With more than 40 million adults using online dating, and perhaps one in five of all romantic relationships beginning online, it pays to be mindful when seeking love over the internet.
Dating sites and apps offer opportunities to:
- Meet people outside your circle whom you might never meet otherwise
- Reduce social isolation
- Compare available people and, in so doing, refine your ideas about what you are seeking
- Efficiently find people with characteristics and qualities you desire
- Grow and learn about yourself in the process
- Find a compatible long-term partner
The stigma about seeking love online has largely evaporated as millions of people have formed healthy relationships that began online. Research by the Pew Charitable trust suggests that five percent of all existing marriages and long-term relationships began online. Nearly three in five people say going online is a good way to find a relationship, up by more than 30 percent in the last ten years.
At the same time, online dating carries risks. You may encounter:
- Dishonest, even predatory people
- People who may be clueless about why they are online or not transparent about what they are seeking
- People who misrepresent themselves
- Insensitive or flaky people
- Disappointment and rejection
- Time and money down the drain
Stories abound of people who claim to be single and available but are actually married or in a committed relationship and using a bogus profile.
In addition, dating sites are full of warnings and disclaimers about scammers who prey on the romantic aspirations of others for financial gain.
One survey found that 53 percent of people lie about their age online. Weight, salary, age and occupation are among the top categories misrepresented online.
And many people who have been online have experienced rude, insensitive or flaky people who act hurtfully or simply disappear for no apparent reason.
The adage “All’s fair in love and war” can seem Oh So True, especially online. Of course, risks are present in romance whether it begins online or other ways. Meeting through friends or through a community tends to reduce but hardly eliminate these risks.
There is no way to know for sure why someone is online. You can’t necessarily trust that they will tell you the truth. If you connect with people online, despite what they say, it is difficult to know if they want a long-term relationship, multiple lovers, are just testing the waters, are trying to assess their attractiveness, are just playing games, are already in another relationship, have multiple connections, or are trying to make a previous or existing lover jealous.
Discernment is key in having a positive, successful online dating experience. Here are six approaches that can help:
1) Have high hopes and low expectations
Avoiding cynicism while being realistic is a delicate balance in online dating.
You may find people who are rude or have little ethical commitment to honest communication or treating others fairly. You may encounter people fresh out of relationships testing the waters, assessing their attractiveness, or going online because friends and family have encouraged them to do so. Many of these people may not be emotionally ready to have a relationship. Others may say they are seeking the love of their lives but in truth are unwilling or unable to have an intimate, authentic relationship for an extended period.
In addition, the very nature of online dating means it is likely that anyone you meet may be having multiple conversations with people going at any time. The competition can be steep.
People often assess quickly, with a kind of sudden-death dating approach. Some may “ghost” you, disappearing without a word. Others may “bench” you, keeping minimal conversations going with multiple people to have backups in case the person they are most interested in falls through.
Given all these factors it makes sense to keep your expectations low.
At the same time, becoming cynical may interfere with you meeting the kind of person you seek. It is possible to meet quality people online; many people have done it.
High hopes along with high standards help. High expectations may be a setup for multiple disappointments.
2) Notice what they do, not what they say
If people promise to call you back but don’t, they have shown you something about themselves.
If they talk about themselves for 80 percent of a first date, they may be nervous or they may be narcissists, but either way, you want someone who can listen as well as talk.
The adage “How you do anything is how you do everything” can be particularly true in online dating. If they misrepresent themselves in age or other matters, then justify it, they are letting you know that for them, lying is okay and the means justify the ends.
Something about the anonymity and enormous supply in online dating can lead some to treat others as disposable. Be alert for any signs of a lack of respect.
3) Assess character
Some good ways to assess a person’s character include paying attention to:
- How they handle criticism, disagreement or being told no
- How they handle adversity or failure
- How they handle humor
- How they treat strangers and service persons
- How they spend their spare time
- What they care most about
- How you feel in your gut around them
4) Don’t take things personally
Most people are just trying to get their needs met. Unhealthy or insensitive behavior is rarely personal. It speaks volumes about them, not you. Be aware of your boundaries and take steps to protect yourself. But don’t blame yourself for someone else’s funky behavior.
Online dating may not be for the faint of heart. Despite your best efforts, you may be hurt or disappointed. It is important to allow yourself those feelings, be kind and compassionate to yourself, and tally lessons for the next time.
But if someone is ambivalent or isn’t interested in you, no matter how attractive they may have seemed, they cannot by definition be the right person for you. Spending one minute more pursuing such people simply postpones finding the right person for you. The right person will be honest and will want, respect, and adore you. Don’t settle for less.
5) Don’t allow online sites to be your only method of seeking a partner
Online is a vehicle, not a destination. Many people find that being online can increase their awareness of opportunities to meet people in other venues, whether it be at the coffee shop, grocery store or walking down the street.
Being online can be one part – but only part – of your journey to find the relationship you are seeking. Join a hiking or book group. Go to bookstore signings or lectures on topics in which you are interested. Circulating is a big part of meeting the right person.
6) Be hard-nosed about being soft-hearted
Online dating can bring out the worst or the best in people. Decide who you want to be. You may find it empowering to strive to be the best you in your dealings with people online. Decide how you want to treat people and how you want to be treated. Ideally, one would treat others with respect and never deliberately do anything to reduce another person’s dignity.
To have a successful relationship requires vulnerability and open-heartedness. But it is to your benefit not to move too quickly into an intimate relationship. You deserve to find someone who will treat you well.
This is your personal journey. You get to choose how you approach it.
Copyright © Dan Neuharth PhD MFT