My twenties involved a string of intense, moody, creative love interests, and a whole lot of pitiful drama. By the time I hit my early thirties, I was ready for something new: a kind, decent man whose mood didn’t shift as swiftly as the New England weather. So I shook things up by joining JDate. In spite of my Jewish upbringing, I’d only dated one Jewish guy before so I was pretty far out of my comfort zone. I expected horror stories. After all, online dating seemed like a recipe for disaster with too-high expectations and overly generous photos. But, in truth, it was lovely dating guys who came with a built-in set of Jewish references, whether it was discussing the merits of Jon Stewart’s Jewish jokes or favorite “Jewish soul food” recipes. In less than a year I found my husband on JDate, and we now have a six-year-old J-daughter. There was some luck involved, but I think it was much more about using the strategies below.
1. Don’t put your dating eggs in one basket.
So you’re cruising along the site, looking for potential dates when you spot him: a melt-your-heart hottie who enjoys all the same activities you do, and is clearly your soul mate. You contact him fingers and toes crossed, and within days, he emails back that he’s interested. Now that you’ve agreed to meet for coffee, why bother contacting anyone else? Here’s why: Never put all your dating eggs in one basket. Many singles think juggling dates is for scammers and players, but when it comes to “blind dating,” it’s simply smart strategy. What you see in a profile may not be what get. Mr. Perfect may have posted a photo of himself from 15 years ago. Maybe he’ll talk fanatically about an ex, weeping into his cappuccino. You never know, which is why you want to keep the social ball rolling by dating more than one person. If Mr. or Mrs. Perfect turns out to be a jerk, you’ve got a back up. If he or she is your perfect match, you end it with the others.
2. Meet up sooner rather than later.
It’s easy to get caught up in the emailing phase with a potential love interest. He or she writes you a long email that makes you giggle and asks all sorts of engaging questions. You email back with details about yourself and then ask a few personal questions. He or she responds with thoughtful, insightful, answers, and the two of you enter a whirlwind email exchange. While those initial letters can help you decide if it’s in your best interest to pursue that first date, there should be a fairy quick cut-off point. The problem is, emails can’t help you predict actual chemistry. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than investing hours of energy and time into emailing “the one,” only to have all hopes dashed after two minutes of meeting him or her. Take a deep breath, hope for the best, and meet your new prospect in person as soon as possible.
3. Let go of the reins.
If you’ve decided you’re going to meet eight guys or date only until next Rosh Hashanah or put any other self-imposed deadline on your online dating experience, stop that. Trust me, I understand the impulse to take any kind of control over your love life. In fact, the day I signed up for JDate, I vowed to myself that I would date ten men before quitting because I thought it was a good sample and it helped me feel in charge. So I did just that—I dated ten guys, a few of them numerous times, and then prepared to quit. I hadn’t found a boyfriend, but I’d done my due diligence. Only the night before I decided to take down my profile, I got an email from an intriguing man who told me that he wanted to learn more about me. I almost didn’t write him back because, hey, I’d met my deadline. I was done. But something told me No. 11 was interesting enough to at least have coffee with. So that’s what we did—and it was this wonderful man who turned out to be my husband. The lesson: Let go of the reigns. Romance and deadlines simply have nothing to do with each other.
4. Prepare for flake-outs.
It’s bound to happen that you’ll be in the midst of exchanging emails with someone who seems too good to be true. You have obviously captivated one another and are bound for romantic glory. Then, out of nowhere he/she stops writing and drops off the face of the earth. Or, maybe he/she writes you just before the date and says “can’t meet up,” without any explanation. You come to the obvious conclusion that you must have said or done something stupid that scared this person away. But here’s the thing. You have no idea who is behind the keyboard of the people you’re emailing. Maybe they got back together with an ex; maybe they met someone the night before; maybe they got cold feet and have unresolved issues. It’s likely it has nothing to do with you. Forget about beating yourself up about someone you have never even met. Cut your losses and move on to the next potential. On the flip side, make sure you are respectful and clear with the people that you are emailing. If you decide not to go on a date, let them know so they can move on too.
5. Avoid dater’s burn out.
It’s one thing to keep the dating doors of opportunity open. It’s another to go on an out-and-out soul-mate hunt. Dating should be pleasurable, at least possibly pleasurable. If all you can think while applying your pre-date mascara or adjusting your tie is, “Why am I even bothering?” it’s time to take a break. You’re not going to meet anyone in this head space and it’s just going to add to the feeling that there’s no one out there. Instead, replenish yourself by using the time to hang out with your friends, try a new class, take up martial arts, or whatever else might intrigue you. You’ll know when it’s time to jump back into online dating because you’ll be feeling optimistic all over again.
Michelle Cove is the author of Seeking Happily Ever After: How to Navigate the Ups and Downs of Being Single Without Losing Your Mind (and Finding Lasting Love Along the Way), and the director of the feature-length documentary Seeking Happily Ever After: One Generation’s Struggle to Redefine the Fairytale. She is also the co-author of the national bestseller I’m Not Mad, I just Hate You!: a New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict (Viking, 1999).