In the spirit of our first wedding anniversary, I crafted a list of nine lessons I learned from online dating. At the very end of a six month run on Match.com in 2009, I met Jake.
Online dating was actually less scary than it initially sounded. I found it an ideal way to meet people since I did not work with eligible singles or enjoy going to bars. I visited many coffee shops, over-analyzed a lot of emails, and learned more about myself than I wanted to know. Here are some things I learned the hard way.
1. Safety First, of Course: Don't reveal too much about your location or employer in your profile or initial communications and always meet in a public location. Most importantly, follow your gut reactions. If something feels odd, it probably is. During my six months, I communicated with some strange people and received even stranger emails, but most everyone respected my space and nobody made me feel unsafe.
2. Rules Can Be Helpful, but Leave Room for an Exception: After numerous dates, I came to some conclusions based upon initial judgments of peoples' profiles and communications. I didn't date individuals whose profile pictures featured them taking a photo of themselves in the mirror and learned that a common taste in music does not make up for larger lifestyle differences. So you find that a persistent emailer also shares an appreciation for the same hipster Icelandic band, but everything else about him or her turns you off. It might feel tempting to toss caution to the wind, because Sigur Rós, but don't. Just don't.
One friend cautioned me to never date a "one-picture person," also known as an individual who only displays one photo of themselves on their profile. When I realized I had arranged a date with a one-picture person, I considered bailing. But, had I not left room for one exception, I wouldn't have met my husband.
3. Internet Dating Communication Norms Are Rude. Know When to Move on and When to Use Them to Your Advantage: In the real world, people generally don't leave you hanging. Internet dating is different. At some point, you'll begin exchanging emails with someone and then, all of a sudden, you'll never hear from them again. Unfortunately, this is typical. The other person will often cease to reply instead of informing you he or she is no longer interested. You can pester them for a response, but it's safe to assume their behavior communicates a lack of interest.
On the flip side, there were occasions I conveniently used this norm to my advantage, no matter how rude.
4. Be Direct Even If it Feels Counterintuitive: If directness is challenging for you as it is for me, use online dating as an opportunity to practice being assertive and try not to be too hard on yourself when you fail. After all, practice makes progress. Being direct will keep uncomfortable situations from becoming worse and prevent you from wasting your time or anyone else's, even if it may feel rude. For example, ending a date early may feel awkward, but is it more awkward than leading someone on or committing to another awkward date you don't want to attend?
On one occasion, I squashed a date before it began. An individual had called me to set up a meeting, but I found the conversation so uncomfortable that I informed him it wasn't going to work out anymore. It was awkward, but no more awkward than if I had gone on the date because I felt too bad to cancel.
5. Meet Sooner Than Later: Exchanging dozens of emails and phone calls before meeting in person may feel safer, but a date is a more efficient way of gathering information. There's only so much you can learn about someone without actually meeting them. A great pen pal won't necessarily equate an ideal life partner.
Once, I exchanged dozens of giddy communications with an individual over the course of two weeks, but when we met in person, the date fell flat. I was puzzled when he looked nothing like his photos. Later, when I confessed I did not know a common football term, he abruptly ended the date. We never communicated again, though I did keep his gift of a tin of SPAM neatly wrapped with a red ribbon.
I was surprised our virtual chemistry didn't translate in person. From that point on, I communicated online or by phone just long enough to discern potential and then arranged to meet.
6. Don't Meet for a Meal on a First Date: You've never spent time with this individual so how do you know you'll have a good time? Test the waters by meeting for coffee or a drink. You'll probably know whether or not you want to see this person again within the first five minutes. A beverage-date gives you a shorter timetable, should you need it, while a meal elongates the meeting. If you hit it off, you can always grab dinner or plan date number two.
7. Save Your Favorite Spots for You: But don't take your new date to your favorite coffee shop or Chinese take-out joint. At least, not right away. If the meeting goes south, you won't want to run into them at your favorite places, let alone with another date.
8. Be Honest About Chemistry: There's nothing endearing about a superficial jerk, but let's be honest; chemistry is an important aspect of a relationship and physical attraction plays a role. I'm not advocating that one should place an undue priority on appearance because character is key and physical attraction can develop over time. However, you either are or you aren't physically attracted to someone and that's OK.
The sooner you are honest with yourself about chemistry, the better. Also, if you find yourself feeling bored during your first kiss, it's probably a no-go.
9. Dress Down for Success: Authors of dating articles like to advise people to, "Be yourself," but being yourself with a new date is easier said than done. You might find it easier to feel like yourself if you dress like yourself. I'm not one who enjoys keeping up with the latest fashion trends, so near the end of my online dating run, I started wearing my favorite clothes. Ultimately, I felt more authentic which caused me to act more confidently.
It's possible I turned some dates off with my worn logo tees and flat-heeled shoes, but I'm glad I waited for someone to accept me for who I am, not someone I was trying to imitate. If a date didn't like my everyday appearance, it was better for us to move along, anyway. My husband and I occasionally dress up for date nights, but prefer to spend our time at home in sweatpants.
Of course, this is all not to say one should ignore basic hygiene considerations. Unless you are into that sort of thing.