Recently, at one of our daddy/daughter lunches, I made a confession…
Me: “Well, you’re not gonna like it, but I do mostly date online.”
Dad: “Hell, baby. Everybody dates online anymore.”
Even my 54-year-old father seems to accept that this is a legitimate effort to find a relationship. However…
Dad: “Well, we all go out line dancing all the time. It’s a lot of fun. You ought to come sometime. Your cousins meet us up there. Bret even goes with us.”
Look, daddy. I love you far too much to tell you the story about the douche bag I kissed at the cowboy club that one time… or that I ran into Step-Brother Bret the Saturday before Halloween, when I was dressed as a sexy cat… or that Gaily and I have a code word for when a guy is being creepy and it’s time to leave. I don’t need you to invite me out line dancing with the parentals and my cousins, because I am otherwise all alone Googling for a husband. I go out. I drink too much. I flirt with guys. I’ve got this shit. I also have never met a man that you’d want to meet, by going out, drinking too much, and flirting with guys. So, I’m dating online… because I’ve got this shit.
I understand that when online dating came about, it was filled with the same people who took out personal ads in the newspaper. Perhaps you’d meet a successful man, who just didn’t have the time or inclination to go out, but more than likely, you’d meet his 38-year-old brother, who works at the video store, plays D&D and lives with mom. I get that that’s what online dating was, but what people don’t seem to understand, is that nowadays, going to a bar is the equivalent of posting a hookup ad on Craigslist. I don’t date online, because I’m anti-social. I date online, because the last pickup line I got at a bar was “meow, kitty cat.” We have this expectation that dating online is somehow easier than putting yourself out there in person. In actuality, it’s usually just employed because people are looking for something more serious. Sure, I could meet a cute financial adviser who gives a presentation in my library… or I could not. I’m open to meeting someone in person. I’m just not going to waste great years counting on it. So, in the meantime, I’ll continue to date online, even though it takes some serious balls… and here’s why.
You have to learn a completely new way to communicate.
When you first start dating online, you see the word “student” and think:
Oh, he’s taking night classes and working full time.
Six months in, you think:
STUDENT IS NOT A PROFESSION!
Ward: What does BBW mean?
Me: Fat. Big Beautiful Woman. Usually the women who post it are morbidly obese, but still dress really nicely and put in effort. Don’t call it fat, but that’s what it means; so if you’re not into that, don’t message them.
There’s a ridiculous amount of subtext to online dating, because the idea is to present yourself in the best light possible. Essentially, you’re selling a product. Maybe that sentence doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy, so they don’t put it in the ads… but that doesn’t make it any less true. “BBW” comes off a lot better than “morbidly obese” and NSA (no strings attached) comes off a lot better than “down to fuck.” After a while, you realize that you also need to lose that little paragraph explaining your divorce or your daughter’s paternity, not because these things don’t need to be explained, but because there is a time and a place. Gradually, you even take out the superfluous demands about height and what kind of car he drives, leaving the things that really matter like religion and political affiliation. Then there is the landmine that is photographs.
There seem to be two photograph problems, which are primarily gender based, among online daters. First, there are the women who intentionally take pictures that look unlike them, because they’re more flattering. Then, there are the men who post older pictures of themselves, assuming they still look like that. Just last week, an old coworker messaged me on Facebook, begging me for help with his online dating profile. He’s 21, absolutely adorable, driven, and funny, so I was surprised when he said he never got any responses. Then I looked him up.
Me: Your headline sucks. You clearly have a defeated, last resort, attitude about online dating. You need a more current picture and more than one.
Jack: I don’t have any current pictures.
Me: Then get cute and take a selfie with the dog. Bitches love dogs. Seriously, you’re like 11 in that picture.
Jack: That was last year!
Me: I don’t care. You don’t look like that anymore. Also, only one picture says “You can’t see the birth mark from this angle.”
If your defense is that you “still look like that”, then fine. It won’t be a hardship to take a more current photo… or several. That’s the key. They must be current and plentiful. They must not be doctored or taken in a fun house mirror at a weird angle. If you can manage that, you’re probably good. But these things take time to learn. I’d love to get my hands on my first online dating profile, because I’m sure it was hilarious. Only after some real experience dating online, does it occur to you that no one is reading all of that; your profile is filled with cliches; your humor is being misread; you’re coming off negatively; you shouldn’t respond to every single person who messages you, because it implies interest. The list goes on. If you don’t have a trusty friend to assist you, you’re left to learn from blogs or online articles, often written by people trying to sell you something.
It’s confusing and frustrating to navigate the waters of both creating and reading online profiles, just like it was confusing ten years ago to gauge whether or not the man at the bar was winking at you or the hot chick behind you. It’s not easier. It’s different.
You really don’t know what you’re getting.
Fortunately, I’ve only had one instance where I had to do a double take when the guy walked through the door. I’ve been lucky enough, that I can honestly say everyone I’ve met online has been (more or less) exactly who they say they are. Yes, there was the guy who said he was getting his degree in business, but happened to be in his first year at community college. He looked like his picture, though. He worked the full time job he claimed to work. It was fine. But as with the aforementioned subtext, you just don’t know if you’re reading into things properly.
When he says he’s “family oriented”, does that mean he wants five kids, he’s close with his brothers, or that he’s a mama’s boy? He’s posted seven pictures, but which one does he actually look like? Is there a reason he doesn’t smile in his photos? How religious is “religious?” Does the fact that he likes to be fit mean he won’t eat cake with me? Why does he want to wait so long to meet? Why hasn’t he asked to text message yet?
Sure, there’s some definite advantage to knowing if someone is divorced, has a kid, considers themselves liberal, or what-have-you; but just like if you were told those things in a bar, you don’t know why they’re divorced, what their parenting style is like, or which political stances are most important to them. We online daters haven’t taken the guess work out of all dating. We’re not ordering Chinese food. These are still incredibly complex individuals with their own interpretation, their own way of doing things, and their own relationship goals. This doesn’t even touch the possibility of someone lying about all of those things.
This is a solo gig.
Oh, my gosh. Do you remember that episode where everyone went out and flirted in groups? What was that show. again? Oh, yeah. It was everything.
Even five years ago, people usually met their significant others by mingling in groups. Today, even if you have a girls’ night, it’s gotten to the point where anyone who wants anything real is too hesitant to actually approach, because you are in a bar. The men I’ve talked to about this have even told me that they feel uncomfortable hitting on a woman in such a setting, because she’s out with her friends. Does she really want to be bothered by some guy making a pass at her? The same, apparently, goes for any other setting. She’s clearly at the library to study. Maybe he should leave her be. She’s working out. She’s in her zone. Best not to bother her. Men are afraid to be assertive, because they’re used to having all of the facts beforehand, via Facebook or Twitter or even Plenty of Fish, so these dating scenes really don’t exist anymore. That leaves us single folks alone to wander.
Unlike with the sitcom group at the bar/party/park/coffee shop, with online dating, you’re on your own. Sure, you can do it in teams and share the bad profiles with a pal. You can be catty about the fact that this guy called himself “about average” or rant about the number of men in their forties messaging you, but when you walk into that coffee shop, to meet a total stranger, you have no wingman. You have no one to keep you company if you get stood up or things don’t go well. Again, picture the traditional dating scene of going out to a bar or club, only this time, it’s just you. How dare you tell me I’m anti-social for dating online? Do you have any idea what kind of social balls it takes to walk up to a man anywhere and ask if he’s the guy from Plenty of Fish? How about how embarrassing it is to go into a pub and announce that you’re there for the Match.com event? That’s about as far from sitting in your mom’s basement, enjoying an AOL Instant Message chat, as you can get.
There’s still a stigma.
There are 54 million single people in this country. Of those, 40 million have tried online dating.* That is 74%! Match.com, however, uses different figures and claims about 40%. Either way, it’s an enormous section of society. I have actually never come across a single woman, my age, who hasn’t tried at least one dating site. Maybe she didn’t love it or take it too seriously, but the attempt did happen. So, why, when 74% of available people are doing this, is my blog the only place I meet individuals who are comfortable with their status as an online dater? Wouldn’t it be more embarrassing to be the person lamenting over their singlehood, while doing nothing to change it? Wouldn’t it be more embarrassing to go trolling for dick in a club every weekend? Wouldn’t it be more embarrassing to be alone forever?
My cousin Delia: “Yeah. I know a ton of people who’ve met online. So, do you still go out and meet people in person?”
Apparently, the answer to those questions is no.