38, Baltimore, married, used JDate.com
The Strategy: Peek at other women's profiles, and don't settle for less than your perfect guy.
The Process: After a string of awful online dates, Amy took a clever route to improving her own profile, creating several fake male profiles so she could see how the women who came up most often in search results presented themselves. What she found (and copied): Popular women showed some skin in their photos (shoulders or a bit of cleavage) and kept their "About Me" sections short.
Her old profile included detailed descriptions of her work life and what she wanted in a man; her new one was just 100 words, "each carefully selected to optimize my chances of attracting the largest number of men." After the switch, "I was one of the most popular people on the site," says Amy, who wrote a book about her experience called Data: A Love Story.
But she didn't date indiscriminately from there. She agreed to go out only with men who fulfilled most of her 72-trait checklist of what she wanted in a partner. Her dual strategy is how she met Brian, her husband of five years.
The Guy: Before she reengineered her profile, Amy had dates who stuck her with the check and didn't tell her they were married, but Brian is exactly who she was looking for: a bald, Jewish travel fiend. (And yes, she specifically wanted a baldie!)
33, New York City, engaged, used HowAboutWe.com
The Strategy: Demand to be wined and dinedÃ¢â‚¬”or at least not simply wined.
The Process: Perhaps the most common way to size up a digital potential is by meeting for a quick drink, but Joan wanted more. She found drink dates uncreativeÃ¢â‚¬”get-togethers that didn't tell her anything about a potential match's interests. So when a guy proposed seeing a Richard Avedon exhibit at the local museum, Joan jumped at the chance to meet someone who shared her passion for art and fashion. A year and a half later, he got down on one knee and proposed something else.
The Guy: Joan's graduate-student fiancÃƒÂ©, Victor, is "the most thoughtful, caring, and kind person," she says. Like Joan, he loves art and avidly keeps up with current events. Besides, he makes her laugh every day. They plan on marrying next March.
29, New Jersey, married, used CoffeeMeetsBagel.com
The Strategy: Say yes to everyone (seriously, everyone).
The Process: When Linda started dating online, she was skeptical and said no to everyone who asked her outÃ¢â‚¬”which obviously wasn't going to help her find love. Phase two had her randomly selecting people based solely on their looks. "I was being picky and wasn't opening my heart up to anyone," she says. Finally, Linda decided to say OK to every guy who asked to meetÃ¢â‚¬”even if she had reservations about him. In that first week, Linda gave the green light to two men.
She didn't feel a connection with the first, but the second was Tommy, a guy she might otherwise have overlooked because of "a cliched, general profile," she says. "It said, 'I like to cook, I'm funny and spontaneous, I enjoy outdoor activities.'" In person, though, he was sensitive and warm and had a "genuine smile," Linda says. They went from tea to a sake bar on their first date, and in August, got married. (Planning to go out with anyone who asks? Try a smaller site where members have something in common: With Coffee Meets Bagel, all potential matches are friends of your Facebook friends.)
The Guy: Tommy, now her husband, grew up in a female-centric home, so he's aware of and attuned to women's feelings, says Linda. Plus, he shares Linda's religious background, which is important to her.
29, Queensland, Australia, eight-month relationship, used Skout.com
The Strategy: Don't rush meeting in person, then do hurry the date.
The Process: Michelle chose this location-based dating appÃ¢â‚¬”which lets you set up a date right then and there (say you're at a cafÃƒÂ© and a possible match is there too)Ã¢â‚¬”because it had the most local users. But she wanted to take things slow, so she waited two weeks before meeting someone in person. By instant messaging on Skout.com, she was able to "weed out the oddballs and sleazes," she says, and make sure the guy was interested in more than her photos.
Once she'd decided to go out with someone, she'd choose something quick, like a coffee, which she felt was just enough investment to determine if she wanted to see him again. After a few months, a guy named Shannon contacted her. They chatted online and texted (constantly!) for two weeks, and he seemed like "a complete gentleman." When they finally met in person, they were already in sync. "It felt so right!" she says. It was so spot-on, in fact, that the two recently decided to move in together.
The Guy: Shannon, her soon-to-be live-in BF, is sweet and considerate, with values similar to hers. "We have an understanding of each other," she says. "Maybe because we're both Capricorns."
35, New York City, yearlong relationship, used eHarmony.com
The Strategy: Go on 30 dates, and make a friend do it too.
The Process: Lillian tracked the string of breakfasts, lunches, coffees, walks, dinners, and drinks on a spreadsheet, listing each guy's name and where she'd met him to keep it all straight. She enlisted a friend to go on 30 dates too. It helped to have someone endureÃ¢â‚¬”and giggle aboutÃ¢â‚¬”the marathon with her. "I texted her a bunch," she says. The two also had a debriefing dinner at date 15. "The dates ran the gamut," Lillian says. "No-shows, rude ones, egotistical ones, supercute ones, not-so-supercute ones."
One Sunday morningÃ¢â‚¬”date 30, coincidentallyÃ¢â‚¬”Lillian met a guy for coffee. "As soon as he sat down, I knew I wanted to really get to know him," she says. "Had I not gone on those other dates, I may not have been able to see the difference." It became clear who was simply cute "and who I actually wanted to spend time with." A year later, they're still spending time together.
The Guy: Lillian's boyfriend is, on paper, her opposite: more laid-back and artistic, and divorced, "but our personalities are similar in that we're both warm and caring," she says.