Ask Joey’s secrets to online dating

Love’s for sale this Valentine’s Day season, and SN&R’s advice columnist has demystified all matters of the iHeart

Om … om … OMG! Fed up that you can’t even buy yourself love on Internet dating sites like eHarmony? Looks like you need a new guru; Joey Garcia shares her wise Web warnings.

Om … om … OMG! Fed up that you can’t even buy yourself love on Internet dating sites like eHarmony? Looks like you need a new guru; Joey Garcia shares her wise Web warnings.

Photo By Hope Harris

Do you know at least one person who has won big money at a casino? Have a friend who scored an enviable prize with a single raffle ticket? Then you probably also know someone who has married, or is happily living with, a partner she or he met online. That’s right: Online dating is a gamble. As a writer noted in a recent article: “You have to endure the bad-luck streaks to earn a chance at the jackpot.”

In romance, dry spells can be heartbreaking. I know a local television personality who lamented her never-married status for more than a decade. She pressed friends to set her up on blind dates—and a few did. But rarely did those men ever ask her out again.

Finally, the TV gal learned the secret to online dating, and soon celebrated her own nuptials. I have since suggested this secret to several other men and women, gay and straight, who have gone on to meet wonderful partners.

What is this secret? Do the exact opposite of what online dating sites recommend.

When filling out questionnaires about the appearance, qualities and interests you desire in a potential partner, most online-dating sites suggest that you keep your criteria as open as possible. They urge you to post a photo, because profiles with photos score the most hits. Online matchmakers also want you to choose a long-term membership, but they structure fees accordingly, so that joining for six months seems like a better deal than signing up for 30 days.

I understand why online-dating services would promote such advice. Internet love is a billion-dollar enterprise, and top firms earn upward of $200 million a year.

To keep making money, these companies must do four things: convert at least 10 percent of visitors into paying customers; stimulate customer appetite by providing potential matches immediately; regularly pop a satisfactory mix of possible dates into your inbox while offering cool tech tools, like video chats, for instant access; and screen out the 10 percent of scammers, flamers, con artists, sexual predators and criminals who join their services daily.

Online dating is clearly a business, but is it science?

Computerworld Magazine reports that online-dating services function on a strange mix of technology, science (some say pseudoscience), alchemy and marketing, and may not be any better than any other method of meeting a mate. Other services, like eHarmony, demand top dollar for their “scientific” approach to matchmaking, but may just be blinding you with databases, algorithms and calculations. When one user expresses interest in another, “scientific” services like eHarmony usher the pair through a tightly controlled communication process, which some say feels like a grueling series of job interviews. Despite the über-intense type-A ambition, eHarmony is no more successful at creating long-term relationships than any other online-dating service.

In the Computerworld article, MIT behavioral economics professor Dan Ariely explains that online-dating services make big promises, but, like unreliable suitors, “show no evidence of doing anything useful in terms of matches.”

In reality, the sheer array of profiles are among the reasons that you won’t find a mate—and online dating services, especially those affiliated with psychologists, know this.

Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor at Swarthmore College and the author of The Paradox of Choice, says that a glut of choices is detrimental. “Everyone agrees that having choice is better than not having choice. It seems evident that if choice is good, then more choice is better. The paradox is that this ‘obvious’ truth isn’t true. It turns out that a point can be reached where, with more choice, people are worse off,” he says.

Picture yourself at work, when has dropped five new profiles into your computer’s inbox. You’ve already had three fabulous dates with someone who feels like a soulmate but—gee—it doesn’t hurt to peek at one of the new profiles and wonder what it would be like to meet.

But buyer beware: That’s a trap.

“People can’t ignore options. They have to pay attention to them,” Schwartz says. “What’s nagging is the possibility that, if they had chosen differently, they could have gotten something better.”

Online dating services count on this addictive pattern of behavior. They want to you meet someone, leave the service (without ending the membership) and then return when the relationship doesn’t work out (no worries, five even-better profiles dropped into your inbox just today). This guarantees a long revenue stream for the 10 percent of individuals that companies rely on to turn a free three-day trial into a permanent (and often forgotten) credit-card charge.

So, if online dating services spank the truth, why buy a membership?

To meet someone fabulous, of course!

If you are truly ready to find a life partner, let me introduce you to the secret process that online dating companies don’t want you to know about. One caveat: You must follow each step without variation:

Step No. 1: Make a 30-day commitment. If you are searching for a life partner, clear your calendar and make this process a part-time job for one month. Pay for a single-month subscription to one (yes, only one) online dating service to enforce your dedication to your future.

Step No. 2: Narrow your search criteria. Psychologist Schwartz wants people to learn that “good enough is good enough.” It’s not settling, it’s being clear on what is important. So ponder the essential qualities that you seek a partner. Add realistic criteria regarding body type, religion, activities, income and education on the dating service’s questionnaire and in your bio. Enter all of these details into the search function and let it narrow your choices down to four or five potential dates. Then, read their profiles carefully to select the two or three people you will contact first and, if all goes well, establish emotional intimacy with. While you are getting to know these two or three people, do not review any other profiles.

Step No. 3: Write your profile. Your profile should be easy on the eyes. Don’t use all caps (it appears angry) or excessive exclamation marks (it looks like you’re in middle school). Write your profile in a Word document and, when it’s been swept free of punctuation, grammar and spelling errors, cut and paste it into the space allotted on your profile. Write with integrity.

Cornell University professor Jeff Hancock’s study of online profiles revealed that 80 percent of men and women lied about something. And, yes, deceit usually continues later in face-to-face communications. Be someone who wants to begin a romantic relationship with the truth.

Step No. 4: Don’t post a photo. Photos are a distraction, not an asset. So, when you send your first e-mail, offer a photo to your prospective date for his or her eyes only. No, that doesn’t mean the pic need be scandalous; just show that you are interested in sharing yourself with a select few, not everyone online.

Step No. 5: Hide your profile. That’s right: Once your profile is complete, click the box that does not allow anyone to see it. You are taking charge of your romantic life and will choose to unveil your profile only for the chosen few.

Step No. 6: The first e-mail. Don’t send an emoticon wink to check a prospect’s interest. Be an adult. Craft a one-paragraph introductory e-mail personalized for each person you are interested in. That e-mail should sizzle with the authenticity of your personality and presence. Be certain to highlight your shared interests and share a lighthearted, uplifting or amusing story about your experience with an activity, like golf, that tops both your lists. One of my friends spent three days writing and editing a sassy, flirty and funny first e-mail to the man who is now her husband. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Finally, after exchanging a few e-mails and chatting by phone, meet for lunch. (I’m not a fan of the coffee date, because it doesn’t require much investment or thought.) If that goes well, you’re on your way to a real relationship.

Be certain to date two or three people concurrently at first. This will help you to avoid becoming too clingy or controlling about a budding relationship. And, of course, reserve physical intimacy for the one person you become exclusive with, because that diminishes emotional drama significantly.

That’s the simple process to finding real love online. So, even though you can’t buy love, you can purchase membership in an online dating service that can end any streak of bad luck and guide you to the relationship jackpot: the person you truly want to be with.