THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Rules Redux: The Five Red Flags of Online Dating

Want to avoid the disappointments and aggravation of online dating? Girlfriends, you know what I'm talking about: the "no-show" flakes, the chronic complainers, the promising first couple of dates that lead nowhere? The answer is all in selection. Signing up for online dating can be a little like learning to surf. The Internet offers up plenty of men to meet. The ocean offers up endless waves to ride. Pick the wrong ones and you'll waste time and energy, occasionally suffering wipe-outs that can leave you dazed, distracted and dispirited when the right man or wave comes along. Fortunately, men will signal their intentions and level of interest, usually in their very first e-mail. You just need to know what to look out for. My goal for the women I coach is to go from receiving a few dozen e-mails a month to a few hundred, at which point weeding out the unsuitable and the un-serious becomes of paramount importance. So here are some of the most obvious online dating "flags" I suggest you use to steer clear of players and time-wasters: 1. Winkers are wankers. Beware if he sends you a "wink" or a "smile" instead of a properly written e-mail. I guarantee that the man who will ultimately want to marry you will not send you a "wink." Please don't be fooled into thinking he's "shy" or just intimidated by your fabulousness. Yes, it's possible he's a wimp or insecure (and therefore not really robust dating material anyway). But it's far more likely he's e-blasting winks to innumerable women to see what kind of responses he'll solicit. Winks demonstrate laziness and lack of specific, intense interest in you that will invariably show up later in letdowns, small and large. EXCEPTION: He sends you a "wink" and then, when you don't wink back, mans up with an e-mail and asks for your number. TIP: Treat online winks like whistles you might elicit on a busy city street. Maybe you're inwardly flattered, but generally you ignore such attention. You certainly don't whistle back -- or go and start a conversation! See if your online dating site allows you to set your preferences to block winks, so that you won't be tempted down this time-wasting path. 2. Subject bars that go "Hmmmmmmm....." You do not want to date Mr. Hmmmmm.... Hold out for Mr. WOW!!! "Hmmmm" may be Man Code for many things (e.g., "sleeping with you might be interesting," or "I'm bored so please entertain me with witty online banter"). It signals ambivalence and/or arrogance -- not decisiveness and determination. EXCEPTION: He bounces back from annoying "Hmmm" header in body of e-mail with upbeat, enthusiastic commentary on your profile and a pitch for getting together. TIP: If you're having trouble understanding why "Hmmmm" is problematic, then try this exercise. Start imagining yourself as your favorite, sexiest, most desirable celebrity -- Angelina, Beyonce, Gisele, etc. No man who truly recognizes you for the Dreamgirl you are would risk alienating -- or even confusing -- you with such a lame, passive-aggressive come-on. If you MUST reply, write back "Hmmm yourself" -- and NOTHING else. He gets one do-over, no more. 3. He has no picture posted -- or, at the other extreme, he's got a veritable picture gallery displayed. There's really no good reason for an unmarried, normal looking man not to have a picture publicly available if he's got an online dating account. Conversely, the man with multiple photos may be on an ego trip. And if he's got pictures of himself with another woman -- even cropped out -- then just don't even go there! EXCEPTION: A man can e-mail you his photo directly, but it's still a red flag if he's hiding it on his profile. Online dating is now ubiquitous and de-stigmatized, so regard excuses about his "high profile job" and the like with a grain of salt. TIP: Maybe you're more inclined to give faceless men a chance because you yourself have declined to post your own photo. Tsk, tsk, tsk. I understand that especially when you're new to the world of online dating, it can feel more comfortable to enter in stages. But at the end of the day, men are visual creatures -- they either like your look or they don't. It is okay to spend some time getting the right photo - but don't waste time dilly dallying and dragging your feet about posting it. 4. He sends a form letter. These are not always obvious. He may generously share details about himself -- or even pay you general compliments, which are bound to flatter. But if this e-mail makes no mention of anything specific from your profile, then it could have been addressed to dozens of other women on the web (and most likely has been and will be). I remember one woman I was coaching was so excited to have received a "Hi Gorgeous!" e-mail from a hunk who told her all about his job as a pilot and his deep desire for passionate communication with a soul mate. Unfortunately, he'd written an identical e-mail to another woman I knew. Busted! EXCEPTION: A brief, concise e-mail that expresses general interest in your profile and a desire to communicate with you may -- or may not -- be a form letter, but at least it doesn't insult you by pretending to be something else. TIP: Delete, delete, delete. The only things you will be "missing out on" by ignoring such dating spam are headaches and heartaches. If you absolutely must respond keep it ultra-short, as in, "You sound nice." No more! Why should you spend more effort coming up with an original reply to a cut-and-pasted query? If he sends back something snarky, that just proves he was never really interested to begin with. 5. He's asking plenty of questions -- Where did you grow up? What do you like to do for fun? How long have you been on (such and such dating site)? -- except the MOST IMPORTANT ONE: "Can I have your number?" In The Rules for Online Dating, authors Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein say that if a man hasn't asked for your number is four e-mails then he's a "Next!" If you have time and interest in cultivating male pen pals then that is one thing. I know one woman who e-mailed back and forth with a man who lived in another state for months, and finally graduated into long phone conversations that continued for a year. Then he married someone else. She was devastated. She's got a naturally generous nature, but she's learned to be more generous with herself by setting stricter boundaries about how much of her time she'll give satisfying others' emotional needs while ignoring her own. EXCEPTION: There is no exception. A man who lets time pass while five, ten, fifteen e-mails are exchanged is not that eager to meet you and certainly not worried about other men swooping in and snapping you up. However, if after receiving no reply to further e-mails discussing the weather and politics, he somehow wakes up to ask for your number then you can give it to him, though do not be surprised if he turns out to be equally dilatory in phone conversation and plan setting. TIP: Keep your replies short and sweet, light and breezy. No more than a sentence or two. You're a busy woman with lots of admirers, friends, projects and interests. If he truly wants to get to know you better -- and you're not available for long e-mail correspondence (or long phone conversations, for that matter) -- he'll have no recourse than to step up and ask for a date. If you're a thick-skinned, even-keeled kind of girl who bounces back easily from rejection and is really only looking for fun, then the protective measures outlined above may not be applicable. But if you're a more passionate, sensitive type -- especially one who's "hit bottom" romantically with an excruciating break-up -- and you're not embarrassed to admit (to yourself, anyway) that you'd like to get married, maybe start a family, or at least enjoy a loving, stable, long-term relationship, then maybe it's time for you to try a radically different approach. Maybe it's time to raise your standards, to expect better, to deserve more. Recognizing -- and avoiding -- the Mr. Maybes and Mr. Wrongs is the vital first step toward clearing the way for Mr. Right. Jag Carrao is a Rules dating and relationship coach who recently got married on the beach in Malibu, California.