I keep feeling like there’s an overarching point I want to make in my cavalcade of criticism of online dating that I’m just missing. It’s one of those things where I feel like I’m nibbling around the edges of a BFD of a problem and saying enough to make it obvious, but I’m not actually getting to the point of the problem. I think it has something to do with intent, purpose, and seriousness.
It should surprise no one who has actually read anything I’ve written on this subject (or, really, anyone who has read much of anything I’ve ever written) that I am profoundly unserious about the idea of online dating. I was profoundly unserious about it at the start. At that point I just wanted to find a couple dates and, well, practice.
Since then I’ve been on a bunch of dates. None of them have really gone anywhere. Sometimes that’s been because the woman has been fuck crazy. Sometimes, I’d assume, it’s been because she decided I am fuck crazy. Sometimes it’s just been because of a lack of interest. I’ve actually made several friends because of the whole thing. So it’s not a total loss.
The thing about online dating is that it’s really not as bad as I’ve made it out to be. I simply find the horrible stories hilarious, in addition to the fact that I find the commercials for online dating to be offensively happy and insipid. It’s a product they’re selling, this idea of love and romance.
Love has, of course, always been a product, sold with a smile and a sly wink. It’s not a fairy tale with knights in shining armor and beautiful damsels and dragons standing between them. It’s just a thing with regular people who sometimes play the role of knight, sometimes the damsel, and sometimes the dragon. Who is doing what at any given moment is often a matter of perspective and interpretation, too.
See, I don’t pretend that I’m the good guy in my stories. I don’t pretend that I went in to all the dates I went in to with a pure heart that was then viciously crushed by a random succession of crazy chicks. That’s stupid. I figure there’s a pretty good chance that I’m the bad guy in a couple stories a few women out there tell, too.
I’ve got my own set of issues, my own baggage, my own desires, and my own needs. There’s nothing surprising about this, as I am a human. Internet dating didn’t create my problems, but by the same token internet dating wasn’t going to fix them, either. It is, I’ve learned, likely to exacerbate them. I can only speak for myself on this issue, but I’ll bet that comes up an awful lot.
We present an idealized form of ourselves to the world. I want everyone to think I’m smart and funny and capable. Fortunately I actually do tend to be all of those things. But I’m not as smart as I think I am. My jokes fall flat from time to time. There are a lot of things I can’t do or, at least, can’t do well.
If I meet someone out in the real world they might be impressed by who I project myself to be at first. But with enough contact they’ll probably figure out pretty quick that I’m faking my way though certain things. They’ll figure out where my insecurities lie. They’ll find out I can be a total jerk for no damn good reason.
That’s okay. That’s who I am, too. I am a product of my good and bad in equal measure. I am at times the person I strive to be and at other times the person I wish to avoid. Everyone is like that.
On the internet, though, I am a persona, an avatar. And I am talking to a persona.
A reasonably intelligent person who’s paying attention can cut through my BS in about five minutes in real life. I’m not nearly as hard to figure out as I want to think I am. I can maintain my ruse with someone with whom I am only communicating via email for a good long while, though. It’s pretty easy to edit myself, after all.
The thing is, the other person can do the same thing, too. So you end up with two personas communicating with each other. If the first actual meeting is drawn out by a few weeks or a month or whatever there’s time for irreparable harm to be done before anything can even happen. And that’s without one other wrinkle.
Projection becomes a huge problem, too. If I want to believe the person on the other end of my email exchange is the product of all my hopes and dreams, I can do exactly that. You can do that with a real person for a while, too. But it’s way easier to do with an imaginary friend. That person is a blank slate.
When you finally meet your dream match in person, then, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll be disappointed. Reality has a hard time matching up to fantasy, after all. When that happens you have a choice: try to find out if you can handle being around this other person or go back in search of the perfect person.
This, of course, is nothing new under the sun. The Golden Haired Woman is as old as literature itself. The new twist with the internet, though, is that there’s always the promise she’s just one click away. You don’t even have to get up off the couch.
Given all this, my other major complaint and point of jadedness is almost ironic: eventually everyone kinda starts to look alike. There’s only so many times you can see a picture of a random person you’ve never met and read a profile where they say, “I like puppies,” or something without deciding there is no difference between people. It’s especially hard when well-worn cliché comes in to play:
Work hard, play hard.
It all just kind of blurs together after a while.
So then you finally find that profile that stands out in the crowd. You take the time to figure out something they seem to really care about from the way they wrote it or something you both have in common or you come up with something really witty and your write them a note. The next day you see they’ve looked at your profile. You’re all excited.
Nothing happens. You never hear back from them.
That’s not even the worst possibility. Sometimes they do write back. Like, once. Or a couple times. Then they just…stop.
That’s not even the worst possibility. Sometimes it really seems to click. Then they write to say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I just started seeing someone else.”
That’s not even the worst possibility. Okay, actually it’s kind of up there.
Basically, online dating encourages its practitioners to be jaded. You’ll probably have to deal with a lot of messages from people you don’t want to talk to. You’ll probably have to deal with rejection from a lot of people you do want to talk to. And you’ll always have to do it with the knowledge that the other person is probably talking to several other people at the same time they’re talking to you.
This, again, is nothing new under the sun. But in the past you at least had to get up off the couch to do all of it.
It seems that I tried the internet dating thing in order to learn about dating. I suppose at that I was successful. I just learned all the negative things about dating.
I’m not sure I like that. I think I’d like to have at least a tiny shred of my former romantic notions intact.
Dating, as I may or may not have mentioned at some point in the past, is not a skill I possess. By the middle of 2008 I had dated exactly three women and all three of those things had happened entirely by accident. One of those had resulted in exactly one date, while the others had turned in to brutally emotionally damaging “relationships.” I’d decided I really needed to get a lot better at dating so as to know what to do when I did finally meet someone great (see, I’d kinda blown a shot with someone great and not even taken a shot with someone else great right after the end of the whole debacle with her. On some level that was just a rebound/broken heart/wrong time thing, but on another level I literally had no goddamn clue what I was doing), so I decided, “Hey, internet. Why not?”
There was a point in my life, believe it or not, when I was a hopeless romantic. I’m not saying the internet took that away, but I’m also not saying it wasn’t driving the getaway car.
Hell, there might be a couple READING THIS VERY BLOG who are nodding sadly. Ruh roh.
The term “imaginary friend” is one I learned from the esteemed Michael Mock. It means “person I only know over the internet.” I love it.
I cannot tell you how much I loathe that phrase. More than, “I’m drama free,” “I work hard, I play hard,” will convince me to look elsewhere. Because what it says is, “I’m completely unoriginal.”