact oth- er profiles still posted on some sites but with no chance of getting a reply, not knowing that the profile is ei- ther inactive or not a paying member and therefore can not respond unless they choose to rejoin (other cases of no reply may stem from members' lack of courtesy or disinterest, and are not the fault of the online site).
- Billing Practices - some sites offer free or reduced rate introductory sign-ups, but automatically trigger regular billing in some cases without subsequent action by the user.
- Fake Profiles - some sites will portray one or more profiles as window dressing, in an effort to attract new users or to promote a spin-off site (that "member" can only be contacted through the other site, and subject to its requirements).
- Gender Distribution - the percentages of male vs. female members on some sites is unbalanced and not made known to prospective users (e.g., a male would likely prefer a site with a greater percentage of female members, and vice versa); gender distribution can be even more of a factor on the smaller niche sites.
- Shared Data Base - some sites will produce a spin-off site or align themselves with a new site by another name, implying that the membership base is distinct but in reality is common to both sites. Hence a user may pay for two sites in hopes of greater opportunity, but in fact only has access to the same single data base.
Internet Dating - The Ugly
- Marital Status - some men (more often than women) will lie about being single, when in fact married but considering divorce if there is "something better out there".
- Character Flaws - hiding behind a computer may mask more serious issues, such as infidelity, temper, addictions, self control problems, et al.
- Predators - fraud and those looking to prey upon their victims are not strangers to the internet.
Internet Dating - Typical Steps
Alright, we understand the pros and cons of internet dating, and we've decided to proceed (with caution of course). We've chosen a dating site based upon our personal goals and areas of interest - a large general site such as Match or eHarmony because we prefer larger num- bers from which to choose, or a smaller niche site because we want something already tai- lored to one of our primary interests. Some thoughts for each step:
- Internet Dating - Writing Your Profile
- Albeit difficult, be open and honest in writing about yourself; how do others see you? If in doubt, ask your friends.
- Identify your preferences, such as age group, distance, and other characteristics most important to you. Make conscious choices; being too specific may limit the number responding to you, and overly broad may prompt too many off-point matches).
- Posting at least one (and preferably more) recent photo of yourself as you really are, greatly increases the numbers responding to you.
- Don't obsess over some physical characteristics such an age group much younger than your own, or a particular body type; most readers find such preferences insulting and likely avoid those profiles.
- Avoid references to your income, whether it's high, low or in between - you want someone attracted to you as a person, and not thinking you can support them in style or that you're in need of a financial partner.
Internet Dating - Search Other Profiles
- Look beyond photos - what's inside a person will last much longer than anything on the outside.
- Look for things most in common with you, such as values, favorite activities, educational background, spirituality, family circumstances, etc.; some sites allow advanced searches to key in on such areas.
- Act directly on profiles that interest you; those that are equally serious about finding a relationship tend to move on.
- Know that not every profile you contact will respond back, by virtue of no longer being available, not currently a paying member and thus can not respond, too busy with other parts of life, out of town, or simply not seeing you as their match.
- Don't be affected by the number of responses you do receive, be it a large or small number; it only takes one right match, not dozens of wrong matches.
Internet Dating - Sending and Receiving Email
- Use an email account and user ID without your own name in it if possible; most sites provide their own email service without you having to use your own until you choose to do so - later.
- Avoid "fish net" email, i.e., generic notes written vaguely for a large audience. Sincere notes comment on more specific items that caught the eye in the profile, such as common interests, values, activities, etc.
- Remember that initially you're talking to strang- ers who might be (and should be) as nervous and cautious as you are. Start your email conversation slowly by introducing yourself (first names only start- ing out), where you're from, favorite activities, etc., and what you liked about their profile. Ask a general question to which they can easily and comfortably respond, such as where they grew up, or how they like living where they do.
- How one writes and the words chosen gives insight into character and personality; consider evasiveness, reluctance and inconsistent responses as red flags.
- Receiving a lot of email can pose a dilemma - on the one hand, you're not obligated to respond to every single one, especially if you receive a large number (the "stray cat" approach); on the other, most people do appreciate the courtesy of a response, even if it's the standard "no thank you" note offered on most sites.
- Should you receive an email that makes you uncomfortable in any way, most sites have a blocking option that prevents any further receipt from the sender, and also prevents your profile from showing up on their list of potential matches.
Internet Dating - Phone Calls
- Don't rush to hand out phone numbers; best only when comfortable after exchanging some email notes, and even then only a cell phone number.
- Use phone calls to "humanize" the electronic image of your prospective match; some are legitimately more comfortable talking rather than writing. The manner of speaking - words used, tone, politeness, even accents - can all give additional insights.
- Be wary of "expert on-liners" - those that have perfect (often rehearsed) answers to most any question; too good to be true often is.
- Getting a phone number can also pose a dilemma - in later stages of communication, reluctance to give a home number, or instructions to only call at certain times, may imply that a spouse or significant other also occupies the household. Reluctance to give a work number could mean unemployment, or simply a legitimate workplace policy that discourages personal calls. Be aware and tailor your judgment to the circumstances.
Internet Dating - Meeting in Person
- Take the time needed - at least a week or two - to get comfortable with each other through email and phone calls; doing so will take away first time jitters and allow conversation to flow along more familiar lines when you do meet in person.
- Giving or getting pressure to meet right away is a red flag; however, waiting too long (a month or more) over-hypes expectations and raised anxiety levels.
- Ask for a full name before agreeing to meet in person, allowing you to do some initial background check using internet search engines, local government agen- cies and other public records. Keep in mind that few if any dating sites to date conduct any type of background check on their users.
- Choose a public, well-lit place to meet, and agree that each use their own means of transportation to get there.
- Give a trusted friend the name and phone number of the person you're meeting, along with the time and place that you're meeting, and your expected time of return. Always carry a fully charged cell phone (comes in handy even if you're just running late).
- Choose an activity and place that enables good conversation without shouting or whispering, such as lunch or a coffee shop; save movies, noisy restaurants, and sporting events for later.
- Dress for the person that you are, and appropriate for the place that you're meeting.
- Best not to bring anyone home after the first date.
- Don't over-expect (it saves subsequent disappointments); you're simply meeting a new friend. Enjoy yourself and have fun - it's not a job interview!
Internet Dating - After You've Met
- Understand that virtually everyone, having reached our stage in life, has some sort of "baggage"; the better question to ask is how the baggage has been handled at the various stops along the way.
- Watch for how personality and character traits emerge in various situations, particularly during times of stress or anxiety.
- Avoid anyone asking for money, partnering in a business transaction, or companionship on a trip; be wary of anyone with lofty promises or illusions of grandeur.
- Spend time and share activities and experiences; best to allow at least a year to see how the seasons, holiday celebrations, and other annual events affect attitudes, decision-making, and patterns in various situations.
- Allow your head to have equal time with your heart; at the end of the day, trust your instincts and your own good judgment. Albeit difficult but if necessary, it's best to break things off earlier than later, and agree to respect each others privacy.
Bottom line for internet dating, or for that matter any type of boomer dating, is to go slow, stay in control (of yourself as well as the process), and enjoy the experience. Don't rush to invest your time, your heart, and your money. Good things take time but ARE SO WORTH IT!
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