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A man can e-mail you his photo directly, but it's still a red flag if he's hiding it on his profile.

Online dating is now ubiquitous and de-stigmatized, so regard excuses about his "high profile job" and the like with a grain of salt.

Want to avoid the disappointments and aggravation of online dating? Pick the wrong ones and you'll waste time and energy, occasionally suffering wipe-outs that can leave you dazed, distracted and dispirited when the right man or wave comes along.

Girlfriends, you know what I'm talking about: the "no-show" flakes, the chronic complainers, the promising first couple of dates that lead nowhere? Signing up for online dating can be a little like learning to surf. Fortunately, men will signal their intentions and level of interest, usually in their very first e-mail. My goal for the women I coach is to go from receiving a few dozen e-mails a month to a few hundred, at which point weeding out the unsuitable and the un-serious becomes of paramount importance.

If you're a thick-skinned, even-keeled kind of girl who bounces back easily from rejection and is really only looking for fun, then the protective measures outlined above may not be applicable.

But if you're a more passionate, sensitive type -- especially one who's "hit bottom" romantically with an excruciating break-up -- and you're not embarrassed to admit (to yourself, anyway) that you'd like to get married, maybe start a family, or at least enjoy a loving, stable, long-term relationship, then maybe it's time for you to try a radically different approach. Wrongs is the vital first step toward clearing the way for Mr.

Keep your replies short and sweet, light and breezy. You're a busy woman with lots of admirers, friends, projects and interests.

But at the end of the day, men are visual creatures -- they either like your look or they don't. But if this e-mail makes no mention of anything specific from your profile, then it could have been addressed to dozens of other women on the web (and most likely has been and will be).

-- except the MOST IMPORTANT ONE: "Can I have your number?

" In , authors Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein say that if a man hasn't asked for your number is four e-mails then he's a "Next!

Why should you spend more effort coming up with an original reply to a cut-and-pasted query?

If he sends back something snarky, that just proves he was never really interested to begin with. He's asking plenty of questions -- Where did you grow up? How long have you been on (such and such dating site)?

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