This first chapter covers the basics you need to know before beginning to date online. It will give you a framework of the whole process, help you understand why online dating is a good idea, show you where you might be getting stuck and how to get unstuck. It also outlines for you the Seven Stages of Online Dating.
Introduction, Part One: Why we like online dating
We really believe that online dating is a wonderful thing. Here’s why.
It meets society’s changing needs
In the past, finding love meant recognising which girl or boy in your village you were most attracted to; you’d known them since childhood and so when you both reached marriageable age, you paired off – and that was it for life. Nowadays, however, because of shifting relationship patterns and higher divorce rates, we have not just one but several stages in our lives where we want to find love – yet we live in fluctuating communities, we live busy lives, and we have less opportunity to meet potential partners. Online dating – with its ease, convenience and huge numbers – has stepped up to fill that gap.
You get a wider choice of partners
One of the main blocks to finding love is always the number of prospective partners. Once you’re out of your teenage years – when almost everyone is single – then very few people you meet in an average week are available. And once you cut out those you don’t get on with (and those who don’t get on with you) the number of potential partners you’re left with may be tiny. Online dating is good because it gives you a huge pool of possibles from whom to choose; figures suggest that over 2 billion people worldwide have tried online dating, and in April 2011 alone, sites were accessed by 25 million unique users.
You meet more people genuinely looking for love
There are certainly some people online – male and female – who are just there for short-term fun and not serious dating. But all our research suggests that unless you’re on a site that is specifically targeted for casual relationships, most people are sincerely seeking commitment. One problem with ‘real life’ is that while you may meet people you’re attracted to, it’s often unclear whether they are available and searching too, and therefore whether you should engage. Online, however, everyone you connect with has a similar agenda to yours, so you can be upfront about what you want.
You get to know more
The best websites allow you to exchange lots of information, see photos and email before you meet. So you get far more hard information about potential partners than if you had met casually in a pub or social setting. Obviously you will need personal contact to know if there’s chemistry – and sometimes the fact that you meet online means you imagine character traits that aren’t actually there – but overall, online dating gives you a firm basis for choosing a partner.
You get more chance to say no
If you meet someone face-to-face, feel attracted to them, arrange a date, then spend time with them (or even spend the night with them!) it can be quite hard to then say you’re not interested. With online dating, the minute you sense that things aren’t going to work out with someone, you can let them go. It’s a much easier task because it’s all being done at a distance. Yes, there are disadvantages to being able to let go of people so easily – but there are also huge advantages to being able to move on when you know there’s no future in a relationship. Online, there’s likely to be much less embarrassment, less guilt, less recrimination.
You get to practise partnership
This is one of the things we particularly like about online dating – especially if you come to it after leaving a long-term relationship. It lets you ease yourself back into dating and practise that with several people before you find the right one for you. Over your several ‘trial runs’, you will discover what you like and don’t like in a partner. You will get exposed to ‘bad behaviour’ and learn what not to do. You will also meet courteous and kind behavior, and so learn what works. Yes, online dating can be an emotional roller coaster, but it’s also a crash course in learning about yourself, about other people, and about how to love.
Introduction, Part Two: Where you might be getting stuck
We’ve learned through running our courses and working with our coaching clients that each person will get stuck in different ways, and at different stages in the online dating journey. Your weakest link in the whole process will limit your effectiveness in finding your partner.
This is why we think it’s a good idea to consider coaching, especially if you feel stuck. Yes, these notes give you basic tips and advice – but personal coaching with us is tailored to your personal weakest links, giving you the specific skills to deal with these weak links and find your partner. If you’re new to online dating, coaching can guide you through each stage and help you to sidestep the elephant traps. If you’ve already been online dating, but without success, coaching can help you pinpoint where you’ve been getting stuck and help you overcome problems.
These are seven main stages where we have found people get stuck. Here is a summary of the stages so you know what they are – the rest of these guidelines then go into far greater detail, showing how to be successful at each stage of your journey.
Stage 1: Laying the Foundations
If a person isn’t actually ready to date, they can find they’re losing energy for the process, making bad choices, and end up with a constant succession of mismatched partners.
The way to get unstuck here is to explore why and how you aren’t ready. This may mean emotional preparation such as healing your broken heart, getting back your lost self-esteem, regaining confidence that there’s someone out there for you. It may mean practical preparation, freeing up the essential time and energy for the task ahead. (Some people prefer to forge ahead with dating anyway, and before resolving these issues. We find this seldom works)
Stage 2: Getting Clear
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.
Stage 3: Setting out Your Stall
Many people find that they’re not making enough connections, getting enough responses, or finding the right kind of potential partners.
The way to get unstuck here is to choose the right website from all the many available. Next, you need a photo, profile and partner specification that genuinely reflects who you are and attracts the best kind of match for you. This takes self-awareness as well as some writing ability!
Stage 4: Making Connections
Some people get stuck at the stage where they’re responding to approaches, texting or emailing potential partners. They may get lots of contacts, but with people who don’t seem suitable, or who don’t follow through.
The way to get unstuck here is to develop your ability at judging whether there’s a fit between you and potential partners. It’s also vital to be proactive in making new connections, to be kind in letting people go when they’re not suitable, and to be emotionally resilient when rejected; you’ll find resilience far easier with a supportive friend or dating buddy.
Stage 5: Starting to Talk
When emails turn into phone calls, things are definitely moving on. But even here, people can get log-jammed so that the connection ends there – or leads to face-to-face meetings that are a waste of time.
The way to get unstuck here is to realise that online dating phone conversations are fundamentally different from other social phone calls. To succeed, you need to learn slightly new skills – not only of talking and listening, but of judging whether it’s worthwhile taking things further.
Stage 6: Meeting Up
However much rapport there’s been up to now, the first meeting with a potential partner is often the last meeting because face-to-face there’s no chemistry. That’s normal – but too many walk-away experiences means that something’s wrong.
The way to get unstuck here is partly to look back at how you’re deciding whom to meet. Perhaps you’re not being choosy enough and are arranging dates with people who have no partner potential. Or it could be that you’re nervous or uncomfortable and don’t come over well in face-to-face situations. In either case you need to learn how to change what you’re doing.
Stage 7: Finding Your Loved One
This stage marks the shift from online to ‘real life’ – and that can be a challenge as partners get to know each other and find out whether there’s real compatibility.
The way to get unstuck here is to manage the shift successfully by keep your expectations realistic as you get to know each other’s faults as well as strengths.
But if you’ve moved through Stages 1-6 successfully, refining your criteria, carefully letting go of unsuitable partners and focusing on finding someone who is right for you, then this final stage has a real chance of success.
A note about online dating buddies
If you’re not receiving online dating coaching we strongly recommend that you find a buddy as you start your online dating journey. This could be a friend, a family member, a parent, or an adult child. You need someone ‘in your corner’, who can help you realise your own strengths, focus you on finding a worthy partner, keep you buoyant in the face of rejection, and celebrate with you when you meet success. Because of this, we include a section at the end of these guidelines specifically aimed to support your dating buddy.
Introduction, Part Three: Some things you’ll need to learn
Over the time we’ve been running online dating courses and coaching online daters, we’ve realised that there are some things that everyone needs to learn about the process – things that they probably don’t already know, even if they’ve been dating offline for a while.
This is because online dating is a new phenomenon. It works differently from ‘real life’, and as individuals, and as a society, we’re still struggling to use it successfully. And that means everyone – you and the potential partners you meet online – is on a steep learning curve. Everyone makes mistakes.
So here are some things it’s good for you to know when you date online. Realising these things will help you use the process well – and understand and cope with the times when others make mistakes and seem to mess you about.
You need to start only when you’re ready
It’s so easy to log on, sign up, browse and take your pick. But because it’s so easy, people can jump on board unprepared emotionally and practically. So you may find yourself wobbling over partner choice or undermining your success simply because you’re not actually ready to date. And you may find others wobbling over you or letting you down because they’re not actually ready either. Better to be over your last relationship, to have the time and energy to spare for a new one, to feel confident in yourself and to be optimistic rather than cynical about potential partners.
You need to have realistic expectations
Online sites sell a dream – of instant and guaranteed romance. What they’re offering may sound wonderful but it’s unusual to find love at once. So you may find yourself getting your hopes up, expecting the perfect partner to appear at once just by tapping your keyboard – and then being disappointed when they don’t. Or, you may find others expect you to be the perfect partner and then sulk when you aren’t. Better to expect to kiss an awful lot of frogs before you find your prince or princess. (At the same time, don’t aim too low – you deserve the best partner possible.
You need to not take ‘rejection’ personally
There is a sense in which the entire online dating process involves giving and receiving rejections right up until you find a suitable partner. So it’s important to learn to give and receive every ‘no thank you’ as lightly and positively as possible. Every ‘no’ is an essential step in speeding you on your way to finding the right partner for you. This is part of learning to enjoy the process and maintain your morale. (Remember that to succeed, you must above all find ways of keeping yourself motivated.)
You need to avoid the ‘shopping’ trap
The huge choice of partners you get online is a big advantage – but research suggests that it’s also a trap. Given too much choice, humans can get mentally overwhelmed, and that leads to bad decision-making and a ‘shopping’ mentality. You can end up judging on simple information – such as age or height – which isn’t relevant to in-depth compatibility. You can get to a point where you simply ‘read and reject’, without bothering to find out whether a potential partner is really right for you. And you may find yourself unwilling to move ahead with any one partner because you feel there might be someone else more suitable out there. Better to develop strategies to hone your choices so that you are making good decisions.
You need to get involved slowly and steadily
Online dating can be really, really exciting! The instant communication means that everything may move quickly and intensely, and you may open your heart in a way you’ve rarely done before. The whole thing is adrenalin-driven. Before you know it – and way before you’ve met – you’re in love with someone you’ve found online. So you may find yourself emotionally gutted when you have a first phone call with the person you’ve been emailing for weeks and realise they’re not right for you. Or you may find yourself gutted when you meet the person you’ve been emailing for weeks and they realise you’re not right for them. Better to take things slowly and steadily, if you can, so you can more easily let go if it’s clear that you’re not suited. If you can’t go slow, be prepared for an emotional roller coaster. (This is where supportive friends, or even better a dating buddy, can be really useful.)
You need to both give and receive information
In terms of hard information – facts, figures, aims and values – you initially get far more online than you would on a first meeting with someone in real life. But that’s rarely enough to create a good relationship. So you may make decisions about potential partners and then realise too late that you didn’t know enough about them to make the right call. And you may find that others decide they don’t want you (or do want you but for the wrong reasons) long before they really get to know you. Better to gather – and give out – as much information as you can, to ensure compatibility long term.
You need to move quickly to meeting up
Plus, even though online dating gives you huge amounts of information about a partner, it may not give you the right kind of information early enough in the process. The definitive psychological model (developed by Givens 1978) of how partners are attracted to each other shows that it is largely down to what happens with personal contact; it’s only with face-to-face meeting that you can really judge whether you could love someone. Online dating postpones this personal contact; partners can spend weeks, months – or even years – interacting before they meet. Better to cut this process short and interact with potential partners sooner rather than later.
You need to learn how to make good endings
There’s so much choice online that you can end up with many connections. But if those connections aren’t working, you need to break them; you should expect to let people go – and expect to be let go – many times. But it’s hard to tell someone you don’t want them – so you may find you don’t do it, hanging on when you know there’s no future. Or you may find you do it badly, sending out unclear messages or cutting off abruptly. Plus, you may also find other people cutting contact in a way that’s thoughtless or even cruel. Better to learn ways of ending things well, and to learn to ride with the blows when someone ends things with you. This too, we will cover.