Internet dating is booming. Whether via online matchmaking sites, social networking sites, online personals listings or online chat rooms, men and women are meeting potential friends, lovers and lifetime mates online. If you’re thinking that online dating is a poor second cousin to meeting somebody in real life, consider these statistics: One of the biggest free dating sites in the U.S., PlentyOfFish.com, has received up to a million visitors in a single day, and Jupiter Research estimates the Internet dating industry will take in almost $2 billion in revenue by the year 2012.
Why is Internet dating so popular? While it’s true that you can’t absorb certain details about a potential significant other simply from an online meeting, Internet dating offers benefits over real-life first meetings, the major one being that looking for love on the Internet opens the playing field to more people than you could ever hope to consider otherwise. Internet dating can be safe and extremely rewarding, if you keep certain tips in mind.
Pick the Right Internet Dating Site
Some dating sites focus on fly-by-night relationships, while others focus on long-term relationships and marriage. Some have broad membership bases, while others are based in a narrow, “niche” sector of the population. The more established Internet dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony.com tend to have the largest numbers of participants, but that’s not necessarily what you want. You may prefer to go for niche dating sites that focus on bringing people together who share a certain background, locality, ethnicity, religion, education level, physical disability or other trait. Go with what’s right for you.
Go for Reputable
The Internet dating services you use should go to great lengths to protect your privacy and safety. Your personal information should remain confidential and not be used for other marketing purposes without your permission. You should be able to contact other members discreetly, without revealing any personal identifying information. Ideally, the dating website will use software, background checks or special verification measures to validate all its registered members’ identities. This vetting process helps weed out members who are not what they seem to be. If you use a site that allows free participation and easy new-member sign-up, take extra care to investigate anybody you plan to meet.
Take Advantage of Different Internet Dating Features
Besides your almost infinite choice of mates, Internet dating benefits you by seriously saving you time. Instead of dating a person for weeks or months before you realize some quality or habit makes you incompatible, you can now eliminate certain wrong candidates early on. Most Internet dating sites allow you to view a member’s full text profile, which tells you the nitty-gritty about their marital, smoking and religious status just for starters. You can even check out video profiles to learn a member’s mannerisms and preferences before you meet. You can exchange private messages and take advantage of instant messaging. Some Internet dating services use personality matching systems that do the matchmaking work for you, and there are even human-driven matchmakers that take the old fashioned approach. When was the last time you had access to so much information about a person by the time you met him?
Lose the Paranoia
Yes, Internet dating is risky. Online predators exist, and not just in the dating arena. Scientific American reports online that over half the users of Internet dating services lie about some personal details in their profiles. Because the risks are real, the biggest hindrance to online dating is fear. When you think about it, though, the risk of Internet dating is not really any worse than that of meeting a stranger in a singles bar, on a subway train or in the deli aisle of the supermarket, where you can’t even confirm that a potential mate’s credit card has been validated. In the modern world, any kind of dating carries with it its own risks.
Meet With Care
For your first real-life date with that fabulous person you met online, always, but always, meet in a public place and let someone else know all about your plans, including who you’re meeting. Verify that the person you’re meeting is indeed the person you’re meeting. Whether you decide to take the plunge and ask straight out for a photo ID or prefer to go behind the scenes to find out if the person is who he claims he is depends on the situation. And one more tip: don’t assume the safety hurdle is past just because you survived the first date. If you have any doubt whatsoever about the person’s honesty, availability or identity at any time, take extra precautions.
Try and Try Again
You’ll meet a lot of potential friends, a few true dating candidates, and a handful of weirdos. That’s normal. Keep trying. People do find what they’re looking for with Internet dating. It just takes time, determination, patience and optimism.