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Last Updated: Friday, 14 May, 2004, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
Tips to get online dates
By Lisa Mitchell
BBC News Online

Singles are increasingly turning to the net to find love. But with so many people now using dating websites, how best to make your personal ad stand out?

Couple embracing
One day a prince will come?
If there's one thing that Mary Balfour knows about, it's finding Mr or Ms Right.

The love guru runs two dating agencies, two internet dating websites and has penned a self-help guide for singles seeking that special someone.

Her top tip to getting a date is to sell yourself, rather than sit back and hope that the perfect person will stumble onto you.

The first step is write an eye-catching personal ad. Whether it be an online description, agency profile or personal ad, the rules are the same - avoid clichés, be positive and creative.

Ms Balfour says personal ads can be a minefield for the uninitiated, so learn to decode the euphemisms used by fellow singles. "Fun-loving" typically means up for frolics between the sheets; while "young-looking" means well over your preferred age range, and "young at heart" is likely to indicate someone eligible for a pension.

She recommends that women never put their age in ads.

"Men can be very ageist, particularly against women in the 37 to 45 group. Much better to put the age of men you're looking for, and they'll assume you're right for them. They're much more prejudiced on paper than in the flesh."

Survival of the fittest

With one in five Britons now using dating aids to meet people, according to a report by Telecom Express, first impressions count more than ever. Ms Balfour says there's no bigger turn-off than being negative.

Mary Balfour
Remember it could be your first exposure to your future partner
Mary Balfour
"Don't say 'I don't want to meet someone who's tight with money.' Far better to say 'I'd like to meet someone generous.' And don't write a CV, try to inject some feelings into it. Remember, [your ad] could be your first exposure to your future partner."

And people like to see what they're getting - ads with photos tend to get more page views than those which rely on words alone to paint a picture.

Think you look more like a frog than a prince or princess? Not to worry, profiles which are most appealing are those in which the subject is smiling. And for women, Ms Balfour recommends wearing more make-up than usual for their close-up to avoid a "bleached out look".

Try me - and me

So what to do once this appealing "shop window" has sparked interest and a real-life date - or dates - is on the cards?

Couple laughing
Keep it light
Ms Balfour says keep the date short and sweet - stick to light-hearted topics, particularly steering clear of past relationships.

And remember, profiles can be misleading so don't be too disappointed if Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome turns out to be none of the above. Just chalk it up to experience. Ms Balfour calls it domino dating.

"To increase your dating success rate, you must inevitably increase your failure rate," she says.

In other words, you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.

Smart Dating by Mary Balfour is published by Harper Collins.


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