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Red flags for online dating

Feb. 9, 2012 at 7:25 AM ET

Two years ago, a Match.com/Chadwick Martin Bailey study found that one in five new relationships and one in six new marriages are between people who met through an online dating site. But while it may be a great way to find your soul mate, you’ll be confronted with thousands of choices. And, like many other online offerings, the "product" received may not always be what was advertised. So improve your chance of success by keeping an eye out for the following red flags as you sort through potential date’s profiles:

Photos: Photos can tell you a lot about a potential date. No photo, or a grainy, out-of-focus or outdated photo, are a sign that the person probably has something to hide, or else is not really serious about the dating process. But Vondie Lozano, licensed marriage and family therapist, has some other not-so-obvious flags to add to the list.

  • If they have a ton of photos, it could mean they’re a little self-absorbed.
  • Do they have a photo of themselves with another person cut out of it? That’s a huge red flag on so many levels.
  • Is there someone or something else in all of their photos? It’s good to have outside interests. But if their dog, friends, boat or even their kids are in ALL their photos, it may tell you a little about where you’ll stand in the scheme of things.

Self-description: If the user name or headline is weird, overtly sexual or otherwise inappropriate — Bangyourdaddy, 69Reasons — you can stop there, says Trish McDermott, a founding team member of Match.com. Also avoid people that disclose too much, whether it’s a recent staph infection, bankruptcy or bad breakup. And McDermott recommends steering clear of people who don’t have kids but use undue space in their profile soliciting information about the age and sex of your children.

Christan Marashio, founder of AndThatsWhyYoureSingle.com, adds that “it's normal for people to have some trouble crafting a profile and to use self-deprecating humor to lighten the mood. Too much humor is usually a sign that the person is insecure and uncomfortable with being vulnerable, which could lead to problems with emotional intimacy down the road. The humor is used to distract.”

Marital status: “separated”: This one isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. But Dan Neuharth, licensed marriage and family therapist, says “you need to find out just how separated he is. He may be legitimately finished with his marriage emotionally, but the paperwork isn't final. But many separated people are nowhere near done. They may be on a trial separation, seeking variety, or way too fresh from a bad relationship to date seriously.” And if the person is still talking about their ex, that’s a red flag.

What he/she’s looking for: Requiring too much or too little are both red flags. You’ll never live up to the laundry list. If the person really doesn’t care, they’re probably looking for a “date,” not a relationship, or he or she may be looking to scam you.

Neuharth also notes that while it’s common for men to want to date women younger than themselves, if there's too much of an age gap, it's a sign he’s probably not looking for an equal partner in the relationship.

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