She plopped down on the couch: “I don’t think I can do this. Dating sucks.” She spent the first five minute of our session lambasting Ok Cupid and men in general: “Are they all so terrible?!” They are not so terrible; they are probably just like you. When we step into the online arena, we are a mix of excited, depressed and terrified. We are bummed that online dating seems the only way to meet people but we have all heard of some fun couple that met online successfully. Usually the first perusal through profiles is a little jarring. We live in Maine where there are only so many people and many of the men have ridiculous pics including their half-naked sad selfies in a mirror. I assume there is an analogous female pic: maybe it includes cats. But when we take a closer look (with an open mind), we realize (a) we are all just looking to connect with others and (b) there are plenty of good people in the mix.
The Pew Research Center has been tracking opinions on online dating since 2005. Overtime, more people think dating is a good way to meet others and that online dating can even help you find a better match. And fewer people think online dating reflects desperation. An important question Pew asked was whether online dating keeps people from settling down: a third of people think it does. I have seen this in my practice: the candy shop problem. Once people know there is a candy shop full of potential pals, it is tough to settle on the one you are with. Relationships take dedication and energy – some people find it easier to keep going back and picking out a different type of candy. However, I find that people, both men and women, eventually tire of the dating madness and just want a more committed relationship.
Here are my suggestions for managing your online dating experience:
Set the pace
You get to decide how deep you want to jump in. Do you want one or multiple dates per week? Do you want to try one or many people at a time? (Be aware that most people are dating multiple people.) I find many people, especially women, get overwhelmed by the dozens of emails coming at them (many with just the titillating message: “Hi”). The recipient oftentimes feels burdened by having to respond to each email to be polite or can’t handle the inbox barrage and ignores them all (most people do the latter). My advice:
- Come up with a standard message to send to people you are not interested in such as “Thank you for writing. I don’t think we match. Good luck on your search.” I found that men were so happy to have someone respond to them that they graciously thanked me for my brief retort.
- Come up with a strategy for reaching out to the people you would like to date. Email three people a week to see what response you get. Try pithy messages that reflect your interest: “I enjoyed reading about who you are. Tell me more about where you like to travel (or ‘what you like to read’ or ‘your favorite place in Maine’). Or, if you want to get down to business (which I recommend): “I loved reading about who you are. I would enjoy hearing more over coffee.”
- When you finally meet, keep it brief. I recommend the 20 minute coffee/tea date with a planned “get the hell out of dodge” excuse ready. You could be meeting a friend or taking your kid to the doctor’s or if things are go well, you could stay right where you are.
- Caution: I don’t recommend emailing back and forth more than 4-5 times. Many novice users of internet dating fall into the trap of emailing non-stop until they feel like they have found their best friend only to discover that they are repelled the instant she walks in the coffee shop door.
Set realistic expectations
Expect to be rejected. That is just the reality of online dating. We get to be picky in the online arena. Just as a woman is not attracted to every single man, men are not attracted to every single women. He/she may not want someone with kids or someone tall or someone who lives in Scarborough. You never know. People are not great at direct communication online. Think about it: For every person you ignore, there is someone who will ignore you.
My advice: Allow the “NOs” to roll off of you. Practice not taking it personally. Know why you are doing online dating and that it generally takes TEN dates to find one you want to continue with (See my 10 to 1 rule here).
Caution: The anonymity of the internet encourages trolls in all arenas including online dating. Scams are real. The most recent one I heard about was a man who emailed and called two women (both happened to be widows) and treated them like princesses until a surprise trip came up where the man happened to need an influx of cash to “save him”. In an article by Reviews.com, they found harassment happened to 12% of Match.com users, 17% of Plenty of Fish users, 20% of eHarmony users and a whopping 47% of OkCupid users. So the female client who came to my office had reason to complain!
See the humor… and humanity in it all.
Find reasons to laugh amidst the travails of online dating. The ten year old photos, the ridiculous emails, the awkward silences… it is all great fodder for your friends. Learning how not to take the rejections to heart will help. Generally, we are all looking for something similar: we are lonely and want to be fulfilled through a relationship. However, too few of us have perfect relationship skills so we tend to stumble and fall before we stand. Give yourself a break and extend it to the person sitting across the table from you as well.
Do you want more?
For a well-researched article on the best online sites by Reviews.com, go here.
For an article on online dating when you are 50+, go here
For a glance at advice from men and women on the composition of your profile, go here
Erin Oldham, Ph.D. is a researcher and relationship & divorce coach. Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships. She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world. Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child well-being and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years. She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective. She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well. Email her here.