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The 10 rules of online dating

Dan Juan
20 July 2011

About a year ago, I briefly signed up to an online dating site and revealed the results in this column. One year later I am still single, so I'm doing it again on a different website offering supposedly different methods of helping me have sex. I'll let you know how that goes. But in the meantime here are 10 online dating rules I've quickly been reminded of since my return...

1. Nine out of 10 approaches will be ignored
I presume everyone does the same thing when they join a dating website: Trawl through to find the best-looking people and then contact them. The problem is, because these grinning sorts are deluged with messages, they have the luxury of being very selective with their responses.

2. Carpet-bomb
You need the same strategy as applying for jobs or cold-calling pensioners: Cast the net wide and don't be fazed by rejection. Carpet bombing is described on Wikipedia as "a large aerial bombing done in a progressive manner to inflict damage in every part of a selected area of land". And on dating websites, sending a message to every single person you vaguely like is the only way to get the job done.

[See also: 10 ways technology can ruin your life]

3. Nice girls wait to be approached
I've actually received quite a lot of unsolicited 'winks' and messages on dating sites. The vast majority have come from people either far older or far uglier than me. I presume the attractive girls who ignored my messages thought exactly the same about me. In this way online dating mirrors life: the guys do most of the chasing.

4. You are scraping the barrel
Even though I've done this kind of thing before, I was still taken aback by the low standard of members' facial features. One in 15, at best, are fanciable. That's before you even considered their personality, which brings us to...

5. Idiots everywhere
Dating sites are full of nice, kind people who have been unlucky in love. It's also rammed with singletons whose lack of relationship success cannot be attributed merely to misfortune. Delusion, egomania, entitlement, dullness and bad spelling are all common elements of dating profiles. Be prepared for lots of sifting.

6. The winks don't work
Most sites have an option to 'wink' at other members, like a Facebook 'poke'. But this is often translated as: I couldn't be bothered to write you an actual message. It's like waving at a girl in a bar rather than going over and speaking to her. It's OK for girls to wink, but men should be more pro-active.

7. Sell yourself
It is astounding, and often upsetting, to witness the dearth of originality and individuality in daters' profile blurbs. 'I am a nice, caring girl, I like travel and socialising with my friends, I want to meet a nice guy.' If you're going to send someone a message, you need a hook — something from their profile you can reference. So, reveal something: Like you want to visit Belgium, or you have a cat called Mark, or you like Cornflakes... anything, as long as it's specific.

8. Once you're in, you're in
I find that if a girl does respond to a message, in 90% of cases she'll be amenable to meeting up. That's unless you spoil it by display moronic behaviour in your subsequent correspondence. Obviously I haven't done that, but the girls sometimes do.

9. Seal the deal
There's a finite amount of chat you should have before asking someone out on a date. Inviting them for a drink immediately is too hasty as you should at least gauge their sanity with some banter first. But if you converse for too long it may paint you as a pussy-footer or time-waster. Around 10 messages in (five sent, five received) is the optimum moment to suggest a real world encounter.

10. It destroys your soul
The main thing to bear in mind with online dating is that it is not enjoyable. It's time-consuming, shallow, ruthless, monotonous and can damage your sense of self-worth... yet it's also strangely addictive. Spending too long on these sites will make you sad. On the bright side, you might have sex.

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