Monday, May 2, 2011

What I've Learned from Online Dating

I first decided to try online dating two years ago. I figured that waiting around for the right guy to show up wasn't going to work, and I didn't want to date anyone I worked with. I'd already tried speed dating, and I had participated in activities that my church sponsored, particularly the activities that were for other young people like me. I spent time doing the things that interested me, like visit museums on the free admission days, go to free outdoor concerts in Grant Park, take fiction writing classes, and work out at the gym. But I still couldn't find the right guy. So I thought that online dating would help me find him; at the very least I thought I'd get to meet new people and go on dates.

Four online dating memberships later, I've learned a few things.

1. Play it safe. I originally did not want to join an online dating site. I'd heard about cases where women and men were deceived and manipulated by people they met online, and they ended up being physically attacked or robbed of thousands of dollars. I was afraid that the same things might happen to me.

I'm not blaming the victims. There are some situations where things go beyond people's control, even if they do everything they can to protect themselves. But on the other hand, these situations show us how important it is to play it safe.

My general rule is to exchange at least three or four e-mails with a guy before we exchange phone numbers. Then we talk on the phone a couple times, and then we set up a time and a place to meet in person. I always make arrangements to meet him in a public place where there will be a lot of people around, and I let one of my friends know where I'm going to be, just in case. I also don't let the guy drive/walk me home on the first date. I don't want to end up being another horror story in the news.

If I do end up in the news someday, I want it to be because I did something like make a citizen's arrest of one of those celebrity reporters who think it is necessary to inform the public about every single thing that celebrities do (seriously, do we really need to know when celebrities change their hair color? Are all the details of their personal relationships really our business? Are we going to have to keep reading stories and watching documentaries about Kate and William for the rest of our lives, because if so I might just swear off technology forever and move to the North Pole, which would suck because they probably don't sell M&Ms and soda up there?).

2. "No" does not mean "Yes, please, keep e-mailing me!" When I was on and okcupid, there were several guys who e-mailed me multiple times, including one 40-something divorced guy who wrote that he was "looking for a mother for my three children". When I didn't respond the first time, they would wait a few weeks before e-mailing me again. I'm not sure if they forgot that they had already contacted me, or if they hoped that I had forgotten that they had contacted me. I'm not sure if that's sad or just creepy. Either way, their persistence didn't make me want to date them.

3. Love is priceless, but dating is not. There are free online dating sites like okcupid and plentyoffish, but the other ones that I tried (eharmony, match, and chemistry) all cost money. That was why I often had to wait several months between memberships, because I had to save up enough money to pay for a membership. I read a recent post on the official blog about the cost of dating, and I could relate to a lot of the issues it discussed about how much money people spend.

But even more importantly, I've found that online dating takes up a lot of time. You know how they say that time is money? When you work two jobs and go to graduate school, time is something that you don't want to waste. And I spent a lot of time reading through profiles, sending and receiving e-mails, and going on dates. At the end of the day, I just kept thinking about all the work I could have gotten done instead. It's not just because I'm a workaholic. It's because when you spend all that time searching for someone and end up with nothing but the wrong guys, then you start wishing that you had spent your time on something more productive.

4. Not all dating sites are alike. Based on the profiles that I read on eharmony and, I found that most of the guys were looking for women they could have serious relationships with; several of them would state this in their profiles. Fellow blogger gem wrote an amusing post about how she learned this fact when she tried Eharmony and matched me with guys that fit my preferences. I tend to be attracted to "the guy next door", the kind of guy who plays sports or goes to games with his friends on the weekends and works hard at his job during the week. I generally like guys who have old school manners, as in they pull my chair out for me at restaurants and open doors for me. In terms of looks, I like the kind of guy who looks like he could pose for a GAP ad, as in very clean-cut and conservative.

On okcupid, on the other hand, you are more likely to find guys who not only would never shop at the GAP, they are very likely to have a) staged a protest against it; b) composed and performed a song with their band about the reasons that GAP and all the people who shop there all work for THE MAN and are therefore EVIL; c) written poetry about how major corporations like the GAP are contributing to the world's inevitable demise; d) written a novel about how the "guy next door" who looked like he could be in a GAP ad stole his girlfriend.

There are clean-cut, conservative guys on okcupid who are looking for relationships. (I know because I dated some of them.) But there are also guys (and girls) on the site who are looking for "casual encounters" and "activity partners". I was also contacted by guys who wrote in their profiles that they were already in relationships but were "looking to meet new people". I don't have anything personal against people who are in open relationships, although I have to admit that I would not be willing to share my partner in that way.

5. Lies and cliches will work against you. I recently received an e-mail from a guy who claimed to be 31. He looked like he was at least 50. I know that some people look older than they actually are, but I don't know a lot of people who look nearly twenty years older.

Here are a few examples of the cliches that I've seen in guys' profiles:

"I'm tired of the bar scene, because it's just not the right place to meet women." - What they could be saying: I'm tired of going to bars, because all the women keep ignoring me, rejecting me, or throwing drinks at me.

"I'm looking for a girl who is physically active and enjoys working out." - What they could be saying: I'm looking for a girl who looks like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and who won't mind the fact that I don't go into gyms unless I follow pretty girls in there.

"It's really hard to describe myself in a short profile, so if you want to know anything about me, just ask." - What they could be saying: I couldn't think of something original to say, so I figure that the pictures of my dogs and my car will be enough to attract women.

"I'm looking for a girl who doesn't play games." - What they could be saying: I'm looking for a girl who will actually return my phone calls.

I don't regret joining any of the sites, because I feel like I learned something from all of them. Even if none of the guys I went on dates with turned out to be the right guy, I did learn a lot more about what I want and what I don't want.

I'm not ready to give up searching for true love, at least not yet. But I am starting to wonder if I'll actually meet the right guy online, or at all. I like to believe that there's someone out there for me, but what if there isn't? What if it's not true that every person has a soul mate? What if it's true that only some people get to meet and be with their soul mates, and other people never find them? If there is such a thing as destiny, what if I'm not meant to find Mr. Right? And if that's the case, then what is meant for me instead?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions. I've been exchanging e-mails with a new guy on, and we talked on the phone for more than an hour recently. We talked about the possibility of going on a date next week. I'm not sure what's going to happen. I hope that he won't turn out to be like all the others. But even more I hope that I won't get so fed up with dating that I give up altogether.


  1. Don't give on on love, but don't think about it all the time ( at least that is what I was told .. if you look for something you don't find it. the trick is to 'pretend you are not looking'.. Hmmm?! In any event, you have good copy for a story. A friend of mine is in a online dating group - her and a couple of friends are doing what you have done, the group is to provide support (for the lulls and strange encounters). Best and keep the faith.


  2. Your description of Okcupid is spot-freaking-on. That said, it’s a good site for me because a) I DO like those types of guys (I can appreciate the Gap ad types, but they just don’t do it for me), and b) I’m not looking for a serious relationship (and I must say one of the best things about online dating is how people are upfront about their expectations. Not that they’re always honest about it, but when they are it prevents a lot of issues later).

    I know what you mean about online dating fatigue. I have it right now too. There’s only so many message/talking/awkward first date rituals you can undergo before it gets a little tiring. I’ve met some nice guys, and am trying to keep an open mind, but sometimes it’s hard. I’m 30 years old. There are certain things I don’t put up with anymore, plus I’m okay with being single. A guy needs to fit into my life, not the other way around.

    I agree with Brenda—focus on other things in your life and not so much on falling in love. If it happens, awesome. If it doesn’t, well, you’ll have an amazing life!

  3. Hi Brenda,
    I don't think about it all the time, but you're right in that I have a lot of material now for my writing. That online dating group sounds interesting. I haven't heard of anything like that around here, but I have been reading other blogs that focus on online dating. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one going through these things.

    Hi No Way Cupid,
    I do focus on other things, because with everything going on in graduate school and my other work I have a lot to think about. I have thought about joining okcupid again if doesn't work out, but I figure I'll just wait and see for now.

  4. Hmmm, tough decisions. I have found most of the guys I've dated through friends. Thy haven't set me up or anything but when I would hang out with people, they'd invite me to other things. Then I would be invited to another event, branching out and meeting people in general. You never know. I have two friends who were married when they met their future spouse. They didn't have affairs. The stars simply aligned when they were available.

    Good luck!

  5. Hi Hannah,
    I did go on a blind date that my friends set me up with once, but it was kind of awkward because it was a group date so it was like dating with an audience. I think that your experience is a good way to meet new people. On okcupid, a lot of the people who are in relationships actually indicate that their spouses know that they're on the dating site, and apparently their spouses are okay with it.

  6. You have some very good guides for online dating. If a guy can't follow your rules about emails & phone calls then he's probably way too impatient.

    You didn't want to be the mother to 3 ready-made children??? :)

  7. Hi notesfromnadir,
    You're right about the impatient guys; there were some guys who would try to get me to go out with them in the first e-mail; they'd include very little information in the first e-mail except for their phone number and an invitation to go out. It made me think that they were less interested in getting to know me.
    Nah, I wasn't really ready to be anyone's stepmother. I was just looking to meet new guys and go on dates, and that guy was looking for a lot more.

  8. So I am a new reader and really liked this post. I have some friends who do online dating and I hear the same types of complaints.. i also love the part about how if you end up on the news, you want it to be for something interesting haha.. so, so true. whenever my friends go on some date with a guy online we always joke about how they'll end up on milk can (do they even do that anymore) someday..
    love your blog though! can't wait to read more

  9. Hi Jessica,
    Welcome to my blog! That's interesting that your friends have had similar experiences; somebody should put together an anthology of stories about online dating. I bet that anthology could become a series. :)

  10. Oh man the cliches. That was toootally a buzzkill for me. I'd be checking the guy's info and thinking "yes, yes, yes" and then I'd read their blurb and be like, "UGH." The one guy I did message (before I stumbled on the ex and ran away forever lol) was totally picked because his profile was a play on the cliches and I was so over them that I thought his joke was hilaaarious. (In hindsight, it wasn't, heh.)

    You will find love somewhere! I don't know if it'll be online, but I have faith you'll find it somewhere!

  11. Hi mmarinaa,
    Thanks for having faith in me. :) I hope I do find what I'm looking for, but at the very least I can write about it along the way.
    As for the cliches in guys' profiles, I can see how describing themselves can be difficult. It wasn't easy for me either. But on the other hand I have read several profiles where the guys wrote funny and original stuff about themselves; that made me more interested in meeting them.

  12. I think I understand how you feel. I tried online dating a few years ago and went through a lot of what you're going through. Lots o frogs.

    Hang in there, though. True love is out there - you just have to be patient and not focus on it so much. Relax. Have faith that it will happen and when you least expect it - it will. =)

    Thinking good thoughts for you.

  13. Hi Shannon,
    There are definitely a lot of frogs out there. No princes. But the right guy wouldn't even need to be a prince. He'd just be someone who was genuinely kind and honest. It's too bad that the frogs don't come with labels so I'd know not to date them. :)

  14. You should advertise this blog to single women. You could make them wiser and save them time. That said, it seems like on-line dating is the easiest way to meet people now. What's the alternative? Meeting someone at work (slim) or through a friend (slimmer) or taking a class (slimmest)? At least you've learned a lot and know what to avoid.

  15. Hi Theresa,
    It's more difficult to meet guys through friends, especially because many people my age work a lot and don't have a lot of time to go out and socialize either. The classes that I like to take in my free time (fiction writing, dance) are mostly made up of women, so I haven't really met any eligible bachelors there either.
    Like you said, online dating does make it easier to meet people. I think in some sense it makes people braver too, because they're much more likely to introduce themselves to someone online than in person.


    Online dating is an adventure that's for sure!! I've met some awesome people and some not so good people.

  17. Hi Just Me,
    I've met a variety of people through online dating too; sometimes, when I read through a bunch of profiles, a lot of them seem like they're the same because they often write the same stuff in their profiles. But once I meet them in person they often end up being very different from their online personas.