online dating success

My wife Lyndal and I have been and remain happily together for over 10 years. Over the last six months however, I have discovered online dating and it has been an incredible experience. Before you (or Lyndal for that matter) reach for the gun, you’ll need to let me explain why I’m currently active on more than 12 online dating sites… and no, it’s not the reason you might first assume.

As Lyndal and I reach our 40’s we’ve noticed something. It’s not revolutionary; indeed, it is common to many at our stage of life. If our mid-20’s to our mid-30’s were all weddings and babies, our late 30’s and early 40’s have been defined by divorces and ticking clocks. As a result, we now have a number of friends who find themselves single. Some long-term single now wanting companionship, some desperate for kids before it is too late (both female and male) and some with kids now trying to raise a family single-handedly. For our friends who are in any of these situations there is one consistent theme – a significant dread in putting themselves out there to start dating again.

One of these friends, Lauren, asked if Lyndal and I would help her. ‘This is the year of Lauren’ she announced to us clearly determined to find someone serious. Lauren wanted Lyndal and I to help by providing objective points of view, a male perspective (from me) – and most of all, to provide her with some support.

Navigating treacherous waters

If our natural state (as adult humans) is to be paired up for companionship in some form or another, for those of us who currently aren’t in that equilibrium, life may range from ‘not quite right’ all the way through to ‘bloody tough’. Undoubtedly, there are plenty of us who will go through (long) stages of being happily single and many who simply need a break from being coupled after periods coupled to the wrong person. But if and when the time comes, being a singleton today has some significant challenges.

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The reality is that we are becoming ever more single. The US Bureau of Labor concluded last year that 50.2% of American adults are now single at any one time – that is up from 22% in 1950. Of course today, while conventions and lifestyles have certainly changed we do have a greater set of tools to assist us. The same study showed that collectively online dating services are now used on average once a week by over half of all these singletons.

‘You two must have some single male friends and colleagues’ Lauren insisted. So, as a starting point we drew up a list of eligible bachelors we knew.  This is not as easy as it sounds. When all said and done, we’d narrowed it down to just two guys who we believed would be a good match for Lauren and who Lyndal and I knew well enough to invite to some kind of gathering. Drinks when everyone was available and contriving the situation so it didn’t feel awkward; hosting a dinner party and keeping the conversation going, it all took time and significant effort… in return for what turned out to be two non-starters.

Time to cast the net that much wider

Clearly we needed to spread the net and online dating was the obvious place to go. I started by doing a little research. The top 10 online dating services ranked in terms of successful pairing seemed an obvious place to start. This too is not as easy as you might think. Yes, eHarmony (‘Better dates start with the right person’) has the most registrants, but (‘1000’s start on Match’) facilitates the most introductions. Yes, Tinder (‘How people meet’) is the latest craze with huge numbers playing – but Coffee Meets Bagel (‘Dating made easy’) is focused on quality not quantity.

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Overwhelmed I chose the ones that seemed to project the values of the sort of relationship my friend was looking for… sensible, long-term – with someone good looking and gainfully employed. eHarmony, RSVP (Australian) and Zoosk were my start points. Lyndal and I created profiles on each site for Lauren and emailed them to her for approval. It was fun, living a little vicariously for a moment as well as feeling good for supporting a friend.

We started to review the profiles – wow – an almost limitless supply of would-be suitors according to the profile we’d set for Lauren. It became clear that generally online dating success depends on two key fundamentals – physical attraction (usually through a profile photo) and shared values (usually through a series of questions).  And like many things in life it seems the effort you put in is directly proportional to the result you get out.  While there were many profiles to skip past quickly (especially those without a photo) there were a few gems and we were quickly offering our opinion on who Lauren should be making contact with.

We’re a few months on and many dates later (with us hanging on every little detail from Lauren in the post-date debrief) and the first thing we’ve found has been the reaction from our other single friends – they wished that they had that kind of support and we’ve been asked by a number to help them out too. The cold reality is that online dating is a lonely game at a time when the singleton is possibly feeling most alone.

You, but on a really good day

What I’ve learnt is that for online dating success the profile picture is the hook… but you can’t fake it. Very much like being in a bar (in the real-world) you make an effort to look good – the best of you. There is no special effects team waiting to airbrush you out in the parking lot. If the profile picture is the hook, then the description is the bait and again you need to be realistic in what is presented. Once that short online interaction is done and you enter the real-world it can’t all fall over because you don’t really do ‘charity work in your spare time’.

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Crafting a good profile is where a third-party opinion from close friends can really help. Lauren’s point of view on the profile we’d written for her was that we’d presented her both accurately and positively. We’d chosen a good, yet real picture of her from Facebook and been realistic on the things she was interested in while still creating an engaging profile. This was in contrast to the guys we’d set her up with, who may have been a little ‘creative’ with their own description – yes, she even had one who’d put down “pilot” as an interest missing out the crucial words ‘of model airplanes’.

Making the introductions on behalf of your single friend also reduces the embarrassment potential they may have of a straight up approach. It also reduces the stigma of online dating as your single friend always has the excuse of ‘well, my friend put me up to this’.

Lyndal and I derived a great deal of satisfaction out of helping our friend Lauren. She is now dating a guy she met online and believes that having some active support of close friends has made her experience of online dating a better one. Finally, I can’t lie, Lyndal and I have also enjoyed living vicariously through Lauren’s experience and checking out all the goings-on in today’s dating space. It is human nature after all to think that the grass might be greener on the other side… however; online dating while married has served to remind me to cherish what I have.

Image: Flickr

Matthew has professional experience in the online dating scene. He has coached men and women, written articles and regularly speaks at industry events. He also worked for one of the world’s largest online dating sites.

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