Recently I joined the world of online dating. I finally decided that it was worth a shot, and I didn’t have anything to lose.
Well, this is a whole new ball game! They say that the rules of online dating are the same as offline dating (at least in terms of staying safe). That’s all very well but what if you don’t know what the offline dating rules are?
It’s opened up a whole world of new questions on social interaction and etiquette which I had never considered before. So hear are some random thoughts about it all.
The Set Up
I very nearly didn’t click ‘submit’ on my profile. Having answered the basic questions, and written a description about myself, I found that old fear rearing its head, ‘What if no one responds?’
How mortifying would it be to have no one interested at all, out of the thousands of people on the website? It didn’t seem such a ridiculous thought- out of all the men I’ve met in real life, virtually none of them have expressed any lasting interest.
Fortunately that didn’t happen. Instead you have the rush of being a newbie on the site; a new profile for others to investigate, and hundreds of profiles for you to look through.
At first I felt very judgemental, flicking through profiles mentally going ‘no/no/maybe/looks promising/no/interesting/never/yes/perhaps’. That feeling of judging people increased when I started to add filters to my searches. The site I am on has the ability to refine searches on quite specific criteria, such as height and geographical location but also levels of smoking or drinking, church background etc. It felt a bit odd though to discount people on the basis of tick boxes- isn’t that a bit narrow minded? But the more I though about it, the more I realised that it wasn’t judgemental. I wasn’t saying that those people who smoked (for example) were inherently bad, the process was just forcing me to vocalise what my preferences are. We all have preferences. Some have long lists of specific criteria, others have a vaguer wish list, but when we meet people in person we will be considering whether we think they are a suitable partner based on how well they meet these mental lists. In online dating, those preferences get written down in black and white.
As I’ve explored different people’s profiles, I’ve become more aware of my personal preferences, not just in people’s interests and so on, but also the things that I look for in a profile and the things that really put me off. Here are some emails I would never send, but mentally think:
Dear Cardsclosetochest. You say “email me to find out more” but you have hardly put any info on your profile. How am I supposed to know whether I want to find out more if you don’t give me anything to go on?! All I can assume is that you are either so lazy that you can’t be bothered to spend any time answering the questions, so arrogant that you think I will want to know you without any information, or so vain that you think your physical appearance is enough.
To Nodiktonary. call me a grammar snob but its just hard to read a paragraph that has no punctuation and ur speling is all wrong. i dont care so much in emails but ur profile is the first impression ppl have of u u cld at least attempt to write well
Hi there Uaskedfirst. You emailed me, and I looked at your profile and thought you seemed interesting, so I replied with some info about me and some questions for you to get to know you more. You answered them, but with one word answers, yet you signed off in a way that suggests you still seem keen. Conversation not your thing? It’s going to take a long time to get to know you from 2 line emails, and I’m not sure I have the patience.
To justlookingjohn. The site tells me you’ve viewed my profile 3 times this week, twice last week, and 3 times the week before. Yet you’ve not sent an email, or even a ‘smile’. Quite frankly, it’s getting a bit creepy. I’m not keen on a virtual stalker!
Dear pilotpedro. We seemed pretty compatible, with lots of shared interests, and some good messages. Then you disappeared. Something I said? Or just a realisation the distance and job combo wouldn’t work? Would have been nice to have been told though.
Getting to the nitty gritty
I’ve had to learn to be comfortable with saying no, or being told no (whether that be explicit or implied). If I took to heart every ‘smile’ or email that hasn’t been returned I’d be a quivering heap of rejection already.
One thing I’ve found odd with online dating is the (generally) unspoken agenda. In ‘real life’ when talking to someone, you will know your own agenda (I want to go on a date with this person), but theirs might not be clear to you. Online the agenda is clear; every email is sent with the purpose of working out whether a romantic relationship is possible and desirable with a given person. Again, it pays not to dwell on this fact too much (especially if you tend to be over-analytical) or you sink into paranoia about the minutiae of every message.
Additionally, I’m on a Christian dating website (as that is a fundamental preference for me), which means that the majority of people on it are not only looking for a date, but are looking for a spouse. Despite the understanding that this is the agenda, it can seem odd when it is explicitly stated, especially if it’s within the first couple of messages. Messages which read along the lines of “I hope to progress in my career and settle down. Maybe you will be the one” shouldn’t be odd, as that is what we are all wondering, but woah! Steady on there.
Another question is that of etiquette. How many people is it acceptable to be emailing at any one time? Or if you are regularly emailing one person, is it OK to send smiles/waves/thumbs up to new people? [for those unfamiliar with online dating, most sites have a feature like ‘wave’ which are short automated messages which are good ice-breakers]
The analogy that I use is that of being at a balloon seller. There are hundreds of balloons to choose from. As you are looking, some drift off, others get bought, some just don’t interest you. Maybe you end up holding a few, trying to decide between them. Eventually you pick one, and have to hand the others back.
How much do you give away by email? How do you find the balance between giving enough information so that you can learn about each other, but not so much that you create a bond that is unhelpfully emotionally intimate too early on? Give too much of yourself away, and you can’t get it back. There is always this niggling thought at the back of my mind with every email I send which says ‘Maybe this email will contain the information about me that means he decides he doesn’t like me after all’.
How do you really judge if someone is compatible (or even telling the truth) without the body language and vocal tone which are normally so key for our interaction with each other? That’s one of the oddest things about it; trying to work out what’s going on just from words on a page.
I’ve realised that online dating is not a place where you can hide from your insecurities. You might be able to delay facing some of them (such as appearance), but it is still a place where your insecurities can have power; the fear of rejection, being boring, disappointing people and so on still lurk.
I’m also battling my cynicism. Despite knowing a number of people who have had successful relationships (including marriages) from online dating, in fact more success stories than disasters, there is a part of me that is just not convinced it will work. Maybe I’ve been too influenced by the Disney/Romcom paradigm of ‘eyes meeting across a crowded room’, maybe I’m just more jaded than I realised.
I guess that’s why I decided to give it a go. It’s an exercise in hope for me: Choosing to risk, choosing to make myself vulnerable, even though it might hurt along the way. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a balloon I want to choose, and who wants to choose me.