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Jane Hoskyn
Essential dos and don'ts for meeting people through online dating.

Once upon a time, people met and then got to know each other. Then came online dating, and now we're all getting to know each other before we meet.

When you're planning to take a new flirtation off the internet and into the real world, timing is all. Should you email back and forth for weeks on end to get properly acquainted, or should you strike while the flirtation is hot?

Meet too soon, and you could be in for a long, disappointing evening with someone who's not at all right for you. But leave it too long, and you risk losing interest - or getting attached to someone who doesn't float your boat when you finally meet.

Here are some dos and don'ts on getting the transition just right.

DON'T be a shopoholic

When you start online dating, the dazzling choice can create a pick-n-mix mentality ("I'll have one of those, and one of those, and one of those..."). Before you know it, you've accepted dates with people to whom you wouldn't normally give the time of day. Slow down!

DO use email to suss someone out

There's only so much you can tell about a person from their profile and photo. To know whether they really deserve an evening of your time, you need to swap a few emails.

Exchanging emails for a few days allows you to get an idea of their attitudes and personality. Mention things that caught your eye in their profile. If you have tastes and experiences in common, find out more. In other words, chat them up.

Pay attention to the content of your emails and the way they're written. As well as sussing out a potential date, email is about creating a great impression. Don't waffle or brag. At this stage, avoid talking about previous relationships or weighty matters such as religion and politics. And, of course, take care over grammar and spelling.

DON'T write to too many people at once

With such an embarrassment of riches out there, it can be tempting to take an over-excited scattergun approach.

Resist temptation, and stick to two or three correspondents to start with. That gives you a better chance to get to know them without a) getting them mixed up or b) getting fired from your job for spending all your time emailing attractive strangers.

DO pop the date question

Once you've swapped enough emails with someone to know that you like what you hear, ask for a date. Don't be shy - that's what you're both here for. Strike while your emails are still interested and flirtatious. Just say, "fancy meeting for a drink one evening?"

DON'T let the emails drag on

It happens a lot in online dating, especially when people live some distance apart. You start emailing someone, and spend weeks or even months exchanging impassioned messages. You may spend hours chatting on instant messenger or on the phone. You may even think you're falling love. Finally you meet in person - and there's no spark. Nothing.

When this happens, it can be devastating. The person (and the relationship) you'd built up in your head over all that time doesn't exist. You almost feel as though you had someone, and then lost them. The key is not to let your expectations run away in the first place.

DO decide after six emails

Six emails (in total, not each) is enough to know whether you want to meet someone. If you've been emailing for more than a couple of weeks, there needs to be a very good reason why you haven't yet arranged a date.

If you ask for a date and your correspondent keeps stalling, cut your losses and stop writing to them. Don't have your time wasted by a "game-player" who gets a kick out of juggling online flirtations without ever intending to meet.

DON'T fall in lust with a photo

Even the most honest photo can't capture what makes someone attractive. Chemistry is something you can only judge in person. And chemistry, or attraction, is the glue that makes a relationship work.

It's not always easy to see why you're attracted to someone in person. They don't always fit your "type", and they don't always share your tastes. It's fiendishly subtle. Psychologists say that up to 80% of attraction is about the way someone moves and speaks. We're won over (or turned off) by body language signals, tone of voice and even smells. All the stuff you can't tell online.

Use photos and emails for weeding out people you wouldn't want to spend an evening with. But don't let them mislead you into thinking that you fancy someone.

DO your homework before your date

So you've emailed enough to know that you want to meet, and you haven't let it drag on too long. Arrange to meet in a busy public place such as a pub or a coffee shop, and keep it informal. That way, you can nip off after a couple of hours if you just don't click.

Before you meet, skim over your date's profile and emails to refresh your memory about their interests and experiences. This gives you plenty to chat about.

Keep an open mind. If the chemistry isn't there in person, dive straight back into the online dating pool and move onto the next date. Above all, enjoy it!

Jane Hoskyn

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