Dating

Love in the Time of Algorithms: Tips for Finding Your Perfect Match Online

Published: MAY 16, 2024
One dating and relationship expert shares her top tips for staying safe and having fun while online dating.

More and more people are looking for love online these days. Over the past two decades, online dating has gone from a stigmatized way to find love to an industry that market forecasters predict will reach $10.8B by 2032. Increasing user numbers drive this growth on some of the best online dating sites, like Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, Match, and Grindr. Tinder alone had around 6.7 million average users as of the fourth quarter of 2020.

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More than 40 million Americans use dating apps, and online dating has become the most common way U.S. couples meet. This digital landscape is reshaping how we seek love, with over one-third of U.S. marriages now originating online. However, as per 2023 Pew Research, only 10% of people in committed relationships or marriages met their partner through these platforms. 

Still, many people are left wondering how to meet someone. Dating in today's digital world can be a demanding task, and putting your heart out there can be scary.

But it can also be wonderfully fulfilling, and there isn't anything wrong with wanting to find a new relationship from online dating! For some, it can be the best way to make a romantic connection.

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 Is online dating worth it? 

Online dating can be a fantastic way to broaden your social horizons and potentially find that special someone. It's super convenient, offering a vast pool of potential matches just a click away. Plus, with the help of algorithms matching you to others on the platform based on shared interests, you might just meet your perfect match.

But it's not all roses; there's the occasional fib in profiles, the overwhelming number of options, and the cost of subscriptions. Still, many have found love online, making the experience more than worth it. So, if you're up for the adventure, why not give it a shot?

Is online dating safe? 

According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2023, perceptions of the safety of online dating vary among Americans, with a slight decline since 2019. While 48% of U.S. adults view online dating as a safe way to meet people, women are more likely than men to express safety concerns. Younger women using dating sites or apps report higher rates of unwanted behaviors, including receiving unsolicited sexually explicit messages or images (56%) and facing persistent contact after expressing disinterest (43%). About one in 10 women in this group reported receiving threats of physical harm. These experiences are less common among older women and men of any age who use online dating platforms.

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However, according to a ProPublica report from 2019, more than one-third of over 1,200 women surveyed by the Columbia Journalism Institute revealed that they'd experienced sexual assault perpetrated by individuals they met via online dating platforms. 

Read more: Thousands of Dating App Users Share Their Hookup Tips

Additionally, approximately half of online daters (52%) claim to have encountered individuals they suspect were attempting to scam them. This perception is notably higher among men under 50, with 63% reporting encounters with potential scammers, compared to 47% of men over 50 and 44% of women across all age groups.

19 Online Dating Tips

In the mid-'90s, I jumped into the dating scene, managing the Personals and Promotions department at the Philadelphia Weekly. Right around that time, Match.com made its debut and transformed the dating world. Despite being unqualified, I organized singles' events, from shimmying with drag queens at "Shaft Fridays" to hosting celebrity look-alike contests at The Five Spot. My matchmaking adventures even took me to gritty Camden, New Jersey, where I chaperoned horny middle-aged swingers as they acted out their sexual fantasies and, fingers crossed, placed an ad in our "Anything Goes" section. Alongside writing a spicy relationship advice column in a pre-Carrie Bradshaw era and regularly appearing on local media, I became an expert in dishing out new relationship advice.

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Fast forward two decades, and after countless sex and relationship bylines and dates arranged via apps, I wrote "101 Ways to Rock Online Dating: How to Find Love (or Not) in the Digital World," sharing online dating tips from my wealth of experience in the ever-changing landscape of modern love. And now I'm sharing some of those tips here with you!

Tip #1: Embrace the idea that there's nothing wrong with casual sex

There's no shame in wanting straight-up sex, but a lot of people play it coy or aren't willing to admit it. Instead of pretending you want some deep, heartfelt connection, what if you were honest and both people got what they truly wanted (between the sheets)? It's a novel idea, but sometimes a physical connection does not require an emotional bond.

Read more: How to Have Rebound Sex Without Being a Jerk

Tip #2: Don't show off material possessions.

Avoid showing off material wealth in images (think expensive cars, houses, or watches) because it makes you seem insecure and tells people you have something worth trying to take.

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Tip #3: Don't mention income in your profile.

Avoid talking about financial security in your profile. It tells scammers you're worth targeting while signaling to potential dates that you don't think you're good enough unless you mention you've got money. Sure, some people specifically seek a wealthy partner (and there are dating apps for that), but no matter your net worth, you are much more than your bank account balance.

Tip #4: Don't share any identifying details.

You should be cautious about sharing photos showing identifying features, such as a home address, car, or license plate. The same goes for images exposing where you work or where your kids attend school.

Tip #5: Think twice before you link to Instagram.

 Linking your Instagram to your profile may seem like a great idea. After all, it lets you share more photos of yourself with potential matches and shows you're a real person with a real life. But be careful. Your Instagram profile probably offers much more information about your favorite places and activities than you realize, as well as comments made by friends and followers.

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Tip #6: Trust and listen to your gut.

So many unknowns come into play when you are online dating. Past experiences shape your intuition. If you pay attention and listen to it, your existing knowledge can help process information, like whether or not you get a sense of authenticity and transparency from a match. Go with your gut, always.

Tip #7: Keep in mind that people may omit key details.

An online dating profile is not a tell-all E! True Hollywood Story. Dating profiles do not always tell the whole truth.

People serious about meeting someone generally put their best effort into their profiles. So, beware if you come across one that provides just the most generic details. They may not be real human beings, and the lack of basic personal information could signal sneaky behavior. If something feels off, it probably is.

Tip #8: Do your research.

There's nothing wrong with Nancy Drew-ing a match. A Pew Research Center study found that 29% of online daters search for information about their possible dates before meeting them. Search engines are your friend if you tend to err on the side of caution (yay, you!).

Look at social media profiles. You can also run a national background check online using sites like Records.com, Instant Checkmate, or BeenVerified. Staying safe is the name of the game, so do what you have to do!

Tip #9: Online dating can be a playground for catfishing.

There are a lot of folks out there who prey on lonely people. Catfishing is a strange online phenomenon, the fine art of pretending to be someone you're not to lure someone you've never met into a relationship. If someone has a too-good-to-be-true sob story and makes financial requests, run far, far away — especially if they shy from meeting in person. If your internal radar sets off any red flags — ever — listen.

Tip #10: Don't be afraid to do a reverse image search.

If you come across a suspect photo, use a reverse image search engine to see if it's for real. Google Images allows people to do reverse photo searches by uploading an image from their computer or pasting the link of the image in the search bar itself. You can also drag and drop the image in the search bar.

On mobile devices, reverse image searches work best using a third-party service called Labnol. This free website uses the same Google Images reverse search engine but also works on mobile browsers.

Read more: What is a Thirst Trap? 

Tip #11: When in doubt, set up a video chat.

Okay, this may sound extreme. But, if you have any whiff of uncertainty about meeting someone in person, request a pre-date Skype or FaceTime call. Don't waste anyone's time, and don't let them waste yours. A few minutes of virtual face time can cement whether or not you want to invest your precious time in coffee or a meal with someone.

Tip #12: Never send money to someone you've met online.

AARP examined how often U.S. adults aged 18 and over were targeted or victimized in online relationship scams. Twenty-seven percent indicated they or someone they know has encountered an online relationship scam. Fifty-seven percent of those scammed lost money or suffered other financial losses.

Overall, dating fraud has increased by 32% since 2015. Never send money to someone you have met online, regardless of the reason they give or how long you've been chatting with them.

Tip #13: Don't move a conversation off an app until you're confident the person is who they say they are.

Many people are quick to push a conversation off an app and into real life. Sure, it makes sense. It takes a lot of effort to manage messages, especially if you are on multiple dating apps and don't check them often. There is something intimate, though, about giving a match digits, so make sure your date is who they say they are before giving out any personal details.

Tip #14: Arrange for your own transportation.

Once upon a time, getting picked up for a first date was commonplace. In an era of electronic courtship, not so much. The "want to meet me there?" mindset is maddening for some. But from a safety perspective, it makes a lot of sense — at least until you've met someone IRL. Avoid letting someone know exactly where you live until you know them better.

Tip #15: Have a go-to spot for first dates.

This is super crucial for me to feel safe on a first date. So, unless your date has their heart set on a particular activity, make a (well-vetted) suggestion. Opt for a public place close to home and where there's likely to be a familiar face if things go sideways. An extra layer of personal comfort and security will significantly reduce your first-date angst.

Read more: How Do You Minimize Risk When Meeting Someone For the First Time?

Tip #16: You can change your mind.

Wrapping up a date when you know you don't want a second one is always awkward. If you're not feeling it, instead of over-promising and never delivering, a simple "I'm no longer interested, but I wish you all the best" is the right thing to do.

And if you lose interest before the first date rolls around, spare everyone's feelings and cancel plans. There's no need to lie or give a reason why. No hearts will be broken.

Tip #17: Beware of breadcrumbing.

Breadcrumbing is defined by the Urban Dictionary as "the act of sending out flirtatious, but noncommittal text messages (i.e., "breadcrumbs") to lure a sexual partner without expending much effort." Basically, these folks love leading someone on.

Breadcrumbers will send sporadic messages, slide into your direct messages (DMs) every so often, and like your social media posts when the mood strikes. If you're looking for a steady connection, there's nothing reliable about these folks who semi-try to stay relevant.

Tip #18: Always ask for consent.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "consent" as "to give assent or approval." In simple terms, consent is clear, enthusiastic, and communicated. A big myth in our society is that talking about consent ahead of time ruins the vibe. There's nothing sexier than someone asking permission to hug, kiss, or touch another person. Also, remember from an earlier tip that "no" is a complete sentence — end of story.

Tip #19: Set up safety precautions ahead of time.

The sad reality is that an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. One in five women will be raped within their lifetime (compared to 1 in 71 men.) So, safety always comes first when dating online.

Set up a virtual buddy system with a trusted friend and check in at set times. Another option is to use a location-sharing app like Find My Friends or Google Maps.

Making online dating work for you

Though online dating is pretty much the norm these days, it's not without its risks, as revealed by the Pew Research Center study and ProPublica report I mentioned. However, you can confidently navigate this digital space by prioritizing safety measures like staying vigilant, using reputable platforms (there are plenty of free online dating sites without registration and payment), and exercising caution in online interactions. Despite the challenges, with the right precautions, online dating promises to foster meaningful connections and even lasting love.

Remember to approach online dating with authenticity and an open mind. Each swipe brings you closer to finding someone special, so embrace the journey with humor and confidence. It might lead to the best sex of your life — or even love!

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Ryn Pfeuffer

Ryn Pfeuffer is a versatile print and digital writer specializing in sex, lifestyle, and relationship topics. She got her start in the mid-90s at the Philadelphia Weekly, managing a 10-page section of the newspaper and more than 500 lonely hearts.Her professional stock skyrocketed when she started writing a saucy (and pre-Carrie-Bradshaw-era) dating advice column called “Ask Me Anything.” She appeared regularly on local radio stations and late-night TV as an expert on everything from grooming...

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