Beth Cook is a dating coach and throws private dating events for San Francisco’s most awesome and unattached. She also writes and draws about her own dating experiences. Want advice? Have advice? Send her an email.

A friend of mine just decided to try online dating and wrote me an overwhelmed note. "I wanted OKCupid to be a fun experience, but instead if feels more like work." Messages from OKC vultures fill her inbox to the brim every day. She’s not the only one struggling with how to make online dating a manageable, fun experience. People new to the game often wonder: how do I manage this quantity of emails? How do I know who's worth my time? Am I using the right service?

For those of you out there who have just climbed aboard the online dating train (or never learned how to ride it), here 10 ways to have fun and stay sane while online dating. Choo choo!

1) Figure out what you want before you get online.
Before you turn that computer on, have a think about what you're looking for. A boyfriend, casual sex, a wife? Someone who is funny, an intellectual? It’s all out there, and it’s overwhelming to browse when you have no idea when you want. Make a short list and don’t get superficial (strike height and eating habits). This will help you recognize what you are looking for when you it in see him or her.

2) Join a couple of sites.
Diversify your efforts. OKCupid is great, but it's also free, which means any scumbag can and will crawl on there. If you're looking for someone who online dates for more than just a piece of ass, you might want to try sites like Chemistry, Match, JDate, or eHarmony.

3) Decide how much time you want to invest.
You'll wear yourself out if you go online looking at  a flurry of messages and matches every day. Decide on what’s reasonable and stick to it. My suggestion: pop in for an hour or two, a few times a week. Do it while you're eating lunch or watching TV. Don't make into a chore.

4) Respond to thoughtful messages.
If you receive a thoughtful personal message from someone you’re not interested in, send them a quick note back: “Thank you so much for your sweet note. I don’t think we’re a fit, but I appreciate you writing me. Best of luck on your search.” It’s good karma. The sending messages into empty space thing gets old—it’s nice to know that someone actually reads the sentences you’re carefully crafting!

5) Reach out to people who interest you.
Don’t wait for people to come to you. You know what you want (and they don’t), so go after it! Set a goal, such as “Tonight I will reach out to three people.” Otherwise you’ll fall into a black hole of endless comparisons (sushi enthusiast vs. cat lover—who to choose?).

6) Be open-minded.
Don’t go bananas with advanced searching. In fact, I’d say avoid that button altogether. The person of your dreams isn’t going to come in the 5’8’’ curly brown hair package you’re imagining. Just search by age, and keep your range fairly wide.

7) Get on the date ASAP.
Don’t let someone sucker you into being their pen pal. You could have 15 exchanges with someone and never end up seeing their living, breathing face! And no matter how good someone looks on paper, you can only assess chemistry in person. Plan a date as fast as you can—during the first email exchange.

8) Wait for the hot sauce.
Here’s where that elusive chemistry thing comes in. Someone may be nice, gentlemanly or gentlewomanly, and cute, but you don’t feel that nervous ”OMG-I-can’t-wait-to-makeout-with-you” feeling. It’s like eating plain tofu: It fills you up but really needs something (salt, hot sauce?). Gracefully move on.

9) Check yourself.
If for any moment in this process you feel tired, bitter, or sad, take a break. You’re only going to do well online when you’re feeling well (same as real life).

10) Look offline.
Speaking of real life, don’t put all of your eggs into an Internet basket. Go out with your friends, take some classes, or join a club. OKCupid isn’t the only place where single men and women dwell.

And of course, avoid guys posting pictures of beer pong like the plague.

Good luck!

Photo by jimf0390