When you're newly single in a foreign country, there's only one resource that can guarantee you won't start wondering if the rest of the world's eligible singles were wiped out by a silent but deadly plague: the internet. Thanks to technology, we can extend our potential dating pool beyond the strange people who hit on us at bus stops and the only semi-attractive person at our workplace who appears not to be married. I’m excluding bars and clubs from these calculations simply because they’re generally a bad idea if you are looking for a lasting relationship, and not available to everyone equally (try finding an LGBT bar in a rural area or non-western country). The other benefit of the internet is that it takes some of the guesswork out of same-sex dating: no more of that “Is she gay or is she just unconventional?” or falling for straight guys who just happen to be good dressers.
That said, for someone new to this system, it takes a while to get the knack of it. There's only so much pep-talking robots and 90s color schemes that one can take, and it’s hard to shake the feeling you're being pimped out by your computer. Not to mention, they only offer the most basic of instructions on how to use them, and absolutely no guidelines on etiquette or best practices, which can make things more daunting than necessary. So, based on my extensive experience with online dating (I was even on IRC, baby, remember that?) I’ll boil down the monolithic do's & don’ts of internet meeting sites so that we can all get on the same page and stop the confusion.
DO: Completely ignore the “desired relationship” data on the person's profile. Just because they said they're solely monogamous and only looking for a long-term relationship doesn't mean you shouldn't harass them with sexually explicit messages or unattractive offers for threesomes that their husband/wife/dog “is totally okay with.” Who needs respect in a relationship anyway, right?
DON'T: Put up an actual photo. People will understand that despite their desire to be open and honest about what they actually look like, your need to suck them into an emotional entanglement before they can get a good look at you is valid. The best photos are those that involve barely-clothed body parts, sex toys, booze, random landscapes, and pets.
DO: On a related note, if you must put a photo of yourself up, make sure it's one from several years earlier when someone accidentally caught you at an angle that makes you look like a completely different person. Then never update the photo again.
DON'T: Continue to write back in a conversation that was actually going fairly well. If you guys seem to be getting along and are in the middle of the getting-to-know-you questions it's definitely time to cut off all communication without prior warning. Most girls have caught on to this trick, but some guys are wising up too. There's no point in trying to be friends just because you have stuff in common and were initially attracted to each other: it's absolutely better to leave them wondering what the hell happened and/or deactivate the account completely.
DO: Say randomly offensive things to complete strangers for no conceivable reason. This is the best way to indicate that you’re a sincere and empathetic person who understands the value of human interactions. This especially goes for same-sex dating sites: if you’re straight, it’s your duty to create a fake account and try to stir up some drama.
DON'T: Send a well-considered message to someone you're interested in. As in all other first encounters, you should start with a toneless “hi,” followed by absolutely nothing. Indicating that you have taken the time to read the other person's profile and identify common interests or possible topics of conversation is the poorer option, because no one likes to feel like they are valued as an individual or are being sought for a meaningful connection.
DO: Ask for pictures of the person you're talking to even though there are several on the site already. This indicates you have a slightly stalkerish interest in them. Bonus points if the second message you send asks them to chat on a completely different (and much less private) social networking site; taking the time to create a profile on this one doesn’t mean they value their privacy and the ability to carefully evaluate a potential match before sharing their entire online life with them.
DON'T: Actually showing up for a date made with the person you’ve been chatting with for weeks is a mistake. There's nothing like completely wasting someone's time to say you're special. But even better would be meeting the person and then spending the rest of the night trying to foist them off on someone else. Time investment be damned, this is the moment to let your callousness shine.