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Agreed—as a curvy girl, I want to avoid first-date surprises. I haven’t worn a Halloween costume since I went as a pack of grape Hubba Bubba in sixth grade.

If they're older/paunchier/have more neck bolts than he does in the photos, choose compassion, says New York dating coach Connell Barrett.

I needed a trainer, someone who could help me focus—only instead of getting defined abs, I’d get a mate (hopefully, with defined abs).

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We come up with “My ideal match is someone who loves family, has an opinion on current events, and can hold his own at a cocktail party on a Friday night, then chill with me on a lazy Saturday.” The final touch is a headline that sums up my approach to life, like a personal slogan. "It's like a slot machine—the majority of the time, you pull the lever and nothing happens, but every once in a while, there's a payoff." A deflating solution from one online dater: "Draw a face on it and send it back to him."Hoffman looks at my photos and nixes the corporate headshot and mirror selfie. Mirror selfies often give off an air of vanity.” She says the best profile shots feature the three Cs: color (vibrant shades, especially red, grab attention), context (pics that involve your hobbies, like travel or, say, clog dancing), and character (something quirky or funny, “like you in your Halloween costume”).

For the main photo, we do a close headshot where I’m smiling into the camera.

(Even Martha Stewart, who in 2013 declared in her Match profile that she was looking for a “lover of animals, grandchildren, and the outdoors.” Martha, have you considered Raya, the private celebrity dating app?

) Locking eyes across a crowded room might make for a lovely song lyric, but when it comes to romantic potential, nothing rivals technology, according to Helen Fisher, Ph D, a biological anthropologist, senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, and chief scientific adviser to Match.

After a lengthy back-and-forth with a cute guy who asks why I’m still single (beats me! We have a short phone call, as Hoffman recommends, to set something up. That’s online dating: You meet the freakazoids and think, Ghosting happens to the best of us, says therapist and dating coach Melanie Hersch.

), I try a Hoffman move, writing, “That’s a story better told over a drink.” He suggests... To stay sane, she says, “stop telling yourself stories to explain it, like ‘It’s because I’m not good enough.’ Trying to figure out why someone didn’t choose you is like trying to swim with ankle weights: You’ll get pulled right down instead of moving forward.

“And we’ve found that people looking for a sweetheart on the internet are more likely to have full-time employment and higher education, and to be seeking a long-term partner.

Online dating is the way to go—you just have to learn to work the system.” So take heart: Whether you’re a first-time player or a seasoned contestant who wants to up her game, our troubleshooting guide is here to help, with advice from both experts and survivors on how to search strategically, handle setbacks gracefully, maintain sanity, and enjoy the ride—with minimal agony and maximum ecstasy. Seven years ago, I signed up for Match.com, but I never took it seriously.

Let him disappear and make way for the partner you deserve.”On the day of the date, I meet him at a restaurant.

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