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The complete guide to digital dating, guaranteed to maybe work

Online Dating Guide header
The Internet is by far one of my most favorite of man’s innovations for so many reasons – but one reason outweighs them all: It allowed me to find, meet, and end up with the most perfect partner I could ever hope for … all thanks to online dating.

 Yes, friends, I am one half of a love match made by the Web. Given the many opinions and – ahem – constant evolution of the Internet dating scene, who better than a success story to help guide you through the process, its potential – and many – pitfalls? 

Before we get started, a hopeful word for skeptics and beginners. 

A quick disclaimer on why I think online dating works

JamI was a Filipina in Manila looking for a worthy pen-pal to exchange emails with. An experienced participant of long-term, long-distance relationships, I’ve never let proximity get in the way of true love and I’m a travel lover – so I signed up for OKCupid and didn’t limit myself.

jam's husbandI e-met an American living in New Jersey. He really didn’t know anyone in his area and worked from home, so he had very limited opportunities to meet anyone new.  He’d had a few girlfriends in the past and had tried casual dating for a while, but nothing had evolved into a serious relationship. And originally, he just wanted to find someone to hang out with and get to know.

For some reason, he landed on my profile, and I happened to be online.  Right away, I checked out his profile, liked what I read, and sent him a message. We struck up a chatting correspondence. 

In a span of a month, we went through all the online “getting to know you” stages.  Epic emails of a thousand words each turned into daily text chats on Skype.  Then voicemail mp3s sent by email (because we were still too chicken to talk face-to-face, in real time).  Then finally, video calls.

Jam Skype

Fact: If you meet someone you can talk to every day and every night and still find the energy to email five times a day and not get sick of each other, then that’s probably a great sign. And distance, plus the Internet, will force you to figure that out.

We both realized that early on.  He first told me how he felt by sending a Youtube link to “I Think I Love You” by David Cassidy.  I eagerly answered him with “If I Fell” by The Beatles.  A month and a half later, he arrived in the Philippines (after traveling 17,000 miles) to come be with his girlfriend for two weeks.  That was enough time to make him realize that I was the one, the one to make him go back to the States, sell all his possessions, quit his job, and come back to be with me. 

After a full year of adventures visiting new places in the Philippines and Asia, I returned the favor and moved back to the U.S. with him. 

Emotional pre-requisites

So now that we’re all starry-eyed and hope-filled, onto the serious stuff. For instance, you immediately need to ask yourself what kind of relationship are you willing to get into. Right now – ask yourself this right now if you’re considering online dating, because there are a lot of options. You can keep it platonic. You can play the field and openly date multiple people. You can get down to business and try to fine The One. You can connect with people in various parts of the planet or you can keep it close to home. Once you answer these questions, then the fun starts – and know that you are the only one in control of your online dating experience. When I got into online dating, I wasn’t really looking for a husband – I was just looking for a pen pal. I didn’t want to rush into the foray of real-life dating – I wanted to meet someone who was OK with the idea of building a solid foundation, and I chose my pen pals well.

Be open to the idea of pouring your heart out, because sometimes that’s what it takes to really get to know someone. Furthermore, the truth saves you a lot of time weeding through the bullshit later on (and weed you will), so don’t embellish or lie about yourself. If you want to write a thousand word email before you meet up with someone, just do it – a lot of online dating advice advises against this, but if it makes you feel more comfortable, then that advice be damned!

“Patience is a virtue” may be a cliché, but it is 100 percent applicable in online dating. Don’t be in a hurry to bag your first date – just like in real life, meaningful relationships are developed in due course. Also bear in mind that there are millions of people out in cyberspace also looking for matches online. Enjoy the search and take your time.

Have an open mind and suspend all judgments: Everyone is worth talking to at least once. If you find out someone is a liar or a creeper, you can always cease all communication and move on.

Things you need

Anonymous email: Before you even think about signing up for an online dating account, you must first ensure that you have an email address (duh) – one that doesn’t have your full name in it for safety reasons.

A webcam: It is imperative that you have a working webcam – I’d even go as far as telling you not to bother with online dating if you don’t have one. It’s the only real way of verifying someone’s identity prior to meeting up in person. One of the first guys I started talking to on OKCupid claimed he didn’t have a webcam. He also sent me a nude pic with the head cropped off (major red flag). Just for shits and giggles, I proposed an in-real-life meetup when I found myself in the U.S. on vacation near the town he said he lived in. He promptly disappeared from my online radar and I never heard from him again (he probably was this guy). So don’t buy the “I don’t have a webcam” crap. Besides, anyone can get it at Fry’s for a couple of dollars. If you’re dating for free on a website, have the decency to cough up a bit of dough for a webcam – it’s a good investment, trust me.

A Skype or Hangouts account: Have a Skype or any video chat account to supplement your dating profile. This is the reason why you needed that webcam. This works especially well for people who happened to find matches in faraway places. Back in the day, my husband and I used to have Skype dates where we’d watch the same movies or NBA games on our computers. He also met my entire family via video chat, too. But even for locals, it’s important for verification purposes.

Some social media self-restraint: Although adding someone you meet on a dating site on your Facebook might be OK, it’s not advisable early on (especially if you’re like me and use the site like a diary). If you need that connection, following them on Twitter is safer.

Where to online date

There are a bunch of online dating sites to choose from, and you are free to sign up on them all (if you can afford it). However, it pays to know what kind of demographic flocks to each platform if you want to narrow it down. GQ came out with a flowchart that you can follow, but please just use it as a rough guide.

gq dating site advice

Personally, for anyone who’s new to online dating, I recommend OKCupid because of its user diversity and pretty accurate matching algorithm; I found it very easy to connect with a lot of like-minded people there. For those who are more comfortable dating “away from keyboard” and are only venturing into online dating territory to quickly meet someone new, I’ve heard a lot of good things about HowAboutWe. If you’re in a hurry to meet someone you could potentially marry, consider upgrading to a paid account on eHarmony (or any dating site, for that matter), but do your research extensively before pulling the trigger – you do get added perks for paying, maybe even better matches, but if it’s your first time online dating, try the free route first. If you have specific interests, we have a couple of suggestions that may (or may not) work for you.

Pre-gaming: Some tricks of the trade

Questions are hugely important – the more you have to ask, the higher your chances of meeting someone that piques your interest. Whether you’re an introvert who has a hard time socializing in real life or an outgoing person who can easily make conversation, asking questions is a great way to break the ice and keep the ball rolling. Of course, you need to also be willing to answer what you ask. After all, any type of relationship should be give and take, and online dating is no exception. When I first started online dating, I would send guys I was interested in short questionnaires (top five favorite movies/books/bands, what do you like to do on a Friday night, fondest childhood memory) and include my own answers to encourage a back-and-forth dialogue – and it worked really well!

It also helps to make a “My Ideal Mate” list. Sure, it sounds like you’re getting a little scientific with your romantic life, but it speeds up the process and can help you prioritize people. 

And don’t skip the questionnaires your dating site of choice sends you; in fact, answer as many as you can! It may feel tedious at first, but try and think of it like a game. Not only will it improve how the site algorithm works to provide you a few potential dates, it will also help you know yourself and what you want out of a relationship.

And again, though it’s true that everybody lies, it doesn’t mean that you should. Reveal small portions of yourself bit by bit and know how to spot bullshit (please reference the webcam warning).

Girls, don’t be afraid to make the first move – it doesn’t make you less of a woman. 

Lastly, bear this in mind: If you want respect, be the first one to give it.

What to put in your dating profile

User name

Keep your pen name classy if you want to snag a serious prospect – stay away from monikers that insinuate sex (bigtool4u, tits_mcgee, and thongman are out of the question). Be creative, simple, and memorable. And don’t intimidate anyone with your high-brow vocabulary. D0n’T F3eL t#3 neEd +o C0mPL!c@t3 UR username (it hurt my brain to even type that).

Profile photo

Profiles that have only one photo will be hard to prove authentic, so post at least three current (taken within six months, one year at the most) front-facing pictures (and only entertain suitors who do the same). One should at least show your face clearly, another should reveal a full or almost-full body shot (don’t crop out your head). Believe me, one of the things people lie most about is their looks and it’s way too easy to do – if you feel like you have to resort to creative photo editing to piece together your dating profile, then you’re probably not suited for it. If someone sees your picture and moves on, then a real-life relationship probably wouldn’t work anyway. And you, like anyone else, are allowed to be picky about this too. 

dating online profile pictureMake sure your main profile photo is just you – no companions, no pets, no sunglasses, no props, no distractions. (Note: Don’t make a photo of you with the opposite sex your default pic. That should go without saying, but just know it sends the wrong message.) Feel free to showcase your personality through additional photos. Do not post any MySpace bathroom mirror photos. 

Location

Don’t lie. If you’re in the Philippines, say you’re in the Philippines. Even though you’re sort of sick of dating people in your area and would like to branch out, misrepresenting yourself through location is not a good idea – a lot of people are on online dating sites precisely because they are looking for dates in their area. You will be doing them a huge disservice by lying. If you want to attract people from other parts of the world, you can mention that in your description, which we’ll get to next.

Description

You want to be as unique as possible in this area of your dating profile. This is your chance to tell the online dating world about who you are … so do it! Mention important hobbies. Veer away from adjectives like “simple” or “down to earth” or “laid-back,” get a little more specific than that. Instead of describing yourself in adjectives, you can reference a memory or things you do that best describes you; i.e.:

“I am the type of gal who listens to Queen loudly on headphones at work; I am also the type of gal who accidentally yells out the lyrics of “We Will Rock You” in the middle of a quiet office and doesn’t notice that the entire workforce is looking strangely at her.”

This type of description is creative and makes you stand out a little, and also offers clues about what type of person you are. 

Oh, and another important thing to note: Run your bio through a spell checker, please. There’s nothing more embarrassing than a flurry of typos.

You also use ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ lists to describe yourself – just don’t go on and on. Mention random preferences about music, movies, TV shows, books, websites, food, vacations – anything that would interest you about another person. You are less likely to get skipped over by those perusing your profile if you go right ahead and mention actual artists, specific book titles, and the like. It is also easier to spot similarities and conversation starters through lists – back when I was still in the online dating game, anybody who mentioned Dave Matthews Band and The Princess Bride (book or movie or both) was worth talking to at least once.

If you are a Potterhead or a Whovian, by all means, mention that as well. These sorts of details will definitely provide you with a more pruned down match list.

An important thing to note, though: Although it is important to be as descriptive as you can about yourself, don’t feel obligated to reveal every single quirk you have – leave some mystery. 

If you have to mention pet peeves, do it sparingly. You don’t want to seem too nitpicky or unintentionally exclude too many people – it’s better to keep your profile on the positive. Also, refrain from talking in the third person or resorting to sarcasm – it rarely translates well online.

End your write-up with an invitation to continue the get-to-know process through a private message or chat. That’s it! It wasn’t so terrible, was it? 

Oh, and another important thing to note: Run your bio through a spell checker, please. There’s nothing more embarrassing than a flurry of typos. 

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