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/ Source: TODAY
By Jill Martin

I met the love of my life online. If you asked me a decade ago if I thought I would ever write that sentence I would have thought you were nuts. But things change, people change, I changed. And then, it happened.

After endless dates, failed relationships and many tears I decided (after much nudging from my mother) to try online dating. I was hesitant at first for many reasons. Single gals, I am sure you can relate to what I am about to say so here goes:

I thought I was above it and could meet someone on my own; I didn’t.

I thought I would feel embarrassed if and when random people or close friends saw me on a dating app; I didn't.

Jill Martin with her boyfriend Erik.Courtesy Jill Martin

I couldn't understand why in my super busy life, filled with wonderful friends and family and a career I have worked so hard for, I wasn’t able to meet "the one" the old-fashioned way.

Cut to: My mother met a friend's-friend's-sister who met someone online (it was that indirect) and when she heard that, she persuaded me — after MANY calls and emails — to try it. I said I would give it three months and go on as many first dates as I could or better said, I would give someone a chance that I normally wouldn’t have.

So I swiped and swiped again. In three weeks, I went on a date almost every night. Some nights, I would double book! Then I met Erik. After summing up my life in three sentences and finding a picture that represented me, I had finally swiped correctly.

Erik is kind, honest, funny and puts family first: he has three beautiful children whom I adore. It took dating someone like him to make me see that I had been dating the wrong men and was looking for the wrong thing. I had this unrealistic expectation of "perfection" when in reality, life is a little messy and we all come with our own set of baggage. But if you're in it with the right person, your “stuff” matches up and you are as close to perfect as you can be.

"Erik is kind, honest, funny and puts family first," Martin wrote about her boyfriend.Jill Martin / Jill Martin

My parents just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on Feb. 1 and Erik’s parents have been married for 55 “glorious years” as his mother Toni always chuckles! We were both lucky enough to grow up in households filled with love, support and tons of laughter (which our parents say is a huge part of the recipe for success) and we both emulate our parents' relationships and joke that in 50 years we will be celebrating and just as in love as they are.

I was hesitant to share such a personal story, but if I can inspire one person to take the leap to do something out of his or her comfort zone, it will be worth it. So dive in and let me know how it goes! Remember, it only takes one.

1. Don't be intimidated, just go for it

I think there is a stigma (at least I was hesitant at first to sign-up) about online dating. Since I met my boyfriend, I have put at least a dozen of my friends online — but it took a little nudging. Some thought they were above it, some were afraid that other “friends” would see them on the app and some just felt like it wasn’t for them. Be brave and take a chance. I was one of those people who felt like I couldn’t do it, but all it takes is one person and I found him.

2. Be honest with yourself

There are different sites geared towards different goals. If you are newly single and looking to mingle, there is a site for you. If you know you want to be in a serious relationship, there are sites geared towards that. You need to be honest with yourself and if you are looking to get married, don’t pretend to be a person who is casually dating. It’s OK to be clear about your intentions. If a faith-based relationship is important to you, if you want to get married (or remarried), if you are just looking to have a good time, SAY IT. If you eventually want kids, SAY IT — or you will run into issues later on.

3. Take it seriously

Make sure your profile truly represents you. Use the best pictures of yourself, but make sure they look like you now, not you 20 years ago. Be who you are and let others fall for the person you are and the interests you have. I have heard such nightmares about people who connected online with someone who looked totally different than the pictures posted. Your “interest” section should be super honest and truthful. You never know what fun, quirky hobbies somebody might share with you. I suggest not posting any sexy or revealing pictures on your profile page. Anything that shows your personality or interests works, and smiling pics are always best!

4. Leave your baggage at home

For your first three dates, keep it positive. Wait to share your war stories and see if you can simply have fun together. My parents have been married for 50 years this month and they say laughter is one of the key ingredients in the potion to success. Most importantly, do not talk about exes, good or bad, because if you hit it off there will be plenty of time to share.

5. Go on as many first dates as you can

It's a numbers game. Going online is no substitute to going out, but you can dramatically improve your odds of success by doing a little work ahead of time. If a picture comes up and you are leaning towards a "no," but your interests match up — GO FOR IT. You only need to meet one person who could change your life forever. You never know where or when it will happen!

6. Pick up the phone

I suggest not over-texting or over-talking before you actually meet. Some people are amazing on text and then lack chemistry in person. Keep the chat short before meeting for the first time and I suggest you do a quick call instead of lots of back and forth electronically. With text and email, someone has time to be witty and think about their response, but one brief call can give you a quick read on someone before you meet. Plus, I think it’s a more authentic way to communicate. The first date should only be drinks or coffee, never a meal. You should be able to get in and out in 20 minutes. If it’s not a fit for you, don’t waste your precious time.

7. A little mystery is OK

Don’t be overly available. I always hear people say, “Don’t play games,” but I think being strategic at first never hurts. You don’t always have to text back immediately or stress out about being super clever and funny by over-analyzing every word. If there is a back and forth, wait a few hours to respond and keep the interaction fun and light. Even after a first date, you don’t have to cancel all your plans if there is a night he or she is available and you are not. Live your life, and if it is right, it will work out. I truly believe that.

Jill Martin is a TODAY contributor and style expert.