Stage 2: Getting Clear


In this second stage of the online dating process, you need to decide what you want from a partner and from a relationship. This section helps you make those decisions…


If a person spreads the net too wide online, they can get confused, dissatisfied, and waste huge amounts of time contacting anyone and everyone – but not finding the right one.
The way to get unstuck here is to put thought into what kind of partner and relationship you want. In particular, you’ll need to identify your deal breakers – and to let go of any partner who doesn’t fulfill your essentials.
Once you’re really prepared for online dating, your next step is to get clear about what you’re looking for.

And in order to get clear, expect to go deep. Most of us when we think of a partner think of the obvious things – age, appearance, job, background. These may be important, but they certainly aren’t going to be what makes for true compatibility between you and your eventual match. Here are our guidelines for deciding on what you need.


Don’t ignore website criteria, but go deeper

The criteria listed on websites – such as whether you want a partner who drinks or smokes, whether you’re after a fling or marriage – are a great first step for deciding what you want. So yes, consider them carefully and tick the boxes that are right for you. But these elements are only a first step; you should also delve deeper. What personality characteristics in a potential partner do you feel will help you thrive? What interests do you have that you’ll want them to enjoy too? What values do you need them to have, if you’re to be happy with them? What kind of interaction do you like?


Don’t specify the person, imagine the relationship

Simply deciding what you want in a partner isn’t quite enough; in fact, it may be a distraction. We find it works better to think instead about the relationship you want a potential partner to create with you. What you would talk about, what you would do together, what might be your shared hopes and dreams? It’ll help to look at the relationships you see around you and notice what you would want to include (or not) in your future partnership. 


Don’t compromise; be clear about your needs

Particularly if you feel insecure about your chances of finding a partner, it’s tempting to be over-general in your spec – surely the wider you cast your net the more likely you are to find a partner? In fact, it doesn’t work quite that way. Rather, the clearer you are, the more you’re going to catch the attention of someone who fits the bill, and the less time you will spend having to turn away people who simply aren’t suitable. Success here is less about finding the right one than about discouraging the wrong ones.


Don’t be too flexible; specify your deal breakers

Everyone has one or two criteria that simply aren’t negotiable. You may need a partner who is of a certain religion… who accepts that you have children… who understands your passion for work… who is committed to fidelity. And if you get together with a partner who doesn’t meet these needs, then however strong your attraction at the start, in the end it will fade. Best not to go there; best to be clear up front that these are deal breakers. (NB, however, more than three to five deal breakers may mean you are putting up too many barriers to love; it may be better to rethink.)


Don’t be closed-minded; note only the important issues

Think carefully about whether you are saying an absolute ‘no’ to a criterion that actually isn’t so crucial for you. Being too specific on details such height, eye colour, earnings or profession will not only narrow your range, but will also give the impression you’re a picky person and therefore one who might not make a good partner. So don’t get too specific: it may be important that your partner is taller (or smaller) than you, but is it really vital that they are 5’11” precisely? The more open-minded you are over the non-essentials, the more room you give yourself to find someone compatible.


Don’t give old criteria; say what you want now

Particularly if your last relationship started decades ago, your criteria for a partner now may be totally different. Then, you wanted someone who would go skiing with you – but you gave up skiing. Then, you didn’t want children – now it’s your life aim. Then you loved your independence – but over the years companionship has become more important. Look around at your life and be clear about what kind of partner will suit the present-day you.


Don’t let past hurt intrude on present need

Where people often go wrong when putting together a partner profile is to remember what broke their heart last time and try desperately to avoid that. Problem is, desperation can come across as aggression or defensiveness, neither of which are attractive. Phrases like “no time-wasters!”, “no gold-diggers!” may put off those who waste time or dig for gold… but they also put off the perfectly innocent and well-meaning potential partners who sense hostility and run a mile.


Don’t go for instant answers: do stop and think things through

Complete your partner list slowly and carefully. We advise taking at least a week to refine your idea of what you need from a partner and a relationship. Begin with a brainstorm and over time refine it, taking elements away that you realise aren’t crucial and adding ones that you realise you need. Ask for the opinions of those who know you best. Expect to change your mind before you write your full partner profile – which we’ll deal with in the next section. (And expect to change your mind yet again as you date, and discover that what you thought you wanted isn’t always what you really need.)


PS: What you may have to cope with in potential partners

Most people you meet online won’t have had guidance on exploring what they want in a partner. So their partner profile won’t necessarily be a good guide to what will make a relationship work for them.

So read partner profiles carefully. Read between the lines, not only of that profile, but everything else they tell you about themselves. If all a person writes about is their interest in sport then even if they don’t say they want a partner who is a fan, they probably do. If a person stresses their love of family, it’s likely they’ll need a partner who is into family too.

Also be prepared for inconsistencies. The person who posts a first profile saying that they want to be in a committed relationship may be doing so because they feel alone after their divorce. As they start to date, they may discover that their real need is to have a few years of freedom before committing again. This is not to say that their first statement is a lie – it is to say that anyone you meet online may not really know their own mind. Online daters, like everyone else, may change their minds.