It’s easy to while away hours sifting through profiles and replying to emails when you’re looking for love online. Try these eight streamlining tactics instead — and spend less time surfing, more time dating!
Tip #1: Set limits
The sheer number of profiles online can be overwhelming... and you can wind up spending untold hours clicking on photos out of curiosity (“Hey, is that my college art-history professor? Or that the guy who used to date my sister’s best friend?”). How to best avoid getting lost in such go-nowhere pursuits? Rather than wasting time focusing on profiles of people you’d never actually date, try “handcuffing” yourself. Designate a limited block of time for reading profiles and responding to emails, then stick to it. “I used to sit at my computer reading postings and emailing... then I’d look up and three hours had gone by,” says Jordana, 26, of New York City. “So I started timing myself by the TV show I had on in the background. When the show’s over, I have to log off.” Not a TV person? Try setting a kitchen timer instead!
Tip #2: Define your dream date by describing him or her in your profile
Louis, 38, of Washington, D.C., recently plunged into online dating, setting his sights on D.C.-area women who were at least 5'6" and over age 35, with no upper age limit. Under “interests” and other descriptors of his perfect woman, he checked “Any.” Not surprisingly, Louis was flooded with many, many responses. The fix? Figure out exactly what you’re looking for rather than leaving those fields open. Be specific about your key needs, both when writing your profile and responding to others you’ve perused online. Still suffering from being overwhelmed with attention online? Use a keyword search to further narrow the field to people who share specific values or interests. If you’re Christian and it’s important to you to meet another person who shares your faith, search by that word; if you spend every possible free moment at art galleries, plug in words like “art” and “museum” when searching. The fact that you might at some time be willing to go wakeboarding or climb Mt. Everest with the love of your life really shouldn’t factor in at this stage of the game.
Tip #3: Hone in on people’s usernames, headlines and other user-created copy fields
Even with a strict list of requirements, you could be faced with hundreds of profile matches to weed through, so it helps to have a couple of quick ways to pick out your top contenders. One good way: zero in on the headlines and usernames. “I’m looking for someone with an irreverent sense of humor, who doesn’t take themselves too seriously,” says Tim, 32, of San Diego. “So a clichéd or tired headline like ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this’ or ‘Looking for my soul mate’ doesn’t cut it.”
Tip #4: Do let your eyes lead your search (well, sometimes, anyway!)
Yes, it feels shallow, but looks do count — a lot — for many people, so reviewing photos quickly can be a good sorting technique for many people. “In order for anyone to be The One, you’ll have to be physically and mentally attracted to them,” observes Roman Griffen, author of Internet Dating: Tips, Tricks, and Tactics. “There’s no need to read someone’s profile if you’re not attracted to this person physically.”
One way to make this work for you is to follow this plan: “I review profiles in ‘photo gallery’ format so I can see several at once,” says Kim, 35, from Annapolis, MD. “If I’m not grabbed by the picture, I may never get to the profile. Everyone is attracted to different qualities, so I don’t consider it a bad thing,” she says.
Tip #5: Don’t spread yourself too thin just to be "nice"
Remind yourself of what you’re really looking online for… because while developing a network of friends can be nice, it’s hardly your main goal. When Laura, 29, of Kansas City, MO, was an online-dating newbie, “I would write back to anyone who seemed ‘nice’ in his email to me, even if we had nothing in common, just to give him a chance,” she says. That tactic kept her mired in email exchanges with people who were perfectly friendly, but who set off no dating sparks at all.
The problem with this scenario is that you’ll wind up wasting time summarizing your life story, sharing your favorite books and movies, and perhaps explaining that unusual tattoo you alluded to in your profile over and over again. Instead, you want to be developing meaningful conversations with the cream of the online crop — your most promising contacts. So limit your responses to only those with real date potential. The experts suggest separating those who make it through your screening process into two categories — a “hot” box and a “wait and see” box. Those in the “hot” box are the ones you want to respond to first. You can always go back to the “wait and see” if a hot contender turns out to be, in truth, not lighting your fire.
Tip #6: You don’t need to reply to literally every email in your inbox
If someone emails you but his or her profile doesn’t grab you, it’s acceptable not to respond at all. “When I first started dating online, I thought it was polite to reply to every email I received just to say ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’” says Tim. “But even saying ‘no thanks’ sometimes opened the door to having an awkward email exchange that was a complete waste of my time.” For most people dating online, an unreturned email alone speaks volumes and no clarification is necessary. “No one needs dozens of rejection letters detailing all the ways in which you don’t mesh,” says Evan Marc Katz, online dating consultant, founder of E-Cyrano.com and author of I Can’t Believe I’m Buying This Book: A Commonsense Guide to Successful Internet Dating. “If you don’t respond, they get it.”
Tip #7: Say it simply when crafting your emails
You’ve decided to make contact with a couple of matches, but hours later, you’re still trying to compose the perfect introductory note. What to do? “People waste so much time laboring over what to say in an email, often to the point of deciding not to respond at all,” says Bacon. While first impressions do count, avoid getting stymied by this potential time-suck. Her advice? Keep it short (one or two paragraphs) and sweet. “Everyone loves a compliment, especially men, who rarely get them,” she says. “Use a little flattery, then tell them at least one thing that you like about their profile. Don’t go into your life story or relationship history.” Weaving in a question that plays off something in their profile can open the door to further email exchanges, too. Personalized touches like that show a real interest, versus the “I don’t really care” attitude of emails that are obviously cut and pasted.
Tip #8: Go ahead and meet someone in person, already!
Once someone has piqued your interest, swap just enough messages to validate your first impression: If you’re still interested after a few exchanges, avoid spending too much more time writing back and forth — pick up the phone to have a conversation and see if there’s off-line chemistry. There’s no surefire formula for success, time-wise: “It’s reasonable to exchange two emails, have two phone conversations, and meet all within about four days,” says Katz, though plenty of other people will stretch that out over two weeks.
And then, of course, there are those daters who prefer to really speed things up and skip the email exchanges altogether. “When I’m interested in someone, I email my number after a single exchange and tell him to call me,” Sara says. “On the phone, I’ll get a much better sense of whether we’ll hit it off.” Plus, that move weeds out people who just aren’t serious about meeting, she adds, which is definitely a way to improve one’s online dating efficiency… and that’s the whole point!
Jennifer Fields in a New York-based writer and editor.