Relationship Advice

The highs and lows of online dating

According to global statistics, the popularity of online dating is at an all-time high. With the "desperate and dateless" stigma long gone, many are swapping the club scene for computer screens as a fun and efficient way to find love.
In fact, a US survey commissioned by dating website Match.com found that during 2009-10 more couples had met online than at bars or parties. Just as staggering is the fact that one in six US marriages reportedly stem from dating sites.
Australians take the business of love just as seriously, with 70 percent of Aussie singles currently searching for a committed relationship on one of our 250 dating websites.
RSVP spokeswoman Lija Jarvis believes online dating hasn't replaced traditional forms of meeting people but it's just another way of maximising your chances.
"You meet through friends, you meet through work functions, you meet online," she says.
But with all this success and hope floating around, it's easy to forget that dangers and disappointments do exist. So before charging headlong into the throes of cyber love, weigh up all the pros and cons first.
Time is a valuable commodity in our fast-paced society. Internet dating cuts straight to the chase. Forget waiting until your fourth martini to realise the most interesting thing about him is he collects Russian stamp; you can screen him from day one.
It also takes much of the guesswork out of who's available or not. No more scoping out local bars wondering who is or isn't attached. If they're on a dating site, you'd assume they are there for the same reasons you are.
Releasing inhibitions
Checking out available online partners from the safety of your swivel chair allows you a certain freedom and empowerment not often granted. The initial anonymity allows open communication where attraction is based on who you are rather than what you look like.
Jarvis believes social networking has helped our openness.
"People are more comfortable putting themselves on dating sites because social networking has changed the way we feel about sharing personal information," she says.
Rejection can also be less hurtful online because chances are you're less emotionally attached and ready to yell, "Next!"
Thirty-year old "serial dater" Lara agrees.
"Somehow rejection isn't as personal online because there's a common understanding between internet daters," Lara says. "You're either there for dating practice or to find 'the one'. No-one benefits by dragging things on that aren't working."
Someone for everyone
In Australia especially, remoteness and transient jobs means the opportunity for love is difficult for many. Online dating has bridged this gap, allowing everyone from outback farmers to lonely miners, to get back in the dating game.
Niche markets have also begun to spring up, catering for every taste. Whether you're looking for a sugar daddy, a vegetarian or a nice Jewish man, there are specific dating websites to cater to those needs.
Emotional expectations
Be realistic. Profiles may suggest a 100 percent match but take away those tiny white lies and you could only be 50 percent compatible. Bigger deceptions also exist, where married people masquerade as singles and twentysomething underwear models are actually elderly bank managers named Brian. You get the picture? People tend to describe their ideal self. Sure, anonymity can be liberating but it's also a dangerous mask.
Psychological issues
If you're not mentally prepared for online dating, your self-esteem could plummet. The reality is people can disappear with no explanation and potential husbands may still be dating when you'd already picked out the church. That's life.
Dating sites can also be addictive. When hours are spent glued to the computer screen scanning for dates and checking emails, instead of out in the real world, there's a problem. Ex dating addict Jenny knows how easily it can take over.
"I was obsessed, not to mention exhausted!" Jenny says. "There were new men popping up all the time. I'd miss friends' birthdays and nights out just so I didn't miss out on new dates. I even had alerts directed to my mobile telling me of new matches."
Safety and cost
Many sites allow free searches, or the ability to "wink" or virtual kiss a love interest but full access isn't granted until you cough up the big bucks. With extras designed to make "the one" only another $20 click away, it's easy to get conned into parting with more money than necessary.
Internet fraud is a huge issue thanks to the amount of personal details drifting through cyberspace.
Many scammers join sites to gather email addresses or target the weak and lonely for money. The possible risks of meeting complete strangers, is also a serious and well-documented problem.
Weighed up all your options? Ready to take the plunge but don't know where to start? Follow these top tips to get you safely on your way:
Five quick tips for online dating
1. Profile: Make sure it's the right length. Too short? Not enough effort. Too long? Boring. People don't want a life history, what's left to discover? Three paragraphs are enough.
2. Photo: Nothing too sexy but nothing too formal. You want to show the real you. Let your personality shine through.
3. Personal details and safety: Never reveal where you work, live or your last name in a profile posting. Initial meetings should always be in a public place.
4. Honesty: Be truthful about your needs and remain honest about yourself. If not, you could get involved with someone on a completely different page to you.
5. Contact: Chemistry is an important thing so meet as soon as you feel comfortable. Whether in emails or in date conversation, never bring up complaints about past relationships or how lonely you are. Emotional baggage is highly unattractive.

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