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How to Get Started and Navigate Digital Dating Options

How to Get Started and Navigate Digital Dating Options

Whether you’re looking for casual companionship or a long-term committed relationship, online dating is an increasingly popular option. Boasting sophisticated filtering capabilities, and more users than ever, the digital dating market is hot, hot, hot.

Don’t sweat it, though, if you’re at a complete loss when it comes to choosing a platform, creating a profile and how to go about meeting up with virtual strangers for dates. Our quick-start guide covers everything you need to know. 

Finding your person is worth the learning the ropes, so let’s get to it. 

  1. Choosing an online dating platform. 

There are a LOT of options out there, but here’s a list of the most popular:

  • Bumble
  • Coffee Meets Bagel
  • Tinder
  • OkCupid
  • Hinge
  • Happn
  • Match
  • OurTime
  • Plenty of Fish
  • Zoosk
  • eHarmony
  • SingleParentMeet
  • Hily

It’s worth your time to research what differentiates one app from another. Here’s a quick take on 13 of the most popular sites. After you’ve determined which apps appeal to you, narrow your options down to one or two and purchase a paid plan. The free versions 

  1. Create an index card with your dating intentions, goals and personal rules, and check in with it often. Unless your goal is to be pen pals, hold yourself accountable to your intentions and pursue opportunities to connect, via zoom or in person. (34% of people dating online never actually go out with someone they meet online.)

First, you need a plan to get you from the means (communicating via an online dating site) to the ends (actually meeting for dates). The goal isn’t to develop a pen pal, though some people will stretch the online communication element for a variety of reasons (such as leaving the other person hanging as a pen pal while dating someone else). According to Pew Research, around 34 percent of people using online dating sites never actually go out with anyone they meet.

To avoid getting stuck in this part of the process yourself, make some goals and personal rules before you create a dating profile. 

Some options you might consider include:

  • A commitment to actually seeking out someone to date. It’s one thing if you simply don’t connect with someone you’re interested in, but if you go through the trouble of creating a dating profile, make sure you’re committed to following through with eventual in-person encounters.
  • A rule for when you mention to the other person you’re ready for an in-person meeting. Create criteria such the length of time you’ve been messaging them, or how interested you actually feel. Remember that you don’t always have to wait for the other person to make this move.
  • An accountability partner. Choose a trusted friend who knows you well and understands when you need a little push. It can be fun to set up your profile with help from a friend, and you can use them as a sounding board when weighing whether to meet someone for the first time. That person can also hold you accountable for taking action rather than spending all your time perusing online profiles and flirting through text apps.

Second, if you’re worried about what to say or how to approach new people, know that honesty really is the best policy. Lying in dating apps is good fodder for sitcom writing but probably a bad precedent to set in your dating life.

Be honest about what you’re looking for, whether that’s someone to have fun with, a committed relationship or just some casual romance. Note that honesty doesn’t mean being crass or untactful. Consider the other person’s feelings as you approach various conversations.

Ask about deal breakers before moving forward with a relationship. If you struggle to talk about serious topics with someone you just met, consider bringing these up before meeting, but after you’ve gotten to know a little about each other and think you’re interested. Again, be honest. Communicate that you are interested, but you don’t want to waste your time or theirs if there’s an unknown wall in place. Ask them to share any deal breakers that would make them say no to dating someone, and share yours as well.

Getting Practical

Online dating is a practical tool for meeting people, especially when you’re busy, but desktop and mobile dating apps aren’t a magic wand you wave for immediate results. According to dating app Coffee Meets Bagel, individuals spent around 12 hours a week on the dating app and an average of 22 minutes each time they accessed it. There’s not a magic number on how much time you need to spend on Tinder or other dating apps, but you should be prepared to be patient as you sift through profiles and get to know potential dating partners.

Be Aware

Safety is often a concern with online dating, but by using a common-sense approach, you can make online dating as safe as or safer than traditional dating. Follow some basic tips such as always meeting in public until you’re more comfortable with the person, letting a trusted friend know where you’ll be and planning check-in times with them and doing some research online to see if the basic facts about the person seem to line up.


The point of online dating isn’t typically to form a strictly digital relationship. There are apps — including social media — for that. Make a plan, and try to stick to it for turning your online dating into real-life meetups.

Take Action

Sign up for (or at least take a look at) some popular dating apps to find one that might work for you. 

By Molly Blue Wilder


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