Lesson #2 in online dating: Treat it like a party

One problematic thing I often see with girlfriends taking online dating out for a spin for the first time, is that the response they receive or don’t receive becomes a huge focus in their dating life. It can be hard to put yourself out there, feel like you’re back on Hot-or-Not.com, and worry that if this doesn’t go well your dating life is doomed.

Whether you receive 20 messages in a day, or you’re hoping the one message you sent out is returned, it’s important to realize this is just a website. People vary in their usage of it, and anyone is allowed on it. 20 messages doesn’t mean there is a quality match in the bunch, while receiving a response from a the one existing potential match three weeks down the road is normal. The key is to not hinge your whole dating life on the website.

Over the years I was able to find the proper place in my life for online dating. I learned to look at it as a way to create initial contacts with people outside my normal circles, not as a place to actually date someone, and definitely not as a fiancée factory. Many friends, many business contacts, but only few good relationships came from the web. I treated dating sites as if they were a casual acquaintance’s party.

If I met a nice, attractive man at a party, it wouldn’t take much for me to give him my number if we had a decent connection. The connection could be friendly, business-y, or romantic, but you wouldn’t find out if it was a love match until much later. Is this form of meeting any less superficial than looking at a few photos and reading a few facts about a person? The only way it’s “safer” is the fact that I met him at an acquaintance’s party, which is a weak connection at best. There’s no reason a creep couldn’t crash a party and pick up on girls (unprecedented!).

It’s for this reason that all of the same safety precautions we take in real life should happen with online dates. In fact, I think people need to be more careful with real life encounters than they are. Always meet at a public location. Outdoor malls are a good start. Church events work well, too. I’ve never been drinking at a meet up with someone I met online, but I would imagine that would lower one’s ability to discern red flags (depending on the amount consumed, obvs).

Seeing online dating sites as an initial connector and nothing more worked wonders for me when combined with little-to-zero expectations on the quality of the match. I could then meet up with someone, expect nothing more than the chance to get to know a new person, and know that I was “putting myself out there” and expanding my horizons. If I was in a particularly busy or overwhelmed place in life, I didn’t put pressure on myself to go out or make matches. I would simply login to the site only when I felt like stepping outside of the same old circles.

That’s what the Internet is good for: meeting people who are enough like you that you could meet them somewhere, but haven’t yet crossed paths. In the LDS world, there’s a high likelihood that once you add someone to your friend list on Facebook, you’ll find you have at least one mutual friend. The dating site simply speeds up the meeting process.

This is where online dating has an edge on traditional dating. When you’re out at a party and you see an attractive person whom you’d like to get to know, you have no way of knowing their status. You can ask a mutual friend, who will most likely say something like, “He’s kind of hanging out with so-and-so, I saw them together last week, but I’m not really sure because I think she went out with what’s-his-name the other night…” Which ultimately leads to connecting with the person (they’re at the party alone after all), but never actually getting to the date (after a lot of noncommittal texting), because things have taken off with so-and-so or what’s his name.

Obviously, people can lie about their status and their profession and their level of activity in their religion and the number of martians living at their house. Of course there are trolls and creeps just looking for fast love and will say whatever it takes. We can’t help this. But if you use your brain and the screening measures previously mentioned, the people you’ll find on dating sites who say they are single and looking for a real match, are sincerely doing just that.

Oftentimes it can go a step further, to where you can establish whether someone is dating for fun or for potential marriage. At a social event, a person isn’t typically going to approach you and say, “I’m 32, divorced. I’m looking to get back into dating, single now, and open to getting married sooner than later.” It would be very helpful if they did, however. Knowing these basics up front takes a lot of the guess work out of first dates, which are hard enough as it is. Online dating wins in giving direct info on a person’s status.

Then, the real work can begin of getting to know each other on a non-virtual level, discerning their authenticity and whether or not what they said online was genuine. But hey, it’s a start, and it’s more than you get from a two-minute conversation at the house party. Plus, you never even had to change out of your pajamas.

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