There is no guarantee of success whenever you put yourself online to date. Keep in mind that these sites and apps are money-making operations, and their end goal is to either keep you on the site for a very long time or to get you back as a return customer.

I’ve not had a lot of success through this medium, but I’ve learned from my mistakes and the mistakes of some of my friends who had an even rougher rodeo than I could possibly imagine.

Avoid playing the “numbers game”.
This is when you keep going out with one person after the next without paying close attention to compatibility issues. The big three compatibility issues are: mutual physical attraction; both want/do not want children; and mutual agreement as to how to handle finances. Because online dating sites are notoriously negligent of matching people up by actual compatibility (“You both like seafood!”, you have to work with what you have, and that’s not a lot. Sometimes you have to go by process of elimination. For example, if you don’t want children, don’t go out with anyone who wants or has them. You’re wasting your time, and theirs.

Depict yourself realistically.
When creating an online dating profile, it’s tempting to “pad your resume”, so to speak, and create a far more glamorous and exciting persona than truly exists. This attracts the wrong type of crowd. How do you really spend your time? Most folks are not too exciting; we engage in simple pleasures in our downtime—reading, gardening, cooking, enjoying the companionship of friends and family, and hanging out at the local coffee shop. Show yourself doing the things that you do most of the time.

Beware of “activities partner” seekers.
As a professional communicator, I am highly attuned to singles who are just looking for someone to do the things that they want to do. Because our hobbies and interests are the most changeable thing about us, this is a dangerous trap to fall into. I realize that it sounds counter-intuitive, but pay very little attention to hobbies and interests, particularly those that demand a lot of time and money. Find someone with whom you can enjoy the simple things in life, like enjoying a good meal, doing the crossword, and discussing politics.Make sure you have the same dating goals. Most people want a relationship that may lead to marriage. A smaller number of people want a relationship that leads to marriage but no kids. However, there are also players using these sites, both male and female. Often, it’s impossible to determine who wants what—you might not even know at first. So before joining an online dating site, sort yourself out first.

Verify, then trust.
The biggest downside of online dating is that the people you date do not share your social network—you don’t have an established reputation to glean from. Far too many people using online dating sites are married. Or they have significant others. Or they’re still using online dating sites after you start dating them. These folks do not come across as sleazy, ne’er-do-wells; they can be highly-motivated college students, white collar professionals, and really nice guys/girls. If you start dating someone you meet, make sure they are not attached, and routinely check the online dating site (and others) to make sure they just don’t have their profile “hidden”.

Aside from that, I can only offer the obvious housekeeping—don’t give anyone you don’t know well money or merge finances, don’t share your address with a complete stranger, always let a friend or family member know where you’re off to the first time you meet someone, etc. Be prepared to be sorely disappointed more often than you are pleasantly surprised.