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Last time I was stood up on a date, I waited foolishly at the bar for hours then went home humiliated. Later, the guy would tell me an elaborate story about how his ex came over and they got into an huge argument, delaying his arrival. I responded by sending him a box of Tampax for being a pussy.

This bad etiquette–getting catfished–is not okay. As in, “I thought I was meeting Justin Timberlake but he turned out to be a freshwater flathead fish from Ohio.” MTV has shed light on this phenomenon and NFL player Manti Te’o fell for it too. It’s reached pandemic proportions!

I’ve used online dating since NetZero was relevant and AOL was still around. I’ve used Yahoo! Personals before it merged with Match.com. Online dating has worked so well for me that I married my Internet Lothario last year. It can work for you too. I will share my wisdom.

The road to meeting that special someone can be long, arduous and frustrating, full of spectacularly bad dates, sometimes dangerous ones, absences by the “person of your dreams” and arrivals of unsavory characters. Once I had dinner with a man…and my dead relatives who spoke through him from beyond the grave. We only saw each other for another year after that. I needed lottery numbers!

Get current pics

Get a headshot, get a body shot, get many, many more shots. Question strange patterns–are they always wearing a hat? Are the shots always from the waist up? From the waist down? Does it seem like they’re always hiding something? Who are they trying to Photoshop out? Ask when the photos were taken. You may show up expecting to meet a someone from the twentysomething set, only to have dinner with someone from the AARP set. Which brings me to my next point…

Never commit to dinner

Set a time to meet over one drink. Repeat after me–one drink. If you hit it off, great! If you don’t, finish your drink, go home and binge-watch TV. You win.

Don’t believe the bullshit

If they tell you they got into a car accident, got leukemia, faked their death to evade drug dealers, you can be sure they’re lying their ass off. Don’t fall for it!

Be realistic

It’s easy to get excited about meeting “the one,” but you may kiss a lot of frogs before that happens. Be honest with yourself and listen to what your gut tells you.

Meet in person

You can get a better sense of someone once you talk on the phone. Make plans to meet in person soon after. Too much is lost in text. If you find yourself trapped in an endless string of texts for months, it’s time to cut bait. They don’t have a phone? Or a camera? Even Thomas Edison had a phone.

Call to confirm

Call to confirm on the same day. Get on the phone and listen for audio clues–Do they sound nervous? Excited? About to change their phone number? People get cold feet for a variety of reasons, and it’s easy to chicken out and leave you stranded with a compassionate bartender who’s seen this too many times before.

Don’t wait long

If they’re running late, they will most likely let you know. If they’re running really late, that’s just bad news from the get-go. Either way, don’t give yourself time to feel bad about yourself. If they don’t arrive by the time you finish your one drink, go home. If they do show up…

Have an escape plan

It’s old-fashioned and romantic to have your date pick you up. But it’s 2019. Having your own transportation makes for easy getaways if things go south. Take an Uber. Tell a friend where and with whom you will be.

Go home alone

Barring high-scoring psychopaths, this tactic will weed out the most opportunistic. Your number one priority is your own safety. Never go home with someone until you absolutely trust them. Even then, carry a can of counter-assault bear mace. Get it on Amazon. Just kidding. No really. Going back to someone’s house takes your control away, placing you on unfamiliar turf. Inviting a stranger to your house is inviting risk. Always meet in public until you are totally comfortable with someone.

Now, you can date smarter online with these rules, but they work both ways. Just like long, baggy sweaters don’t hide fat, so too, the truth cannot be contained. It’s best to just always be honest and upfront. Tell us about your online dating experience…

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