How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Endure Online Dating
by Cunning Linguist
“It was great!”
Ask me about a book I read, an event I attended, or a meal I ate, and that’s the response you’ll likely get. I’m an enthusiastic person, yet I struggle to cultivate enthusiasm for online dating. Being anxious and somewhat introverted, I’d rather hang out with an old friend or a good book than “put myself out there” and meet new people. Neither my friends nor my books are likely to date me, though, so I’ve had to find a way to navigate the world of online dating.
First, I had to overcome my near-paralyzing fear of dating, so for New Year’s last year I resolved to go on 10 dates. I even made a checklist. Assisted by OkCupid, I reached my goal in November. In what I consider a major victory, over the course of 2014 I moved from “completely terrified of” to “moderately anxious about” meeting potential romantic partners.
Now, the trick for me is maintaining healthy levels of enthusiasm and realism early in the dating process. Enthusiasm is a push to actually show up on a date and be into it (for both my and my date’s sakes); however, a dose of realism is also required. The chance of any one specific date turning into a long-term relationship is low. Unfortunately, I’m prone to moving rapidly from realism to anxiety, rejecting everyone, and staying in on Friday night to do my laundry.
Without further ado, here are my principles for balancing enthusiasm and anxiety as I wade through the profiles and messages of my fellow OkCupid users in search of a fulfilling relationship:
1. Read profiles looking for something intriguing.
Don’t expect a 100% match in your interests. Don’t pore over every turn of phrase. Find a hobby that you have in common or a viewpoint that you want to know more about, and ask them about that. Focus on the positive.
2. Use the profile photos and details as elimination devices only.
Check their photos to make sure you don’t find the person unattractive, but remember that people can look very different once you meet. Skim their details and make sure they don’t clash with your main values (religion, monogamy vs. polyamory, kids vs. no kids, etc.) but don’t get bogged down. Maybe they like dogs and you like cats, or they’re 2 inches shorter than your preferred height…these are minor facts that you would probably forgive (or remain unaware of) if you first met in person!
3. Don’t read their questions.
On OkCupid, there are thousands of questions users can answer to get their “match %” with other users. I used to read pages of a user’s questions before messaging or responding, but I discovered that, even if we were a 96% match, I could always find some (usually fairly minor) answer I didn’t like and use that as a reason to eliminate them as a possible date. This year, I decided to avoid this section altogether and give them a shot IRL, which leads me to…
4. Meet in person ASAP.
I’m certainly not the first person to proffer this advice, and I know some people strongly disagree. For my part, I refuse to talk to someone for weeks on end before meeting. Dragging it out just gives my anxiety or enthusiasm time to grow to excess. If I get too anxious, I’ll cancel what might have been a perfectly good date. If I’m too enthusiastic, I risk major disappointment.
My ideal timeline is exchanging a handful of messages, moving to texting once I’ve confirmed their ability to make grammatically correct and moderately interesting conversation, and then meeting within a week or two. It shouldn’t really be called “online dating,” because the real talking, flirting, and deciding happens in your chosen coffee shop or bar. Can we just rename it “online matchmaking”?
5. Always be talking to a few people at a time.
This advice is also old news, but I’m approximately the most monogamous person you’ll ever meet, so it took some getting used to for me. Having multiple options will cushion your disappointment when your first choice suddenly drops off the face of the earth (way too common!), but it will also keep you level-headed when you start to get overly enthusiastic about someone you’ve just met.
In summary, know thyself and thy dealbreakers, but don’t be too quick to eliminate people before meeting in person. Go forth, fellow neurotics, and date!