Dating online is nearing the end of its fourth decade, which means a long trail of dashed hopes, wasted time, and broken hearts. But the flip side of that is there now exists a wealth of experience to mine. Based on conversations with women who have spent considerable time searching, meeting potential mates, and coming up empty, there is a great deal of wisdom to draw from. While there are amusing “date from hell” stories, what is most concerning is not the expenditure of time and energy, but rather the demoralization and self-deflation that seemed to stem from the process. There are, however, ways to avoid this by making your process smarter.

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1. His photo is important with dating online, but not the way you think. As visual creatures, we are primed to depend on our sight for information, which leads to prioritizing a prospect’s photo to figure out “Do I find this person attractive?” As everyone knows by now, though, photos can be Photoshopped, cropped, creatively lit, or outdated, so much so that one might as well discard their utility as a representation of what a person looks like. However, more useful may be the context of the photo: Is he posed next to a red Ferrari, while skydiving, making a work presentation, or with children? Are their photos all selfies, or did someone else take the photos? These clues reflect a person’s values, points of pride, and lifestyle.

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2. Be selective. Time and again, I hear people talk themselves out of their own stated criteria for a desirable date or partner, in the spirit of being “open-minded.” This is mostly because they wrongly equate being open-minded enough to date online with compromising their standards. What is the downside to casting a wider net, you ask? Don’t you have to kiss a few (a lot of) frogs? No. This is what makes the process deflating: You are working against yourself in that wide net, using up valuable time and energy. Your time, energy, and presence are valuable, but when you waste it, you’re really telling yourself that they’re not.

3. Ask (a lot of) open-ended questions. One woman sensibly asked a potential partner whether he had been in a long relationship, and if he had ever lived with anyone. He said yes to both questions, which seemed to indicate the capacity to be in a long relationship and live with someone, right? She thought so too. Months later, after major differences surfaced, she learned that his previous ten-year relationship consisted of seeing his girlfriend once a week on Saturday, and his “living with” someone was when a young girlfriend crashed at his apartment after she moved out from her parents. The point is that yes-or-no questions can require making assumptions, and typically, one’s assumptions are based on their own experience, not the other person’s. Open-ended questions such as “What was your long-term relationship like?” and “Tell me more about your experience living with someone” are likely to yield more meaningful information.

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4. Move on quickly. What makes a situation stressful are two primary elements: lack of control and lack of predictability. The demoralization many daters refer to stems from not exerting control. When it’s clear that a match is not in the works, move on quickly and decisively, with a brief, kind message: It was really nice to meet you, good luck in your search. Letting things drag on leads to devaluing one’s time and energy, which (remember?) are too valuable to squander.

Now, you might be wondering: What if I do all this and still haven’t found what I’m looking for? My suggestion is to take a break and focus on other interests. After all, you still have you, whole and intact.