Person on their phone looking at an online dating profile. how to be successful online dating.

Online dating is complex and challenging: Making a profile, messaging someone new, and avoiding online red flags are all tough skills to master, and it can be discouraging when things don’t go well right away. 

As an online dating coach, I’ve helped hundreds of clients who came to me feeling discouraged after their first attempts at online dating, worried that they would never find the one

So, if you’re feeling hurt, confused, or even outraged at the current state of the dating world, if you’re wondering “What am I doing wrong?” then this dating advice might be for you.

How to Date Online

It’s Not You…It’s Your Dating Platform

Before we talk about profiles and messaging, let’s take a step back and look at dating platforms in general.

But where do you start? Is it better to use an app or a website, and which app or which website? We’ve barely begun our dating journey and already there are hundreds of platforms to choose from. But with a few insider tips, you can figure out which site is right for you — here’s how.

Let’s start with websites vs. apps.

The biggest difference between using an app like Tinder or a website like OkCupid is that dating sites are usually a little more in-depth. A website might ask you to fill out an online questionnaire, or make a financial commitment to sign up: these platforms are usually better for people who are serious about finding a relationship. 

Apps — on the other hand — require almost no commitment. All you need are some profile pictures and witty answers, and you’re good to go. Apps are better for people who are looking for a casual hookup, or aren’t that serious about meeting someone new. 

So when it comes to platforms, apps aren’t better than websites, or vice versa. The important thing is to know what you are looking for and to choose a site or an app that matches your interests. 

Side-note: I often encourage people to join more than one platform to expand the pool of people they meet, and get a little more experience with online dating in general.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Ok, so you’ve chosen your platform, now let’s talk about dating profiles. Dating profiles are intimidating – they’re intimidating to create and they’re intimidating to read. One of the biggest challenges in online dating is not becoming intimidated by what you see, and to take everything online with a grain of salt

Remember, we all want to put our best foot forward — especially when it comes to meeting someone new — so expect to see some embellishments on other people’s dating profiles.

Think of profiles like first impressions: you’re seeing someone at their best — which gives you a lot of information — but you don’t have a full picture of them as a person yet.

So don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t assume that what you read in someone’s profile is completely true. However, you also shouldn’t discount what the profile says because it seems too good to be true. While the personality questionnaire may not be 100 percent accurate, it might at least give you some idea of who that person is — or at least who they aspire to be.

Use people’s dating profiles as a jumping-off point to get to know them, but don’t judge them too harshly based on the answers they filled out.

Finding Your Perfect Match: More Than a Questionnaire 

Another thing I see my clients struggle with is questionnaire matching: you want to find the person whose answers are the most similar to yours.

And it’s true, one of the wonderful things about dating sites is that they pair you with people of similar interests, but their algorithms aren’t foolproof.

Don’t discount a potential match because your “match rating” is lower than others. Dating requires getting to know people — talking, listening, and seeing them for who they are – in order to be successful. You might find your questionnaire answers have less impact on your compatibility than you think.

There are a few other things you can do to ensure you have a good chance of finding the perfect match. 

  1. Have a great profile.
  2. Know what you’re looking for. 
  3. Have a positive mindset about dating
  4. Have a positive mindset about yourself to feel confident dating
  5. Identify your shortcomings when it comes to dating and taking steps to improve upon them.
  6. And, obviously, be willing to go on lots of dates!

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Your Dating Profile is YOUR First Impression

Don’t forget, your dating profile is your first impression too! But making one can be as intimidating as seeing others, so here are some tips to help you get started:

  1. Include good-quality and thoughtfully-chosen pictures.

The pictures on your profile may be the only thing someone looks at, so make sure each picture has a purpose and gives people some information about you (leave the bathroom mirror selfies in the camera roll!)

It should also be easy to identify who you are in the photo (keep it simple: don’t include a bunch of group photos.)

For more tips on taking outstanding dating profile pictures, you can take a note from a Denver Dating Coach and learn how to get the best online dating profile photo.

  1. Share something unique, interesting, and important.

Your profile should help people start conversations with you, so share things about you that help them do that!

Saying “I like dogs and beach volleyball” might be an easy way to plan your first date, but ultimately it doesn’t tell people anything about who you are. Take a risk, say something heartfelt and make a connection!

  1. Don’t complain.

I cannot stress this enough, don’t complain — and especially don’t complain about how much you hate online dating in your profile (you’d be surprised at how often this happens.) 

For a complete guide to creating an online dating profile, you can follow advice from a dating coach.

These tips should help you find quality and matches in no time! Next comes the hard part: messaging. When messaging others, always ask specific questions or comment on something about their profile, and don’t ever start a conversation with nothing but a “hey.”

Your First Dates

Once you’ve matched with someone you like and messaged for a while, it’s time to go on some dates. But be careful, you’re not in the clear yet. Managing expectations and navigating hookup culture can be tricky, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your first few dates.

Remember, some people on dating apps are just looking for casual hookups or brief interactions, and that’s fine, but it can be hard to come off as fun and flirty when you know that you and your date just aren’t looking for the same thing. 

To avoid getting mismatched interests, be honest about what you are looking for in your profile. If you want a serious relationship, then don’t engage in behavior that is consistent with hookup culture: meeting up late at night, texting when drinking, etc. 

Most importantly, relax. The first date is just a test-run, you’re there to find out if you get along with this person. If you do click, then you can worry about a second date, or a third. Enjoy getting to know people without interrogating them about future plans on the first date to avoid coming off as desperate. Be patient, these things take time.

Beware of the Bright Red Flag 

Let’s move on to how to avoid two of the worst things about online dating: ghosting and endless messaging.

We’ll start with ghosting, because it’s the worst. On the bright side, it’s also easy to avoid. If someone routinely takes days or weeks to respond to you, or doesn’t respond at all, it’s time to find someone new. People who are committed to finding a relationship tend to be responsive and make themselves available.

Endless messaging is trickier to spot, because when you’re talking to someone all the time it can feel like you’re making progress. But the truth is that people who are really looking for a partner don’t want a pen pal. Limit your messaging to a couple of days and then find a time to meet in person (in public), that way you don’t waste time messaging someone for weeks only to find out that there is no real connection when face to face.

Dealbreakers – What Matters Most

Everyone has their own dealbreakers. The important thing is that you know what YOUR dealbreakers are before you begin dating. Maybe it’s politics, or religion, or chewing too loudly. Whatever it is, make sure you don’t make allowances during your first dates that might land you in a bad long-term situation.

If you are looking for a serious relationship, you have to be honest with yourself about what works and doesn’t work for you. To say, “Oh, I can grow to love that about them,” or “It’s not that big of a deal, really” will only hurt you in the long run. 

Dating More Than One Person at a Time

Ok, so you’ve spruced up your profile, matched with some interesting people, and navigated the first few conversations successfully. Now you may be wondering, “Is it ok to date more than one of these people at the same time?”

The answer depends on your dating history. 

If you tend to jump into relationships quickly and put all your eggs in one basket, then you’re better off dating multiple people at once. If, on the other hand, you struggle with commitment issues, then dating lots of people might support that avoidance behavior and it might time to try dating one person at a time

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to go about online dating – just show up as your honest self and be true to that self throughout the process. 

When things start to feel like “too much,” know it’s okay to walk away, and if things start to “fit,” then move forward. The wonderful thing about dating is you get to choose how you’ll move forward or when you’ll walk away based on your wants and needs. 

Here’s to you and your online dating adventures!

Jessica S., MA, LMFT

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