In the beginning it was the preserve of the socially inadequate, or people wandering the remote hinterlands of sexual tastes.
Today, young, beautiful, desirable people of all age groups huddle over Tinder together in pubs like it's a modern day Pong machine. There's no shame left in being on OKCupid or PlentyOfFish or Match.com – or at least no more than, say, owning a copy of David Gray's White Ladder, which is an unfairly maligned album as it is.
Everyone is 'OK' with internet dating in 2014. So why are so many men – sane, otherwise intelligent men – so utterly, horribly hopeless at it?
Anecdotes of just how bad we are crop up all the time. Sometimes it's listening to a female friend, frazzled and frustrated after talking with twenty different 'matches' on Tinder (a term that quickly seems cruelly ironic).
Or it's during a conversation with a would-be digital date, who is treating you with the kind of guarded courtesy normally reserved for that man who knocks on your door at a weird time of day asking to 'check the meter' (does he really work for British Gas? Or is he going to stab me? Where's his badge?!).
It both cases, there is an air of talking to someone who has been to war and seen too much. Often, you learn that's literally true. It seems any woman with a face and a body who opts to try out internet dating can expect to be inundated with what can politely be called 'unwelcome attention', or less politely, 'loads of horrible, grainy pictures of penises, sometimes with the kind of mise-en-scène you'd expect in a particularly depressing Ken Loach drama'.
The penises, thankfully, are only the extreme end of the problem. Most men wouldn't dream of being so weirdly sexually aggressive. Yet we're still messing up in other, easy to avoid ways. It's as though, rather than using the extra time and space we're afforded online to consider how to approach women properly, we're using the anonymity of the internet as an excuse to be lazy, rude dimwits.
As internet dating continues to emerge as a major way we can hope to find 'the one' – or even just a night of fun – this is clearly unacceptable. So on the basis of the aforementioned conversations – and a quick poll of all the single females in the Esquire office – we've compiled a handy list of the basic mistakes men are still making online.
1 | Topless photos
There is a theory that when it comes to the early stages of foreplay, men and women instinctively touch each other in the way they themselves would like to be touched. That's why she's caressing your back and face while you're literally trying to get in her pants (or bra, at least). As men get older and wiser, they stop dropping unwelcome hints and start thinking about what their partner actually wants. And yet with internet dating profile pictures, we never seem to learn the same lesson – i.e. that just because you'd be delighted to see a stranger in their underwear, the feeling is not reciprocated – no matter how good your guns are.
2 | Copy and pasting
One of the biggest problems with the internet is that people so rarely ask themselves would I behave like this in real life? In a more traditional setting of, say, a pub, walking from girl to girl trying exactly the same line on each of them would be borderline psychopathic. Pasting the words 'hey babe how r u?' to 10 different women in a row is equally transparent (and ineffective). Don't be that guy.
3 | Spelling and grammar
…Which brings us to another point. There's a reason the number one tip they give you at school about applying for jobs is 'check you haven't made any spelling or grammar mistakes'. Spelling and grammar is the written equivalent of a first impression. Writing an opening message that reads like a teenager texting from the back of a bus is like going up to someone you've never met in a bar with spinach in your teeth and your pants sticking out of your fly.
4 | :-) ;-) :-D
Emoticons are always tempting when you're communicating with someone you've never met with no way of knowing how they're going to take a word you say. It's shorthand for saying 'I'm a nice guy, really!' when trying out a joke or being ironic. Nevertheless, resist them. It betrays a lack of confidence, and besides, no one above the age of four needs a picture to understand a sentence.
5 | Other profile no-no's
Of course, you can write all the thoughtful, stimulating messages you want, if your picture collection looks like an Addams Family scrapbook, you're not going to get a response. The sexes aren't that different. Sadly, there is little you can do about your face, but there are some common turn-offs beside the aforementioned six-pack shot you can easily avoid. They are: Myspace selfies (which seem immature and vain), excessive holiday snaps (boring), shots with other girls (suspicious), sports cars (stupid) and, finally, the bizarre trend for people – of both sexes we might add – posing next to sedated lions or tigers during some witless moment on their gap year (suggesting you're naïve, cruel or possibly involved in the illegal fur trade).
When you think about it, internet dating should be the greatest aid to romance since the invention of toothpaste. You already know a little bit about the person you're trying to talk to, you have all the time in the world to perfect what you're going to say and absolutely none of your mates are stood at the other end of the room hoping you'll screw up so they can all have a good laugh. Just remember the above. Oh – and keep your penis in your pants. But you knew that one already. We hope.