Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Top 10 Things I've Learned While Navigating the World of Online Dating

As it seems to be tradition, I will start off by apologizing. I have not gone off the grid and been hiking in the Sahara, nor have I been trapped on top of a mountain somewhere, which is I'm sure where you thought I was. No, I've been working, working, and then working some more. Not really writing, but reading a lot, which is sort of a weird change of pace, I have to admit. But this post isn't about my continual complaints about how I think my writing is progressively getting worse (which I'm sure it is; anything I get on the page is just word vomit at this point), but rather, this post is about my misadventures with online dating.

Online dating sounds fun, right? I mean, they have those TV commercials every five minutes with happy couples going, "I was too busy to go out at night", or "I wanted to be more selective with the people I wanted to date," so they joined idontwanttobealoneanymore.com or iwanttogetmarriednow.com or whatever. Then the voice-overs are cut with images of them running through a field of flowers with their now significant other that they met on the so-and-so dating site and they're set to get married after two blissful months of painting, eating delicious food at very expensive restaurants, or cliff-diving - whatever the commercial decides to intersperse into the subconscious of pathetic creatures like myself who are wearing sweatpants at 7pm on a Friday night and eating quantities of cereal the likes of even Jerry Seinfeld has not seen.

I can relate so, so much. 

I hemmed and hawed about joining an online site, I'll admit it. But like those commercials, I don't have a whole lot of free time to go out and meet people at bars, or bookstores, or on the sides of cliffs a la the Groupon that seemed good to purchase at 3am. So I joined up on a site, and thought, "Okay, I can do this. This will be fun. I'm an interesting person. I have a lot to offer. Bring it on, online dating."

Oh, how naive I was. How naive and how wrong.

And so, folks, here are my top ten lessons learned while dating online.

1. It doesn't matter how interesting you are, if you can't really see your face in your profile photo, you might as well be wearing a bag over your head.

During my first time of creating a profile, I made so many rookie mistakes. Apparently the photo I had initially wasn't interesting enough to pull someone in, a photo which I thought was fine - a cropped shot from an outing to see the Nutcracker this past winter. I was wearing a nice dress and smiling. Not terrible, right? Wrong. One of my friends told me it was too far away that no one could really see my face. I protested and said that wasn't the point. She said, "As much as you don't want to hear it, you're trying to sell yourself on these sites. A guy will take approximately five seconds to decide whether he wants to read your profile, and if he can't see your face, then you might as well not have a photo at all." She was right - in the time that I had that first photo up, my inbox had tumbleweeds rolling through and not much else. Another my friend suggested I use a photo with and I quote "side boob." I changed my photo to one that was more in focus and where it showed more of my personality. And maybe a little side boob.

The messages came in a bit more consistently after that.

2. Half the people that reach out to you probably won't read your profile.

Another one of my mistakes when I first starting this was that I didn't specify what I was looking for in a potential date, so when people started emailing me, I was getting a whole slew of personalities, from the 50+ divorcees with children as old as I am, to people who were 6 inches shorter than me. Or smokers, or people who drink "regularly" (note to those people - that's not a good idea to put that you drink regularly; it sounds like you walk around with a flask on you at all times or are drinking constantly; neither of which appeal to me). In the same week, I had one 18 year old who was still in high school message me, followed shortly by a man old enough to be my grandfather. I realized that no matter what I did, no matter what I put on my profile, people like that were going to blow past everything and message me. It was annoying more than anything else, because I felt like they were wasting their time, and mine. And that's not cool.

This is accurate, but I do not endorse the incorrect use of "let's."

3. People will lie. 5'10" in real life is actually closer to 5'8". Or 5'7".

I know that people will stretch the truth a bit online, that's apparently the norm, but I'd like people to know who they're talking to before we meet and vice versa. So I'm not going to put that I'm 5'9" and curvy, because when 5'6" average-sized me comes walking up, it's clear that I'm not who I put I was in my profile. There's no need to tack on or take out information about yourself that's all too apparent when I meet you. One guy I went on a date with definitely was a few inches shorter than what he put in his profile, and not willing to admit it, even as I towered over him. Another guy who was in a wheelchair said that "everything was functional" when we were talking online, but when we met for the first time and I realized that he didn't have full use of his hands and had a live-in assistant, it startled me and I didn't know how to react. I don't like being caught off guard and in those instances, I would have rather someone told me the truth than trying to cover up some aspect of themselves.

4. There will be the weirdos. They will all come out of the shadows at once.

The great thing about the Internet is that you can be anyone you want. The bad thing about the Internet is that you can be anyone you want. I went on one date with a guy who started off by telling me his idea of a perfect date was putting his date in a glass box and watching her. He seemed quirky when we talked prior to our date, but not to the point where I thought I was going to be locked up like a victim in a horror movie. If you get any sort of red flag from anyone, abort, abort. You don't owe anyone anything. Don't feel like you have to go on a second date or talk to anyone if they make you uncomfortable. The very first message I received was from a guy who was a self-professed Disney fan. I don't mind Disney, but he was over the top, and also gave me a list of questions he wanted me to answer to see if we were compatible. One of them was which Hogwarts house I thought I belonged in. Funny conversation starter if you're on a date with someone; not funny if it's someone who you have not actually met in real life, or has yet to speak to you. People who message you at 2am are not people that you want to see in the daytime, nor are the people who send you 3 messages within an hour and then demand a response if they don't hear anything from you.

No, Patrick, I will not go on a date with you. 

5. Some people are looking for relationships. Some people are looking for "the one." Others just want to hook up. Figure out what you want, and look for people who want the same thing.

Another mistake I made was that with a lot of the people whose profiles I was looking at were looking for really specific things. I joined the site to meet people, to maybe have someone to go to the movies with, or to grab drinks with after work - nothing terribly serious. Some people are aiming for marriage and there's no deterring them. Two dates in, one guy wanted to bring me home to his folks. Needless to say I politely declined then never called him again. Another guy wanted to meet up the same day we started talking - clearly there was only one thing on his mind. Others were all over the spectrum. It's hard to figure out what people want, so sometimes you just have to ask them point blank. Don't expect you'll get a clear answer though - you might just get a vague, "Yeah, sure," or a fifteen minute monologue about their plans for the next five years.

6. You might have a great time with someone and then they'll never call you again. It happens. Get over it.

You have a great first date with someone, the chemistry is there, everything goes over smoothly, and you think, "Okay, surely there will be a second date. Right? RIGHT?" Nope, not so much. I can't tell you how many first dates I went on where I thought, "I didn't drop food in my lap, or trip, or say anything too stupid or embarrassing, so he has to call. Or text. Or email," and instead the only sound I heard was crickets chirping.

Or, you could not hear from someone for months, then see them at a local mall with a woman who is shorter, thinner, and prettier than you while you're on the phone with your grandmother telling you that you need to get your life in order, which leads you to think, "Ohhhh...so that's why he didn't call. I thought he died." (And yes, that's very much in line with Miranda on Sex and the City saying, "It’s like those guys you have the great second date with, and then never hear from them again. I pretend they died.")

The opposite of that is you could have a terrible date, and think, "I really need to move to Madagascar so this person can't find me ever again," and when you try to let them down slowly, they don't want to go, or they try to talk you out of not seeing them. I've considered going undercover and getting a new identity when this happens because it really annoying to get four text messages back-to-back with,

"Why haven't you called me?"
"I thought we were going to go out again."
"We can still be friends."
"Fine, you don't know what you're missing."

I went on three dates with one guy and had a good time with him during all of them, then he didn't contact me for a week. I let it go, thinking, I'm busy and he's busy, so no big deal. After two weeks I should have realized that maybe he wasn't interested anymore, but like a bulldog, I dug in, and wanted a response; some sort of closure. A text message with "I'm really connecting with someone else I met online. You're a fantabulous woman and good luck on your dating adventures," didn't help to soften the blow. It just made me want to run that guy over with a semi-truck for waiting until I messaged him instead of just telling me he'd met someone else.

7. There are a lot of really dumb people out there.

For people that know me, I take grammar very seriously. I also take spelling very seriously. Now I'm not requiring that every guy I date has to have at least a graduate degree (though it would be nice), but please, for the love of all that is holy, know how to use "your" vs. "you're." I can't tell you the number of guys I thought might be interesting enough to message or poke or wink at or whatever, but then I read their profile and it says something like "If your drama, I don't want anything to do with you" or "I loves what I do." We live in a technologically advanced day and age; it's (metaphorically) mind-blowing to me that someone could write in such a manner and think that it's okay to do so.

Thank you, Anne Ferguson.

8. Apparently there is a cycle for what to do on dates. Coffee or drinks, then maybe a movie, or another coffee meet-up, then maybe dinner, etc. etc.

Another mistake I made was that I invited a guy to see a movie for our second date. I guess that was too serious, so he never called me again. Chelsea Handler has an old bit about how she's confused as to how meeting up for coffee has morphed into a date. And it's true. It's a lot like the trend for job interviews now - a recruiter or an HR person will talk to you before they decide whether they should invite you to an interview. That's a lot like dating - the coffee meet-up is the precursor to the actual date, where you figure out if this is a person that you would spend your time on a date with. Even though, if you're like me, then you spend as much time getting ready for coffee as you do for a date, and when the date doesn't happen after the coffee meet-up, you think, "That was a damn waste of lipstick. I could have been at home wearing sweatpants and eating cereal."

9.  People keep saying that there are always more options out there. If so, where are they?

I've been doing this for maybe eight months now. Not consistently, but enough to sort of figure out how things should go. However, even after eight months, I still can't say that I can fully understand online dating. I've had many different scenarios - I've messaged guys and never heard back. I've said "no, thank you," and still received multiple messages from the same person. I've gone on dates, and not heard anything from the person every again. I've set up dates and then not had the person show up. There are so many scenarios, and yet, not one of them has gone on how I've thought it could. It's always gone into some bizarre, alternate universe direction that I can only watch in horror and/or disgust as it pans out. That being said...

10. Online dating, or dating in general, is not for everyone.

This is the realization I've come to. And maybe it's not my fault that I've not clicked with anyone online or in real life. There are other things to fill my time (like 60+ hour work weeks) and my writing (as terrible as it is) and reading (Everyone go read IN REAL LIFE and CROOKED RIVER when they come out - both are amazing) and doing really stupid shit like laughing at the sign for the Boston Tea Party Museum that says "MUSEUM DIRECTLY BEHIND YOU" (as though if you turned around, you'd immediately smash into the building). So what if I don't have a significant other to share those moments with?

As Chris Traeger on Parks and Rec says:

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