Love is a battlefield and at times it can seem like the things that are supposed to help you - amorous apps, dating websites and promising profiles - aren't so much part of your armoury (or 'amour-y' if you will) but part of the problem too. If you don't know your apps from your elbow, are stumped by first-date patter, or baffled by building a dating profile, then help is at hand. From profile pic professionals to masters in the art of attraction (both on and offline), we've gathered together an army of elite dating experts to help make sure your path to true love runs much, much smoother.
CREATING A DESIRABLE PROFILE
Everyone wants to stand out from the crowd, but penning a perfect profile can be daunting. To help get to grips with what to say, and more importantly, what not to say, we asked Ace McCloud, life coach and author of the Amazon best-seller, Online Dating: Master the Art of Internet Dating. (AcesEbooks.com) for his top tips:
1 Don't do it alone
Get a close friend to help you fill your profile out. They'll know what your best qualities are but also know when to rein you back if you start sounding narcissistic or conceited.
2 Avoid generic terms
Instead of saying you're 'caring', say you volunteer at a local animal shelter (but only if you do! Lying is also a big no no). Make your hobbies specific and descriptive so you can find somebody who likes the same things as you. Do not be negative - focus on what you do like and who you do want to contact you.
3 Have a headline
Playful and humorous has the highest click rate. Posing a question is good as they can only get the answer by reading your profile and try to switch your headline up every two to three weeks to keep your profile fresh.
4 Create a winning user name
Don't use anything boring like 'singleperson111' or desperate like 'givinguphope34343'. Instead try and link it to your headline like 'Love_Nature' or 'Ballroom_Dancer'.
5 Keep it brief (especially if you're a woman)
Women should stick to three or four short paragraphs (men will not bother to read anything too long) but men can put more effort in, women like six to eight paragraphs about a potential date.
PICKING THE PERFECT PROFILE PICTURE
Research shows that the written profile makes up less than 10pc of what people consider when checking out online dating profiles. "Basically it's your photos that make people decide - often in a split second - whether they want to contact you or not," says award-winning photographer Saskia Nelson from Hey Saturday (heysaturday.co/), the UK's first dating profile picture photography service. Saskia's advice is:
1 Have a good quality main profile photo where you look natural, relaxed and very happy: as you'd look on a first date. Don't use out-of-date photos - research shows the main reason people don't get second dates is down to 'un-met expectations'.
2 Avoid studio shoots or any photographers that encourage cheesy posing. Looking like you've tried too hard is definitely not cool. Check out Saskia's site for good examples on the "professional but unstaged" look you should be aiming for.
3 Have three or four additional shots - including a full-length body shot - showing some surroundings to give you a bit of context.
4 Selfies are only okay for women in their 20s. Men think they give a sense of intimacy but there's always a danger that selfies can give off a bit of a hook-up vibe. Men should avoid selfies at all costs. Women don't find them attractive at all. They like guys who exude strength and pride - photos of men looking away from the lens and not smiling perform very well.
5 Be the main thing in the shot. Including other people can be a distraction and including a member of the opposite sex can unleash negative emotions - 60pc of people in that situation will ask who the person is. All these things will put off large numbers of people from contacting you. The exception to this rule is older people with families, you're four times more likely to attract dates if you include one photo of your kids.
6 At least one photo should include bright colour to stand out.
7 Avoid messy backgrounds, filters and photos with red eye - your eyes are the first place people are drawn to in your dating profile photo.
SOME STATS WORTH KNOWING
● Men who refer to women as 'women' not 'girls' or similar, have a 28pc higher chance of getting more messages from women.
● Men who mention surfing, yoga, skiing, golf, biking, running and hiking get more attention than those who list basketball or baseball as sports of interest.
● Men who use keywords about their children for their interests in their profile get more responses than those who list interests like 'electronics' or 'cars'. But women who mention an interest in 'electronics' get more responses than mentioning children.
● Women who change their profile picture regularly increase their chances of getting responses.
● Most women prefer the 'nice guy' type, while 34pc of men prefer the 'girl next door' look and 24pc prefer the 'hottie' look.
THE MOST COMMON PROFILE DESCRIPTIONS… AND WHAT THEY REALLY MEAN
With 20 years in the dating business and a best-selling book, The Perils of Cyber Dating: Confessions of a Hopeful Romantic Looking for Love Online, Julie Spira (cyberdatingexpert.com) knows all there is to know about the language of love. Here are her descriptions to dodge:
1. "Looking for a financially secure man". This is what women say when they don't want to pay the bill, are recovering from a divorce, or are unemployed.
2. "Looking for something casual". Clearly means FWB (friends with benefits) or NSA (no strings attached). Don't expect this to lead to a ring.
3. "Currently separated". He or she has not filed for divorce and is not available for a serious relationship. May still be living with spouse and checking out a Plan B.
4. "Love to travel the world". Who doesn't? If travel is the main focus then there's a price to pay. Screams high maintenance - unless they're a travel agent.
5. "I like coffee dates". Usually means 'I've been on too many dates and you aren't worth the price of an appetiser and a drink'. Cheap.
6. "I'm best friends with my ex". Usually means they haven't got over their ex and could still be in love with them. Either way, they're not available.
FINDING THE MOST 'APP'EALING DATING TECHNOLOGY
Cyberspace is full of apps and sites all promising love that's just a swipe or a click of the mouse away. But if you don't know your Tinders from your Bristlrs, it's hard to know where to start.
We asked dating guru Julie Spira to untangle the dating web.
Young Professionals: Match is a great choice because there's a large number of members worldwide and you can search by profession. Hinge is an app geared towards young professionals and recently eliminated the swiping feature to differentiate them from Tinder.
Someone cynical about online dating and apps: Just have some fun with niche dating apps like Bristlr (for women who fancy men with facial hair), Align (matched on astrology), or Gluten Free Singles.
Someone just looking for fun: Tinder started out with members looking to hook up but now say 80pc of members are looking for a meaningful relationship. Read the mini bios to see.
Someone who wants companionship: Bumble has a BFF feature, OkCupid gives you a choice of New Friends, Casual Dating, Long-term Dating or Casual Sex. Happn is a great app, because it matches you based on who you've crossed paths with.
Divorced / widowed and apprehensive: If you don't want to be bombarded with cubs looking for cougars, something like eHarmony - which has been around since 2000 - might be the way to go. They allow you to take your time in communicating with potential dates.
Someone sporty who wants to avoid the bar scene: This is high on a lot of singles' lists. Many apps now have 'virtual drink dates' or if you're a workout fanatic try the new Sweatt app.
LGBT or curious: Grindr was the original app for gay men but these days most sites allow you to search based on sexual preference. The 'more' option on the sexual preferences menu on OKCupid has asexual, demisexual, heteroflexible, homesexual, lesbian, pansexual, queer, questioning and sapiosexual - that's a pretty full menu. Tindr just added a new gender feature which includes transgender relationships.
Technophobes: Better with a dating coach. You won't be alone, recent research showed that 30pc of women had someone else write their profiles.
HOW TO STAY SAFE ON A DATE
● Always meet in a public place (no isolated walks or secluded meeting points).
● Never invite them to collect you at your home.
● Never accept a lift home.
● Know in advance how you are going to get home.
● Tell someone where you are going or if you meet on arealkeeper.ie, use the register-a-date facility.
● Don't get drunk, stay in your senses so you can stay safe, make informed decisions so you'll remember your first date.
● Take your drink with you at all times to avoid being spiked .
FIVE BIGGEST PITFALLS TO AVOID ON A FIRST DATE
"Dating is supposed to be fun but many people get things wrong and don't enjoy it," says James Preece, the UK's leading dating coach and author of The Science of Desirability (jamespreece.com). If you're hoping for a second date, he advises avoiding:
It's a turn off. Especially moaning about your job and your ex.
2. Going on too long
Even if things are going well, you don't have to spend all night with them. If you do, you may end up doing something you might regret or running out of conversation topics. Try and keep your first date to an hour or two - leaving something for next time.
3. Getting stuck in the friend zone
If you don't flirt much it can be confusing to work out if you like them or not. Nobody likes rejection, so if they're unsure they'll assume you're not interested and put you down as "just a friend". Flirt, flirt, flirt and make it as clear as possible that you're into them.
4. Choosing the wrong venue
Find a venue that's interesting, save dinner for a second date, and definitely steer clear of the cinema.
5. Drinking too much
So many singles end up trying to hide their nerves by downing as much alcohol as possible. This can get you in all sorts of trouble and stops you showing who you really are.
'DATEIQUETTE': GUIDELINES ON GOOD DATING ETIQUETTE
Should I kiss on a first date?
"If you like them, you should always try to end the date with a quick kiss," says dating expert James Preece. "Nothing over the top, just a little indication that you are interested in them. Don't pounce, build up to the moment, moving nearer and seeing how comfortable they are once you close down the body space."
Should I have sex on a first date?
"If you want to sleep with someone on a first, third or 10th date then it's completely your choice, you should do what makes you happy," says James. "However the problem with this is that if you sleep together too quickly you skip the 'getting to know each other' phase. You've not established any feelings, it's all about lust. So it's unlikely it will result in a long-term relationship. Some people may (wrongly) judge you for it and assume you sleep with everyone, which isn't attractive. It's better to take the time to build up to the big moment to make it special."
How do I ask someone I know out?
"There are a few golden rules here," says Rena Maycock from Intro Matchmaking (intro.ie). "First find out if they are actually available and interested in meeting someone and keep it light and breezy. Next time you're in each other's company, strike up a conversation about being single, talk about how hard it is to meet someone you've anything in common with, and throw in some qualities you would like in a partner and ask what they're looking for.
"If they're not interested, this gives them a chance to paint a picture of a preferred match so totally unlike you that you can both walk away from the conversation with heads held high. If their perfect match does sound like you, either go in for the kill and point out you tick all their boxes and should go on a date, or casually point out 'you're single, I'm single, just saying…' and leave it up to them to follow up. You've done all you can."
When should I ask if we're exclusive?
James reckons: "If you've been seeing each other for over three months, have had lots of great dates and have met each other's friends and family, then the chances are you'll expect things to be serious." Don't be afraid to ask, it's better to talk about it early rather than spend months seeing someone who isn't on the same page as you. "Wait until you are alone together in a relaxed environment, tell them you really like them, and ask what they think about the situation," urges James.
How do I let someone down gently?
Sooner rather than later is best because the longer you wait, the more attached the other person can potentially get and the more hurt they might feel. "Honesty is usually your best bet, mixed in with a compliment or reassuring comment," says James. "Something like 'I really enjoyed meeting you - you are such a great guy - however we are clearly looking for different things. I wish you all the best and know you'll find someone amazing soon.'"
How do I approach someone I like the look of?
Make eye contact with a relaxed smile to signal interest. "Do not start your conversation by asking if the person is single or anything so forward," says Tania O'Donnell (taniaodonnell.com) author of Slow Dating: A Technophobe's Quest for Love Offline. "A discussion about the weather or something around you is a better way to break the ice without getting all intense and strange." She adds: "Yes it can be scary to speak to someone you fancy, but even shy people can overcome their reservations if they remember that the other person might also be afraid of rejection. Plus, as long as you don't slip over into harassment or creepiness, anyone would be flattered to know that you like the look of them."
Where should we go on a date?
Obviously this will come down to your shared likes and dislikes, but matchmaker Sharon Kenny (thematchmaker.ie) advises keeping it simple. "I don't agree with meeting in top restaurants on first dates," she says. "It heightens expectations and leaves you less relaxed. Also if you get off on the wrong foot and feel you're not a match, you don't have to feel obliged to spend a few hours over dinner." She recommends meeting for a drink about 6pm.
How long should I give it?
"It takes three dates for a man to fall in love and 14 for ladies," says Sharon Kenny (matchmaker.ie). So emotionally, don't rush anything if you want it to last. Get to know each other and never say never to a kiss."
THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE: WHAT TO TALK ABOUT ON A FIRST DATE (AND WHAT TO AVOID)
"It's true that first dates can be one of the most nerve-wracking, anxiety-producing situations in our society," says Dave Merren of One2One Introductions (one2one.ie). "The key to having a positive experience is relaxed conversation, and that can be helped along with some well-chosen first-date questions."
● What's your favourite song / favourite movie quote and why?
● What kind of things make you laugh out loud?
● Did you like school?
● What's the last book you read / movie or gig you went to?
● What's something you're really proud of?
Don't talk about:
● Exes, cheating or commitment
● "How come you're still single?"
● Anything you found out about them on Google
● Your most recent hospital visit
ALTERNATIVES TO ONLINE DATING
Not everyone wants to swipe left or right or leave it up to an algorithm to find love, but, aside from dating agencies, what other alternatives are out there? "The best part of dating offline is that you can tell whether you fancy someone on a pheromone level in a way that you can't with a photo online," says Tania O'Donnell (taniaodonnell.com) author of Slow Dating: A Technophobe's Quest for Love Offline. Camille Virginia, founder of Master Offline Dating (masterofflinedating.com) agrees, but she reckons we've got so absorbed in our smartphones we need to look up and relearn how to connect in the real world.
"We aren't taking advantage of the everyday opportunities around us because a lot of us have simply forgotten how to do it," she explains. Camille recommends "chatting to as many people as you can throughout your day, so that when you do find yourself standing in front of someone you're attracted to, your social skills are all warmed up". But where to start?
1 The supermarket: "A singleton basket looks very different to a family one, so if the person you like the look of seems to be single from their shopping, ask them if an item in their basket is any good and start a conversation that way," suggests Tania.
2 Art or mechanics class: "Take up a hobby that usually has a gender bias toward the sex you're trying to attract," says Tania. "For example, most sewing classes I've been to are filled with women and a man in the class would make a refreshing change. Don't worry too much if the age group in your hobby class is too old for you - granddaughters and nieces can be set up by older relatives."
3 Country dances: It's probably how your gran and grandpa met and they're making a comeback for second-time-around daters and bar-weary singletons.
4 The airport: "The airport is a gold mine, especially for practicing pushing past your social skills comfort zone," says Camille. "Everyone is going to or coming from different locations and many have 'vacation mindset' which means inhibitions are lowered and they're more open to risk.
Go to a restaurant, sit at the bar and ask the person next to you where they're headed or ask the bartender how his day is going. Chat up the person next to you on the plane if you feel up for it - that's how I met my first boyfriend."
5 Book shops: Books can provide a great 'in' to chat to someone and find out their likes and dislikes.
JOINING THE DATING GAME LATER IN LIFE
Jennifer Haskins has been at the helm of Two's Company (twoscompany.ie) for nine years. Her agency matches couples of all ages but has had particular success with over 50s. She has this advice for older singles:
"Your attitude towards love is the most important thing moving forward." If couples have had a positive experience of love then this will often inform how successful they are in finding a new relationship.
If you've been bereaved then there is no set time limit to 'move on'. "It's not dependent on time, it's dependent on the individual, the type of marriage they had and whether they discussed moving on with their spouse. Most would say six months is too soon, but I know a couple who started dating when the man was widowed six months and they've been married 14 years now," says Jennifer.
It's good to have had some counselling, especially following bereavement, so you know emotionally how ready you are to date.
Opting for a matchmaking agency rather than an online service might be better suited to the emotional needs of someone re-entering the dating world. "No separation is easy, people have been hurt and some are still baring the scars. At an agency we can handle them with kid gloves and help build confidence."
Don't discuss previous relationships, particularly negative ones on a first date. "Nobody wants to hear that on a first date - they want to meet someone who makes them feel good in their presence."