Developing an online relationship...

So you've found an interesting profile, or you've been approached by someone interesting. You've exchanged a few tentative emails, so now what?

Step One

Remember that with each relationship progression, going back is harder. Once you get to the phone call stage, you may not get many more emails. Be sure you really want to get to know someone better before you make any leaps (small, or otherwise.)

Take your time, you don't have to know/tell everything all at once; you might inadvertently say something which offends them, and then they disappear and you have a stranger knowing more about you than you're comfortable with.

Mention something about their profile that caught your eye; this is a good way to get a dialogue started. Talk about the things you have in common.

Don't make sexual innuendos; don't ask questions like 'How long do you have to know someone before you become intimate' or What is your favorite sex position' this will make most people uncomfortable. If someone is coming on to you in a sexual manner and they don't even know you, it's best to stop replying; block their emails if they are persistent.

Don't start saying you think you've met your soul mate after 2 emails; this implies desperation. (If you really are thinking that, just tell them later.)

Chances are, other people (friends) may read what you've written as well, so keep that in mind lest you be embarrassed later.

Don't believe everything they tell you it's estimated that at least 1/3 of people on the sites are married or otherwise committed. Because they are anonymous, there are no consequences for lying here, and there are several game-players out there.

If you correspond with several people, don't get them mixed up and reply to someone about something someone else asked you about. If anyone does this to you (say, more than once), or if they are inconsistent in what they're telling you from one email to the next, show them the highway. There are a lot of nice people out there don't waste time with the slime, no matter how attractive that photo is.

Relax and be yourself so that your true personality will reveal itself.

Re-read your email before you send it remember that humor sounds different in writing than it does in person (where your facial expressions and body language can convey the tone).

Be thoughtful ask them about something they said previously to follow up. If they tell you about a job interview, ask how it went. If they mention their mother broke her hip, make sure and ask how she is.

Flirt a little.

Step Two

After a few emails, instant messaging is the next logical progression of the relationship.

As with emails, either use the sites IM service, or set up an anonymous username through AOL or MSN. Instant messaging is a great way to find out a little more about someone. It's spontaneous, so you'll get more of the true essence of a person. An email can be polished and perfected over time, but instant messaging is immediate. Remember that a session can be cut and pasted and saved, so always be careful what you say here as well.

Chat several times before the first phone call.

Step Three

The first phone call. This is bound to be a little awkward. Don't take it personally if they don't seem as friendly over the phone. Talking on the phone is way more intimate than chatting online for some people. Give them a little time to adjust. Do your best to be the same person on the phone that you have been online. Initially, you will want to keep your home and business phone numbers private. See our Dating Safety section for tips.

Step Four

The first date. Check out our section on First Dates