Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.
When I saw that Gary had called, I was thrilled. Since going on one Match.com date, I'd awaited his missives. Usually, these were sporadic and at odd hours. I should have stopped responding, but I was physically attracted to him⎯something that didn't happen often. With heart palpitating, I played his voicemail message. It said: "Do you want to go to lunch and a movie tomorrow? My mother's in town. She'll pay."
Watching Amy Webb's TED talk (in which she details her online dating frustrations⎯until she got all her algorithms right), I was reminded of my own internet adventures before finally meeting my husband on Match in 2006. Prior to that, I spent five years having odd, incomprehensible, maddening, and deeply disheartening encounters like the one with Gary. I'd like to blame this on a bunch of assholes, but that's not the case. Aside from Gary (including him?), I mostly met good guys who acted badly. Sometimes I'd get an email from someone who was exasperated by my own flaky behavior. Apparently, I was just as careless! With no agreed-upon etiquette, all of us did what we could get away with, or we emulated others. If my loved ones currently in the digital dating world are any measure, things have gotten no better since I took myself off these sites. To help my friends, and anyone else, I've come up with a handful of tips regarding web romance decorum. Is my advice subjective? Sure. But in doing research for a book on sex, I've also learned a lot about the mating habits of our species. Another inspiration for these recommendations is the way I was courted by my husband, which was exemplary. Then again, he teaches ethics.
1. Be Credit Card Sexy
I think we can agree that the person paying on a date should not be your mother. But if not her, who? Should it be one individual, or do you go Dutch? My opinion is this: If a same-sex couple is meeting for the first time, one of you should assume full financial responsibility. In similar hetero situations, the man should pay. "What?" say my female sisters. To them I reply, "If you're offended by this old-fashioned custom, then don't be shy about whipping out your wallet instead." In truth, it doesn't matter who forks over the cash as long as someone does it⎯fully. Tip and all. Taking someone out, being taken out...a rendezvous like this is sexy. Calculating debt based on who had caramel in their frappuccino is not. It's a sex repellent. Mating is delicate business. There's a reason horny manakin birds do a moon dance and hippos spray their lovers with wet feces. Rituals matter. Be happy you're not one of those female mites who kills her mother and brother while breeding. You'll need no such fortitude. Just an unexpired Visa.
2. Let My People Go
Recently, a friend had a five-hour date with a woman he'd met on J-Date. They laughed and talked their heads off. Afterward, she wouldn't return his calls. "What happened?" he asked me. Truthfully, I have no idea why this woman dumped my buddy. I'd venture to say⎯barring a nasty diagnosis or a death in her immediate family⎯she wasn't attracted, even though she liked him. A lot. In other words, she was either avoiding an act of rejection, or she was using him for his brain. If you don't want hot monkey love with a particular human, you need to communicate that. ASAP. I mean, now.
3. Get Your All Your Duck Fetishes in a Row
"I hurt myself last night, but I can't say what I did," confessed one potential paramour over Pad Thai. I was blindsided. We'd been hanging out for six weeks, and I thought there was potential. Now I was being tested on a subject I knew nothing about. I'm really vanilla (not into fetishes or scenes). If you don't want someone like me, please let your freak flag fly right away. That way both of us can cut our losses and move on.
4. Zip it Up
Lately a buddy told me that 70% of the men she meets online yap the entire time they're together, never attaining even basic information about her. This habit, I imagine, is due to social anxiety, narcissism, or some combination. I throw no stones. If you think you might be a Chatty Cathy or Charlie, here's a test: Do you love the interplay of bass and treble in your own voice? Does silence freak you out more than cancer? Did you raise your hand in third grade even before the teacher asked anything? If you answered yes to any of these, you might need a list of polite questions you can bring along on your dates. Then dare yourself to get though them all before coffee stains become visible in the cup.
5. Be Exactly Who You are, Though This Means You'll Get Rejected
After a slew of emails, Chris and I agreed to meet in front of a museum. Approaching in the bright orange jacket I'd "borrowed" from a costume shop, I sported a hippy-fringe purse. But something was off. Chris felt it too, awkwardly standing there in his loafers, pressed slacks, and white oxford. At first I thought we both had on the wrong outfits. Then I realized we were the wrong person⎯for each other. We never saw each other again. This taught me that the more you express your true nature, the greater the risk someone will reject you. We all need to take that chance. If etiquette is a form of civility, the first one we should extend this to is ourselves. I tried to be myself on that first date with my husband, wearing my favorite summer outfit, cat-eye glasses and all. He was reading a French-African play⎯upside down (meant as an obscure joke). Throughout our relationship, I've learned a lot about setting boundaries and being more verbal when it comes to my needs. A main reason our marriage works is because we are so mindful when it comes to courtesy and respect. Though it's not always easy.
I'm probably not the only person with tips about improved online dating behavior. We all have this knowledge when we remember that in the pursuit of love, caring should be part of the equation.
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