If you’ve never tried online dating before, it can seem like a bit of a minefield.

You might be worried about not understanding how it all works or whether you will be any ‘good’ at it. It can feel like it’s a bit of a strange way to meet people – perhaps a little unnatural or awkward. You may also have concerns about the kind of people you’ll meet online, and whether it will be safe.

And if you’re a bit older, you may have grown up with impression that it’s a bit of an unusual way to meet someone – appealing perhaps only to people who are very shy or those who are just looking for sex. And perhaps this is part of the appeal of online dating for some.  But it isn’t the whole story – as the numbers and wide variety of people who enjoy online dating every day clearly prove. 

The fact is online dating can be a fantastic way of meeting new people – not just for romance, but for friendship too. For many people - meeting people online is by far the best dating option.

What is online dating?

Online dating is what it sounds like – a way of meeting people online so you can potentially go on dates together. 

Different dating sites (and mobile apps) can work differently, but the process usually involves creating an online ‘profile’ for yourself, which includes things like a picture, your age and some information about lifestyle, hobbies and interests, and then searching through the profiles of other people on the site to find a ‘match’ – in other words, someone you like. 

You can then get in touch with your match by sending them a message.

There are so many sites! How do I choose?

We know it can all seem a bit overwhelming at first as there are indeed a wide variety of dating sites out there. You might have heard of some of the big ones: OKCupid, Plenty of Fish, eHarmony, Match.com and so on. And then there are apps like Tinder, HappN, Hinge.

The first thing to say is don’t panic. You don’t need to figure it all out at once. You might like to start by just shopping around some of the bigger ones and seeing which appeal most to you. In truth, lots are pretty similar, but some have unique quirks, selling points. Some, for instance are aimed primarily are young professionals, whereas others are for retired people, or members of the armed forces. Some match people based on their hobbies or interests, while others go a bit deeper, asking more detailed questions about your values and ideas. But the best way to figure out which work best for you is by reading a bit more about them or even giving them a go.

Dating apps and dating sites tend to offer similar experiences, with the main difference being that apps are designed for use on mobile devices so you can use them on the go.

If you think you’re going to need a bit of help, it can be a good idea to speak to someone who has a little bit of experience with online dating and can talk to you about it. They may be able to tell you what to expect, what their experiences have been, and recommend a service that would work well for you. Sometimes, talking things over with someone is a lot easier than figuring it all out by yourself, so try to think if any of your friends and family have – or are likely to have – given online dating a go.

Setting up a profile

One of the trickier aspects of getting started dating online is setting up a profile. People can sometimes find this awkward or difficult.

It might be hard to find the right language – it can be tricky knowing how to describe yourself to someone who doesn’t know you. And it can be hard to figure out what to write. A lot of people get stumped trying to think about themselves from a stranger’s perspective. It can leave them thinking: what kind of person am I?

That’s where, again, talking to friends and family can be really useful. It’s a cliche but it’s so often true: the people around us can know us better than we know ourselves. You might want to sit down with someone you trust and who you’re close to and talk about the kinds of things it would make sense to put on your dating profile. You never know – they might point out some nice things about you that you never realised yourself.

Taking your time

One potential pitfall of online dating – and dating in general - is expecting to meet someone really quickly who you can get into a long-term relationship with. 

Although it’s good to be optimistic, it can put a lot less pressure on things. It can be easier if you simply think more along the lines of meeting some new, interesting people – with the potential for romance maybe developing later. That way, you won’t be as disappointed if you find someone who isn’t quite right for you, and you’ll be able to build up your confidence in the world of dating slowly, without feeling like it’s ‘not going well’.

Also, doing things this way will give you the chance to consider what it is you’re looking for in a partner. It’s often only after dating various different kinds of people that we start to realise what we like – and then can begin to narrow our search down more effectively. 

What about safety?

Used sensibly, online dating is as safe as any other method of meeting people.  However, as with any situation where you’re meeting someone new for the first time, it is a good idea to practise a little common sense.

We’d recommend letting a friend or family member know where and when you’re meeting someone, especially if you haven’t met before. It’s also a good idea to avoid giving away too much personal information, at least until you know someone a little bit better – and certainly not before you’ve met them offline.

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