1. Find a site that fits your personality
To begin your hunt, go for a dating agency that suits your needs. Dating columnist Blair Hickman says, “If you're trying to choose which site to join, you should definitely consider what you're looking for." If it's marriage you seek, try a fee-paying site. If you’re just after a bit of fun, try a free one. Not certain how to decide?
Pay attention to the questions you’re asked in the sign-up process. “Long, detailed questions mean you'll find people looking for commitment,” says Hickman. “Quick, funny probes with silly questions attract members just looking to meet people for a little fun.”
Make your selection easier by opting for sites with a specific niche.
Religious? Go for Jdate.com and ChristianCafe.com. Extrovert? Try Loopylove.co.uk, Flirtbox.co.uk, or Speeddater.co.uk. Country lovers can find like-minded singletons on muddymatches.co.uk; vegetarians on veggieromance.com; and there's even a pagan dating service, paganpartners.co.uk.
If you’re overwhelmed and want to get a safe start, check out the most popular dating sites in the UK, which include Parship.co.uk, Match.com, DatingDirect.com, MySingleFriend.com and Plentyoffish.com.
2. Compile a compelling profile
Without the luxury of talking to your potential partner in person, you must write a profile that will catch the fancy of a suitable match. You first step is to upload an attractive photo.
Though you may have been more svelte three years ago, you should post a recent picture of yourself (one that’s no more than six months old). Gillian Entin, a spokesperson for Spark Networks, the leading provider of online niche dating sites JDate and Blacksingles.com, says:
“The photo should be a clear, in-focus, close-up of you smiling. You want to appear approachable and friendly.” A relevant username will also help attract the right kind of date. “Choose something that mentions something about what makes you, you,” advises Entin.
When writing about yourself, be as descriptive as possible. “Instead of telling what kind of person you are, let your personality reveal itself,” recommends Audrey Shedivy, a consultant for dating site Zoosk. “List your favourite songs instead of saying ‘I like alternative rock.’” Make sure the tone of your profile is positive and energetic. Entin says, “You want to send out an upbeat vibe, and you can do that by avoiding negatives in your profile. Focus on what you like, not what you don’t."
In addition to listing your likes and dislikes, take care with writing and grammar. “Use spell check!” Shedivy urges.
“A sloppy profile reflects poorly on you as a person. It implies that you don’t care or are not putting much effort into finding a date.” If you can’t work out anything remarkable to say, brainstorm with a few close friends to come up with your most attention-grabbing qualities.
“Send an email to your friends and ask them for three things about you that you should include," advises Shedivy. "You may be surprised at the results. For example, your friends may think that you have a generous personality, but perhaps you never thought of yourself that way.”
Participate actively in the site of your choice. Seek out potential companions and send a personalized message mentioning something specific about their profile. Though messaging the hunk with great biceps is alluring, also look for people with appealing hobbies or studies.
Entin says, “Stay open-minded. There will be really great people with not-so-great profiles. Give people the benefit of the doubt and have a conversation with them. You don’t want to miss out on meeting someone special because you didn’t give them a chance.”
Become truly involved by setting aside time each day to answer e-mails and update your profile. “If you put in the effort, you will see the benefits!” says Entin.
4. Meet up
Once you’ve chatted with a few prospects and traded e-mails, it’s perfectly acceptable to arrange a rendezvous. “Always do a first meeting in a public place; don’t invite him to your place,” warns Catherine Cardinal, a relationship expert and author of Cure for the Common Life (De Vorss & Company, £8.09 at amazon.co.uk).
"Make a coffee date! It’s not until the meet-and-greet when you’ll know if there’s chemistry or a chance for something to develop.” It’s also safe to meet in a public space - you don’t want a potential criminal in your house! Doll up for the occasion, but don’t overdo it with make-up or high hemlines.
Cardinal says, “First impressions are important! Dress appropriately for the situation. You wouldn’t wear a cocktail dress for a cup of coffee, nor would you wear jeans and trainers to a nice dinner!” Wear something flattering, but comfortable.
Once you settle in, remember it’s supposed to be a fun conversation, not a job interview! Talk about your interests, work, and favourite places to eat.
Be yourself, and let him know with your body language that you're enjoying his company. “If the first meeting goes well and you want to see him again, look right into his eyes at the end of the date and say sweetly, “Thank you. I had such a wonderful time.” This will be a cue for him to make a second date. If he doesn’t, don’t sweat - keep moving.
There are many more fish in the sea!” says Cardinal. Have fun, take it slowly, and let it unfold.
5. Exercise caution
As with anything, make sure you stay safe when you are dating online. Whoever you meet is a stranger, so stay aware and go with your instincts. “Trust your gut feeling whether to continue interaction or meet in person.
This is powerful tool when it comes to safety,” says Hansen. Before you meet someone, make sure a friend or family member knows when and where you will be going. Keep your mobile with you and stay in public places until you feel comfortable and at ease.