With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, we decided to do a little digging into the phenomen that connects our hearts to our screens – digital dating. Psychologist and eHarmony relationship expert Jacqui Manning confirms that digital dating is well and truly no longer a taboo, it’s completely a part of the fabric of our (dating) lives.

Jacqui gave us a few insights into the ins and outs of navigating online platforms for love – from tips to help us nail our digital dating etiquette to out-of-the-box first date ideas that avoid an awkward dinners at all costs.

Why are people turning towards online platforms to meet their lovers?

“I think it’s indicative of our lifestyle,” says Jacqui, “everything is online nowadays. Most of our lives are online in a practical sense – we are used to turning to digital platforms for everything from banking to diagnosing illnesses. That’s spread to the dating world, and it’s become acceptable. Increasingly so, digital dating has become the norm, particularly in the last decade – it’s more and more a part of our standard dating behaviour.”

“Most of our lives are online in a practical sense – we are used to turning to digital platforms for everything from banking to diagnosing illnesses.”

Is digital dating a product of our busy lives? Are we screening people before we give them our time?

“In a sense – people are focused on what they want to find. We have a hard-working, fast-paced lifestyle – almost no one has time to mingle at parties anymore. We choose digital dating so we can go forward and make things happen, without having to wait for the next social event,” Jacqui tells us.

How can we meaningfully connect with like-minded individuals through digital dating?

“With a bit of luck and persistence, true love can happen online quite quickly,” says Jacqui, “if you feel like you love what they write, or vibe with how they describe themselves – let them know. There might be several stages that you go through, like sending a flag or a kiss, before you send a message. To have a huge conversation in a written form from the get-go can be quite intimate and consequently intimidating for people – it’s rare you’d skip the small talk in real life and dive straight into the juicy, past relationship stuff, so take it slow online, too.”

“It’s rare you’d skip the small talk in real life and dive straight into the juicy, past relationship stuff, so take it slow online, too.”

How can we start a conversation in a few sentences that sets us up for success?

“If I had one tip, it would be to remember that communication styles can differ, so be patient with people!” Jacqui tells us.

“Ask open ended questions – think of something you like to do, and ask them if they like to do that, too. Start to sus out the other person’s lifestyle, and work them out by asking juicy questions like, ‘what does your perfect Sunday look like?’, ‘what is your favourite movie and why?’ or ‘what do you do on the weekend?’.

The question ‘tell me about yourself?’ is confronting for many people, so instead ask tangible things like, ‘have you been on a holiday recently?’ or ‘who in history would you have dinner with?’ to get to know them.”

“If I had one tip, it would be to remember that communication styles can differ, so be patient with people!”

Are there any nuances to communication in this format? Any digital etiquette we should be aware of?

“Avoid talking about past relationships in the first sentence,” laughs Jacqui, “of course, they’re a natural, relevant thing – and something many of us are naturally curious about. Everyone has a past – so it’s a not a no-go zone, but pick your time and wait for your conversation to have some flow first.

Remember to engage in a conversation – don’t just fire questions. Take a digital breath, don’t rush, and remember you don’t need to shoot back answers straight away.

Remember to be patient. While we do live in a fast-paced world, friendships and relationships take time. We are biologically programmed to be slower than our digital finger – so give conversations space and time to make sure the connection stays alive, try not to deaden it with too much information at once.

If the other person has experienced loss or pain, be empathetic and remember that you are talking to a person. Conversations online can sometimes go quite deep quite quickly, and you are quite removed behind your screen – so check in with yourself often and bring yourself back to how you would talk to someone at that party you don’t have time to attend.”

“Avoid talking about past relationships in the first sentence,” laughs Jacqui, “of course, they’re a natural, relevant thing – and something many of us are naturally curious about. Everyone has a past – so it’s a not a no-go zone, but pick your time and wait for your conversation to have some flow first.”

How can we make sure we don’t burn out or check the app too often?

“People can sometimes get fixated on one type of app – my advice would be to try a few different ones out. Ask yourself, ‘what is it that I want from this app?’. If you’re not interested in hook-ups, and really care about what people’s values are – you might want to try eHarmony. If you’re looking to meet lots of people, maybe you’ll try Tinder. You could also try Bumble, which lets women make the first move. Do your research, and try out three or four different platforms before you ‘settle down’.

If you find yourself getting stressed and anxious, take a break. Our phones are addictive in general – and we can often find ourselves going through an anxious cycle of questions, ‘is this person thinking about me?’ ‘has anyone clicked on me?’ ‘when will they reply?’ when using dating apps. This kind of anxiety sends chemicals in your brain into a panic state, and you’ll need that next ‘hit’ to make your brain calm again. Incorporating a digital detox into your digital dating journey is so important.

If you feel like you’re being burnt out by the dating scene, take a longer break. Put the apps on pause for a while, delete them or deactivate your accounts. It’s important to make these platforms work for you.”

“It’s important to make these platforms work for you.”

If you have recently come out of a long-term relationship, what advice do you have for someone embarking on the dating scene?

  • Take your time, and have a breather. Don’t just jump into a relationship – you’re likely in pain and grieving, so be gentle with yourself.
  • Talk to some friends who have used online dating platforms – ask them how it works, what to do and their experience with it.
  • Remember that putting a profile up doesn’t mean instantaneous connection – so don’t be frightened, nothing has to happen unless you want it too.
  • Be playful with your attitude – take it all on lightly and take the pressure off yourself. Tell yourself, ‘i’m just connecting with someone, a friend or companion. They’re just a like-minded person, rather than the love-of-my-life.’
  • Remember that it will always feel different to your previous partner – and that’s normal.
  • Feeling like you’re getting nowhere? Be persistent, and hang in there. Love takes time!

What are your best tips to deal with first date nerves?

“You’re gonna be nervous!” Jacqui laughs, “so keep breathing. Make the first date something that’s not too overwhelming. They’re going to be nervous too, even if they don’t show it. Work on some anxiety-calming strategies before you head out on your date, something that you find relaxing – maybe a long bath, some gentle stretching or meditation.

Ask yourself, ‘will I worry about this in 5 years?’. The answer is probably not. It’s not the end of the world if the date goes badly – the worst thing that could happen is that you waste a couple of hours of your life.”

“Work on some anxiety-calming strategies before you head out on your date, something that you find relaxing – maybe a long bath, some gentle stretching or meditation.”

What are some out-of-the-box ideas for first dates?

“Go for an activity that you can do together, that might make you laugh – like putt-putt golf, or bowling. You might want to see a movie together, so you can talk about it afterwards – you’ll be able glean information like their sense of humour and how they relate to the world from an activity like that. Don’t worry about making it the best date ever, take the pressure off yourself and just have fun.”