It depends. (Don't you love those lawyer answers?)
What's involved? Not much. It's easy and fast. And don't worry. You can do it in your bunny slippers, with Yodels and Diet Coke in hand. Some sites charge for membership; others are completely free. And most have a combination of free and subscription premium services.
At most sites you set up a profile and answer lots of questions about yourself. (EHarmony.com has an extensive personality-profile application. It also reserves the right to conduct research studies based on your response to its personality profiler.) Then you wait for others to rush to meet you or reach out to meet others. (Match.com has a new application to help you find the right match.)
You can meet your cyberdates online via instant messaging or special private E-mail addresses that help hide your true identity. What happens next is up to you. You can take it to the next level of exchanging telephone numbers, and even to F2F (face-to-face) meetings. Many people we know have married their cyberpartners. Some unions have worked out very well, and others have ended disastrously.
OK, your interest is piqued. But how do you know which site is right for you? Where do you go to find that perfect someone?
There are megasites that appeal to the broadest interests--Match.com, Yahoo, and MSN. Think of them as the Home Depots of cyberdating. Everything is there, but it's not easy to find and might intimidate you. Still, they give you the greatest range of choices and let you browse a bit. You can also learn a lot from others' profiles and photos. It's best to follow the tone of the other ads at a particular site.
Then there are the special-interest dating sites. These cater to special religious groups, hobbyists, single parents, lawyers, theater-lovers, people in therapy, etc. These are much smaller but are more likely to have others with similar interests (or at least people willing to pretend they do). You have to tread more carefully here, though. Any missteps might be remembered in a smaller community. Better take notes and watch before jumping in. And when you do, take it slow and follow the others' leads.
One way to find the right site for you is to ask people you know if they have ever used a dating site. They may have some pointers and site suggestions. Then try out a few and see what you think. Are people friendly? Helpful? Are there others with similar interests? What about geographical desirability--is everyone in Texas, or is no one in Texas? What do people's pictures look like--how many potential cyberdates are sporting mullets or polyester disco shirts? Are there too many or too few cowboy boots, red patent pumps, or all-black Milano designer garb?
If you find the right site, the next step is to get potential suitors' attention. Most people, when visiting a dating site, look for punch. After all, you're marketing yourself. So you need a marketing plan.
So ask yourself, what are you selling and to whom are you marketing? You'll need to describe yourself. Although you may think you know more about you than anyone else does, think again. Start by asking your friends. How would they describe you (in a positive light, hopefully)? What do they see as your strengths and weaknesses? Then dovetail their suggestions with your innermost desires.
This will give you the core of your cyberdating ad. Take time to find a good photo or have one done. (Many potential cyberdates die on the vine with bad photos that don't do the person justice.)
Next, you'll need to focus your marketing campaign on the right demographic market. What's your target market? Be realistic. Remember that Pierce Bronson and Jennifer Aniston are already taken. Are there some firm conditions you need to articulate? Nonsmokers, without children, in a geographically desirable location? What about age, race, or religion?
Reach out to your friends again. This time ask them to define the perfect match for you. Then talk about what would attract this perfection to you. Now you've got the basis for a cyberdating marketing plan.
Then look at what others are doing. To post a photo or not to post a photo, that is the question! And if you decide to post one, which one? And if you use Photoshop to remove the double chins and add some hair, would anyone recognize you from your photo?
Most of us have heard some of the success stories and some of the horrors of cyberdating. But it's a wonderful way to meet people and maybe find your soul mate. Just be careful, use your head, and make sure you follow the online safety and privacy tips. If things go wrong, make sure you seek help, too. If you find yourself the victim or cyberstalking or harassment, you can reach out to our cyberstalking and harassment team at WiredSafety.org or your local law-enforcement agency.
Life's hard enough without being lonely.