Online dating can be fun or it can be hell. You start talking to someone who seems normal (fun) and begin to think something great could happen. And then a Big Red Flag rears its ugly head (hell) and you plummet, resigned to another bad experience, another rejection, another "why me?" moment. Some people even ask "What did I do to deserve this? Is there something wrong with me?" I have seen it over and over. Highs and lows that start you off excited and happy and leave you tired and discouraged. Who wants that? No one.
So what do you do? You certainly can't change the experiences or predict them. You can stop dating (I have seen people do just that), but that is really self-defeating if you are ready for a relationship. After online dating for five years, I have some advice. It's all about your attitude. When emotions are involved, taking the right attitude isn't always easy, but the goal is to have a dating experience that does not ding your self-esteem and does not take you on an emotional roller coaster.
There are three basic attitudes that people tend to adopt when dating (online or otherwise). There is the "he's the one" mentality, the "I'm sure he sucks' mentality and the "one-step at a time" philosophy.
He's the One (or she, but I am a girl and write from my perspective)
So many people read a great profile with a nice picture and get really excited. That can be the launching point into too much too fast. If texting and phone calls go well, they go full bore into high hopes and high expectations and even the "maybe he's the one" line of thinking. This is a setup for failure on a couple of levels. First, when you place such high expectations on a first date (or even second or third date) your date feels that pressure. It will drive him away. He can't possibly meet those expectations. Secondly, if he turns out not to be "the one," and statistically that is most likely the case, you are left feeling disappointed and disillusioned.
The fact is, the only expectation you should have on a first date (or second or third) is that you will find out if you want another date. That is it. Period. And if you do not want another date, then you are not a match. He does not want another date, you are not a match. This early in the game, that is the extent of the investment.
I'm Sure He Sucks
This attitude comes when you have experienced your share of bad dates. And haven't we all? The thing is, when you have this attitude, it is telegraphed to your date. You can't hide it, so don't think you can. And no date wants to be with someone who assumes he is the worst representation of his gender. He should not have to pay for the failures of your past relationships. Chances are, if you have this attitude, you may still have some anger over a previous bad relationship. Take a moment and evaluate. If you are still angry over your past, then you are not ready to date. Take some time and work on resolving your anger before you go forward. It's worth it, believe me.
One Step At-a-Time
This is the attitude you need when dating. When you realize that your only investment in the very early stages of dating is to find out if you want another date, your dating life becomes easier. Like I said, if you don't want another date, then you are not a good fit. If he doesn't want another date, you are not a good fit. This is not a condemnation of either of you. It is not a rejection of you as a person, it is acknowledgement that you don't match. It is perfectly okay not to be a good fit for someone. Wouldn't you rather know early?
If you have a good time and things look promising, go on another date. See what happens. Relationships should grow slowly and naturally and your expectations should grow the same way. You cannot know someone in a week or a month. And if one of you backs off, be thankful that you are not with someone who is not right for you. If you look at every dating experience that doesn't work out as rejection or validation of your crappy dating life, you will be miserable. If you look at each dating experience as a learning experience and a step on your journey, you can put it in perspective and enjoy the process.
Stay tuned for more of my crazy online dating stories on HuffPost Divorce. And be on the lookout for my book "Sweeten the Deal: How to Spot and Avoid Big Red Flags in Online Dating" to be released April 1, 2015!