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Any website can be a dating site

When choosing your avatar, make sure to show your face, or, at the very least, link. to a website featuring a picture of your mug.
When choosing your avatar, make sure to show your face, or, at the very least, link. to a website featuring a picture of your mug.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • People meet and date on MySpace, Facebook, Tumblr, Foursquare and other sites
  • Americans now spend about a quarter of their online time using social networks
  • Don't compliment incessantly, repeat yourself or keep flirting online too long

Editor's note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind humor blog and book "Stuff Hipsters Hate." Got a question about etiquette in the digital world? Contact them at netiquette@cnn.com.

(CNN) -- Recently, a reader dropped the following query into our inbox:

"This may be a stupid question, but recently a friend told me he's heard of people using Facebook as a dating service. My FB friends and I (admittedly middle-aged) can't figure out how you "meet" people on Facebook. I (and most of my friends) are FB friends with people we actually know. How would one use Facebook as a dating site?"

- Flummoxed by Facebook Flirting

Oh, Flummoxed! There are no stupid questions -- only painfully, painfully stupid people. But I digress.... .

Social media flirting is a phenom that has been around since the message board/chatroom days, when starry-eyed 13-year-olds and rheumy-eyed 61-year-olds traded "A/S/L?"s with optimistic abandon.

A quick survey of my social followers -- on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram -- revealed that, among my socially savvy circle of folks, people have dated/married suitors they met on MySpace, Facebook, Tumblr, Foursquare, MyYearBook, Yahoo Messenger and Usenet, to name a few.

In fact, this past week, the story of how one couple met on Words With Friends swept the blogosphere: Megan Lawless and Jasper Jasperse started playing the smartphone-based word game and were pitted against each other randomly. After talking via the game's "Chat" feature and later communicating on Skype and e-mail, the pair met in person, and, eventually married -- Jasperse moving from his native Netherlands to Chicago to be with his bride.

While all of this may seem weird/creepy/slightly sad to anyone who didn't grow up a digital native, consider this: Americans now spend about a quarter of their online time using social networks. If you're giving your monitor the old glassy eyeball instead of tipping back highballs at your local TV-plastered sports bar, that's likely where you're going to make connections.

However, the actual process of meeting people via social media is still rather, well, creepy. (Less creepy than back in the days of message boards and AOL chatrooms, but creepy all the same.)

Assuming that you are not, in fact, a weirdo who collects spleens (we give you guys so much leeway on this factor), here are some tips on how to make any social media site a dating site without being a creep.

Don't:

Compliment incessantly: You know that dude who staggers up to you at the bar, breathes whiskey into your face and murmurs, "Hey lady, you got mad cleavage, yo." He's creepy, right? He's even kind of creepy when he goes a less aggressive route and compliments something benign, like your eyes ("You have lovely orbs... May I have them?"). Why? Because he's stating his intentions off the bat, and our society -- addled by years and years of romantic comedy-viewage -- prefers a bit of a chase.

When engaging with people via social media, talking about their appearance/demeanor/eyeballs is even more unsettling than at the bar, because you don't know the person in question and you can't see their face in the flesh. Instead of going directly for flattery, start up a conversation with the object of your desire, thereby charming them with your wit and whimsy rather than empty poesy (or straight-up sexual harassment).

Come to think of it, that's probably good advice for comporting yourself at ye olde sports bar as well.

Repeat yourself: If your hoped-for intended doesn't reply to the first five tweets you send him about your shared love of fossils and tesseracts, cease and desist with your wooing. He doesn't like you. Here's a tissue.

Erase your face: No one wants to date a picture of a donut. When choosing your avatar, make sure to show your face, or, at the very least, link to a website featuring a picture of your mug. If you're sensitive about your big-ass nose or your shiny head, just chill out. Ugly people get married, too -- I see their progeny on the subway daily.

Exhibit your courtship: Some initial public bantering is fine -- via Twitter, Facebook Walls, etc -- but if you carry on your heavy flirting ("OMG! I love the shape of your broken nose! You look like a matador!") in a public forum, you risk annoying your friends and followers or, worse, embarrassing your potential date -- especially if you ask out said potential date publicly.

Have we learned nothing from that dude who asked that girl to marry him on the JumboTron? Twitter allows you to DM people, Facebook boasts private messages and even Tumblr has an internal messaging service called Fan Mail now -- there's no excuse for blithely PDA'ing the hell out of your swain.

Play phantom: We're assuming that you actually want to meet the object of your late-night Google stalking, so when it comes to digital flirting -- bring it offline ASAP. We're also assuming that said person wants to meet you (we're trusting you again here, guys -- hopefully you possess the social skills to recognize interest, unlike that aforementioned dude in the sports bar).

So why not ask them to hang in person? Or, better yet, in the presence of tons and tons of friends who can waylay a possible kidnapping/murder scenario.

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