I have been dating online and, well, living a lot of my life online (in a totally non-creepy way) for about 10 years. At different times in my life I have wanted different things from the internet, and the internet has become different things in this period. Over the years one thing has stayed the same: sometimes the internet is the only way to find people who can relate to you.

This, to me, is at the heart of online dating, especially if you are in your thirties. Sometimes the only way you can meet someone, however fleetingly, and have a conversation which gives the overwhelming relief that “Somebody gets it!” is by going online. But most people think online dating is a dirty secret, or that if they cannot find people to connect with in real life, the internet is really not the answer. And dear me, the creepy people out there! It is no wonder people are nervous. But here is the thing: online dating is neither hard nor creepy. It is not that different from offline dating.

So what do you need to do to survive online? Well, for starters, to quote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, don’t panic. Really. Don’t. The internet is anonymous. This is wildly terrifying, especially if you have gone and put a trussed up picture of yourself on FetLife and you suddenly realise your boss could see it. But remember, for the boss to see it, the boss also has to be on FetLife and is probably also nervous about you seeing him there. So take a deep breath and relax.

You can always walk away

Second, don’t be ashamed. Practically everything we do is online or device related these days – why shouldn’t you meet people there? Especially if there is no way to meet people offline, which tends to happen once you leave college. By the time you are 30, nearly all your friends are married, the new people you do wind up meeting are usually not single or, worse, they are single for a reason.

But online, you can find someone who lives right around the corner and loves the same part of the same obscure Pearl Jam song that you do. And, best of all, if this person turns out to be someone you do not like, you can walk away. Also, consider this. If you walk around in a cloud of shame online saying things like “don’t tell anyone” you are basically broadcasting this message: looking online for dates is shady and I judge myself for it and so you, who are also online looking for dates, are shady and I judge you. And nobody wants to date someone who is judging them from the get go. So don’t be ashamed.

Third, because it is the internet and it is anonymous and subversive, people do display their hidden sides, so be prepared. How often will a guy you meet at a party ask you, within twenty minutes of hi, where you would like a guy to come? Practically never. So yes, there is a lot more sex in the online air than there is in the offline air, but this does not mean men are animals and all they want is sex. It is just that online, because you are not meeting in person, people say and do things they would not in person. When you do not like what someone says, disengage politely. Block and move on.

Don't give away too much

How do you handle all the strange guys who say weird things or write to you insistently demanding that you reply? The key is to be clear about what you will put up with. Before you can be clear with someone else though, you have got to be clear with yourself. For example, if the perfect guy for you is blowing hot and cold, you have to understand that he is just not interested in dating you, so goodbye. Which I know is ridiculously difficult to do. Other times it is easy. One guy claimed he wanted to get to know me and then proceeded to ask me question after question about sex, so I told him I had had enough since I could not quite see how what sexual positions I like was going to help him know me better. He vanished. He was clearly horny and looking for entertainment.

Fourth, be open. People are afraid that they will give negative people more access to themselves by going online and this is true, especially for women. When I set up my OKC profile I had five emails on a completely empty profile in the time it took for my inbox to load. But the fact is that when you are online and a nutjob turns up, you block him and move on. While it is true that the anonymity afforded by the internet makes people behave in ways they would not offline, this does not mean they are wholly horrible, or that offline people are not horrible. A ranting or creepy stranger online is still just online, unless of course you have given away where you live or what you do or anything in detail.

Which brings me to fifth. Don’t be stupid. Do not meet people at home, yours or theirs. Always meet in public places, in malls or crowded markets. If you are nervous, go to a restaurant you have frequented, where they know you. It might make you feel better to tell a friend about the date, where you are meeting, what his name is, what he does. Do not have more than two drinks. In time you will stop needing all this because your instincts will kick in.

Be polite and follow your instincts

Which is why I say, sixth, trust your gut. You have been living in this world for a while; you have got people instincts. Never mind the fear that you might have missed the love of your life. Trust me, your gut is right. All you have missed is a boring date.

Seventh, while doing all this, always be kind. I cannot stress this enough. We are just programmed into thinking of dating as a war, but how can it be a war when men and women both want the same outcome –partnership? We are on the same side. Be kind. Be polite. If you cannot be polite, quietly block the person and move on. If you can, just say, “Hey, I’m sorry, I don’t want to go out with you. Good luck.” And then block the person. Though, to be fair, I only block them when they refuse to take no for an answer.

As for me, what has my online journey been like? I met several wonderful guys, many of whom remain beloved friends today. I went on a few dates – no second dates. I got some action. I learned that I did not want to hook up with random people. I figured out that I have (possibly ridiculously) high standards and I am ok sticking by them. I found out that people are just people: they lie, cheat, flatter, cajole, care, invest, love, reject – makes no damn difference whether it is online or offline.