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Do's and don'ts of online dating

Technically speaking, dating is a whole lot more complicated than it used to be.

Just ten years ago, the lines of communication during romantic courtship were simple (the biggest question was how long to wait before calling, a conundrum demonstrated painfully by Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau in 1996’s Swingers). Today, with texting, e-mail, chatting, social networking and myriad dating websites, it’s a veritable minefield: Take one wrong digital step and you’re toast.

All this new technology requires an updated set of dating rules. After chatting with local singles and seeking the advice of John Moore, Ph.D., a tech-savvy licensed clinical professional counselor at Second Story Counseling in Lakeview, we devised the following do’s and don’ts of love in the age of Facebook pokes.

DON’TAsk for a first date via text message
“I’ve had that happen to me three times,” says Karen, 27, from Lakeview. “I hate that. It makes them seem like they don’t have the balls to call.” Moore agrees: “It’s a regressive approach. Most people want to feel special when they’re asked out on a first date. Why cheapen it by using an electronic medium for that?”

DOKnow Internet-dating protocol
Several years ago, 33-year-old Jamie from Wicker Park committed an online blunder that still gives her shivers. “I built my personals profile on theonion.com, and I remember there were all these things you could check off that you were interested in,” she says. The choices were friendship, dating, relationship or play (Jamie checked the last). “I thought, I like to play. That’s cool and maybe less threatening.” What Jamie didn’t know was “play” meant she was after no-strings-attached sexual encounters. E-mails immediately flooded her in-box. “I heard from all these creepy guys that were ‘winking’ at me. One was fiftysomething with white hair and a mustache.” The lesson? Dating sites are generally pretty intuitive, but when in doubt, ask a friend who’s been down that road before.

DOSend a text after a great first date
It’s the morning after an amazing date and you’re on cloud nine. If your gut says it’s too soon to call, a short “I had a great time” text is a way to show interest without coming off as overeager. Nate, 28, of Lincoln Park, says he always sends a message like this when he’s excited about a girl. But 31-year-old Brian of Lakeview thinks it’s the responsibility of the person who didn’t pay to send it. “It’s the gracious thing to do, to thank them for the date. I wouldn’t consider it an open-ended invitation to a second date, but I would think it’s classy.” We say either approach does the trick until a phone call is appropriate (within two to three days).

DON’TBreak up with someone via text
Not all breakups require a face-to-face meeting. If you’re ending it with someone you met over the Internet and only dated twice, e-mail is fine. But dumping someone—anyone—over text is just plain cold and, according to Moore, taking the easy way out (appropriate only in cases where there’s a history of verbal or emotional abuse). “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen in my practice who are devastated to get that breakup text,” he says. “It allows no opportunity to provide understanding, and the breakup occurs on the texter’s terms.” Our opinion: If you’ve been on more than five dates, let your mouth—not your fingers—do the dumping.

DOPlay it cool when e-mailing a crush
You mustered all your courage and sent a flirty e-mail. Twenty-four hours later, still no response, and you’re riddled with more anxiety than a Bachelorette waiting for the final rose. Moore advises you to chill out and, above all, resist the temptation to follow up with another e-mail if you haven’t heard back the next day. “If I express interest, I need to give them time to express interest. They need to not come off as desperate, too.” He says a good rule of thumb is to wait a couple of days, then e-mail one (and only one) more time. “Otherwise, you run the risk of looking desperate, clingy and codependent.” Ultimately, no response is an answer, too.

DON’TBe an IM stalker
There are normal ways to stalk (flipping through your ex’s vacation photos on Facebook) and borderline-weird ways (inviting someone you barely know to Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, AIM and obsessively initiating chat sessions when they’re online). Knowing the difference will separate you from the panty sniffers and bunny boilers.

“There was this guy in my building whom I made no indication to that I was interested,” says 32-year-old Lisa of Lincoln Park. “All of a sudden he started acting funny. The next morning, he said he read my Facebook status, which was a comment about how I can’t date guys who are more sensitive than me, and he assumed it had something to do with him. Please, don’t be so narcissistic that everything I do has to be about you.” He made things worse by issuing rapid-fire apologies and retractions over e-mail and text until Lisa filed him under “weirdo” and told him to cease all contact.

DON’TOverexpose yourself on the Web
Internet dating is a form of self-marketing. You could put up a profile on every personals site out there, but some singles browse more than one site, which means your mug could pop up as frequently as that annoying “punch the monkey!” banner ad. “It smacks of desperation to me,” says 40-year-old Internet dater Paul of Edgewater. “It’s like, let me just throw a bunch of shit against the wall and see what sticks. I definitely pick just one.” Our advice: Learn the differences between each site and try them one at a time. Conservative types and singles who are ready for serious, committed relationships gravitate toward eHarmony; Salon.com features a robust pool of arty, liberal intellects; and if you’re totally unsure where to start, Match.com is a good catchall.

DON’TPoke a possible paramour
So you’re cruising online and uncover someone promising. The last thing you want to do is act like wienie. Sending someone a “wink” or a “poke” is one step short of having your friend deliver a note. Plus, it shows you can’t come up with anything interesting to say. “Every time I’d log into Facebook, I’d get ‘poked’ by this girl,” Nate says. “What does that even mean? To me it’s like calling and hanging up.” Kate, 23, of Palatine, meets most of the guys she dates on Match.com and admits winking is a fruitless game. “There are times where you will wink at someone and they wink back and it’s like, What did we accomplish?” Be more direct with an e-mail and mention why you’re interested—it not only conveys confidence, it shows you read his or her profile in the first place.

DOCreate an attention-grabbing profile (but not too attention-grabbing)
If you’re dating online, you’re competing with hundreds of other singles. What grabs attention and gets people to click (or not)? Your screen name and photo, so make them work for you. Avoid handles that are generic (“CubbieFanJim” sounds like every other North Sider), creepy (reject the use of “Dr.” unless you are, in fact, a doctor) or pornographic (“DaddysGirl” may sound cute when you’ve had three glasses of Chard but is better suited for Skinemax). When it comes to photos, keep it to five or fewer (anything more looks conceited), be sure to include a clear head shot and full-body pic in the mix, and know that “recent” generally means less than two years old. And finally, be warned: A picture says a thousand words, indeed, but if it’s one of you shirtless, those words all read “chode.” (Girls, you’re not exempt—resist posting those of the bikini-and-hot tub milieu, too.) “Keep in mind that what may appear attractive to one person may not be attractive to someone else,” Moore advises. “I suggest using a photo that passes the ‘nightly news’ test. In other words, if your public picture were suddenly broadcast on the evening news, would you feel okay or embarrassed?”

DON’TGet caught up in Facebook “relationship status” drama
Nate says a girl he was only casually dating ambushed him by asking him to confirm her Facebook declaration that they were in a relationship. After two weeks of resisting, he finally succumbed. And when they broke up a few months later, it was front-page news for his friends. Moore says there shouldn’t be pressure for new couples to come out. “To me, that’s one step below having a joint checking account.” He also says that if one partner is forcing the issue, there may be something bigger at play. “As a therapist, I want to know why it’s important to make it public. Are there feelings of insecurity or jealousy? Do you want to communicate to someone else that this person belongs to you?”

Take a tip from us: If you do have to change your status, it doesn’t have to be a bulletin broadcast. Visit “privacy settings” for your news feed and wall, which allow you to select which of your updates will publish to your friends’ news feeds.