by Sonya Rhodes, PhD and Susan Schneider, coauthors of "The Alpha Woman Meets Her Match: How Strong Women Can Find Love and Happiness Without Settling."
In some ways, online dating and social media have leveled the playing field: Women can take charge of their dating and sex lives in ways they haven't before. We can initiate dates or group hangouts just as easily as men do. The dating world revolves around making the right proactive choices -- and this means that if you're ready for a monogamous relationship, you have to be clear about your goals, both to yourself and prospective partners.
Consider this advice:
1. Finding a partner is a project and requires time and energy. If what you want is a long-term relationship, approach it with your goals in mind. The right mindset is key: Start out by knowing that you are in control of the process.
2. If you're looking online, do your profile with a friend -- this will help you lighten up. Don't boast or be self-deprecating. Be funny, short and concise, and don't sound too cutesy. A photo that shows you actively pursuing an interest is good because it offers information without being wordy.
3. Scan profiles selectively. Pick out three or four guys and signal your interest. When you contact someone, refer to a remark he/she made in their profile. If someone shows an interest in your profile, remember that you are not obligated to respond unless you want to. You be the judge.
4. With several prospects, start an email exchange. But limit your emails to no more than two or three before suggesting a face-to-face meeting. Anyone who wants to prolong emailing is not interested in a relationship. He/she likes the anonymity of email flirting. Avoid this person -- he could be married, in another relationship or just a creep.
4. Arrange a coffee or drink at a convenient location. Talk about things you like to do, your job, college stories or recent experiences. (Be on time -- showing up is at least 50% of success!)
5. Pay attention to whether there is a good balance in the conversation. Does he dominate? Do you? Are you finding common interests? Avoid talking about your or his problems. Do not give advice even if he is begging for it; this is a bad way to start. Stay upbeat.
6. On first dates, make sure you have other plans afterward and keep them, regardless of how things are going. If you're underwhelmed with this person, you will have a good escape route. If you are having a great time and don't want to leave, stick to your previous plan. If you are interested, say so explicitly upon leaving. (This may sound too forward, but there is nothing wrong about being clear.)
7. Offer to split the check. Nowadays, single, college-educated women under the age of 30 are often making more money than men, so don't stand on ceremony waiting for him to pay.
8. Wait to see if he initiates an email or text. If he doesn't, cross him off your list. He's not interested or available. Start over.
9. If he emails or texts (or makes the extra effort to make a phone call!), respond, but move along and suggest meeting again. This should be a real date with a fixed time and place. If he wants to keep it spontaneous, with something like "Let's try for Tuesday," don't bother putting it on your calendar. It's just not likely to happen.
10. After you've met, beware of texts that arrive at odd times and are friendly but unaccompanied by a suggestion of a date. These are false positives because they suggest more intimacy than is real. Don't be taken in. Most likely, he's bored and is just playing with his phone. Respond only if you have seen him in person within the last week.
Postscript: If you start seeing someone on a fairly regular basis (at least once a week), realize that you are only beginning a relationship. Go slowly. Get to know him. See whether he is consistent, reliable and respectful. If you are sleeping exclusively with him and are beginning to take him seriously, consider discussing whether he is interested in having a monogamous relationship. If he balks, start over! The two of you don't share the same goals.
Follow Dr. Sonya Rhodes on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drsonyarhodes