Let the folks at match.com tell it: One in four relationships starts online. The eHarmony team boasts it’s responsible for nearly 5 percent of all marriages, and a quick Google search of “Black Dating Online” turns up a long list of sites targeting singles looking to make friends, or more, on the Internet. Actress Essence Atkins of the TBS sitcom Are We There Yet? speaks plainly about meeting her husband online. The two married in 2009, and two years later they’ve announced they’re expecting their first child.

If you’re ready to give online dating a try, the results have the potential to be astoundingly good. “Dating, like job hunting, is a numbers game,” says my girl Daniella R.*, 34. “You have to submit your application to as many companies as possible until you find a job. Online dating gives me a bigger pool of men to choose from.”

When Daniella moved to D.C. four months ago, she had to rebuild her love life from scratch. The easiest way she could think of? The Internet. “Unlike at clubs, you can weed out people by reviewing their profiles before giving out your contact info or going on a date,” Daniella explains. She swears by match.com, where she’s come across four worthy fellas in as many months. “I haven’t met The One yet,” she adds. “But I have met some really good men I’m friends with now.”

Veralyn W., 25, turned to cyberdating when she began working from home as a full-time blogger. It made sense since she spent so much time online anyway, and as she put it, “There was no chance of running into Mr. Right in my house.” Not only was she looking for love, or something like it, but online dating also allowed her to skip that frustrating initial 90-day period when people often pretend to be something they’re not. “Online is quick and straight to the point,” Veralyn adds. “I don’t have to sugarcoat what I’m looking for—it’s all in my profile.” Veralyn also likes that she feels less inhibited to make the first move while online, something she says she would never do in person.

Julie Spira, author of The Perils of Cyber-Dating (Morgan James), says many women are drawn to online dating for this reason, but don’t know how to initiate contact with a prospect. Spira suggests a simple solution: Read his bio, find something interesting you have in common, and then e-mail him about it. Say something like, ‘I saw you enjoy [insert author here]. I enjoy [mention book by author]. What’s your favorite book?’ If he likes your picture and profile, he’ll respond. “You’ve let him know you are approachable,” says Spira. “Let him take the lead from there.”

Between OkCupid and Facebook (technically not a dating site, but a great resource for meeting friends of friends), Veralyn guesses she has met 14 men in two years. “Some I never saw again after our first date, some I’m now Facebook friends with and one I had to block from all social networks,” she says, summing up the odds women can expect on the Web.

Although many Black women are searching for—and even finding—dates online, very few have been willing to admit it openly. While even the most mundane aspects of our lives—banking, grocery shopping, watching television and movies, and listening to music—are done over the Internet, it seems dating via cyberspace is the last acceptable virtual frontier. After much prying, I finally discovered why.

“When I used to tell friends I was dating online, one friend said, ‘Damn. You’re not ugly; why are you online?’ ” explains Crystal K., 25. “Another revealed she would only set up a profile if she were desperate.” Spira says the age-old stigma is slowly disappearing.

“Just about everyone knows someone who has met their significant other through an online dating site,” she says. “Finding love online has never been more accessible—there are so many options. I expect to see more single people joining Internet dating sites in 2012.”

Judgmental friends aren’t the only issue you may encounter. Even Daniella, who says most of her online experiences have been positive, is up-front about the annoying number of men seeking sex, men already in a committed relationship but wanting something on the side, and men on the rebound from a recently dissolved romance. “Approximately one in three men with online profiles is only pretending to be single,” says Spira.

She suggests ladies sidestep this minefield by avoiding bios with blurry photos or ones without pics. Also, pay attention to the frequency of contact you have with each other. “If he’s only available during the workday but never nights or weekends, he’s likely involved with someone else,” adds Spira.

“Take your time dating and getting to know people, and everything you need to know will come out.” The time investment in men who ultimately didn’t work out was actually what turned off my girl Nneka M., 25, from online dating. She tried unsuccessfully to date on match.com, eHarmony.com and blackpeoplemeet.com for about a year before throwing in the towel. “You go from scanning someone’s profile to sending e-mails asking clichéd questions to maybe exchanging contact information and then and only then do you actually meet face-to-face,” she says.

“There are so many hurdles to jump over that meeting up with the person for a date can be a letdown.” Spira has a solution:

Exchange e-mails for a few days, then move to a phone conversation in the first week. “The first conversation should last 20 minutes. If it goes well, put a date to meet on your calendar,” adds Spira. Online dating may come with its challenges—much like dating face-to-face—but with effort, you can make it work for you. Remember those men Veralyn befriended on Facebook? One eventually became her boyfriend. “We met right away and saw each other every day that first week,” she says. “We’ve been seeing each other ever since.”

*Some subjects’ names have been changed.

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