In my last piece of anecdotal prose, I mentioned that living with my parents has come with a mixed bag of pros and cons, one of those cons being how to tell a potential suitor that I live at home (yes, I used the word “suitor”). Perhaps I’ve been out of “the game” far too long, but dating sure has changed. Since my last relationship, my struggles have been like learning how to ride a bike…again.
I’m not that old, but I can remember the days — college in the early 2000s wasn’t that long ago — when approaching a girl, followed by requests for dinner and her phone number, were socially acceptable. Nope, you weren’t considered weird or creepy. You weren’t labeled a stalker; in fact, you may have been applauded for your bravery and hopeless romanticism. All my past relationships developed through meaningful conversations, harmless face-to-face flirting, and the bold move of asking her out on a date.
To some extent, that has changed. Approaching someone offline with your romantic intentions isn’t what it used to be. People today have become accustomed to hiding behind a cyber curtain for security and anonymity. A girl told me recently, “Guys just don’t ask girls out anymore.” And when people say that it’s so difficult to meet people these days, I balk. It isn’t true. The reality is that people are everywhere. Finding people to meet isn’t hard. We’re still gathering at our favorite hangouts, still equipped with the power of language to communicate.
But people have forgotten how to meet others, how to connect. We operate in an age so filled with text messaging, tweeting, and emailing that we’ve forgotten the value of personal connections. We use technology as a crutch. Social media is supposed to bridge gaps, to make the world a little smaller, to bring people closer together through shared connections. Yet, social media has made the world completely anti social. The art of meaningful conversations has changed drastically in the past 10 years.
Just think about that for a minute. Today’s students will never know a world without Facebook. To them, it’s a standard in life, a necessity almost. The next time you’re at whichever venue you frequent, stop for a minute to look around. People on phones. Heads down. Faces buried in screens. The world has lost that personal touch of intimate, one-on-one interactions, replaced with the conveniences of social media and libraries of mobile apps.
Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. I use my phone way more than I should. Part of my job is to be on Twitter and Facebook. But perhaps that’s part of the reason for my awareness. And entering the world of online dating was just icing on the cake. Added frustration of what we’re becoming.
Over the past year, I have joined dating sites — free and paid ones — off and on (currently, I’m wading ankle deep in the pool, unsure if I want to renew a historically disappointing subscription). To say that this has been a learning experience is an understatement. And as I’ve learned how to go fishing in the sea of many fish — all looking for the same things, yet no closer to connecting — my list of pet peeves has grown exponentially. I think that a how-to book for online dating would make one very wealthy because people simply have no clue.
First, there’s the profile. It’s basically one’s way of “selling” himself or herself. For me, filling in the “About Me” section was a challenging exercise, and I’m a writer by trade. I was at a loss for words. What do I really like to do for fun? (I can’t remember the last time I had fun.) Do I even have hobbies? (Do watching movies and eating chicken wings on NFL Sundays count?) Does my favorite band send the wrong message? What if she hates my favorite food? I haven’t taken a trip in some time, so is saying that I love traveling a lie?
Oh, and being too honest in your profile comes with a risk of never being contacted. Don’t say enough, and they think you’re hiding something. Trust me, I’ve tested it. When I kept my profiles to the bare minimum — more left to the imagination — I rarely had success among the interested. When I expanded my profiles to be more thought provoking and detail oriented, voila! Basically, your success with online dating rests in your profile, so place an impetus on developing it carefully. Choose the right words, as they are your only chance of proving yourself. They are your first impression, the only way of showing someone how funny or smart or easygoing or well rounded you are.
Another basic rule when developing a profile is being versed in basic grammar. You don’t have to be an English major to know the difference between “its” and “it’s,” or among “their,” “there,” and “they’re.” Use complete sentences, or at least separate your clauses with punctuation. Conduct a spell check; it does wonders. Go the extra mile to make your profile work for you.
Some sites will ask you a series of questions to help “match” you with other singles (another lesson in honesty). Because I’ve been matched with plenty of women who are my polar opposites, I believe that the ability to accurately match people is bogus. It’s all based on location/distance and a few select matching criteria. For example, you say you like cooking, only because you contributed to the family-reunion potluck last summer (and everyone complimented you on your dish). Or you say you like reading, only because you enjoy magazines while waiting in the checkout aisle at the store. Indicate that you want kids someday, and immediately rule out all those who entered “unsure” for that question. I’m pretty sure the fact that I like to drink in the privacy of my home qualifies me for a certain alcoholic status, yet I strategically enter “social drinker.”
Within all profiles are the photos, perhaps your most-important asset. Your profile can be beautifully written, a testament of your personality, intelligence, and humor. But your written words carry zero weight if your photos aren’t appealing to the senses. Judgment. Instant judgment. Opinions are formed within seconds of seeing your profile photos. That having been said, I’ve formed a list of best practices, if you will, regarding proper versus improper photo usage. Ladies, posting several photos of you and your cat — or cats — is an immediate turnoff. Similarly, I’ve heard many women decry photos of shirtless men in front of their bathroom mirrors, yet so many women slip bikini photos — and a double standard — into their profiles. Outdated (your phone has a camera; snap a new photo already!) and close-up-only photos are more red flags. A panned-out photo of you atop a mountain is useless to me.
Unless you pay for many of the sites, you can only do a limited amount. Paying gives you the option to email, see who has accessed your profile and added you as a “favorite,” and more. I paid once; it wasn’t worth it. I even paid just so I could see who looked at my profile, and then I called for a refund the very next day (most don’t know that you have two or three days to cancel for a full refund; it’s in the fine print). If you don’t pay, sites like Match.com allow you to “wink” at someone, but that’s about it. I used to spend a lot of time crafting little messages to accompany my winks, only I never received responses. So I began utilizing winks to gauge interest before proceeding. If she winked back, we were in business. But winking has become just another anti-social mechanism in this hurried, dog-eat-dog world.
I harbor many other pet peeves, like dating scams. I have been contacted way too often by women in foreign countries looking for a free pass. Or women will troll dating sites, simply to lure in men and then redirect them to third-party scam websites. Other women will lure you in with a “wink” and tell you to contact them at a Yahoo! email address (which stinks of scam because no one actually uses Yahoo! anymore). Scams like that are what sites like eHarmony.com try avoiding; in fact, eHarmony doesn’t allow users to view photos unless they’re paid subscribers. (The rationale is that only those truly serious about finding someone will go through the effort of registering and then paying. It’s also eHarmony’s mantra to be a “relationship site,” not a dating site. In my opinion, it’s just another way to get people to pay, but I never caved under the pressure of being contacted by faceless women.)
I also hate how the prelude to “real” dating is based on a series of digital interactions. So for example, if you pay for a site, you can email and instant message. After several rounds of that, you might get her phone number, a sign that things are progressing. Then, you can have an actual voice conversation. What a concept! But I’m horrible on the phone; I get nervous, I don’t make any sense. I’m probably unlike others in this regard because they probably prefer a phone conversation versus face-to-face dialogue and eye-to-eye contact. Most often, this leaves me feeling like I’m in a phone interview, attempting to put aside my nervousness and pitching myself as a great candidate.
If you’re lucky enough to secure a phone number, you also enter the next stage of the game: text messaging. How completely awkward texting someone you’ve never met. I never had a problem initiating the text charade, but I did struggle with the question: How much texting is too much? (One girl I met was incessant about texting to the point that I grew annoyed, so I stopped texting back.) Or how early is too early and late too late? Or does she really care that I’m in the grocery store and won’t be online for a few hours? Do I text from work, just to say hi? Should I text back immediately, or does that send a signal that I’m desperate and waiting by my phone? How can I possibly get to know this person in 160 characters?
Talking in 160 characters lacks the personal nature of human connections. Choosing to be with someone and finding that person who complements you is a big decision, so I scratch my head over the irony of the situation. For example, how often have you conversed with someone online, only to be left with a feeling of uncertainty over what he or she said? Was she kidding? Was that a joke? Queue the use of emoticons. Before online dating, I refused to use them because, well, I’m a writer; I use words to convey my feelings and emotions. I equate emoticons to laziness, the dumbing down of America. Plus, they’re unmanly (men don’t speak in terms of cute smiley faces). But with online dating, I was forced to write with a subtle j/k and a 😉 because it showed I was joking. Or a 🙂 because it meant I was happy (it pains me to admit this).
The point is this: The very essence of dating – getting to know someone – has been sapped by the conveniences of digital communication and the cyber curtain behind which we’re so comfortable hiding. Online dating is a world riddled with judgment, stereotypes, and biased opinions. If you dare enter it, remember that, as the cliché goes, you can only be yourself and hope that your message resonates with one lucky person out there. I’m not selling myself; I’m just being me. If that’s not good enough for you, then we’re simply not meant to be.
I could go on, but I’m sure you’re wondering about the girls I actually met through online dating. On various occasions, I successfully passed the many rounds, culminating in actual first dates. I know several people who met their significant others, even spouses, through online dating, so I clung to the hope that my luck could change. But history has a tendency to repeat itself; luck was not on my side.
To be continued…