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How to navigate the crazy world of online dating

Andrea is a dating and relationship expert, published author and on-air host.

Love 2.0

When it comes to dating, I've seen it all. Successful dating, dating disasters... you name it, I've dealt with it. To help you all navigate the crazy world of online dating, I'm offering my top tips today!

With over 40 million Americans meeting dates online (that's close to half the single population), there's no longer a stigma attached to finding a match through your computer screen. Gone are the days when people who made an online connection had to invent a story that their friend "errr…Jay" (Date) set them up, or pretend that they met their significant other in the 'real world.' Here's the thing: Online dating is the real world. As long as technology is in our lives, it will play a role in our love lives.

Thanks to online dating and social networks like Facebook and Twitter, the worldwide web has opened up a whole world of potential connections. If you're considering surfing around to find a match, here are a few dating tips to keep in mind.

Less is more

Dating essay

The 'essay' that online dating sites ask you to write is not meant to be taken literally. Consider online dating speed dating – the average viewer makes an immediate judgment call based on very little criteria. Keep your write-up concise, upbeat and specific. It's hard to stand out if you declare something generic like, "I have a wonderful life and am looking to share it with a special someone."

That may be true, but every other profile says the same. If you want to mention something about your wonderful life, share why that's the case. Rather than saying, "I love to travel," invite dialogue with something like, "I loved climbing Machu Picchu. Any ideas on the next mountain I should climb?" Show and don't tell. Being funny is a much better approach than telling your audience, "I'm told I'm hilarious!"

Photos

You in Cabo last year with girlfriends, you with your 3-year-old nephew, you close-up, you looking back, you... you... you. It's too much! Research shows that too many photos in an online profile are overwhelming to the viewer who starts to wonder what you really look like.

Choose two photos of yourself. Ideally one should be close enough that the viewer can see your face and one should be a full-length shot (Like it or not, the average online dater reports that if someone doesn't show her body, he assumes she's hiding something). And make the photos recent! One of the top complaints from online daters is that the photos looked nothing like the people they met up with because they were taken in another decade.

Facebook flirting

Does a poke intrigue you, creep you out or annoy you? Perhaps all of the above. There's not one right way to use a social network to flirt, but there are some things to avoid if you've decided to use it in your search for love. Liking each of your crush's photos and writing "you rock!" under all of his status updates is equivalent to following him around town and telling him (constantly) how awesomely attractive he is.

The general consensus is that Facebook is a great way to access a crush (friending a new crush is less awkward than asking for his number and allows you to get to know him a little better), but the network is generally not the best tool for those who have just started dating. Unless you want to spend time overanalyzing why your date went out Friday night when he said he was busy working or who the cute gal on his arm is in a party photo, steer clear from engaging him on social networks while your status is still single.

Great expectations

Online dating is a misnomer. If you feel like you're in a relationship with someone who you've only met virtually, it's time to schedule a date in person – otherwise, your expectations may be too high. Three to six communications is generally a good timeframe to know whether or not you'd like to book a date.

Finding love online is like the popular New York discount department store Century 21. You'll have to sift through some junk and have patience to find the gems, but finding those gems (whether they turn into a romantic relationship, a friendship or a new business contact) makes the whole experience worthwhile.

With so many millions using these sites, you're bound to find a little of everything. If you're feeling cynical about the process, consider how many people you know who have met their significant others online. And when in doubt, always remember – even a bad date makes a great story...

More on online dating

Conquering the fear of online dating
Online dating profiles: What to include and what to avoid
Could technology eliminate online dating profile lies?

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