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Note:  This is the fourth of a series of posts I am writing about online dating.  If you’ve missed the previous three, be sure to check them out before reading this one:  Your Expectation, Your Profile, Your Opening Email.

So you’ve exchanged a few emails, and you decided to meet face to face.  Now what?  I am a big fan of meeting up at cafes (or tea lounges for those who don’t drink coffee) for the first date.  This is true of people I’ve met online and offline, and it’s a trick I learned from my married friends.

Cafe is a good meeting place for several reasons.  First, it’s public and therefore a safe location for two strangers to meet up.  Second, unlike meeting up for a meal or an activity, there’s no designated length of time for cafe dates.  If the date is going well, you can easily extend the meeting to several hours (either at the cafe or elsewhere).  Conversely, if you find yourself uninterested or otherwise disengaged with the person, you can easily end the date early without causing any awkward moments for either of you.  Third, cafes and tea lounges provide a relaxed setting that is conducive to getting to know each other because it is neither too quiet nor too loud for dialogues.  Fourth, coffee (or tea) is relatively inexpensive and won’t break your bank.  This is especially true if you meet up with many people in a short period of time (as can often be the case for online dating).  Fifth, the way coffee orders are taken at cafes easily allows you to pay for your own cup of joe.  This is important because you never want to feel as if you owe your date any favors or future dates due to his generosity.

I’ll admit I have not always followed my own advice although the most memorable dates I’ve had were cafe meet-ups.  There were two in particular that stood out for me.  The first one took place in a cafe located within a bookstore.  We were both so engrossed in our conversation that we practically closed down the cafe.  The total conversation time?  Almost four hours!  We would be hard pressed to chat for that long at a restaurant or anywhere else.  The second one took place in a small cafe that is extremely popular among the locals.  Again, he and I chatted about many things and covered a vast range of topics from the Olympics to human psychology to our travel experience.  Had it not been for our prior commitments, we probably would have closed down the cafe as well.

I think the key to both great dates being as memorable as they are is the relaxed environment afforded by the cafes.  I honestly do not think we could have been as comfortable with each other as we were if we had to worry about vacating our table after our meal in a restaurant, or deciding who was paying what portion of the tab.  Instead, the cafe setting gave us the freedom to really get to know each other.

If you missed my other posts on online dating, be sure to check them out:

Part I – Online Dating 101: Your Expectation
Part II – Online Dating 101: Your Profile
Part III – Online Dating 101: Your Opening Email

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Note:  This is the third of a series of posts I am writing about online dating.  If you’ve missed the previous two, be sure to check them out before reading this one:  Your Expectation, Your Profile.

As I stressed in the previous two posts, first impression is vital in dating.  It is especially so for online dating because of how efficient it is to meet people over the Internet.  Efficiency translates to high volume, and the best way to stand out from the noise is to create the best first impression of all the people in the dating pool.

The absolute first impression is, of course, your profile but that’s static.  It is important to follow up with a second, more fluid first impression, and that’s the very first email you send to a potential date.  Contrary to the advice I gave on how to write a great profile (lengthy but packed with punches), a great first email should be short, sweet, and enticing.

Why the difference?  Let me answer that with a couple of questions.  Have you ever received an email from a total stranger, and the email reads like a novel?  What do you usually do with the email after skimming a few lines?  I don’t know about you, but I usually don’t give my time as generously to reading emails from people I don’t already know, and I tend to hit the delete button more often.  The same is true for emails I get from people on online dating sites.

So what constitutes a good opening email?  As always, an example speaks volume, so here is one that caught my attention immediately:

“Hmmm. You seem challenging and provocative. In my book, that’s good. We may share a few things in common, particularly an interest in snapping photos and a degree of intellectual snobbery. Let’s swap photos; or trade barbs; or just have a cup of joe.

There are several reasons this email caught my attention.  First, he was able to convey a lot in less than the minute it took for me to read it.  Second, he showed that he paid attention to my profile by highlighting a few things I had written in my profile (photography, intellect, and coffee).  Third, he established some commonality between the two of us, and that automatically triggered interest on my end.  Fourth, the email conveyed a sense of mystery, and that’s enticing.

On the other hand, here is how NOT to write the first email:

“I am looking for a special friend, someone who can be really close to heart. Someone with whom you can talk and discuss your problems. Someone who is there for you when you need emotional support, and someone whom you can always keep happy and smiling. Problem is its too tough finding good people these days.

“I don’t have lot of friends in the Bay Area. I saw your profile and thought it over, and I really think we can be great as friends for a start. Do you think we can try and be friends??”

Why is this email so bad?  First, it’s long and whinny!  Second, there are grammatical errors all over the email!  Third, the email reeks of desperation — women are definitely not attracted to men who don’t have friends!  Fourth, he basically restated the obvious — many people on dating websites are looking for that special someone — so the words are basically wasted space!  Fifth, the email was all about what that person wanted instead of what I want or what interests me.

In summary, the opening email should be short yet thoughtful, expressive and inviting.  Remember, just as the first impression in the offline world is made within the first 90 seconds, the first impression in the online world is made in even less time!  So make every word count!

If you missed my other posts on online dating, be sure to check them out:

Part I – Online Dating 101: Your Expectation
Part II – Online Dating 101: Your Profile
Part IV – Online Dating 101: Your First Meeting

Note: This is the second of a series of posts I am writing about online dating.  If you missed the first one, be sure to check out it before reading this one.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the rules that apply to offline dating is equally applicable to online dating.  Just because meeting people online is different and more efficient, doesn’t mean that it is governed by a new set of rules of engagement.  For that reason, first impression is just as critical even if the medium of exchange is casual.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it is worthwhile to mention that men are more visual whereas women are more verbal.  That is not to say men are not attracted to women who write well or that women are not attracted to nice looking gentlemen.  But as a rule of thumb, women are more attracted to men who have a way with their words, while men tend to gravitate towards women they find good looking.

Having said, that, I’ve confirmed the following with my small sample of friends: more often than not, the way a woman judges whether a profile is worth the pursue is how much information she can gather from the words on the page.  In general, the more the merrier.  So if you have a choice of writing one paragraph versus four, write four. But simply having more words won’t cut it.  The point is how well can a guy convey who he is in the space he was allotted to talk about himself, not how verbose he needs to be to get his points across.

Rather than talk about it, I thought I would show an example of a rich profile (note the number of words as well as the language this person used to describe himself — every word is deeply meaningful):

“Life for me is all about balance, being open-minded and trying everything once. You’re just as likely to find me at the theater, symphony or opera as at a crowded live show up front with ear plugs in. You might see me sipping Pinot at a gallery downtown, and then run into me gawking at fire-spewing art cars on the playa at Burning Man.

“I relish the comforts of home, but have been known to travel for months at a time with only my backpack, my camera, and antimalarial pills. I’m mostly a city boy, but love skiing off steeps, diving into bodies of water, and feeling sand on my skin.

“I can be cynical and sarcastic with the best of them, but those who know me well think of me as a romantic idealist with a soft gooey center. I can be independent and reflective, but have a wild side that comes out to play hard when the mood strikes.”

On the other hand, here is a profile that is sorely lacking in substance:

“i’m a pretty well-rounded guy – smart, athletic, and artistic. i’m into the outdoors. i can re-model a house.

i try to be conscious of how i live my life and how i treat people. i try to spread happiness when i can.”

The difference between the two profiles is how concrete a picture they each painted.  The first profile provided visuals using words; instead of just describing who he is with adjectives, he painted the kind of person he is with what he likes to do.  After reading the profile, I immediately got a sense of who he is without ever meeting him.  On the other hand, the second profile not only used very few words to describe himself, his description is hardly memorable or differentiating from most of the profiles out there.

Another aspect of first impression is how you choose to present yourself.  I’ve seen too many pictures of men drinking beer in wild party settings.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with posting pictures like that, but know that those kinds of pictures are mostly attractive to people who are like that themselves.  If that’s the kind of person you hope to attract, then by all means.  Since I am not a party girl myself, I tend to stay away from profiles blasted with party photos.  It’s simply not my cup of tea!

Finally, if the online dating sites allow you to choose your handle name, choose the name wisely.  Avoid words that convey pretentiousness or larger than life sentiment unless, of course, you are trying to attract people who like those qualities in a mate.  For example, calling yourself a “Prince” or a “SuperStar” is a big no-no, as is describing yourself as “sexy”, “freak” or “angry”.

Have more to add?  Please post them in the comment section!

If you missed my other posts on online dating, be sure to check them out:

Part I – Online Dating 101: Your Expectation
Part III – Online Dating 101: Your Opening Email
Part IV – Online Dating 101: Your First Meeting

A few people have wondered what I did during the time I was off from blogging.  For one thing, I started a new job and felt I needed to concentrate on that.  Another thing was, I experimented with online dating.  Admittedly, a month’s time is too short for one to become an expert, but I thought I would share my experience nonetheless.  I am sure somebody (especially guys) out there will find this useful.  I am going to post them in a series of posts, starting with this one.

From my observation, people who participate in online dating view the experience differently than offline dating.  In offline dating, you meet somebody, you befriend them so that you can get to know them, and then you decide if there’s any chemistry for more than just friendship.  In other words, friendship plays a big role in offline dating.  I think it’s because one cannot know from meeting the person in an offline setting whether the person is interested in a relationship.  That does not seem to be the case with online dating.  I think there’s an unspoken rule that if you participate in online dating that you are there to find a life mate.  For that reason, a lot of strange behaviors come out of that assumption.

For example, I’ve received ample of emails from people who declared (after only reading my profile and seeing my photos) that I am a perfect mate for them.  REALLY NOW?  In my years of meeting people offline, nobody has ever said that to me, and these people probably got to know me better than those online folks.  Truth is, when you email somebody you’ve just “met” online with that kind of opening line, the email is most likely deleted before it even has a chance to be read in its entirety.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  I will write more about email correspondence in a later post.

What I wanted to write about in this post is expectation (and to some extent, attitude).  There’s no doubt that online and offline dating are two different beasts, but the differences lie in the vehicle and efficiencies, NOT in the methods of dating.  In other words, people should view online dating as another avenue to meet and get to know people, not as a license to change the way they would approach dating.  Let me explain.

During my month of online dating experience, I’ve met doctors, lawyers, school administrators, consultants, you name it.  These are people I probably won’t have met otherwise because of how I spend my time offline.  At work, I meet MBAs and engineers, and at industry functions, I meet people who are in the same line of work as me.  It’s true that on weekends, I may meet friends of friends who may be doctors, lawyers, bankers, etc., or I occasionally run into interesting people on my bookstore and photography outings, but those encounters are sporadic at best.  By putting myself online, however, I inserted myself into a vehicle that allows me to meet people that I won’t have met otherwise.  In other words, online dating sites directly expanded the kinds and numbers of people that I would encounter.  It is no doubt much more efficient than meeting people offline, but that’s where the differences end.

I may be the exception rather than the rule, but behaviors that would creep me out in the offline world are equally repulsive in the online world.  Similarly, behaviors that are charming and welcoming offline are equally effective online.  For example, when I meet people offline, I am much more open to getting to know them if they start with friendship.  When I meet people online, I am also much more receptive to people who want to get to know me first.  On the same note, cheesy pick-up lines that don’t work offline won’t work online either.  And just as a guy won’t ask a gal to marry him during the first meeting, a guy shouldn’t declare to a gal on the first email he sent that she’s the perfect one for him.

To summarize, online dating is no different than offline dating except for the ways to meet people.  Just as the best kinds of relationship develop out of friendship first in the offline world, its true for online as well.  Given all that, I believe the most successful uses of online dating is to find friends first, relationship second.  In other words, before you sign up for an account on an online dating site, it will serve you well to adjust your expectation from “I am going to find the man/woman of my dream” to “I am going to meet more people and develop more friendships”. [Update: per the comment below, I am updating this to read, “I am going to meet more people and develop more friendships with hopes of finding that special someone.” — I hope that clarifies things]

What do you think?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Part II – Online Dating 101: Your Profile
Part III – Online Dating 101: Your Opening Email
Part IV – Online Dating 101: Your First Meeting