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Rules of Engagement: The Do’s and Don’ts of Digital Dating

digital dating

Let’s be honest, there’s something appealing about meeting a potential love interest while wearing sweat pants and stuffing your face with pizza on the couch. So it comes as little surprise that digital dating is popular among young adults. With the right mix of strategically chosen photos and a witty bio, your profile does the work for you.

There’s no way around it: our society has gone digital. Technology has encroached into every aspect of our lives. And yes, that includes our love lives — from matching with new connections through apps to planning dates over iMessage. Even relationships are introduced to the world through perfectly cropped photos of the new couple on Instagram.

For millennials especially, it seems that the days of meeting people in coffee shops and getting to know one another across a table are relics of the past. But millennials and Gen-Xers alike find it hard to avoid digital influence as they navigate the dating world. In fact, according to the online dating website eHarmony.com, 40 percent of single Americans use dating apps, while 20 percent of committed relationships began online. In 2015, 7 percent of marriages were between couples who met on a dating app or website.

The perspective on dating began to shift in 1995 when the online dating service Match.com was launched. Suddenly, the computer screen acted as a buffer that took the intimidation factor out of meeting people. It came with the chance to type — and then rethink and retype — pick-up lines before making an introduction. If even the most well-planned greetings were met with rejection, there was likely another match waiting to immediately try again with.

As other sites such as OK Cupid, eHarmony and Plenty of Fish followed in Match’s footsteps, first impressions became based on perfectly crafted profiles rather than trying to understand someone in an overcrowded, noisy bar. More and more sites cropped up, some catering to specific races, ages and sexual orientations. Fast forward to 2018, and dating websites were joined by cellphone apps such as Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and Coffee Meets Bagel. These apps allow users to swipe “yes” or “no” on potential matches while hardly lifting a finger.

Some might argue that the mere act of swiping through these apps is superficial, overtaking any real potential to get to know someone. But for others — at least those hopeful enough to keep at it — dating apps could be the ticket to meeting the love of one’s life.

It can be tricky to navigate the liking, swiping and sharing that this new relationship culture entails. There are no formal rules mandating how to be successful at online dating; no formulas for finding your perfect match. Much like dating in the olden days, there’s a lot of trial and error involved. But there are a handful of unwritten, universally accepted dos and don’ts of dating in the digital age. Here’s what to keep in mind as you craft your profile and enter the online dating world.

DO

Use your profile to show what makes you unique — Avoid clichés. Instead, opt to tell potential matches something funny or interesting about yourself, but keep it vague enough to make them want to know more.

DON’T

Lie on your profile or use outdated photos — Lying about your height, appearance or interests doesn’t do anyone any good. Once you meet in person and start getting to know someone, the truth comes out quickly and your lies can end up hurting both you and your date. Use photos that look like you, and don’t use a group photo as your main picture. Make it easy for other users to see who you are. Online dating is all about at-a-glance impressions, after all.

DO

Go into it with an open mind and optimism — If you’re joining a dating app, don’t join with a negative attitude. It’s important to join with the confidence that you’re going to meet interesting people. On a similar note, it’s best to avoid bringing past relationships into your online dating venture. That includes talking about exes or using photos with an ex cropped out. Think of creating your profile as a fresh start and leave the former flames at the door.

DON’T

Feel obligated to get to know everyone you match with — If you liked someone’s profile, but change your mind after you match, or you’ve sent a few messages back and forth, yet something feels off, it’s perfectly okay to put a stop to the conversation.

DO

Know what you’re looking for and be up front about it — Whether you’re looking for commitment or something more casual, don’t lead others on. That said, it’s always okay to change your mind.

DON’T

Be afraid to ask questions — You’re on these apps to meet a potential romantic partner. However, there’s a fine line between coming on too aggressively and learning what you need to know to decide if someone is worth pursuing. As a rule of thumb, talking about children, marriage, politics and controversial social issues with someone you haven’t met in person usually scares them off quickly. Instead, start with more lighthearted inquiries and as the conversation progresses, work your way up to harder-hitting questions.

DON’T

Chat through the app for weeks or months without meeting in person — Months of surface-level conversation doesn’t benefit either party. It should take a lot less time to feel confident in either wanting to get to know someone on a deeper level or deciding you’re not that into them.

DO

Proceed with caution if you decide to meet in person — It’s wonderful that you’ve connected with someone, but keep safety in mind any time you meet a stranger in person. Meet in a public place, take your own transportation and let a friend know where you’re going. It may seem like overkill, but anyone worth continuing to see will respect that safety is a priority for you.

DON’T

Get down on yourself if things don’t progress past a first date — Part of the appeal of online dating culture is having a seemingly limitless pool of potential partners at your fingertips. Some people use the apps to meet as many people as they can, and those same people likely end up on a lot of first dates trying to test the waters. Sometimes you’ll enjoy a date that the other person didn’t, and vice versa. When that happens, take a day off from the apps and be kind to yourself, then decide if you want to keep trying.

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