Thanks to the speed and efficiency of online dating, I once had seven dates in seven days with seven different women. At the time, the frenzy of people-meeting passed like a blur, but now I look back on those seven days as my quick-fire training on the rules of online dating. Properly practiced, online dating is simply an affordable way to start building a type of social life. A week's worth of old-school dates could easily have cost me a rent check, but in online courtship, it's okay to grab coffee at Stella's on Pearl rather than lunch across the street at pricey Sushi Den. If you meet at the Corner Office, don't get a table; sit in the bar. If things start rolling you can always order apps--but, guys, you should be able to get out of there for about 20 bucks. (The notion that technology spawns gender equality is a myth. Despite the futuristically enlightened appeal of online dating, e-daters quickly revert to traditional roles. Men initiate, women play defense. In my experience, women pay for their half of the intro date when they really want to convey how un-indebted they are to me.)
As for first-date protocol, best to keep it short and sweet. Some people cling to rules about what topics should be discussed during an initial meeting; talk of exes, for example, supposedly is a no-no. But if the conversation flows that way, you might as well ride the wave (within reason, of course). It's natural to talk about whether you've been married, but it's creepy to recount the intimate details that caused your love to fracture. It's also best to keep the conversation casual and friendly, and if you're shy, get over it, because chemistry is a two-way street. Simply showing up for the date isn't enough. (Take the woman who was my first-ever online date in Denver, in November 2006. She looked nothing like her picture and offered mostly one-word answers to my questions, as I heroically carried the conversation during our brutal encounter.) Putting first dates on a 45-minute stopwatch lets you off the hook if it isn't going well and whets the appetite for more if it is. When it's time to go, unless the sparks are really flying, you're better off being non-committal about an encore rendezvous. Experienced online daters know that these fleeting encounters have a way of fading into oblivion for no obvious reason. If you go into them with few expectations, you'll be pleasantly surprised when a fun date does happen and way less crushed by the more typical result: the long walk home to your comfy old couch. 5280 senior editor Luc Hatlestad will blog again about his experiences dating in Denver on the following two Tuesdays in February. Next week: On finding love in Denver without having to purchase skis or an animal.