Let’s face it, dating can be difficult. It can be awkward and uncomfortable, and even time consuming. And with the rat race that has become our daily life, who has time for a bad date?

A lot of metropolitan and urban areas have singles-meet type events that go on at different times and places throughout the year. That’s all fine and well for the people that live close by and don’t suffer from any kind of social anxiety, or don’t mind being surrounded by a grip of strangers all at once. But, what about those who live more than a hop, skip, and a jump away from any of these types of things? Is it worth potentially spending hours in the car to meet some random for bad burgers and bowling?

Online dating was birthed back in 1995, and if you haven’t tried it, chances are you have at least thought about it. Who knows, maybe the love of your life is just a few clicks away. Doubtful but possible. Statistics show there are over 54 million singles in the U.S. Of those 54 million singles, over 49 million of them have tried online dating. There are some claims that 17 percent of couples that married in the last year met on an online dating site. However, there are also claims that 10 percent of sex offenders also use online dating sites to meet people. When you look at it that way, it sounds a bit risky.

On the flipside, one benefit of online dating might be the fact it gives you the opportunity to avoid those awful first dates—especially blind first dates. As if the anxiety and awkwardness of meeting a stranger in a strange place for the first time isn’t bad enough, your date could turn out to be a complete tool. Take your time, engage in conversation before rushing out the door to meet up. There’s nothing like knowing it was a mistake and complete waste of time within minutes of meeting your date. What do you even do in a situation like that? Painfully but politely fake it through the dinner you no longer have an appetite for, and then never speak to them again? Or, do you just pull the infamous, “I have to use the restroom” and bolt trick?

Where to start? With a myriad of dating sites flooding the digital world, meeting someone has become virtually effortless. Everybody loves convenience, but convenience doesn’t mean quality. Fast food for example. Sure you can have a hot and seemingly tasty burger within minutes, only to regret it soon after.

With so many of these sites available at zero cost, how does one choose which one to use? There is everything from dating for farmers, single parents, Christians, sugar babies, beautiful people—yes, beautiful people. Honestly, who decides if someone is beautiful or not? Does that mean average people can’t sign up? Does your profile picture require approval from the “beautiful people only” department before you can join? There are even sites out there that are primarily for hookups. That’s like prostitution but free.

With it literally taking only minutes to setup an online dating profile, how do you really know who’s behind it? One could easily be mistakenly led into thinking they’re keyboard-banging with some amazing cookie-cutter man, but in reality, it’s just some grease ball wearing last week’s sweatpants, hunting-and-pecking away from the basement of his mother’s house.

Be patient and proceed with caution. Watch for red flags, such as profiles with poor quality pictures or the unwillingness to answer direct questions. Like they say, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers and other predators really know how to work the charm when it’s more than a date they are after.

Unlike a lot of these dating sites, true love doesn’t come free. It takes time, commitment and sacrifice, and chances are it will find you when you least expect it. Online dating isn’t for everyone and either way it’s a gamble, it’s just a matter of how much you are willing to wager before rolling the dice. Perhaps people should invest as much time getting to know and love themselves as they do tirelessly searching for their one and only.

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