In 2012, I hadn’t been a date in ten years. I was 34, lonely and terrified of the future. I decided to hit the online dating sites on a mission to date one man every week for a year and find a husband. I started just on eHarmony and quickly added RSVP, Tinder and others to expand my pipeline of potential candidates. It took three years and dates with 138 different men to meet my match.
Searching for love is hard work. I spent two to three hours most weeknights on the dating sites, every Sunday afternoon making ‘screening phone calls’ and Thursday evenings on face-to-face dates. The emotional cost was even more taxing. I got rejected, humiliated, I had my heart broken and met a couple of strange and potentially dangerous characters.
But I kept going because I’d done a calculation. I evaluated how much time I spent on my career and the value it added to my life compared to the amount of value I’d get from love and partnership. My search, if successful, would be worth the investment. And I was right. There is nothing I’m more grateful for than the love of my husband Rod and our two young children.
138 dates taught me who I had to become in order to have a long-term relationship. I learnt how connections form, what falling in love should feel like and the attributes to look for in a mate. And I figured out a strategy to maximise my chances on the online dating sites.
I’ve created five tips for online dating using my own experience as well as insights from Dave Heysen, CEO of RSVP and Dr Stephen Whyte, a behavioural economist from QUT whom I interviewed for a recent webinar for singles in lockdown.
- You take charge
I had no experience of online dating when I started but I had built three successful businesses. Launching a new product takes hustle. I’ve always been prepared to reach out to potential customers, distributors or media and ask them to support my business.
It wasn’t simple to transfer this skill to dating. At first, I feared rejection, so I put up my profile on the different sites and waited for men to approach me. It would be safer, I thought, to only communicate with men who were interested. But as I scoured through the profiles of men who’d sent me ‘winks’, ‘icebreakers’ and messages I shook my head in dismay. Most were terrible matches for me: too old, too young, too brash or had pictures that reminded me of the ‘Wanted’ section on that Crimewatch show I used to watch.
I decided to take charge. I would search men’s profiles on every platform and only message people that were serious about their search for a relationship (they’d taken the time to write something) and who seemed like a good match for me.
2. Online dating is a numbers game
A lot of the men I reached out to didn’t reply, and this did sting initially. I wondered – What happened to Simon or Pete or Joe. And I’d worry that they’d looked at my profile photo and thought: ‘No thanks’. My response was to increase the volume of men I contacted.
My single friends would often moan that good men were ‘slim pickings’ in their thirties and forties. I found this to be true. The majority of my 138 Dates were nice, genuine people but, after a couple of dates, I could pinpoint why they were still single.
The only way to combat this reality is to search widely and recognise that it’ll likely take a lot of online conversations, phone calls and, so long as you’re not in lockdown, face-to-face dates to find love. At least, it did for me. Dave Heyson, CEO of RSVP says: ‘It’s quite normal for people to communicate on the site with several potential dates at the same time.’
To line-up my 138 dates, I must have interacted with at least a thousand men. I had ten to twenty conversations going at once and kept a spreadsheet to keep track of everyone’s stories.
3. Don’t be too restrictive
Dr Stephen Whyte, a behavioural economist at QUT, has studied the dating preference of 7000 Australians. ‘Choosing a partner is the most important decision you’ll make in your life. The data shows that what people look for in a partner changes with age. People in their twenties and thirties will prioritise height and education which is linked to fertility but in your fifties, you’d be more likely to look for honesty and reliability.’
I started my search with a clear idea of what I wanted. But, given my volume strategy listed above, I quickly exhausted the supply of single, tall, left-wing, non-smoking, Bachelor degree or above educated men who wanted children and lived in a ten-kilometre radius of my apartment. I gradually loosened my criteria. I discovered a new market of shorter men in their thirties who were very nice and didn’t get as many dates as their six-foot-plus counterparts!
Stephen’s advice is for people to think more openly. ‘When we looked at the data from RSVP,’ he says, ‘we discovered that the people who were connecting were often quite different from the attributes of the profiles they were searching for. And you’ve got to be realistic. Decide on your absolute deal-breakers and be willing to compromise on the rest.’
4. Don’t scare people with your profile
Dave from RSVP says: ‘We’ve noticed a change in behaviour in recent years. People used to be a lot more positive on their profiles, they’d talk about their passions and the type of relationship they hoped to find. Now there’s more negativity, like they write their profiles to scare off bad matches. My advice is for people to soften their profiles, whether it’s on our site or any of the others. Show photos of yourself doing things you’re interested in and be positive. You want people to get a good feeling about you and want to get to know you better. You can work out if they’re a good match once you’ve connected with them in chat.’
5. Stay optimistic
This is my number one tip. Online dating is hard, but I always believed that my future love was out there waiting for me to find him and that one day I’d make him very happy. This gave me the energy I needed to keep going.
Many of my 138 dates disappeared after our first, second or eighth date. My therapist told me to think of myself as a product. ‘Someone is out there shopping for you,’ she said. ‘If you don’t hear back from a date, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the product, it just means that they weren’t the right buyer.’ This advice helped take the sting out of rejection.
When I finally met Rod, my 138th date, I knew in the first twenty minutes that he was it. I closed up my online profiles and cancelled the dates I had lined up. On my journey of 138 dates, I’d developed guidelines and strategies to manage my online dating funnel, but I can’t explain exactly what happened that led to us falling in love. There is something unexplainable and magic that can’t be neatly tied up in a formula.
If you are one of the four and a half million Australians who are currently using online dating apps to search for love, then I hope my journey and advice give you some encouragement and optimism. Although it is hard work and you may need to sift through some frogs to find your prince, please keep going. What’s out there at the end is magic but you’ve got to be in it to win.
Rebekah Campbell’s book 138 Dates is published by Allen and Unwin.
Article originally published on Nine Honey.