One of the many ways people look for partners is online. If you are taking the leap into online dating in the Bay Area or have been dating online for a while, we want to offer some heartfelt suggestions based on the success and horror stories we've heard. One of the biggest complaints we hear from clients is what we will call Disposable Dating -- an approach to dating where people act like they are digging for a five cent Cracker Jack prize instead of connecting with the ten carat diamonds we all are inside. Perhaps it is the anonymity of a big city or the idea that if this one doesn't work out, we are all just a click away from another date, but it can feel very dehumanizing.
Disposable dating seems to lead to an ultra-casualness, a bunch of people pretending that opening yourself up to the possibility of feeling rejection and disappointment is no big deal. In reality, it is extraordinarily brave to bundle up all of our confidences and insecurities in a Friday night outfit and put them on display for someone else. While we strongly recommend you focus on being the chooser instead of trying to get chosen, and that you stay inside of yourself and stay aware of your own feelings and whether or not you are attracted, every human being is sensitive.
Here are some re-humanizing suggestions so that, as a community, you can make the dating experience more heartfelt.
1) Be kind. It may seem like people are thick-skinned, but we can tell you right now that everyone going out to meet someone, no matter how confident they seem, always has some fear or uncertainty about their attractiveness or lovability. If you feel rejected or if someone misrepresents themselves or makes some other dating faux pas, you might want to lash out or retaliate. Remember, not everyone is your flavor and you won't be everyone's flavor, and it doesn't help to punish another person even if they did something you didn't like. You don't have to hang out with anyone any longer than feels right to you. If you are not enjoying yourself on a date, simply say something like, "Thank you for meeting with me, it was a good try and I wish you luck out there, I know online dating can be tough!" and excuse yourself from the date. You can make big city dating a safe space for people who are doing their best to try without getting too beat up in the process.
2) Take an interest. Even if you don't end up being a match, it always feels good to have someone acknowledge you and offer interest in who you are and what you are about. Take the time to write something personal and relevant to what you see in a prospective date. Ask a question about them that will allow them to shine some of their individuality and create dialogue. Just contacting with a "hey" or "what you up to tonight?" or some generic cut-and-paste email is not a great way to start any kind of real connection.
3) Be willing to meet. If you are just online to get attention and never take the chance to get out there and have a person-to-person meeting, stay off of dating sites. If you just want to be in the fantasy of attraction and not the reality, try some massive multi-player, online games and have an Elven romance.
4) Be courteous. Show up for your dates on time and, if you are not going to show up for a date, have the decency to cancel.
5) Have empathy. If you are heterosexual, you will be confronting a different set of issues in online dating than your prospective partners. It can be helpful to imagine what it's like on the other side of the fence for a moment. In online dating, men are generally dealing with more scarcity and a lot of the responsibility to reach out and contact and often get little or no response, which can be exhausting and disheartening. Women, on the other hand, often get bombarded with generic contacts and can feel objectified in the dating process. Because women are less visually oriented, we have also heard women complain that they get a lot less information about attraction from online profiles and don't know whether they are attracted or not just based on pictures, so they need to get a feel for the person in some way before meeting.
Together, we can all contribute to a culture of dating that is about respect and kindness so that meeting new people can feel like a fun adventure instead of a chore!
Follow Dr. Danielle Harel and Celeste Hirschman M.A. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sexandintimacy