THE BLOG
01/05/2015 02:48 pm ET Updated Mar 07, 2015

5 Online Dating Tips for Beginners

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After my divorce, I decided to try online dating for two reasons: I was curious and my friends made me.

Oh, who am I kidding? I also wanted to write a blog post about it.

Friends warned me that when you first join an online dating site, you're instantly bombarded with winks and likes and emails. That's supposed to be exciting. Look at all these guys interested in me! Look at all the potential boyfriends and date nights! Look at all the possibilities!

I was indeed instantly overwhelmed with men expressing interest. But I was instantly underwhelmed by the possibilities.

My first online interaction came several weeks later. I received an email from a man who had clearly taken the time to read my profile and come up with relevant questions to start a dialogue. I liked his combination of confidence and self-deprecating humor. He seemed well established in his career, and we shared similar interests.

So what was wrong with him?

The man was old enough to be my father.

Because it was the most sincere email I had received, I responded to explain my desire to date someone closer to my age and to encourage him to send thoughtful emails like that to other women.

"I understand the age difference thing," he wrote back. "And I appreciate your effort to respond. You're the classiest lady on this site."

I was celebrating the fact that I was just named the Classiest Lady on Match, when he emailed again.

"I see you're a writer. Any chance you could take a look at my profile and give me some pointers?"

And there you have it. My first online dating interaction ended with me editing a man's profile to help him meet other women.

My initial attempt at online dating was short-lived and laughably unsuccessful. But my experiences did help me come up with five tips for singles hoping to meet that someone special online.

1. Usernames are important.

Come up with something unique other than your first name and zip code. If possible, include a personal interest or a positive description of yourself.

If you're not the creative type, don't force it by using fancy words. I get that you want to sound smart, but you've probably eliminated a large portion of potential dates because it's easier to move on to the next guy than to find a dictionary.

And for goodness sakes, don't include the word "lonely" in your username.

2. Profile pictures are your first impressions.

Your profile picture is the reason I either click on you or scroll past you. There are lots of standard rules for photos that generate the most success (yes, studies have been done!), and most people have their own guidelines. One woman I know refuses to view a man if his profile picture is a selfie. Although I disagree, she believes this means he doesn't have enough friends to take a picture of him.

What are my personal rules? I won't click on you if you include the following in your profile picture:

• a cigarette
• another woman
• a mask
• your tongue
• so much distance from the camera that I can't tell if you're actually a person
• no shirt
• no shirt and flexing
• no shirt and flexing and my abs are tighter than yours*
• no photo at all

(*Just for the record, I have nothing against shirtless photos. Just not as your profile picture. This is a first impression. Would you meet me in a restaurant for a first date without a shirt on? Hopefully not. So don't present yourself for the first time half-naked.)

3. Read my profile before emailing me.

As flattered as I was by your email that read, "U R HOT," you clearly missed the part in my profile that told you my profession. A writer probably wouldn't be impressed by that gem. Sorry, but that won't get you so much as a "TY."

4. Use your words wisely.

Your initial written interactions reveal a lot about the kind of person you are. Keep that in mind before hitting send.

I had a date lined up with a Navy pilot. Although it never happened -- thanks to miscommunication and then a six-month deployment -- I was already losing interest because he sounded more arrogant with each communication. I've had enough arrogance to last me a lifetime. Thanks, but no thanks.

I recommend asking interesting questions that help you stand out, but not so interesting that they're borderline creepy. So while the dude who asked me who my favorite Muppet is did make himself stand out, it's probably not for the reasons he was shooting for.

5. If you're not ready to date, don't date.

After my first date with you, I should not know your ex-wife's name, where she lives, where her family lives, that you exchange daily emails with her, and the reasons you got divorced. If you're sharing this info with a woman you're supposed to be trying to start a romantic relationship with, you're probably not ready to date.

Maybe I wasn't ready to date the first time around. Maybe one day I'll try online dating again. Maybe I'll return as a freelance profile editor. But if I got nothing else from online dating, at least I got that blog post.