How To Maneuver The Wild World Of Online Dating

More singles are turning to online dating sites to search for that special someone. They can find dates based on religion, race, ethnicity or even eating habits. Guest host Viviana Hurtado delves into the world of niche dating sites with Erika Ettin. She's an online dating coach and the founder of the Washington-based business, A Little Nudge.

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VIVIANA HURTADO, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, some of the world's best dancers are in Buenos Aires for the Tango Festival. One of them shares her finest moves with us in just a moment.

But, first, we turn from the romance of the dance floor to romance online. Even if you've never been on an online date or would never admit it, chances are you know someone who has. As more romantics turn to their keyboards and smartphones to search for that special someone, it seems that every day, there's a new website, even an app, to help make a love connection. You can even find dates based on religion, is he a dog person, cat person, culture, ethnicity, even eating habits.

Here to talk about the growing world of niche dating sites is Erika Ettin. She's an online dating coach, the founder of A Little Nudge. That's a Washington-based business that helps people write an awesome profile and bring out the Rico Suave or Rica Suavette in them.

Erika, welcome to the program.

ERIKA ETTIN: Thanks so much for having me.

HURTADO: I understand you met your current boyfriend online, right?

ETTIN: I did.

HURTADO: So personally and professionally, what's your biggest tip for someone entering the world of online dating?

ETTIN: Well, first, know what you're getting yourself into. Make sure you're ready for it. I tell clients all the time, you know, don't start before you're ready, but once you are, you have to devote your whole self to it. It is a lot of work, but it's certainly worth it if you meet someone.

HURTADO: The Internet is huge, and there are a lot more people on the Internet than anyone could find in a lifetime. So I guess it just begs the question: too many options?

ETTIN: That's the thing. They do studies about that. You know, you give people more options, they're more confused. So it's a pro and a con, right? You sign on to any online dating site. You're overwhelmed with possibilities. But on the other hand, you get to meet all these people who you wouldn't have necessarily met in the first place.

And I joke with my boyfriend - he's a lawyer. I'm not, obviously. And most of his friends are lawyers, and most of mine are not, and we wouldn't have crossed paths. But we found each other online.

HURTADO: Erika, if you look at your customer base, is there one group in particular that gets the most out of online dating?

ETTIN: I'd say different groups get different things out of online dating. So a lot of the clients I work with are over 40, divorced, and have never done online dating before. So they need a little bit of hand-holding, and it's completely new. It's - oh, my gosh. I have to turn to the Internet to get a date? So...

HURTADO: Is that generational, Erika, or is that because maybe, you know, they married their high school or their college sweetheart? They've been "out of the game," quote, unquote, for a long time?

ETTIN: It is generational. They have been out of the game. So it's a new game now. So it's hard to adapt to that, and, you know, that's what I try to help - you know, I walk people through that.

HURTADO: One thing that you were talking about was just being able to cross paths with your boyfriend. And, of course, with these niche websites, you can really focus on big-value questions, like religion and culture, ethnicity, questions that maybe aren't the big-value questions, like a dog, cat person. Does it take away the discovery and the romance of just getting to know somebody? Is it too reductive?

ETTIN: Yes and no. But I think it's nice knowing some facts about somebody before you go out with them, because it's things that you know you don't really have to discuss later. So, say religion is something that's really important to you. You only want to date someone of your own religion. You know that going in. Whereas, if you met that person at a bar, you'd still have to ask what religion they were and see if - you know, see if you even want to go out with them.

So it is nice, because if you have something in particular of value or something that's really important to you, you can help narrow the pool by looking online.

HURTADO: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado. We're talking about niche dating websites with online dating expert, Erika Ettin. And so, speaking of technology, you were saying that a lot of your clients, particularly those that may be a little bit older and are in the world of texting and websites and apps, there are smartphone apps that use the built-in GPS to find nearby dates, so...

ETTIN: There are.

HURTADO: ...I'm wondering, what do you recommend for your clients?

ETTIN: So I think those apps are really interesting. I see the merit to them. So I always tell people, you know, it's better to go on a date sooner so you see if you like someone or you don't, and the app really helps with that because you could meet someone almost immediately.

Just like any regular online dating site, apps have their own niches, also. So I know some of the big sites have apps, like OkCupid, Match. They both have apps. And then you have other ones. There's all kinds of things, Plentyoffish, anything you could possibly want. So, again, same concept as online dating. Decide what's important to you, and then download the app.

HURTADO: Erika, we've talked about everything that's possibly out there that could connect people: religion, culture, preferences, dog, cat. What is the strangest group, I guess, that you've found online?

ETTIN: I've read that there are 1,500 online dating sites in the U.S., which is crazy. I mean, they have everything from motorcycle lovers to tattoo lovers to fish lovers.

HURTADO: Farmers, I saw.

ETTIN: Farmers. Anything you could possibly want. So when it comes down to it, you narrow down your non-negotiables. Right? So if your non-negotiable is really I only want someone who rides a motorcycle, heck, join the motorcycle lover's site.

HURTADO: He's out there.

ETTIN: Exactly.

HURTADO: Vroom. Vroom. Vroom.

ETTIN: Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

ETTIN: Exactly. And wear a helmet.

(LAUGHTER)

ETTIN: Whatever you're looking for, if you know off the bat that you want that one characteristic, why not use a niche site to narrow down your choices? Because if you use, say, a Match.com, you'll still have to narrow down on that site alone and it just gets a little bit harder.

HURTADO: But the other argument, of course, is that a site like Match.com is so popular and you're going to cast a wider net than something that's a lot more specific.

ETTIN: It's true. It really depends on what you're looking for. If you don't have specifics in mind, I would start with a large generic site to see what you're looking for, see what you like, see what you don't. But if you already know that something is a deal breaker for you, then you might as well search a site that already takes into account that deal breaker. Although I will say, don't go crazy with narrowing people down because people think when they see all these choices online they can narrow it down that much. Like, oh, I only want someone who scuba dives and I only want someone who, you know, is at least seven inches taller than I am. But when it comes down, when it comes down to it, you have to leave yourself room to explore. So don't narrow your field down too much or else you might end up not on any dates.

HURTADO: So you are an online dating consultant. What advice do you have for me - I mean your clients...

(LAUGHTER)

HURTADO: ...who are looking for the best for them?

ETTIN: First of all, it's all about marketing. So a lot of people think when you put up a profile, you know, it doesn't matter what you say, it doesn't matter what pictures. Well, that's crazy, you're marketing yourself, and if you're going to market something, well, you want to market yourself well. So the first thing is make sure your pictures accurately represent you and that you're putting your best foot forward.

HURTADO: OK. And how about the profile? I mean sometimes you just will find a profile online that goes on forever, that's maybe TMI - too much information.

ETTIN: Absolutely. That happens all the time. I always say people are busy at work. They don't want to get home and read your novel online.

(LAUGHTER)

ETTIN: So, so try to keep it an average length...

HURTADO: And may it not be "War and Peace."

ETTIN: Exactly. So try to keep it an average length. And my best recommendation is just try not to sound generic. A lot of people say I love to laugh. I'm funny. I'm intelligent.

HURTADO: I like to travel.

ETTIN: Exactly. I don't know many people who don't love to laugh, travel and think they're funny. So, so just try to say something funny, say something specific about where you like to travel. If you're intelligent, write in an intelligent manner so that people can infer these things rather than having to read the words.

HURTADO: That was Erika Ettin. She's an online dating coach and founder of the A Little Nudge. She joined me in our Washington, D.C.-based studios.

Erika, thank you.

ETTIN: Thank you so much.

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