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Internet HighwayComputers and the Internet have had a profound impact upon so many aspects of our society, from the way people shop and work to the means by which they find information on countless topics. It was inevitable, then, that these tools would come to be used for one of the oldest activities humans have engaged in: the search for a mate.

Tired of relying on random chance meetings in smoky bars, or at parties and other social gatherings, millions of singles have turned to the Internet and online dating sites to search for potential dates. Online dating has actually proven to be more effective, for many people, than traditional dating approaches because it essentially works in reverse. Instead of initiating conversation with a stranger and then attempting to work things up to the next level, singles who connect via the web actually learn much about each other's aspirations, values, physical attributes and financial and familial circumstances before they even meet. This tends to level the playing field significantly when compared to the traditional game of pursuing someone that one feels attracted to and praying that personalities and goals will jell.

Many singles feel daunted, however, by their unfamiliarity with this relatively new approach and also by the vast number of online personals sites available on the web. There are a few helpful tools that can reduce the task from a mountain to a molehill. Of course, we also need some practical tools to pursue this course: a working computer, an Internet Service Provider to get us online, and a reliable e-mail account (this is how we will make our initial contacts.) From there, our most important tool is self-knowledge. Before venturing into the virtual world in search of a partner, we should have a good understanding of what our personal values are and what we really want to derive from an intimate relationship. For example, a divorced mother of two children may find little common ground with a younger man who has never been married. Understanding where we've been and how our experiences have formed us makes us much better equipped to discern how compatible we may be with singles we connect with online.

Online ProfileWe should draw upon this awareness when we write our profile (this descriptive essay is required by most online singles websites) and be as honest as we know how to be. Stretching the truth to make ourselves appear more fetching will only waste our own time as well as that of the people who respond to us, in the end. Remember, one of the advantages of connecting online is that we get a better sense of how well our personalities and life situations might complement each other before we even meet prospective dating partners face-to-face.

This principle also applies to reading prospects' profiles to get an understanding of how suitable they may be for us. Early e-mail exchanges provide us with a vital opportunity to fine-tune our initial impressions. We should use these communications to ferret out more information about our potential dates. This will make that first physical meeting � when and if it happens � feel less like a job interview and more like a reunion.

Though online dating is so different from the traditional approach, it actually offers many advantages that can give us a greater return for the time and energy we expend. Entering into the dating field with clear knowledge of ourselves and what we want from a relationship will help to hone our search and draw to us those candidates with whom we're most likely to be compatible.

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