Aug. 4, 2005 -- Are there more men or women online at dating sites? How do you break the ice when e-mailing someone new? Match.com's dating expert Dawn Yanek responds to a selection of your questions in this online Q+A.
Debi in Buffalo, New York, asks: Why won't they answer you when you send a wink or an icebreaker? I've tried to start up conversations and they don't seem to want to reply or even take the time to say "no thanks." Any suggestions?
Dawn Yanek: First of all, hang in there! Dating can be difficult online or offline, but there is someone out there who is perfect for you, and that makes all the trials and tribulations worthwhile. Keep that pep talk in mind whenever you feel discouraged — as well as the fact that the person who isn't winking back at you probably isn't The One. But, you ask, what if he is The One and he just doesn't know it yet? Well, if your first impression isn't packing the punch it should, you need to alter your approaches in your icebreaker and your profile.
Let's start with the icebreaker. A general "hi" might make someone smile and then move on. But a unique and specific opening line can fan the flames of interest. Try this exercise: List your top three interests and see which of them mesh with your potential match's. For example, maybe you both love the Yankees, chocolate Labs or plain ol' chocolate. Now, tailor your icebreaker to reflect that, and inject a little playfulness and humor. (After all, dating is supposed to be fun … even if you have to remind yourself of that fact sometimes.) This technique also shows that you've taken the time to read the person's profile and aren't just cut-and-pasting the same introductory e-mail to 20 people you found attractive. It does quite the opposite, in fact -- it says that you like this person for very specific reasons and want to get to know him better.
Next, apply this type of specificity to your profile. You're a "nice girl looking for a guy who you can have fun with"? Yeah, well, who isn't?! Celebrate all that is wonderful about you with a lively, chock-full-of-personality profile, illustrated with photos that capture you living and loving life, and you will find someone who will want to join in on the fun.
Rinea in Syracuse, New York, asks: I have been talking with this guy (e-mail, IM and phone) for three weeks now. How long should I wait to meet the person on the other end?
Dawn Yanek: There is no hard-and-fast rule about when to transition from online flirtation to offline dating. If you like each other, have learned some key information (age, interests, values, general relationship history, e-mail and phone compatibility) and feel as comfortable as possible without having met, go for it. The great thing about online dating is that you can get to know someone, set your own pace and forget so many of the games people play when they meet offline, such as when to call for the first time. After all, you've already been having a relationship of sorts.
But there is another level to your question, and I suspect it's why you're hesitant about meeting your online Romeo: You need to listen to your heart, but you also need listen to your gut. It may not sound quite as romantic, but it's often a lot more accurate. After all, the pitter-patter of your heart can drown out some nagging concerns — namely, those about whether or not you trust this person. A few key questions to ask yourself are: Is this person answering my direct questions, or is he being evasive? Is his personal information inconsistent or vague? Is he pressuring me to meet him or reveal personal information before I'm ready? Has he expressed frustration or anger in a way that seems strange? Did he say he was a Ph.D. but his grammar is abominable? These are just some of the things that can set off warning bells in your head -- and you should listen to them. If your concerns persist upon direct examination and questioning, trust yourself, cut bait and fish for someone who's worthy of your companionship.
Eide in Biloxi asks: What is the ratio of men versus women with online dating?
Dawn Yanek: It's hard to believe, but the first online-dating site, Match.com, launched only 10 years ago. And over the past decade, the Internet has really changed the way that people connect and communicate with one another. In fact, studies reveal that 12 percent of marriages are actually hatched online, and that's one of the reasons so many men and women think of online dating as a great resource. Of Match.com's 15 million members around the world, 59 percent are men and 41 percent are women, and other dating sites have similar demographic splits. You should also know that approximately 60,000 new people register on Match every day! Now, I'm not all that great at math, but I can tell you that that's a lot of new people for you to meet, greet and fall in love with. So even if your dream date isn't online today, he or she may be there tomorrow.
Rod in Los Angeles asks: Is it OK to leave things out of your profile that you don't want her to know?
Dawn Yanek: You've piqued my curiosity, Rod, and not in a good way! Of course, my first question to you is: So, what are you hiding? And that's the reaction you want to avoid with potential dates -- online or offline -- because people (especially women) immediately think the worst. Without a doubt, it's best to be honest, and while you should present yourself in a favorable light, you should never outright lie.
That said, there's a time and a place for everything. Don't treat your online profile as a confessional. Save that for your therapist or your diary. Think about it: You wouldn't go into your hang-ups, the down-and-dirty details of your last relationship or your issues with your mother with someone you've just met at a bar, so why would you do that online? Remember, no one's perfect, and everyone has a skeleton or two in their closet waiting to make a potentially frightening debut, but these are things that can be discussed once you feel comfortable and can see yourself taking things to the next level with this person. Broaching a sensitive topic once trust has been earned and interest has been cultivated is a very different thing than dragging out said skeleton on the first encounter.
You should also remember that you're not actually dating online. An online-dating site introduces you and helps you get face-to-face with potential matches, and that's why it's so important to represent yourself accurately. Here are a few quickie guidelines for your profile and initial conversations:
Bre in Virginia asks: Which (if any) online sites require background checks so that repeat offenders can be screened out? And how do I verify the info?
Dawn Yanek: While Match.com doesn't do an outright background check, we do have systems in place to keep you safe. First off, all profiles and photographs are reviewed before being posted live to the site. Then, our patented double-blind e-mail system keeps personal information private until you are ready to share it. Our security team also weeds out members who we feel may compromise the user experience for others, as well as investigates inappropriate behavior.
These safeguards should make you feel better, but no matter which site you use or where you've met someone, you should always exercise caution with someone new. Research your potential love matches by having an honest dialogue, asking questions and using Internet search engines. And if a background check would really make you feel more comfortable, there are a variety of independent services that you can use. Keep in mind, however, that these checks have limited information and are not always accurate. The best thing for you to do is to trust your instincts.
When you do decide to meet, always make sure that your first date is in a public place, that you don't reveal too much personal information (such as where you live or your last name) and that a friend knows where you're going and with whom. At Match.com, we take your safety very seriously, and we've highlighted a number of security tips that you should always keep in mind. Because you should have fun and enjoy the amazing possibilities being presented to you, but you should also be smart and safe.
Ann in Little Rock, Arkansas, asks: I have been divorced for three years and hate the dating scene! I have signed up for online dating, but have a fear of: how do you really believe what they are telling you online? Therefore, I have not given into it at all and have wasted my money. How do I get past this?
Dawn Yanek: Close your eyes, take a deep breath and just do it. While I don't know the details of your divorce, I would venture to say that you may be dealing with some trust issues now. Whether it's because your former partner was unfaithful, you had your heart broken or it's simply been a while since you trusted anyone new on an intimate level, you need to acknowledge these fears and then move past them. How can I be so sure? Because you're not alone. Far from it, as a matter of fact. Dating-after-divorce experts say that almost all people looking for love the second time around have similar fears about starting over.
Next, think of meeting someone online the same way you would think of meeting someone at a bar, at a pottery class or even through a friend. You only know what the other person reveals, but you get a gut feeling about whether or not you like and trust that person. At Match.com, we've found that people are generally truthful on our site because they anticipate a face-to-face meeting and want to live up to the other person's expectations. So, take it slow, get your feet wet and dive in whenever you feel comfortable. Sure, you'll probably find a few frogs in your search, but there's also a very good chance that you and your Prince Charming could be one of the 200,000 people who find the right relationship on Match.com every year.
Maria writes: I am on Match.com. When I see a profile I like, I honestly don't know how to start an e-mail conversation. I usually start with "Hi, I read your profile and see that we have some things in common … " But I am not getting any hits, and I refuse to put up a photo. I will send a photo to someone when I feel comfortable with them. I tell them that I will send a photo when I e-mail them. Can you offer any other suggestions to improve my odds?
Dawn Yanek: Believe it or not, our research indicates that profiles with photos get 70 percent more clicks than those that don't. That's a pretty huge number, and it makes sense — after all, it's normal to be curious about what someone looks like, not only to see their appearance but also to get an idea of their personality. Reading a profile doesn't necessarily bring a person to life, but a photo of, say, you on a kayaking expedition can. When a photo isn't posted, a person tends to worry that you're hiding something, that you have control issues or that you're not truly open to the possibilities around you … even if you think you are. While I understand that it can be nerve-wracking to really put yourself out there, I also know that anything in life that's worth having involves taking a risk -- whether it's accepting a new job, buying a house or starting a new relationship -- and that it's a good way to maximize your chance of getting an amazing reward. If you're still uncomfortable with the idea of posting a picture for personal or professional reasons, all is certainly not lost. We hear success stories all the time about people who meet and marry without initially seeing pictures of each other, but understand that doing so may limit your possibilities.
You should also watch your language in your icebreaker and your profile -- and the tone that may be unintentionally creeping in with it. A simple word like "refuse" sounds so adamant and almost a little scary to me -- and I'm not the one who might be dating you! Make sure your fear or reticence isn't accidentally sending out a negative vibe, thus killing off any potential relationships before they even have a chance of starting. You may be semi-kidding if you say, "Are you one of the very few nice guys left?" but a statement like that hints at hurt and resentment, and the other person hasn't even said hello yet! Instead, make a conscious effort to be positive and proactive. At Match.com, we've found that those are the people who ultimately have the most success finding the person who's right for them.
Nancey asks: If you meet someone online, what is the protocol about still logging in to the dating site? Especially since the person you met can see that you are still logging on. If they say they are not dating anyone else, why would they still log on?
Dawn Yanek: Sure, it's nice to have your ego stroked every once in a while by seeing who's been checking you out lately, but chances are, if your maybe-mate is still logging on, he's still checking out his options. And you should be doing the exact same thing. One good date -- or even two -- is not enough for you to determine that this is The One. While he very well may be, you should still do a little comparison-shopping and confirm your initial feelings. After all, the more time you spend with someone, the more you will learn about that person -- and whether or not you're compatible with him. If you get out of the dating pool too soon (and, a big no-no, before you've had The Talk about being exclusive), you might lose your second and third choices if Mr. Wonderful doesn't turn out to be all that.
Pete in Virginia writes: What would you say to a guy who has been a member of Match.com for nearly a decade (look up sleeplesssnowman, and yes, I have been a member since 1995) and still has not found love yet.
Dawn Yanek: I'd say that it's time to change your approach, Pete. Here are a few ways to revamp your dating strategy and get you that much closer to finding love:
Even if you think I'm nuts, try these suggestions. And enlist a friend to keep you on the straight and narrow dating path. Getting yourself out of a rut may be just the thing you need to get yourself into a surprisingly good relationship. Good luck!
Edna in Seattle writes: I am a 50-year-old woman and would love to meet a man my age but whenever I look at men in my category they appear so much older and not very appealing. I noticed the ones that do look youthful are always requesting younger women while men who are just a few years younger than me aren't even considering older women. Any ideas?
Dawn Yanek: Aside from maximizing your possibilities by expanding your geographical search area and other personal criteria, you should take the power out of these guys' hands and put it where it belongs -- in yours! It's 2005, after all, and you can and should take an active role in your dating life. That means making your own choices instead of waiting by the computer, just hoping that the right man will find you. Just as you wouldn't wait for the perfect job to magically appear, you shouldn't expect the love of your life to fall out of the sky and into your lap. If you see a man you like who's requesting a younger woman, contact him anyway. In fact, you could even bring up the fact that you may be chronologically different than his request, but that taking a chance on you would be more than worth it. After all, you're in a terrific place in your life -- you're smart, self-aware, and you know what you want out of life and you go out and get it. You've lived, and you should be proud of that! There's nothing more attractive to a man of any age than that type of self-confidence, experience and knowledge. So, showcase your personality, highlight why the two of you would be perfect together and you might see sparks fly.
On the flip side, be a little kinder to those guys you may have judged a little too harshly and quickly. If you're iffy about someone's picture but seem to gel personality-wise, give it a shot. Oddly enough, even though everyone tries to put their best foot forward online, not everyone posts a sensibly flattering picture (especially men). By taking a chance on someone whose personality you love -- just as you're asking these "youthful-looking" guys to do -- you might find love in what you previously thought of as the unlikeliest of places.
Jeannine in New York asks: Hello, Dawn. I've had my profile up on Match.com since this past April. Responses are very low. They come in dribs and drabs -- and when they do come in the quality of the man is not what I'm looking for. The only thing I can think of is I only have one photograph posted (neck up). I'm just very picky with how I look in photos and never feel comfortable enough with any to post. I have been thinking about getting professional shots taken. Dawn, is there any other advice you can give me? Thanks.
Dawn Yanek: Get a little help from your friends -- more specifically, one good friend whose opinions you value (and if possible, one who's also single, so you can return the favor as well as embark on your dating quest together). Have her read your profile and honestly evaluate it. Chances are, you're underselling yourself. We often worry that we sound arrogant when describing ourselves or take some very good and very unique qualities for granted. Your friend will identify your profile's problem areas and help you sound as fabulous as you really are.
As for the pictures, a professional photo might give you the confidence you need to post a full-body shot. (Jeannine, we all have body issues -- trust me! -- but by only posting a headshot, you are unwittingly broadcasting them to the entire online male population. Fair or not, it makes people question if they can trust you and wonder what you're hiding.) But I would only post one of two of these professional pictures. For others, enlist that same friend I mentioned above to play photographer while you model. Instead of posing, simply go out with your friend and bring along the camera to document your good time -- while hanging out at a barbecue, hiking, bowling, whatever. A spontaneous shot that captures you having a great time will speak worlds about your personality and convey exactly what you've found so elusive before. It becomes a magnet that shows you -- all of you -- embracing life, and that is so much more attractive than anything else, including a few unwanted pounds.
In fact, you'll probably have so many good photos that you won't want to post just one. And you don't have to. Match.com allows you to post up to 26 pictures. Some could be of you, while others could be of things you love, like a gorgeous sunset or your adorable puppies. In fact, a Match.com success story I recently heard perfectly illustrates how this technique can work to your advantage: A woman met her match after he saw a picture of her with her Siberian Huskies. He was a Husky owner, too, and that simple picture started an online flirtation that led straight to the altar!