A friend of mine recently posted, “My problem is I don’t know how to start dating again, lol. . .

I originally replied that “You start by starting

I realize that was pithy and cutesy, but I truly mean it. But in the meantime, I went back and dug up some notes I had prepared for a radio interview last year about online dating.

Step 1: Knowing What You Want
Make sure you are mentally ready – that you are over any bad past relationships and that you are open to actually going on a date. Know what you expect from a dating situation – what kind of dating partner you are looking for, how much time and attention you want from them, and what kind of level of intimacy you want from them. Also, know what you bring to a dating situation – what good qualities you bring, what level of commitment you are willing to offer, and how much intimacy you are willing to give. Finally, know what your dealbreakers are: smoking, drinking, drugs, sex, kids, marital status, employment, etc. If you don’t know what you are looking for, you’ll never know when you’ve found it!

Step 2: Putting the Best REAL you forward
Choose sites that work for you – there is a virtual cornucopia for you to try. Don’t try Christian Mingle if you are pagan, don’t try Trek Passions if you don’t know a Ronulian from a Klingon.

Post pictures, real pictures of yourself. When I’m on a dating site, I try to post a new, current picture every month. I’ll also date it in the caption so they know it is new. Don’t post a picture of yourself that you are not willing to live up to, and for goodness sake’s – smile! Also, please don’t take selfies in the bathroom or your car. It’s overdone and underwhelming. And although we all do a little artistic cropping, it’s often better in the long run to put yourself out there as you really are. At least one full body shot so they can see exactly what they are getting.

When completing your profile, make sure to write what you think others would like to read about you. Don’t complain about all the jerks you’ve met on the site, how your last ex broke your heart, or how you could get that hairy cyst healed if you could just get off the welfare, bondo the rust on your car, and find a job where the boss wasn’t an a**hole. Keep the drama out! Instead, talk about the good and fun things in your life: your last fun trip, favorite book you read, weekly or unique activities, volunteer work. If you can’t think of things – ask your friends!

Finally, do unto others as you would like to have done with you. If someone contacts you, and you are not interested – thank them for their time, explain briefly why you are declining, and then wish them success in their journey. It never hurts to be polite – but you don’t have to keep up a running dialogue with them. Also, if you are looking at profiles, wishing someone would contact you – go ahead and contact them! Read through their profile, find something that intrigues you and mention it. Don’t fake it though, remember, you are putting the best REAL you forward.

Step 3: Taking it Offline
Online dating should be fun, and since you are not in the same room, a more comfortable way to communicate. The computer screen is between you and them – a great buffer. But don’t get stuck in the communication trap of just talking online. If you wait too long, you’ll never move from emails and IMs to a real date – and then you are still home alone. However, move at a realistic pace. If you feel like someone is pressuring you to meet or give out personal information too fast, back up.

Typically, if I’ve been communicating several days with someone, I’ll then move to a phone call (not phone sex!) or two before setting up a date. Nothing major, just coffee or a low-key meal. Something that allows you to chat and see if there is anything real there. Remember what you are looking for, don’t sacrifice a relationship for a one-night stand, but still – this is not an interview to grill each other over – this should just be fun! If you can have fun together, you know you are off to a good start.

Step 4: Keeping it Safe
Once you get to the communicating/potential date stage, you have to start instituting the Buddy System. Choose 2-3 people that you trust and keep them in the loop of who you are meeting, where, and any info you have on your date (Pic from their profile, cell phone number, when & where you are meeting up). Designate a time that you will check in with your buddy to confirm you are safe and a back-up plan if you need to exit.

Do not let them pick you up, or volunteer to pick them up. Meet them there, and make sure you have your own transportation. And learn from me, it is better, even if you go to a second location, to follow them there (ask for the address to GPS it so you can check it out first) rather than riding together.

When the date is ending, keep things light. Even if the date was not successful, thank them for their time, follow up with a text or email thank you, and don’t lead them on. If the date was great, that’s awesome – but still don’t go home together that first night. It’s just better for everyone if you leave them wanting more than find out you wanted less later.

Step 5: The After Math
After the date was over, assess the situation. Are they a good fit for what you are looking for? Could you see it going somewhere positive? If the first date was awkward but you liked them, consider giving them a second chance. A lot of people put so much stock in to the first date that everyone gets nervous and it can be downright clunky. But the second time around, you both know what each other looks like and can be more relaxed, and that is often a better gauge of what is going on.

If it’s obvious to you that this is not a good fit, but the other person doesn’t get it, be nice but honest. Briefly honest. You don’t need to go in to a droning lecture ad nauseum about everything that you feel doesn’t work – it’s not healthy for anyone. Just thank them and let them know the truth: “I enjoyed [xyz] but I’m not sure this is a good fit for me. Thanks so much for your willingness to meet me – I hope you find what you are looking for!” And then move on.

Keep the Dalton rule of thumb. . . Be nice. Until you have to stop being nice. Then be firm but polite. (I love Roadhouse!)

If you think it was great but they don’t seem to think so, still be nice. They are entitled to their own opinions, and they are doing you a favor by opting out early. Learn from it, laugh about it when you can, but move on. Each experience is an educational/entertainment opportunity – so use it!

If it’s going well, and you both give the option thumbs up – well then huzzah! Carry on!

This information was shared for anecdotal purposes only. Your actual results may vary.