When I found myself single after 32 years of marriage, I vacillated between delight and despondency. After three years on my own, I tentatively approached online dating, and numerous coffee date debacles taught me a lot.

Online dating is like grocery shopping: read labels carefully, then proceed with caution. After ten years of plowing through Match.com profiles, both clever and dull, I like to share some tips for those of you launching into this intimidating arena.

Though I write as a woman searching for a man, my advice applies if you’re looking for a same-sex partner as well.

 
 

Before you start though, accept the fact that you probably won’t find the right partner right away. It takes some work, and the truth is – Ya gotta kiss a lotta frogs.

Know That a Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Look beyond that first smiling mug shot. If the rest of his photos are cars, trucks and motorcycles, prepare to play second fiddle to them. Of course, if you enjoy car shows and motorcycle rallies, go for it!

Is he smiling or serious? A smile speaks for itself, while a serious expression… well, some serious men are deep, deep, deep. Others are just plain downers.

Do his photos show him interacting with family or friends? If they do, he’s probably socially engaged, which most women prefer. Either that or his daughters posted his profile.

Lots of tattoos? If you don’t mind tattoos, ask for a close-up photo. Whether it’s “MOTHER” printed in a heart, a skull and crossbones or Bart Simpson, tattoos speak volumes about values.

Photos say more about a person than any well-crafted profile, especially since many guys have someone else write their profiles.

Read What He Didn’t Say in His Profile

Beware of stock descriptions and note what’s out of the ordinary.

Example One:

“I love the outdoors and want a woman to sit by the fire with a glass of wine or walk the beach holding hands.”

Gak! Though these sentiments sound sweet, they don’t show much imagination – too many profiles include these lines. Who doesn’t like walking on a beach?

Loving the outdoors might mean mowing and raking the yard, hunting and fishing or skiing through a snow-draped forest. If you’re interested, ask for details.

Example Two:

“Car person, have a couple I am working on. golf, read, walk, bike, NASCAR, Twins”

If you can get past the grammar mistakes – which speak for themselves – this fellow is a busy guy doing guy things. Are these the activities you want to share?

Ask him how much time he has for another person. If you’re looking for someone verbal, this might not be your man.

Look for Traits in His Writing Style

Try to detect a sense of humor, warmth, exuberance and sociability.

Example One:

“I can still feed myself! Looking for someone to chat with, Walks, talk, pen-pal/friendship, coffee, someone down to earth, not someone looking at their phone all the time.”

I like the “feed myself” line – good humor. It looks like he values communication, at least person-to-person. Few of us like being with people tied to their phones, but what do you think about a man who puts his pet peeves right up front? Would he be difficult to please?

Example Two:

“I have a kind and gentle soul, but don’t make the mistake of thinking I am weak. I have a quick wit, and I am easy to talk to. I like the outdoors, photography, painting, flea markets, estate sales, I like the beautiful things in life, pretty ladies, autumn leaves, little babies. I love music and reading.

I would like to share the love of nature and all God has to offer.”

This is a man who has many interests and seems to know himself. I wonder, though, why he included the comment about liking pretty ladies. Does he have a wandering eye? The mention of God points to a religious bent, a gentle indicator from this gentleman.

Example Three:

“How does a regular guy seriously looking for a real woman post an ad that will garner attention in this potpourri of ads, be read & elicit a response from a decent quality woman on this site with all these stupid & sexual ads – and that’s putting it nicely!”

To be sure, this fellow sounds frustrated. His writing style, though, shows intelligence, so I’d read on. Big words – so, we’re dealing with no dummy. It’s hard to imagine dating someone so cheap he’ll only post on Craig’s List, though, a minefield of tacky posts.

Be Wise About Meetings and Sharing Information

Once you find someone who interests you, proceed with caution. Choose public meeting places and don’t share your address until you’ve met this person a few times and feel confident in his integrity.

If you look carefully at profiles and read between the lines, you’ll save yourself a lot of time as well as some coffee date debacles. You might even find someone worth pursuing.

After being single for ten years, I finally found a partner. He was introduced to me by a previous Match connection who stayed in touch (after dropping me for a younger woman). Who knew?

Have you had any experience with online dating sites? What are some tips you’d like to share? Please join the conversation!

Ann Marie MershonA retired English teacher, Ann Marie Mershon lives on a lake in northern Minnesota with her husband, Jerry, and their two dogs. She’s published three books as well as numerous articles and columns. You can read about her years of teaching in Istanbul on her blog.

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