Five Lessons Online Dating Teaches Us

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If you’d told me in December 2005 that I would go on between forty and fifty first dates in 2006 and not have one single relationship, I would have told you that you were crazy. Not crazy because of your lack-of-relationship prediction, but crazy because it would have seemed impossible that I would be able to continue to muster up the energy and enthusiasm for that many first dates that resulted in not one single lasting romantic connection. I may not have found my allusive Mr. Right, but I could tell you how many siblings between forty and fifty Bay Area men had and where they grew up.

The point is, I kept going, and that’s an accomplishment I never would have predicted for myself. I’ve never considered myself an avid dater, but there I was, doing it and enjoying it in all its glory (and sometimes lack thereof). I would never have figured out how resilient and optimistic I am in the traditional, offline dating world because I’m not sure I would have had the time or resources to scrounge up that many dates on my own.

I don’t know where my number puts me on the dating curve as far as frequency (am I a social butterfly or a reclusive freak?) but I do know that 2006 ranks as a personal dating record for me. For the most part, I met great people. I also learned a lot about myself in the process. Some good, some bad, and even a little bit of ugly.

You’re quite a catch. When you’re creating your profile, you’re revealing things about yourself that may not come up in normal conversation. Depending on the site, it could be your favorite books, favorite bands, how many kids you want, or even what your favorite on-screen sex scene is. The process of creating it may help you discover things about yourself that you’d forgotten and hopefully will give you a new appreciation and confidence for all things you. Like how much you still like U2, no matter what anyone says about them selling out. Come to think of it, you really do like going to baseball games, don’t you? Your friends are right—you are witty and funny.

It’s not as big a deal as you might have feared. If you’ve put a profile on a dating site, congratulate yourself. The hardest part is over: you’ve cleared the mental hurdle. As mainstream as online dating is, we’d all be kidding ourselves if we said we had no reservations about it. Sure, we all know the old stigmas of online dating don’t apply anymore. We’re busy people in a fast-paced world with little time to meet new people.

So why do so many of us feel reluctant and a little embarrassed to tell people outside our close circle of friends and family what we’re doing to meet people? Are we afraid of looking desperate? No one wants to be the person who can’t meet anyone and God help you if you’ve got a few cats lying around your house. Interestingly enough, I don’t think other people who online date are desperate. I think they’re smart and covering all their dating bases. Maybe it’s time we all just collectively agree to congratulate ourselves for being smart, progressive people and get past this desperation and embarrassment thing.

Besides, from personal experience I can tell you that having a drink with an interesting person on Saturday night is a lot more fun than watching Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde for the thirty-sixth time on the TBS Saturday night movie. (No offense, Reese or TBS.) That’s desperate. Create a profile. Please.

You find out what you want in a person and a relationship … and what you don’t want. I’m still not sure how I feel about the concept of “volume dating” that people seem to say is the case with online dating. But the best part seems to be that everybody’s pretty much there for the same reason—you both want to meet someone. You don’t have to feel apologetic that you’re actually looking for a relationship and not just casual sex. (Unless, of course, that’s what you want. You can indicate that on most profiles.) So you have carte blanche to find out as much as you can about this person, from important to trivial, in a friendly un-Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction kind of way, of course. Does he chew with his mouth open? Does she like her job and have an idea about what her next step is? Is he funny? Does she want kids? Does he hate dogs? Is she close with her family? Is he a red state man trapped in a blue state? After a couple of months of online dating, your list of deal-makers and deal-breakers will almost write itself. You may be surprised to find a few things on there you didn’t expect.

You can take more rejection than you think. During my online dating adventure, someone once told me they were looking for someone “a little younger.” I was mortified then, but over time I became okay with it. Meeting a lot of people exposes you to a lot of rejection. The first few times aren’t fun, but you get used to it, for the most part. As absolutely fabulous as you are, some people (yes, they’re idiots) won’t like you. Some people don’t know what they want. Some people might have met someone they really liked the night before. Some people are just plain weird. If you can get used to the idea of rejection in its infinite and inexplicable forms, you’ll be better prepared to take it with a grain of salt and just enjoy the time you spend with people while you’re with them.

And sometimes you can’t. Remember what I said in that last paragraph? About rejection being something you’ll get used to? That’s not always true. Sometimes you’ll become frustrated by meeting so many people that are so obviously wrong for you. You might get tired of getting all fluttery about someone you like—who seemed to like you a lot, too—who never asks you out again. When you’re feeling that way, give yourself permission to take a break and turn off your profile, maybe just for a week. Put on your sweats, order a large pizza, and watch Reese Witherspoon on the TBS Saturday night movie.

Maybe dating isn’t your top priority. Do you really want to meet someone? Are you still getting over a past relationship? Do you work eighty hours a week? Pay attention to how you respond to the people who contact you. It will tell you a lot about how you’re really feeling about dating. If you can’t or don’t want to make time to meet people who contact you, listen to your gut. Maybe your heart just isn’t in it yet.

Updated December 2, 2008


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