Don’t you just love the Internet? It’s the only place where you can buy a pair of shoes, send a belated birthday greeting to your grandmother, diagnose yourself with rare and deadly diseases and find yourself a boyfriend while eating peanut butter and pretzels in your bed. Hypothetically speaking, of course.
But just because you can sort potential suitors by height, weight, age and income doesn’t mean you’re free to leave a trail of broken hearts and sadface emoticons all over the Internet. Yes, the basic rules of human interaction still apply when you’re behind a computer screen, but that doesn’t mean you’re following them now does it?
Yes, I’m talking about your photos. You wouldn’t walk into a bar wearing a mask of your high school face, so posting outdated photos of yourself is an obvious no. Now let’s get real honest. Is your photo taken from an angle so rare and unnatural that you are difficult to identify? Is more than 42% of your face obscured by bangs or sunglasses? Are you 15 pounds lighter and 7 shades blonder? CTRL+ALT+DELETE. Bottom line, you’ve got to look like yourself. After all, that’s who they’re going to have to wake up with eventually (I mean after the wedding, of course). Double Bonus Rule: don’t take a photo of yourself with your cell phone. Period. Not in the mirror, and not held away from yourself as if it is being taken by a person who randomly catches you in a candid moment looking out of a window. Enlist a trusted friend to take a photo of you looking as naturally lovely as you always are.
It’s not just about your photos, it’s about how you’re presenting yourself online. An internet dating profile is no excuse to create a new version of your self. If you’re not a hockey fan, there’s no point in pretending you’re dominating your office’s fantasy league. And if your iPod is more Top 40 than Indie, it’s fine to admit that you don’t know who Sleigh Bells is. Your mother said it because it’s true: the right guy will like you for you, not because you’ve created a personality tailor-made to what you think he’s looking for.
Hey, it’s your mom again. Just reminding you that there are a lot of creeps out there, and if you get a weird feeling from anyone, you listen to that, okay? Your screenname isn’t your real name, is it? Your photos don’t show the outside of your apartment, right? I’m sorry, I just worry about you. And I watch a lot of Law & Order: SVU. Real talk: not everyone is online looking for love. (Case in point: the man who e-mailed my cousin to let her know that he was flying in from California for the weekend to stay at his friend’s house, where they had a kegerator in the basement and would she want to come over for a drink?) You don’t need your date to come with a side of roofies so pay attention to those “red light” feelings. If something feels off, it’s because it is.
The most important rule is the one you learned in kindergarten. If it would hurt your feelings, it’s not right the right thing to do. When a guy sends you a message that is offensive (or even worse: a mass message he has clearly sent to every lady in your postal code) feel free to delete or cut him off at the knees like you would any jerk at a bar. But what about the nice, boring guy who just isn’t your type? Just like in real life, you don’t owe everybody you meet a date, but you do owe them common courtesy. It takes a lot to work up the nerve to talk to somebody, whether it’s online or in person. Do womankind a favor and let them down slow: the last thing this world needs is another sad dude who got emotionally annihilated by a beautiful girl.
When you’re furiously trading e-mails and instant messages, it’s easy to feel an immediate sense of intimacy. The Internet allows us to present the most clever and carefully-edited versions of ourselves. There are no awkward silences in e-mail, and even if you don’t find someone funny, a well-placed LOL will mean they never know the difference. No matter how many random facts you’ve revealed about yourself, no matter how much you look forward to his name in your inbox every morning, a first date is still a first date. It takes time to get to know somebody, and time to grow a relationship.
Let’s say you go on a date…
And you like him! And you want to know more about him! Slow down there, maneater. Just because you met on the Internet doesn’t mean that you need immediate access to every on of his online profiles. If you’re not sure there will be a second date, hold off on a Facebook friendship or following him on Twitter. And if I need to tell you not to add him as a contact on LinkedIn, you have bigger problems than I can solve in this article and you will need to contact me personally for an old-fashioned life-coaching session (girl talk and vodka).