Joseph Lynn’s worst first date was with a woman he met on Match.com. “In the middle of our lunch together—out of the blue, when we were talking about our kids—my date said that she doesn’t sleep with anyone without introducing them to her sons first.”

The 50-year-old, who lives in Illinois, was caught off guard. “My response to that was to smile and say, ‘Okay, how about we get through lunch?’ She pretty much missed the humor.” That was their only date.

Everyone has a bad first-date story (or two) to share with friends. But online daters are likely to have more than their share of horror stories. For all the extensive questionnaires or short essays written and shared, for all the cute beach vacation photos viewed, for every message exchanged bonding over "Game of Thrones," two people who initially "meet" online are essentially going blind when they first get together in person, with all the potential for trouble that spells.

The High Price of Horrible Dates

In addition to being annoying, going on a lot of no-chemistry dates can be a waste of valuable time and hard-earned money. Go on enough of them, and you may be tempted to quit online dating altogether.

But a new Consumer Reports survey of almost 115,000 subscribers about their experiences as online daters suggests that giving up too soon may be a mistake. Online dating can work if you stick with it, our survey finds—in fact, 44 percent of respondents met a long-term partner or spouse that way, by most estimations a stellar success rate.

The trick is to go into the process prepared for the kinds of experiences you might encounter and to keep expectations in check. Here are some good-to-know truths about online dating, according to experienced online daters and other experts:

Exaggeration is to be expected. The fact is, many online daters do not describe themselves accurately in their profiles. According to our survey, 36 percent of women and 34 percent of men said they were misled by someone’s self-description. “See online dating as an extension of real life,” advises Christian Rudder, a co-founder of the dating website OkCupid and author of "Dataclysm". “Expect people to shave a year or two off their age, or for a guy to say he's 6 feet tall when he’s really 5-foot-10.” Those kinds of minor fibs are about as harmless about lying about one’s weight on a driver’s license, Rudder says.

At the same time, some deceptions should be seen as red flags because they are an indication of serious character flaws—for instance, a woman who uses a 15-year-old photo as her profile picture or a man who says he is a lawyer but really just worked as a paralegal. Know that that sort of gross exaggeration will “ultimately burn them in the end,” Rudder says, and that it’s time for you to move on.

Perseverance is a prerequisite. Online dating takes a little more time and effort than meeting someone in more conventional ways. If you meet a person you’re interested in at a dinner party, for example, “You know you have chemistry, so compatibility is the purpose of the first date,” says Laurie Davis, a self-described dating coach who travels between New York City and Los Angeles, often helping a client to sort through online-dating profiles. On the other hand, when you meet someone because you liked the person’s profile and chatted a bit, the face-to-face meeting is crucial. “The date is to uncover if that je ne sais quoi exists,” Davis says. The compatibility piece may have to wait till date two.

Bad date? Chalk it up to experience. You know when you’re 10 minutes into a date and it is already obvious that there’s no chemistry and no rapport, but there is three-quarters of a latte sitting in front of you and you feel trapped? That’s a bad date. But Kate Hildreth, who is in culinary school in the Washington, D.C., area, sees all dates as a kind of opportunity. “I have to balance caution with curiosity. On 99 percent of my online dates, I stay on the date just out of sheer morbid curiosity to see exactly how bad it's going to get,” she says. “I've been told by all my friends that I'm too nice, and that I could totally get up and leave a bad date, but I always get a fantastic story.”