I had relocated to a small town of Lynchburg, VA and ended a one-year relationship. I wanted to meet people and go on dates. I refused to be alone. It was time to try online dating. I was apprehensive. I had heard of others’ experiences, good and bad. Online dating is not one size fits all; it has changed as technology has changed. I’m going to share some of my experiences and what I learned. From here you can make your own decisions about how to navigate the online dating world.
Why? Why start online dating? What is your objective? Before you can decide what website or app to use, you need to decide why you are doing this. Most people fall into two camps: one, looking for a long-term relationship leading to marriage. Two, just looking for companionship, dates, and fun. This will help filter all your other decisions because there are many.
The Dinner Date. Going on a traditional date dinner is typically expected. Usually, dinner and a movie. Several guys took me to nicer restaurants. One guy took me out for wings. Don’t do wings for a first date. They are messy, and there aren’t enough napkins. On one date we went to what was an expensive restaurant for our small town. I let the guy choose. We had a pleasant time, and there were no warning signs that I needed to bail on the date. This had potential. We went for a walk to extend our time together. He then walked me to my car. I was really hoping for a kiss at this point. He seemed hesitant like he was waiting for permission. I am not a forward girl and am very shy about making the first move. Even without a kiss I still expected follow up communication. But nada. This wasn’t the first time I was left alone after a first date. I began to ponder and analyze all the scenarios, wondering what I should have done differently. Should I have kissed him? Was it something more? Did he want more? I didn’t like the awkward sexual tension that hovers at the end of the online dinner date. I felt like when they spent good money on a date it came with the expectation for me to give something more. I had committed that no matter what I wasn’t having sex with anyone on the first date. On a dinner date I also felt like I was trapped if the date was weird or awkward. For a full meal I had to make polite conversation, though I knew the date was over in ten minutes. I viewed the date as an opportunity to get to know one another. From here I decided that coffee or lunch dates were better. Neither party would leave feeling used or like something was owed.
The Coffee Date. Use this first date to see if you are compatible. Ask questions that are important to you. Job? Kids? Religion? Politics? Hobbies? Goals? Marriage? Introvert versus extrovert? It’s okay to have a conversation about these things. Emphasis on conversation versus interview. There still needs to be attraction, and the coffee date environment seems better suited to that. You don’t want to waste days, weeks, or months to find out there is a deal breaker. See if the other individual is worth pursuing. I think especially if you have been married before, have kids, or are over 30 you know what you want. One of the men I had been interacting with online agreed to meet for coffee. We had a lot of my prerequisites in common: a love of travel, art, and a few other things. He ordered before I arrived. He showed up in loose jeans and a hoodie. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but I felt better about this just being coffee. We began talking, and he shared that basically he’s working at a call center making minimum wage. He had an art degree. I know plenty of starting artists who are working on their art, selling it, and hanging it wherever they can. He wasn’t doing that and didn’t have any inclination to do it either. I even gave him the benefit of the doubt and queried about teaching art. He failed the teaching test. Twice. The future of being a sugar mama flashed before my eyes. At that point, I concluded that I need someone with a steady income and a career, not necessarily rich, but an equal. That coffee decision looked really good at this point. Had this been a dinner date, I probably would have had to pay for it. I think he was living with his parents. There was no commitment to spending more time together. No one was out anything. With coffee if you do find the other person attractive you can always do something after coffee or plan something for another day.
The Alcohol Question. If you do find yourself at a dinner date the alcohol question is something you need to decide before you arrive. Then hold to your guns. I drove an hour north to Charlottesville, VA for a first date at a really nice tapas restaurant. The choice of restaurants in Lynchburg was limited, and I wanted to try something new. Side note, if the guy isn’t willing to drive halfway or all the way, bail out. The date started with me appearing first. I awkwardly sat at the outdoor table in the heat alone. He finally showed up in a wrinkled button-down shirt. It literally looked like he picked it up off the floor to wear. That was a turn off for me. This is the first impression you want to make? Please, make sure to dress neatly, cleanly, and nicer than when you are going out with friends. Looks ARE everything at a first meeting and set the tone. Think of it like a relationship interview. He ordered a bottle of wine. I am not a big drinker to begin with. I knew I had an hour to drive home. I also didn’t want to make a bad impression on a first date. I sipped that wine. He proceeded to order another bottle of wine. I will say he was charming and the date was enjoyable. I could overlook a wrinkled shirt. It was in the middle of the second bottle of wine that he started to get a little sloppy and even knocked over a glass. With dessert he ordered an digestif for each of us. I was amenable to that. I had had a glass and half of wine with food. The digestif may have given him liquid courage for this next bit. He suggested I stay overnight: he had a place close by, it had been such a long drive, and I had been drinking. I said “no.” I will never know if his intention was to get me drunk so I could stay over. I felt so much better about my decision to limit my drinking. I have to protect myself first. There is no one else who will care as much about me as ME. There will never be another to care as much about you as YOU.
Communication. After the initial interest you will want to start communicating. I love a good flirt via text. I started with email. I felt it was a safe mode of communication without giving out a number to someone who I didn’t know much about. Although, in both modes I can block people. Don’t be afraid to block someone. It’s ok to do. You don’t need people invading your personal space with unwanted communication. The gentleman and I started writing emails back and forth that were paragraphs long. Mostly, the content was soccer related, a mutual passion. We had developed friendship and respect through personal emails. When we met in person, it was a disappointment. We were just complete opposites and ran out of things to talk about in person. But nothing can beat a phone conversation. You can tell a lot by voice inflection, tone, topics, phone etiquette, etc.
A huge point of discussion is sexting, dick pics, and scandalous photos. First, if you haven’t met the person, I don’t recommend doing it. If your goal is long-term, then you need to move on from this person. There is only one thing they want. Second, guys–the girls don’t want unsolicited pics of your wrinkly member. Third, sexting is a personal decision. I explored this when I was in a long-distance relationship, and we had been together for several months. Fourth, we live in a digital age where those pictures live forever and can end up all across the Internet. Determine your boundaries and comfort level. If something is out of that comfort level, swipe right. Trust your instincts. If this is a prerequisite for a relationship from the other person, then it’s not the relationship you wanted. Unless you just want sex–then go for it.
Throw out convention. We live in a world that is very different than even the world our parents grew up in. I watch old movies and think how easy it was to get set up by a friend then married by 20. It’s okay to be the first to give a phone number or ask the other person for theirs. It doesn’t matter who is the first one to poke/like/message the other. Go for it. Be yourself. Of course be the positive best version of yourself. Be a peacock and show your feathers. Ask the other person out if you are interested in them. You can always do it in a subtle, flirtatious way. The other person is just as nervous as you are.
What service do I use? This is all dependent upon your goals. I feel that if you are looking for a long-term relationship, E-harmony is the best one for you. I have had a number of friends who have gotten married from it. I was on it for over a year and had sent likes to a few hundred people and got zero response back from them. That sort of rejection was hard for me. I had to take time away. Set a time frame to be on there. Six months. A year. I had another friend who was about to get off it and found her husband of over ten years now. I had plenty of dates from Match.com. I also found a picture of a guy with two snakes around his neck hanging out in a recliner on Match.com. You never know what you are going to get. Online dating is becoming more common as everything else in our world goes digital. It is much more socially acceptable and safer than it used to be. I buy food, clothes, shoes, and gifts all online. If all our lives are online, why not our dating lives?
Safety. The last note I want to talk about is safety. Take care of yourself. Trust your instincts. If you feel like something is wrong, it is. Here are some ways to protect yourself:
1. Meet in public. Emphasis on meet. While it’s flattering for a guy to pick you up and drive you, you are also getting in a car with a stranger. You want a place where there are people who can help you. Less bad things happen when there are people around.
2. Tell someone where you are going and the time frame. Share with them his name and the website you met him. Give them directions that if they don’t hear back from you by a certain time, they are to call the police.
3. Take a picture of your date or his drivers license. Keep him on his best behavior with this. Send it to a friend.
4. If you are on a date and feel unsafe, let the staff around you know. Excuse yourself to go to the bathroom and stop a member of the waitstaff. They can call you a cab, Uber, or just hide you out.
5. Casually make sure your date doesn’t follow you home. It doesn’t cost you anything to check your rearview mirror. I will switch lanes, speed up, slow down to see what the car behind me does. It you feel you’re being followed, go to a friend’s house or a public place like a restaurant, grocery store, coffee shop, etc.
6. Take a self-defense class. I’m not talking about learning a martial art. There are classes at the YMCA, hosted by the police station, college campuses, etc. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared. No one can predict what will happen. Better to be safe than sorry.
Online dating is as individual as the people who use the sites. There are sites for “Farmers Only” and individuals over 50. Take a few minutes to think about what you want out of it. Know that there are “Plenty of Fish” in the sea. If one doesn’t work out, there is someone else waiting. Experiment with it. Give it a try. There are plenty of ways to meet people. Online dating is just one. Find what works for you. Try different websites. Be you.