7 things you should do when online dating and 7 things you shouldn't

Whether you love it or hate it, online dating is here to stay. It seems like most people use apps like Tinder and Bumble or sites like OKCupid and Match.com to find the next person they're going to date. But sometimes, online dating gets overwhelming. It can become a full time job. And there are no hard and fast rules for how to do it right. I went to the experts to find out their suggestions for what you should and shouldn't do when you're online dating.

Do stay safe

One of the most important things you can do when online dating is protect yourself. Unlike meeting a potential partner through a mutual friend, you don't know much about the people you meet online. Dr. Jaime Kulaga, life coach and PhD. told me, "While dating online can produce long lasting relationships and happiness, sadly, the internet can be a place where people scam others and invade privacy."

Be especially careful when meeting someone for the first time. Dr. Kulaga added, "When you go out on a first date, make sure that friends or family know where you are going and never go to someone's house alone. Make sure that your first date is somewhere in public (movies, dinner, theme park, etc). Safety first!"

Do use photos that show the real you

While it might be tempting to use glamour shots of you that were taken ten years ago, don't do it. You want your photos to be an accurate representation of you so that when people meet you in real life, they get what they expect. Therapist Katie Krimer, MS, LMSW told me, "If you are on dating sites, the first impression is everything! Unfortunately, these sites encourage people to judge based on physicality, more than the content of character — that's the nature of the online/app dating game."

Krimer added, "To maximize your success in meeting the right person, have photographs that are reflective of who you are and what you look like. The first photo is your first impression — try and remember that when you're coming up with your collection. Don't put up photos that are offensive or deceiving or that don't demonstrate who it is you really are."

Do go beyond photos when matching and liking

Even though photos are very important, don't discard a potential match just because of their appearance. David Bennett, certified counselor, relationship expert and co-author of seven self-help books, told me, "Studies show most people base online dating primarily on the photos. While this isn't bad, it's the main reason so many people complain that sorting through the duds online is too much work, because just because someone looks good doesn't mean they are dating or relationship material."

When choosing a partner, looks are only one part of the equation. Bennett suggested, "Give personality more weight, and swipe left on guys and gals you know wouldn't be good for you, even if they're hot. You'll get higher quality matches."

Do be self-aware in the process of dating

It's easy to get caught up worrying what your dates want and care about and to neglect your own wants and needs. One of the best things you can do in this process is to be self-aware.  Krimer told me, "Check in with yourself before you get out into the dating world or whilst dating."

Krimer suggested that you ask yourself the following questions: "What is it that might be affecting/might affect your dating experience? Do you like/love yourself? Do you know what you want and need? Are you ready to be in a serious relationship? Do you trust your judgment? What is your attachment style? What fundamental values do you want to align with your potential mate? Are you emotionally ready? Are you a good communicator?"

Relationships are complex, and it's important to recognize them as such. Krimer told me, "Acknowledge all of the important factors that make a relationship healthy and work — are you confident in your ability to contribute to a relationship in these ways? If you experience difficulty in any of these areas, consider the fact that they may affect the outcome of your dating experiences. For example, people who have trouble loving themselves will often choose partners who will confirm their beliefs about themselves."

Do keep it fun

While relationships are serious business, make sure that you enjoy yourself. Krimer told me in our interview, "It's really easy to get caught up in the stresses of meeting someone — let alone meeting the right someone."

Instead of letting yourself get stressed out, she suggested, "Make a conscious choice to think of ways to find enjoyment in meeting new people and putting yourself out there — focus on the process instead of the outcome. If you put too much pressure on the expectation of meeting someone, you're much more likely to feel disappointed or discouraged if it's not what you expect it to be."

Do keep your bigger goals in mind

I've seen many friends let their longterm goals go out the window when they meet someone they really like, but who may not be a great long term match. Krimer suggested that you keep your goals front and center. She said, "Do know your goals for what you're looking for — what are your intimacy and relationship needs? Are the people you're meeting matching those needs? Are you getting into relationships with people with conflicting relationship goals (i.e. you want a long term relationship, but your current partner just sees it as a casual fling)? Being honest with yourself and others about what it is you want in a relationship can help prevent unnecessary stress or uncertainty later on."

Choose to spend your time on online platforms where you are more likely to meet other people with similar goals. Dr. Kulaga told me, "There are online dating sites for everyone's desires. Whether you are looking for a long-lasting relationship or just want to 'play the field' for a while, online dating has you covered. However, you want to keep your bigger goals in mind when entering some of these dating sites."

She added, "If your desire is to find someone looking for a long term relationship, you wouldn't want to sign up for a dating site that is known for short term flings. You are doing yourself a disservice when you waste time and energy on dealing with things that don't directly impact your bigger goal."

Do use a variety of apps

Speaking of choosing apps carefully when online dating, it's a good idea not to limit yourself to just one. Bennett told me, "Different apps have different strengths and weaknesses. It may take some time to find which app is right for you. Some apps cater more toward a younger demographic, while others skew older. Some focus more on relationships, while others seem geared toward flings and dating around."

While most of the apps and sites have particular reputations, don't let that keep you from trying them out. Bennett added, "Your own experience of these apps may defy the typical experience. Try a variety of apps for a few months and then go from there."

Don't be lazy when using online platforms

It can be tedious to fully fill out your profile when you're on a dating site, but buckle down and do it anyway. You'll save a lot of time you would have spent going out with the wrong people. Dr. Kulaga told me, "If you are dating online and have an opportunity to fill out a profile or inventory about who you are, and what you like/dislike, do it!" She explained that this is the best way to find someone who is a good fit for your wants, desires, and personality. You are representing yourself in your profile, and that's the first impression potential matches are going to see. She said: "Invest the time and effort into attracting the right person."

When you reach out to a potential match, take the time to write something thoughtful. Bennett told me in our interview, "Don't use a boring or standard opening message. Online dating is very competitive, and some people have anywhere from hundreds to even thousands of likes, matches, and messages to sort through. A hey or WYD isn't going to cause you to stand out."

Don't take it personally if someone isn't interested

When I was online dating, the first date usually led to disappointment, and it was hard not to get discouraged and feel down about myself. But in most cases, it's not worth it to take rejection personally. Dr. Kulaga told me, "If someone doesn't respond to a request you sent them or someone doesn't follow up after a first date, move on."

Not only does it feel bad to internalize every rejection, it can also keep you from meeting someone you click with. Dr. Kulaga continued, "If you sulk, ruminate and dwell on the fact that someone didn't come through on a follow up, this will hold you back from meeting the real Mr. or Ms. Right." She explained that ruminating can lower your confidence, preventing you from putting yourself back out there and meeting someone who is an even better match.

Celebrate your mismatches instead of getting upset about them. In Dr. Kulaga's words, "Be happy the person didn't come through and you didn't waste any more of your precious time. Move on." Instead of dwelling on rejections, spend your time remembering what's great about you. Krimer told me, "Going into the dating world knowing that you have a lot to offer can really buffer some of the potential effects of dates not working out and can help you not to personalize dating experiences that may be perceived as rejection."

Don't keep dating someone if they're not a good fit

It can be tempting to keep talking to someone, even if a little voice at the back of your mind is telling you they're not right for you. Dr. Kulaga told me it's better to move on when that happens. She said, "If you are emailing someone back and forth and recognize this person is not a good fit for you, or you go on a date that just wasn't your cup of tea, let the person know. Be upfront and don't lead people on. Not only does this waste their time, it is wasting yours."

On the same note, it's important that you be honest about what you're looking for so that you don't end up dating someone who is wrong for you. Krimer told me, "Be upfront about what you're looking for when meeting people. In this day and age, the word clingy gets thrown around a lot — someone who is secure and emotionally mature will be open to hearing about your readiness for a relationship, and you should feel safe in expressing at least a general sense of what you want from a dating experience."

When you trust your intuition and you're clear about what you're looking for, you'll spend more time dating people who are a better fit for you, raising your chances of finding someone you can see yourself with long-term.

Don't jump to the finish line

While you want to be honest about what you're looking for in a partner, don't let your desire to get married and have kids get in the way when you first start dating someone. Dr. Kulaga told me, "If your ultimate goal is to get married and you go on a first and second date with someone dreamy, don't blurt out the marriage countdown! You will scare this perfect match away!"

Instead, she suggested, "Enjoy the journey and take your time in a relationship. You might be dying to show off an engagement ring on social media, or you might feel like you are last on your list of friends to marry, but don't jump to that finish line just yet. Enjoy the process, get to know the person and create memories before you drag them into your pre-written agenda."

Don't play games

You're probably well-aware of the spoken and unspoken dating "rules," but when it comes to finding a potential partner, it's better to just drop the game-playing. Krimer told me, "If you went on a date and had a terrific time, don't buy into the game-playing and rules. Let that person know soon after your first date that you really enjoyed your time!"

You may think this will make you seem too eager, but it will actually help you see if they're a good match more quickly. Krimer continued, "They'll either reciprocate if they felt the same way, or you will know by their response or behaviour if they aren't interested in pursuing anything further. There's no need to wait days before you text or call — if you like someone, let them know it!"

Don't let them get away with poor communication

I can't count the number of times my friends have complained that the men they meet online don't call or text them enough. It seems like poor communication has become standard in online dating. But it doesn't have to be. If they want to communicate with you, they will. And if they don't, cut them loose.

Krimer told me, "Don't buy the I'm really busy with work excuse to justify lack of communication — I've had patients who are in relationships with doctors who work 17 hour days and still manage to text their partners in breaks between OR time. We're all busy people — but we know that we make time when we want to make time."

When someone you're dating doesn't respond to your texts, it hurts. But don't just brush it off. Krimer told me, "Don't fall into the he's/she's just a bad texter trap to continuously excuse poor communication. Even if texting isn't someone's main mode of communicating, if they are ready and interested in pursuing a relationship, it will be reflected in their behaviour. They will absolutely find a way to check in, keep you in the loop, and make themselves available to talk."

Don't rush the dating process

Unfortunately, the dating process can take awhile. Even getting on that first date can feel difficult. Bennett told me, "Don't expect to get a date right away. Statistics show that around one third of online dating users never go on a date. The number was as high as seventy percent without a date in one study focused on Tinder. These apps aren't magic, and going from matching and messaging to an actual date is pretty much just as hard online as it is in the offline world."

Instead of getting anxious to "meet the one" already, Krimer suggested, "Engage in the dating experience with a different mindset. Don't look at it as a success or failure, but rather as an adventure you're taking on." She added, "Remind yourself of your great qualities and that dating can feel exhausting and it can take a lot of time to meet someone with whom you feel really connected."