You’ve overcome your lack of confidence, your worries about getting duped, and all the other common online-dating fears that have kept you out of the game. You’ve read my recent primer on getting started with Internet dating. You’ve sorted through many ads, applying the recommended techniques for recognizing “red-flaggers.” At this point you may have found someone whose profile appeals to you, or maybe someone who sounds appealing has written to you. Now what?

First, develop a thick skin. Right from the start you must learn to chalk it up to kismet if someone doesn’t write back. The man-to-woman ratio is usually stacked in favor of the former, and many men you write to will not respond simply because of the sheer volume of inquiries they get.

But there are other reasons they don’t respond. The person you are writing to may already be involved with someone (in which case he should make his profile  “inactive,” but people don’t always get around to doing that quickly enough). He could be away, busy, or otherwise engaged. (Sometimes someone will respond to an inquiry after a long delay for one of these reasons.) You may be mystified that you haven’t gotten a response; however, the perplexing silence is not a reflection of your value, but of the other person’s situation—this was simply not meant to be.

Stay hopeful. Nevertheless, it can be discouraging and hurtful if a long time goes by without your making a connection. This can be one of the biggest challenges of Internet dating—how to remain optimistic without letting your fantasies get the better of you, leaving you vulnerable to hurt and disappointment. I recommend that you plan on a very low yield—figure that for every connection you attempt, there is only a 10% chance that it will lead to a date. It’s important that you stick to your quest and try to cast as wide a net as good judgment will allow.

What do you say when you’ve been contacted? I recommend following some of the dictates of polite social intercourse. If you are initiating the dialogue, ask yourself what interested you in this man’s profile. Mention that topic, and follow up on it (for instance, “You mentioned Greece—I’ve been there a few time, too. What was your favorite spot?”) These innocuous questions can be icebreakers that lead to more revealing details and more intimate discourse. This is also a time when you can either show some humor, testing the other’s responsiveness, or even attempt to be vaguely flirtatious. (I don’t recommend writing a flirty profile, however, lest it attract the wrong element.)

At this point, some potential candidates will lose out by revealing something that’s unattractive to you, or because they sound a lot weirder than they did in their profile. However, if your prospective date passes this first test, the next issue is whether to continue emailing or move ahead to phone contact—or even to meeting in person.

Only fools rush in. Many men want to leap into face-to-face contact, citing the ineffable element of “chemistry” (read: sexual attraction). Eager as you may be to meet, it is at this point that some essential vetting process should occur. Question, gently, some of the details of your date’s biography, history, background to see if it sounds plausible and hangs together.

One of my clients who had a very successful Internet contact  (leading to marriage) may serve as a useful example. She is someone who, raised in a country rife with political oppression, had very strong feelings about freedom vs. oppression. She met someone online who seemed like-minded, as well as compatible in other ways. When she started corresponding with him, she was able to establish that they knew a number of people in common, partly as a result of their shared values. She found this very reassuring, since she was a newcomer to Internet dating.

The Internet is good at making unlikely matches. This case also illustrates another important advantage that online dating offers. Although this couple had these friends/acquaintances in common, none of their mutual contacts had any idea that either was looking for a partner. Left alone, their friends would never have come up with the idea of introducing them. In fact, Internet dating allows a much greater sorting process than traditional methods might allow. While The New Yorker’s “Looking for Someone,” last July, accurately surmises that this process can “turn people into products,” everyone knows that surveying what’s widely available gives shoppers a more accurate sense of what’s on the market, and, more important, what’s appealing to them.

Stumbling on happiness. Internet dating is like setting out to buy a house. House-hunters will begin with some sense of what style they want, how much they can spend, what area appeals to them. However, the process often helps shape their vision as they go along. The more they see, the more their vision becomes refined. You may discover, through your Internet quest, that what you thought you liked isn’t leading you to discover what you find appealing in reality. (See Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard researcher who demonstrates that people actually have very little idea what makes them happy, and often are surprised by this.)

Open-mindedness is key. While it’s true that as we age we usually have a clearer sense of our likes and dislikes, you may be surprised if you really explore. And, if you are like most people, you have probably made a good share of mistakes in the romance department—in which case trying something new makes a certain amount of sense.

Next: Internet Dating 404: Getting Together

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