Get Yourself Out There

Tips and advice for singles exploring online dating

Finding a mate can be pretty scary, whether we are looking for a hook-up, casual relationship or a life partner. For many people, online dating can be difficult to negotiate in a million different ways, especially for people who’ve come out of long-term relationships, but even for people struggling to connect with likeminded others.

There is plenty of advice online or even within dating apps, but here is some additional advice from me, and friends of both sexes who’ve kindly offered to comment. This advice applies equally to everyone.


Research which app or apps might suit you best and spend some time having a look through their clientele before writing a profile (if necessary, start with a mostly empty profile and then add to it if you decide to stay). It’s probably a good idea to use more than one app, but keep in mind that there will be cross-over with other apps you’re on, and also it can be time consuming and difficult to keep up with messages in the early ‘honeymoon’ stages when you are ‘fresh meat’.

Decide right from the start what information you will share; whether you will use your real name, your surname, your home suburb and actual age – you will need to answer these questions immediately and some apps such as Tinder will not let you alter any of those, and will only accept your account if you have a Facebook profile.

Manage your settings to filter what appeals to you – at a bare minimum choose your preferred partner age range and location (for example, within 50 kilometres of your home). If you don’t want people from overseas or interstate contacting you, most apps will let you filter out those requests. Some will let you choose from a range of other attributes such as body type, smoking/non-smoking habits, income/professional status, kids/no kids, or height.

Choose at least two recent photos that you think are flattering but accurate portrayals of yourself. If you are a woman, full body shots have been quoted as increasing the hit rate by about 200%! If you don’t show your body, be prepared that you will be asked about it, and more than likely, be asked for a photo.

Think about what to write in your profile. Don’t opt for clichés stating what a nice and genuine person you are, avoid the phrase ‘I never know what to write in these things’ or ‘Just add me and I’ll tell you whatever you want to know’ or ‘I don’t trust online dating but…”. Try to write something meaningful – it doesn’t have to be long, in fact short profiles that are intriguing or funny can be great conversation starters. If you are a man, it’s a big turn-off to women if you come across as aggressive, rude, smug, resigned to misery, or angry. This is incredibly common. Please do not ever include photos of your kids or playthings – the number of men on dating apps who have photos of their cars, motor bikes, boats/fish or dogs is scary! (Although animals always seem to draw in the ladies!) Again, a big mistake men make is taking very unflattering selfies! No one looks good from below and a smile can work wonders for even the most average face. If you choose not to display a photo keep in mind that your success rate may be extremely low. This interview has some great pointers about what not to say.

When you initiate a message, avoid the generic ‘Hey’ or similar banalities. Try to say something that shows you have read their profile and like the look of them. If you’re a man messaging a woman, don’t focus on her appearance too much and don’t immediately ask about her body or breasts.

Keep in mind that a lot of people don’t even acknowledge a message. Very attractive young women often can’t keep up with the number of requests or messages they receive, and others can’t seem to be bothered replying unless they are very keen on your photo and profile. Try not to take this personally. Most apps don’t have a polite option (some do, such as RSVP) where you can say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ and so many people opt for silence rather than directly hurting someone’s feelings. Also, it is not uncommon for men to become feral and rude if they are rejected!

A lot of men seem to like to cut to the chase very soon – sometimes even in the opening line (“So, what are you looking for on here?”). This can be a good thing or it can be just plain uncouth. Be prepared to answer the question though, to save you both time if necessary!

Women are culturally conditioned to be polite and to please men. Try not to fall into this trap because you will never succeed in an online dating environment. Sometimes you need to be blunt and ‘say it like it is’. Some women have no qualms at all in blocking men or deleting conversations if things aren’t going the way they like. Find your own path, but put your own needs first.

Men have said in a large survey about online dating attitudes in America that they like photos, sexy texts, emoticons, and correct spelling and grammar – but no netspeak, don’t text more than once before a reply, don’t ask too many questions, don’t text during work hours and don’t use all capital letters.

Women have said in a large survey about online dating attitudes in America that they like photos, sexy texts, emoticons, and correct spelling and grammar – but don’t send sexy photos (especially porn or dick pics unless requested), don’t text more than once before a reply, and don’t ask too many personal questions.

Don’t ever send nude or semi-naked pics that show your face – and beware that these could be shared without your permission or knowledge. Most dating apps will not allow you to post nude images onto your profile.

If you are indulging in sexting or virtual fun and games, it’s best not to use your real name, and especially not your full name. Keep in mind that the internet has a long life!

State clearly in your profile what your ‘non-negotiables’ are – examples might be that you are not interested in married/partnered people, smokers or drug users, one-nighters, people who are not employed, or people overseas. Some apps will let you filter out those who are able to contact you based on this type of information (including your age, height and body type preferences) and some will not allow anyone to contact you unless you give them permission (eg, Tinder, Oasis and kik’s Match&Chat).

Ask whether someone’s photo is recent and if they only have one image listed, scrutinise it for ‘authenticity’ – beware of models or photos of very good-looking people, which are often stolen from social media or other places online. You can also ask politely to see more images. Beware of people who will not share an image – it’s hardly fair if you’ve shared yours. It also smacks of illicit behaviour where someone is ‘playing away’.
Be conscious about whether someone’s ‘voice’ and language matches their image. A lot of scammers use fake pics and message in poor English.

Be conscious of rapport and good conversation flow. If it’s stilted and awkward, think twice about whether you like what you see enough to meet face-to-face. Keep in mind that some people just don’t do well in a text message medium, and others are slow bloomers.

It can be difficult to juggle a lot of conversations at once. Some sites are overly clunky and awkward to use, especially via a mobile phone. I suggest moving to a chat app like kik soon if you think you might like to get to know someone further. Keep in mind that most chat apps easily allow you to block someone, if things don’t go well. I advise you not to give out your mobile/cell phone number even if just for what’s app – unwanted callers can still reach you and if they call from a private number or landline, you can’t block them.

If you like someone, arrange early to meet them – ideally within a week, that way you limit the chances of building each other into something unrealistic, and also running out of things to say if you’ve been texting a lot!

If you really like someone ask them out! This applies whether you are a man or a woman; just bite the bullet and suggest a date and meeting place, or at least get the conversation moving in that direction. Many women want to be asked and will lose interest if it doesn’t happen soon.

Decide whether you want to share your mobile/cell phone number (keeping in mind that you can block people if you change your mind), or move to an anonymous chat app such as kik (this means that you don’t have to share your mobile number). If you choose a chat app such as Viber or What’s app, be sure to let your chat-date know that you are not agreeing to have them phone you without warning. (Remember that you can block people from all of these apps later if you don’t want to keep in touch but you do run the risk of them using your mobile/cell phone number without permission).

One benefit of sharing a mobile number is that you can easily confirm the arrangements or text/phone them if they are late or don’t turn up. Time wasters do exist!

Choose your first meeting place with care – make it public and not in your home, tell a friend what you’re doing, where you will be and for how long. Check in with them once you’re finished. Make your safety paramount. Daytime meeting is a great idea if you can manage it – possibilities are a nice cafe, the botanic gardens or a well-populated park.

If you are having a meal together (especially at night), decide from the outset that you will split the costs. If one person decides to pay, agree up front so there are no nasty surprises when the bill comes! Some men believe that if they asked for the date, they should pay – some women believe this is a polite gesture.

Plan a get-away strategy if it doesn’t feel right or you don’t like your date. Be courteous about it though.

Be aware of your personal safety at all times and do not put yourself in compromising positions.

Try not to judge a book by its cover, and give your date a fair go. They may be nervous or shy, so try to make smooth conversation, ask questions, show an interest in them, and listen to what they have to say.

Don’t get too personal too soon, don’t appear too needy or clingy – this puts a lot of people off.

Try not to pre-judge what you think a person is like before you meet them. If you’ve messaged heavily before you meet, this can result in disappointment – but it can also be a great way to continue to build genuine intimacy in person if you ‘click’ in real life.

It might seem obvious, but remember to smile, don’t be rude, and try to stay calm if you’re inclined to be nervous in these situations.

Beware that a lot of people behave badly online! You might be chatting away to someone, only to be deleted with no warning five minutes later. You might arrange for a date and then with no explanation, the same thing happens. You might be verbally abused, or have a complete stranger speak to you as if you don’t deserve basic courtesy. Unfortunately it’s mostly women who are exposed to these behaviours – men just tend to get the silent treatment. Either way, check out my last point here in this list!

Be clear in your own mind whether you want things to go down a sexual pathway quickly. If you’ve discussed sex with your online interest, try to gauge whether you are ‘on the same page’ sexually – make sure you are not hooking up with someone whose sexual practices will offend you. (Keep in mind that the search for experience in some sexual practices is behind some people’s desire for hook-ups or FWBs.)

If you’re not looking for casual sex or a hook-up, take your time with sexual intimacy. It really does change everything and that’s not always a good thing.

Beware of people with a lot of time on their hands; they might just be looking for a distraction or just not a good match with you if you are leading a busy life.
Go with your gut instinct if something doesn’t feel right.

Beware of scammers and ‘catfishers’ – they are everywhere and they are extremely skilled in the art of manipulation. If someone won’t meet with within a week or two, with no good reason, don’t pursue the communication.

If you aren’t available for more than a week, don’t ask someone out on a date – just wait until you’re ready. People generally don’t make plans to meet someone they’ve talked with online beyond this timeframe.

If you do meet face-to-face and your date tells you after (or during) the meeting that they don’t think it’s a good match, be gracious and don’t pester them with all the reasons why you’re perfect for them, and asking for a second chance.

Keep in mind that people can and do lie online and that until you meet them, they are strangers!

Above all treat people the way you would wish to be treated.

The internet does not give anyone the right to behave like a troll, abuser or ghost. If you don’t have something positive to say, my advice is to keep it to yourself.

Channelling My Inner Teacher

Sex with a virgin. Has it ever held an attraction? It certainly hadn’t appealed to me, but after a while I began to see that it might have its advantages.

If you’re reading this on the coat-tails of my interview with Tommy, it’s not quite a coincidence that I have chosen to share this story now, but I can guarantee you that it’s unrelated. Phew, I was feeling a bit awkward there for a moment.

This story is one from the vaults of my first year online dating, so let’s propel ourselves back a couple of years.

I’d rejected the idea of sex with needy late teens long ago, even those who were upfront about wanting ‘experience’. I didn’t fancy being anyone’s teacher but quite by accident I found myself in that role.

I met Tenzin on Skout in the final days before I deleted it as a bad joke. He had an ambiguous photo and a friendly approach with only a whiff of desperation. For a couple of weeks we chatted on and off about nothing much in particular.

I was interested in Tenzin’s Tibetan culture and Buddhist background. He opened up and revealed that most women on the app wouldn’t talk to him. He was an accounting student doing his second degree, with a new full-time job to pay his way. All his family were back home. His English was excellent and he explained that it had been honed for many years through work, before only recently moving to Australia.

I was doing my grocery shopping when Tenzin confided in me that he was a virgin. I stopped the trolley in shock. “You shouldn’t tell women that,” I texted. “It’s private!”

I didn’t think that the average Australian woman would appreciate the reasons why he’d reached the ripe old age of 30 without having lost his cherry. Tenzin explained that things were different back in his small village in Tibet. Men and women married young with little or no sexual experience. His knowledge about sex was based on hearsay and porn.

Channelling my inner Shere Hite I invited him to open up about that. I couldn’t help but think of several young men I’d already met who had self-confessed porn addictions and already concerning problems with erectile dysfunction. When Tenzin revealed that, actually, porn made him feel slightly nauseous and sick at heart, I talked to him some more about my own views.

By then we’d hit it off. My inner, subconscious dialogue went something like this:

If I can teach this sensible, innocent young man how to treat a woman well and enjoy both his and her sexuality, I will be improving not only his life but also the lives of several women.

Tenzin proved a willing and eager subject. He liked hearing that if he treats a woman well and satisfies her, she might just appreciate him all the more and stick around.

I gently suggested that he do some genuine research into female physiology. I shared openly my own experiences and some horror stories that other women had told me.

“Don’t be like all those men,” I advised. “If you think of sex as a conquest and it being all about your own satisfaction, then you’ll lose the opportunity to feel what true connected sex and mutual pleasure can give you as a human being.”

He liked my argument. More than that, he was excited to ‘meet’ a woman prepared to be so open and honest about sexuality.

He was also turned on by my cougar status! I shared with him the sad and exasperating statistics about how few women experience orgasm in penetrative sex and how so many men are disinterested or ignorant about women’s bodies.

Sometimes I feel like, here in Australia at least, we’ve gone backwards in time and orgasm equality is farther away than it might have been in the latter part of the 20th Century.

As he read more and more ‘homework’, Tenzin fired questions at me all times of the day and night. His questions ranged from the very basic (“how do I put on a condom?”) to the bizarre (“is it true that most women enjoy having sex with animals?”)

We covered every conceivable topic in between and I was honest with him in a way I’d never been before with either my former husband or any sexual partner. I think this was because our relationship was clear and safe. I’d never met him, I barely knew what he looked like, he didn’t know my full name, we didn’t have to meet or face each other over the breakfast table.

He’d solicited my advice and I’d given it. At times I didn’t feel like responding to his fixation with the topic, but I could understand how exciting it all was for him. He was on the cusp of losing his virginity and was learning so much more than he’d ever dreamed possible.

He could now see a future opening up, where before it was only loneliness, embarrassment and awkwardness.

The pattern continued for a few weeks. I’d send him off to do some more research and he’d do that, plus go off on a tangent and then come back to me with more questions.

Eventually I reached the limit of my altruism and began to grow bored with his neediness and the tone that seemed to have entered his messaging. “You owe me,” it whispered. “I want you to teach me in practice next.”

I questioned my own feelings about sex with this ‘stranger’.

Sure, we’d become familiar but only within a very restricted setting and firm boundaries. I asked for a photo and found him unattractive to my tastes. I withdrew but he followed me, persistent but polite, to the point where I began to feel that I genuinely did have an obligation to give him access to my body as a teaching tool.

For a couple of weeks I fobbed him off with excuses about being busy. I was even quite abrupt, telling him that he couldn’t expect too much from me, that I wasn’t looking for a relationship and that my free time was extremely limited.

I considered his point. Should I go through with it? What did I have to lose? Might it be fun?

It was hard to muster much enthusiasm because I just didn’t find him attractive. I think that’s an important ingredient in fulfilling any sexual fantasies – or at least a certain chemistry that lends itself to intimacy.

I knew he’d never touched a woman before so he’d be ‘clean’. Though he wasn’t keen on condoms, I assured him that he needed to learn for the future.

And so we made a sex date.

Tenzin agreed to take a day off work because he had no free time on the weekends and evenings were out for me. It was a chilly grey Friday morning when we met at a nearby town. I saw his car approaching mine and I stepped out into the fog to meet him. He stayed seated in his car since we’d agreed that he’d follow me to my house.

“Wow,” I thought to myself as I drove the last few kilometres home. “He’s actually quite good looking!”

And indeed he was a fine specimen of virile Asian manliness: trim, small, nut-brown and with a pleasant face and stark white teeth above his crisp white shirt and business trousers. Tenzin seemed confident in an unassuming way and intent on his task, which was of course to lose his burdensome virginity as quickly as possible.

When we arrived, I ushered him inside with warmth I didn’t really feel. I’d realised quickly that he left me cold; I couldn’t sense an iota of passion or genuine interest in me. Clearly, we didn’t see the world in the same way and never would.

But that was fine. I didn’t want anything from this, in fact I would have been quite happy to shoo him back out, say farewell and good luck.

But my own sense of obligation kicked in, and after half an hour of polite conversation during which I knew he would never make the first move, I steeled myself to take the initiative and kiss him.

It was god-awful terrible.

Clearly, he’d never actually ‘kissed’ a girl before. Within seconds, his thrashing lizard tongue forced itself down my throat. It took every ounce of self-control not to end it all immediately.

“Stop,” I said to him gently. “Slow down, slow right down.”

Then I led him by the hand to my bedroom and I swear my thoughts ran like a cliché: “Let’s just get this over with.”

Tenzin was very nervous (as you’d expect) but he was holding it all together pretty well. He was very quiet and intensely serious. There was no laughing, no fun, no passion – all of the things that make my world turn.

I knew that he feared being ‘seen naked’ but I wasn’t sure why – he had a lovely body. It just wasn’t my type.

To cut to the chase, Tenzin successfully put his hard-won research into practice and gave me a single, passionless orgasm, and then climbed on top of me and not too soon, reached his own heavy, panting climax.

I’d fulfilled my duty and he’d achieved his goal. He didn’t have to carry the weight of ‘virgin’ status in a highly sexualised world any longer. He could hold his head high and perform adequately with any woman.

In fact, I reassured him afterwards, a lot of women would have no idea of his limited sexual experience. I bolstered him up and told him he’d done well. I went further in my own head: compared with some of the men I’d had in my bed on this crazy journey, he was bloody good! A virgin until an hour before – and he was a better lover than some guys who swear they’re studs and sexperts. I had a quiet internal chuckle at that for quite some time.

Unfortunately, Tenzin misunderstood our transaction.

Despite my warnings that I didn’t want a relationship and had no free time to offer, which was true in many ways but especially because I was so busy dating other men, Tenzin hadn’t listened.

He contacted me many times afterwards. My least favourite method was an unannounced phone call to my mobile from a private number.

After more than a year of random, awkward conversations where he’d make small talk and then beg me to give him another chance, I told him that it would never happen.

This was still not blunt enough. Months later, I resorted to blocking him on kik and refusing to take his calls on my mobile. One of the reasons why I never, even now, answer an unknown number on my phone, is because of his unreasonable persistence. He’d told me that there hadn’t yet been anyone else after me, which was a great shame.