To the technophobe or dating scene newbie, online dating sites seem shady, risky and populated by the dregs of the dating pool who couldn’t find a date elsewhere. On most dating sites, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Here are some of the questions that are holding many people back from dabbling in online dating.

1. Who uses online dating, and isn’t that just for losers?

The online dating pool consists of just about every type of individual who’s out there in “real life” dating. There are seniors and recent high school graduates, world travelers and workaholics, obese people and anorexic people, rich people and poor people, and just about anyone else you can think of.

This should make it obvious that there aren’t any real “types” of people who use online dating sites. Some people don’t have the time to attend speed dating events and singles’ nights, while others want to see if it’s possible to find out someone’s personality before wasting time, energy and money on multiple dates. There are plenty of reasons to try online dating, and the scene has evolved from a geek-filled pool to a fairly balanced distribution of all sorts of people.

2. How well can you get to know someone online?

The debate on this is hot, as some people believe you can get to know someone just like you would in real life and are very open, while others hold back parts of themselves until you know them in person. You might know the life history of one person before you find out what another looks like.

It’s true that you can’t find everything out online, however. Any annoying verbal tics, behavioral problems, bad habits, and other similar issues that can drive couples apart like the opposite poles of a magnet aren’t detailed in most people’s dating profiles.

Some argue that you can get to know someone much more deeply before judging them on the shallow physical attractiveness factor like we all do at some point, though we don’t admit it. Again, this is true, because you can hold deep conversations about your values, goals, past, and so on, but you can’t necessarily see them and experience the same pheromones and other biological factors of attraction.

In the end, an exclusively online relationship is very different from one that is taken offline; the former is very hard to maintain, as most relationships, even long-distance and online ones, survive on the promise that you two will meet up at some point. Once you do, you’re in for a wild ride of discoveries, compromises, and possibly fights or breakups. Most online dating sites encourage you to meet up early for a reason.

3. Is online dating really safe?

The safety of this type of dating, as in every other type, depends on your own common sense. If you accept every date without scrutinizing someone’s profile, reveal personal information that makes it easy to identify you, and give out your home address and phone number to people you don’t really know, you’re an easy target for victimization.

On the other hand, if you screen others’ profiles, avoid using organization names and locations when possible, only give out your contact details to a chosen few, and give out a mobile number instead of a home number when possible, you’re relatively safe.

If you have a poor gut instinct and no common sense, online dating is just as dangerous as real life dating, and if you’re good at picking out the bad apples from the bunch, you’re safer dating online, where you can get to know someone before being physically around them.

4. When should I ask for a real-life date?

Take it slowly and watch the other person for hints as to whether it’s a good idea to ask this soon or not. The first email and initial contact should probably be free from references to meeting up, lest your potential date think you’re rushing it or becoming stalker-like.

After a few emails, try to work in a subtle invitation for a date, into the flow of your conversation. For instance, if you’re discussing your favorite types of food and what restaurants are best in your area, invite them to dinner with you to try out one that you recommend, or suggest going together to a newly-opened one.

If you’re talking about sports, ask them if they want to try one that you do, or vice versa; people are often flattered to share their interests with someone who is genuinely curious about them.

You can probably think of more ways to work in a date invitation depending on what you’re discussing. This type of invitation tends to work better than a generic message like this: “Hey, I like your profile. Want to go for coffee?” You have a high chance of being ignored. Instead, engage them in a conversation and naturally work in the suggestion.

5. What can I do to make my online dating profile stand out?

First, the basics: what are your statistics? Be sure you’re being truthful about your basic details, and that you have filled in as many as possible. These are the fields that most dating sites pre-populate with answers like different height ranges, weights, income levels, and so on. They are usually searchable, so make sure that if people are searching for those like you, they’re going to find you. If they can’t find you and you don’t find them, you’ll never make contact!

Next, the fields that you can fill in are just as important, if not more so. This is the only opportunity you have to sell yourself to the members of your dating site, and if the description is bland, they’ll assume you are, too. Those who post bland profiles often write something like this: “I’ll fill this in later…” or even, “blah blah blah.” Nobody can know you from that, but they’ll assume you’re lazy, unmotivated, and bound to put the same effort into your relationships.
Last but not least, pictures can make a great first impression. No shirtless or cleavage pictures, pictures where they can’t see your face, or pictures with people badly blocked or blurred out. Find – or take – clear pictures of you, and you alone.

These are some of the most frequently asked questions about online dating sites; enjoy your exploration and you may just find the one who is right for you.