I’m never quite sure how people will react when I tell them that Badgerman and I met through ‘a mutual friend’ a.k.a. the Internet but there’s often an element of surprise and a look that says ‘Really? Internet dating?’ as if it were a really strange thing to do. If I were to take a guess, ‘The Look’ most often appears due to one of the following beliefs about internet dating:
- Internet dating is full of weird people
- Internet dating isn’t safe
- Internet dating doesn’t work
- Internet dating is for hook-ups, not for serious relationships
- Internet dating is not as good as good old-fashioned real-life meetings with people
Obviously, having done internet dating (be it a long time ago now) and eventually married the last internet date I went on, I disagree with all of these and here’s why:
1. Internet dating is full of weird people
I’m not going to disagree; I had a couple of close encounters with strange fellows in my time. Still, it’s a bit of a moot point imo, the world is full of strange people full stop. It all depends what people mean by weirdness anyway. There’s no shame in having a special interest (the first version of my dating profile was written under the influence of a large glass of Pinot Grigio and included something about ‘I love cheese’ that was swiftly removed once the dust had settled… Thankfully you can be a nerd or a geek these days without embarrassment so you don’t have to pretend not to like sci-fi and fantasy).
Does the internet attract more than its fair share of weirdness? Possibly but that’s what vetting systems are for, not just for the type of person you are looking for, but who you respond to, and every sensible person online should think through the safety systems they want to put around them to act as alarm bells when weirdness happens.
2. Internet dating isn’t safe
I guess the misconception that internet dating isn’t safe comes from the fact that when you meet a new person at a bar, pub or club, it takes place in a social setting and you may already be out with friends when it happens. Internet dating is by nature a lot more intentional, so that your first physical meeting with the person will be in the context of a date, alone with someone you have never met before.
The key to ensuring your internet dating experience is as safe as possible is to set a few rules for yourself. As for me, I chose to:
- Only interact a few times via email. Avoid long written conversations that go on for weeks. It’s very easy to be open about yourself on paper, and it is likely that you wouldn’t divulge a great number of personal info this quickly to the person if you met them face-to-face.
- If after a few emails you find the person interesting enough, you might want to chat on the phone a handful of times before meeting up for a date, or go straight for the date. I’m an introvert and talking on the phone is always a particular kind of awkward, but it helped as a sort of vetting system: from a couple of telephone conversations, I was able to tell that I would have no chemistry with one particular guy, and another bloke was one of the weird ones (as in, he told he thought French people were weird, and wanted to meet me at my house. Er, no.)
Then when you meet with people, use common sense and:
- Make sure that someone knows where you’re going
- Have your phone on you.
- Don’t have a first date at night or for dinner, go for coffee in a public place during the daytime; this way, you don’t have to endure a long dinner and large expense if it doesn’t work out, and you don’t have to invent an excuse. If it goes well, you’ll get to the dinner date eventually.
3. Internet dating doesn’t work
Actually, it works for a lot of people, or there would be no market for it. Even accounting for inflated advertisement statements about the % of people who find love, there is still a large number of people with great long-term success stories. Apart from my own self, I know a few other couples, both family and friends who have found long-term, lifelong partners* after meeting on the internet.
Just like any kind of dating, success depends in part on what you want and where you’re at. Happiness may be found in romantic entanglements but it should not be its sole source. More simply, you can’t love anyone else in a healthy way unless you love yourself first. If you hate your life, sort that out first and be happy with who you are, rather than hoping to find fulfillment in another flawed human being. You can’t give what you don’t have! It doesn’t have to be perfect, but self-loathing individuals are unlikely to attract well-rounded others. If your sense of worth is closely linked to your romantic relationship (or lack thereof), it will come across in how you relate to your dates and may well put them off.
4. Internet dating is for hook-ups not serious relationships
Look, Tinder is for hook-ups. Free dating sites are more likely to attract people looking for hook-ups but their profiles will likely be telling, and their photos even more so. If you want to separate the wheat from the chaff even further, register with a paying site, you are more likely to find people with similar outlooks on life there. There’ll still be trolls, but like I said before, the world is full of strange folks, and liars too, just be realistic and use discernment by exchanging a few emails and phone conversations, and if you feel uncomfortable at any point, run for the hills. Life’s too short to waste on rubbish dates that could have been avoided if people paid more attention to the warning signs. And don’t beat yourself up if you fall for it; we all make mistakes!
5. Internet dating is not as good as good old-fashioned real-life meetings with people
Meeting with people in real life is definitely more helpful if you actually want to be in a relationship ;-). This is why I think it’s important to move on from the initial online contact to a meeting in person without too much delay. It’s better to set expectations low and be pleasantly surprised, than to build a mental picture of a person through emails and suffer the disappointment of a complete lack of chemistry. You just can’t tell who you’ll fancy.
It’s also very well to want to meet people in bars and clubs, but sometimes your neighbourhood can feel small and uninspiring, and the ocean of little fishes feel like a dirty pond. Internet dating is, in my opinion, as good an option as any in order to meet a wide range of new people and have fun, casual dates that broaden your horizon and help you know better the kind of person you are looking for (and the kind you are not!).
* Obviously, I don’t have a magic ball, so I can’t tell you whether it will last til death do them part but that is certainly the kind of commitment they are displaying.