Online Romance: Dating in the Digital Age
A Bold New World
Once upon a time, “lonely hearts” advertisements could be found hidden in the back pages of aspiring underground magazines and local city newspapers. To search for a mate, you placed a printed ad that provided a few salient (but never overtly salacious) bits of information about yourself, along with a brief statement about what you were seeking in a potential partner. If you could afford the extra money and were brave enough, you might even have a friend take a 35mm photo of your face to place alongside your words. The publications that carried these ads typically charged by the letter or word and the ads were expensive, so you had to be succinct and clear. To respond to someone else’s ad, you simply sent an “I’m interested” letter to that individual’s designated P.O. box and included the number of your own so they could write you back. This P.O. Box technique was used to ensure that neither party could directly contact the other prematurely. If each person liked the written responses he or she was receiving, after a few letters back and forth (something that could take a month or more), there might be a mutual decision to make that initial phone call to set up a first meeting in real time.
Needless to say, for those who don’t remember or who never went through this, the process was laborious and tortuously slow-not to mention the fact that you somehow knew (and the culture told you) that using the personals was a solely last resort for the truly desperate. There was a definite stigma attached to placing or responding to such an ad; “obviously” a person resorting to such a tactic had no other options for attracting a suitable mate. In fact, if you actually met someone through a personal ad and hit it off, you would most likely lie to your friends about how you initially met. It was better and infinitely more hip back in the day to have picked up some stranger in a club or bar than to have met through a personal ad.
Times have clearly changed. Today, millions of people worldwide post personal ads on the Internet for anyone and everyone to see. Of course, these days we don’t call them personal ads; instead they have sexier, intuitive names involving words like “Match” and “Harmony.” And, as there is no cost to using more words, oftentimes instead of keeping these postings as brief as possible we load them up with several coffee dates worth of information, numerous headshots, and, for some, even a few “intimate” photos. No longer is the public act of seeking love, a relationship, or sex considered embarrassing or shameful. To digital natives (individuals whose lives have always included computers and the Internet), creating personal profiles for social media, dating sites, and “adult friend finder” apps is as natural as breathing. For digital immigrants (Gen X, Baby Boomers, and everyone else who learned to type on a typewriter), the process can be a bit less intuitive, but it has nonetheless become an acceptable, engaging, and effective way to meet that someone you want in your life forever… or at least for an hour or two.
Mary, a 50-year-old, recently divorced mother of three grown children had this to say about her online dating experience:
I was married for 27 years, and I thought it was forever, but soon after our youngest child went off to college my husband left me for another – read younger – woman. Initially I was devastated by his actions and thought my fate was to end up alone wearing a lot of black, but over time I came to realize that this could be an opportunity to begin a new life. At first I sought out friends to fix me up with anyone they thought I might like, but few of them knew any single men and the guys I did meet that way left me feeling more and more grateful to be single. I started going to church again and I joined a hiking club, secretly hoping to meet a man in one of those venues. And I did meet several men in this way, but they were already married, too young, or uninteresting to me. Finally my oldest daughter came over and gave me a tutorial on Internet dating. Initially I was resistant, but she insisted. Over the course of a few months, as I become more comfortable with the idea, I went out on a few dates with three different men. All of them were nice, but none of them was Mr. Right. Then online man number four came along. His name is Paul, we have a lot in common, and there is definitely a spark. We’re taking it slow and steady because we’re both a little bit wary; as it turns out, we were both dumped by our spouses the first time around. Nevertheless, we’re planning to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas together, and I’m hoping to use those holidays to introduce my children Paul and to meet his kids as well. A couple of days ago I even sent my daughter a thank you note for her not so gentle push in the right direction.
Tips for Successful Online Dating
Whether you’re hoping to meet a long-term partner or just to hook up, there are ways to be successful, and ways to blow it. A few basic rules for successful online dating and/or hooking up are:
- Pick the right dating site/app. If, like Mary in the example above, you’re a recently divorced woman looking for an unattached man who’s interested in marriage, AshleyMadison.com is not the place for you. (AM’s company slogan reads: Life is Short, Have an Affair.) Instead, think about a site like eHarmony.com or Match.com. Do a bit of research and find the site or sites that best meet your needs. If you’re Jewish and want to meet other Jewish people, consider jDate.com. If you’re Black and want to meet other African Americans, try BlackPeopleMeet.com. Etc. Gay and Lesbian people also have multiple choices for finding everything from casual sex to marriage partners. Some dating sites are even set up for members with specific career paths and/or hobbies.
- Be (more or less) honest. If you’re 50, don’t try to pass yourself off as 35-maybe 46, but not 35. If you post a photo, use a recent one that actually looks like you. And for goodness sake don’t say you’re looking for a relationship if all you want is sex! Potential mates/lovers/whatever are going to find out what you really look like and what you really want soon enough. Being truthful up front about who you are and what you’re interested in will save you (and other people) a lot of time and potential heartache.
- Be Specific. Online dating sites and hookup apps allow you to search for men or women in a specific age range, height range, and weight range. You can also search by smoking and drinking status, radius of miles from your location, education, interests, religion, etc. Pick three to five criteria that are important to you, and limit your search to individuals who meet your benchmarks. You’ll avoid a lot of missteps if you do this-for instance, you’ll sift out utterly gorgeous people with whom you have nothing in common.
- Remember that you’re never too old (or too anything else). Middle-aged and older people are the fastest-growing population group on Internet dating sites. Some of these individuals are divorced; some have outlived their spouse; others are hoping to find their first true love. Despite all our cultural fears and prejudices against people who are overweight or extremely short, etc., there truly is a lid for every pot. In other words, even if you feel old or unattractive, there’s someone out there who will take one look at you and swoon. Give them (and yourself) the chance to experience that!
If It Looks to Good to Be True…
Sadly, not everything is not as it seems in the world of online dating. We all know that there are individuals lurking on Internet dating and hookup sites and apps with bad intentions. These people are a small minority of the online population (much as they’re a small minority of the real world population), but they do exist and anyone entering the online dating world should do so with their eyes open to this reality. The simple fact is with only words, photos, and perhaps a short video as an introduction, it is easy for any person hoping to find love to indulge in extensive fantasy about an individual met online, and to quickly fall in love-more with the idea of someone than the actual person. And this is what Internet predators rely on! Financial scammers, after getting someone to fall for them, prey on the victim’s emotions and very human desire to “help” a loved one in need by asking for money to pay for emergency medical expenses, education, a plane ticket so he/she can fly to your city to meet you face-to-face, etc. Others with poor intentions are simply sexual predators looking for vulnerable women (or men) to assault sexually. (Next week’s blog will cover dating site malevolence more fully, including advice on how to both spot and avoid predators.)
Finding a Winner
As in many walks of life, persistence pays off in the dating game. In fact, research shows that finding a mate is often a mere matter of numbers. In other words, the biggest problem among those seeking to find a mate who do not do so is they give up too soon. Most studies suggest that a single man or woman hoping to find a long-term partner should have somewhere between 15 and 25 new dates (meaning a 15 min cup of coffee kinda date) per year! Unfortunately, many people bail out well before they get anywhere near that number. Basically, they don’t feel like guzzling all that chai tea and caffeine while making small-talk with people they know they don’t like by the second sip. Even worse, some will date a few times, have a few disappointments, and then quit. The simple fact is if you truly want to find a spouse or life partner, research shows you need to date-and date a lot-without becoming unduly tied to the outcome of any particular situation. And you need to keep dating until a reasonable match shows up.
The good news here is that knowing what you have to offer and what you’re looking for is half the battle. Once you start the process of accepting yourself as you are and looking realistically at what you’d like from a lifetime partner, you can start in earnest the journey of finding that individual. Yes, you might need to spend quite a bit of time chatting with people both online and in person-and you’ll probably kiss a few frogs along the way-but eventually, if you are persistent, honest, and open-minded, you are likely to find, if not the perfect person, at worst someone who is “just good enough” for you.
Check back next week when I explore the downside to online dating in “Protecting Yourself in the Online Dating World.”
Weiss LCSW, R. (2012). Online Romance: Dating in the Digital Age. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 3, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2012/10/online-romance-dating-in-the-digital-age/