Many people look to Siddhartha Gautama as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. Each week in this column we look at what it might be like if Siddhartha was on his spiritual journey today. How would he combine Buddhism and dating? How would he handle stress in the workplace? What Would Sid Do? is devoted to taking an honest look at what we as meditators face in the modern world.
Every other week I'll take on a new question and give some advice based on what I think Sid, a fictional Siddartha, would do. Like us, Sid is not yet a buddha, he's just someone struggling to maintain an open heart on a spiritual path while facing numerous distractions along the way. Because let's face it, you and I are Sid. So let's take on the first question, from Justin:
What would Sid say about online dating?
With so many people out there looking to meet other singles, it's no surprise that online dating has become a big trend. Why actually go out and risk face-to-face awkward encounters with strangers when you can browse the internet and discreetly check people out without their ever knowing? And better yet, you don't have to ask them if they like the same books or movies you do -- it's all there on display!
Some people would say that dating sites are making dating simpler. I think that they're making things a lot more complicated. Let's say you go on a dating site like eHarmony. The first thing you do is put yourself in a box. I am X years old and this is how important it is that my partner be around the same age. Here's my level of education and here's how much money I make and here's how important it is to me that I date someone smarter/dumber/richer/more traveled/fatter than me.
You basically take all the spontaneity out of who you can meet. I haven't looked at many online dating statistics but would gladly bet money that couples who get together on these sites look eerily like old photos of both party's previous relationships. In fact, I once went out to dinner with an ex and her new boyfriend that she met on match.com, and when placed across the table from one another, they new guy and I looked exactly the same with our fuzzy blondish hair, glasses, and matching turtleneck sweaters.
Even though I said all of the above, I don't think Sid would denigrate online dating. In fact, I think he would say it's a perfectly valid way to meet people. eHarmony, for example, claims on their homepage to be responsible for 2 percent of marriages in the United States today. They would say it's because of their advanced matching capabilities. From eHarmony's website:
Our patented Compatibility Matching System® narrows the field from thousands of single men or single women to match with a highly select group of compatible singles -- singles who have been prescreened on 29 Dimensions® of Compatibility: scientific predictors of long-term relationship success.
I, on the other hand, think it's just because they are encouraging people to get out of their shell a bit and go and meet new people. I believe Sid would give two thumbs up to dating websites so long as you are realistic about what you're getting yourself into. I think Sid would say that if you're going to try online dating then you need to also try not solidifying your expectations of people you hope to meet.
My understanding is that all too often you read about someone, see that they also like the Sunday New York Times and love Love Actually, and your heart starts to swell with potential happiness. It's important to remember that the person listed there is not a person but a résumé of sorts. It is merely set data that the person is presenting in the hopes that others will be attracted to him or her. If you limit your understanding of that person to what you read about them or a few messages you pass back and forth you will have very set expectations as to who they are when you do actually meet.
When we set expectations for who we want our partner to be in any scenario, it spells trouble. If we do so without ever having met the person face-to-face, then it seems like a recipe for failure. I can't imagine Sid saying it's a bad idea to try and meet new people. He would never say no to potential love.
However, I don't think it takes a man on the path to enlightenment to know that a romance fueled by wishful thinking and set expectations is not going to be a lasting one. So go ahead and join OKCupid (hey, it's a free dating site, at least). Just make sure that when you open up your membership you remember to keep an open mind.
Have a question for this column?
E-mail it to this address with the subject line "What would Sid do," and your question will likely appear in a future post.