Friday, November 6, 2009

Why exactly are you not on Facebook?

If you're doing online dating, you've already bought into the argument that you should be optimizing your chances. You're not doing it for the wild and carefree romance of the Internet, you're doing it to get dates.

So why on earth aren't you on Facebook?

I'll tell you why -- because you don't get it. Either you've heard the pejoratives about inane status updates, or you're under orders from your teenagers to stay off their turf, or you have this vague fear of being stalked by that creep from high school.

But here's the thing: you can use Facebook in whatever way works for you. You don't have to post any status at all if you don't want, and if you do, it doesn't have to be inane. You can tell your friends about important life changes rather than trips to the supermarket. You don't have to "friend" your teenagers, or they you, so there won't be any awkward communications. (Actually, a lot of people fear this sort of thing, only to be instantly friended by their teenagers; often all parties find it rewarding.) And that creep has moved on, or isn't online, or has matured and is perfectly pleasant, and if none of the above is true, you still don't have to friend him.

Since you get control over who your friends are and how much you post, there really isn't much downside. It's OK, really.

Now for the upside. You can find and reconnect with old friends, and actually make new ones. You can learn something about your friends. You can have fun. And for dating, you suddenly have a whole new world of networked singles to browse amongst.

You can have entire conversations with friends of friends who are commenting on the status updates of your shared friend. You can communicate with your friends to find likely candidates, and to get the lowdown on the suitability of same. And once you've friended them, you can vet them yourself. You can flirt, you can befriend, you can chat, and you can explore romantic opportunities in a non-commital way. It's not unlike the old-fashioned way, but again, you're using the Internet to increase your chances. By a lot.

As soon as you get a Facebook profile, you're closer to finding someone. You should still do online dating, and still have the antennae up for real-life singles in real-life situations. Use whatever opportunities you've got.

But by all means, get yourself on Facebook. You already have several friends who are on, and they can tell you how to use it. It's not that hard. And, who knows, maybe you'll enjoy reporting on that trip to the supermarket after all...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Patience is a virtue, Exhibit A: the nut case

There are various reasons that patience is a virtue when dating online. One of them is the nut case. N.b. -- "nut case" is not a technical term, and it turns out that I am not a psychiatric professional. But you understand the gist. Or maybe you don't. A nut case could be someone who is clinically insane and outright dangerous. Or it could be someone who is unreasonably jealous because of the baggage they're carrying, and will make any relationship unpleasant and unhealthy. Or it might just be somebody who is painfully eccentric, and you're just not willing to sleep with them and with their paper clip collection, right there beside them. Whatever, you want to find out about who you're dealing with.

It's not always easy to be patient when you're doing this. There's a decent chance that you're pretty lonely, and maybe your confidence isn't all that it could be at this stage. A charming person comes along and shows you a little attention, and it's natural for you to get a bit anxious to push the thing along.

One of the primary features of affairs of the heart is that they have the potential to make people act really weird. This is all the more true if the other half of your bargain (we'll call him or her your "prospective") was already weird to begin with. Sometimes, of course, it's difficult to tell, and you don't find out until you're romantically entangled.

In traditional dating, you generally meet people through an existing social network, where friends who know your prospective will have opportunity to give you a heads-up, or at least a hint as to what you're walking into.

In most cases, you won't get this hint online. Unless your prospective plants red flags all over their profile (and some do), you'd have no indication that they were a nut case. So you have to be patient, and look for red flags where you find them.

The first way to guard against nut cases is to keep the first meeting light, and do it in a safe, public place. If you're the smaller/weaker half of the mix, this is a safety issue. If you're the bigger/stronger half of the mix, this is a matter of simple consideration. If some hulking galoot snaps that there's no reason you shouldn't meet behind the warehouse at midnight, you should sprint away from your keyboard and have nothing more to do with him. Even if he intends no harm, it's worrisome enough that he's so clueless that he can't appreciate the situation. This rule should be obvious and acceptable to both parties.

It's not a bad idea for the second meeting, either. If you develop a rapport in Meeting One and end up spending a lot of time together, use your judgment, but keep in the back of your mind that you likely still don't know much, really.

And keep your eyes open for other red flags. Once you get a name to work with, use Bing or Yahoo or whatever search engine you like to find out what you can. If your prospective is secretly running an S&M porn site, that would be good to know up front, huh? (Note that this statement holds true regardless of how you feel about the practice.)

Be aware of whether your prospective is evasive, or tells a story that doesn't quite add up. Sure, there might be a perfectly reasonable explanation for it, but there's no reason not to trust your inner voice, which is asking "WTF?"

Take your time, get good answers, don't rush into a relationship. If everything is as it should be, you'll find that out in the fullness of time. And if your prospective is a genuinely good match, they should sense that, and they should stick around while you're taking your time finding out about each other. Don't take stupid chances. And read that again, out loud, if you have any small people depending on you to take care of them.

Having said all of that, I don't want to discourage romance or passion. Timing can be everything in love, and sometimes it's in your best interests to make your move when the opportunity is right. And keep in mind, while there most certainly are nut cases out there, most people are quite sane and quite reasonable.

If you really believe, deep in your heart, that the person across the table is sane, emotionally healthy, terrific, and just right for you, then by all means dive in as deeply and as quickly as you like. But trust any voices that are suggesting that you should slow down and take your time. They might be on to something.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The laundry list

A lot of people make the mistake of creating a huge laundry list of attributes that their prospective partner should have, or have not. The ability to create your own profile and choose from a seemingly infinite supply of potential partners (ignoring geographic and demographic realities) make it awfully tempting to order yourself up a perfect mate. Detail by detail, your lover becomes more and more wonderful.

The problem is, nobody is quite like your fantasy. It's simple math: if 30% have Attribute A, and 20% of those have attribute B, and 50% of those have attribute doesn't take many attributes before the odds become staggeringly high against anybody having all of them. And all you've succeeded in doing is turning off any number of people who don't pass muster, according to your profile.

The thing is, you don't really care about most of that stuff. Trust me, you don't. You might think you care about a lot of it, but if somebody is fun and terrific and makes you laugh and is nice to you and you find yourself wanting to be around them, all of a sudden your fantasy will start looking more and more like that person, and less and less like the imaginary character you described in your profile.

Here's the list of what you should care about:

(1) Do you genuinely respect each other?
(2) Is your prospective partner generally kind and considerate? (Note that these are two slightly different things. A person can be kind-hearted without always being considerate, and a person can be considerate and follow the right protocol without being particularly kind).
(3) Are you compatible in terms of lifestyle and philosophy? You should be on the same page about kids, and either agree on things like politics and religion or be comfortable with your differences.
(4) Do you find yourself fundamentally attracted to the other person? Note that they need not necessarily fit your original perceptions of physical beauty. If you want to move in their direction and end up in the same bed, that's all you need. For example, a lot of women think they want a taller man, and a lot of men think they want a shorter woman. But if you move beyond the initial impression, you might be surprised how attractive someone can become.
(5) Do you genuinely enjoy the other person's company, and will you continue to over time?

And that's pretty much it. Note that nowhere in this list is any mention of having the same tastes, or the same activities in common. If you meet all five criteria for each other, you don't need that stuff. Nobody said you had to be the same people, or spend every minute of every day together. Your time apart and your differences will give you that much more to talk about.

You can quibble about something you think I've left off, but the larger point is the same: there are very few things that really matter, and among them are each of the things I've listed.

It might take time to figure it all out, but until and unless you can check off every item on that list, then forget about how gorgeous your date is, or what superficial things you have in common. Turn in the other direction. If on the other hand you can check off the entire list, then you can stop listing. And if they can check it off, too, then away you go...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The cocktail party

Think of internet dating as a giant cocktail party with lots of unmarried people. In the early stages of any interaction, you're in essentially the same place you'd be with a successful flirtation at a party. It's fun, all right, but you really don't know where you stand.

One of the things that I think a lot of people struggle with in online dating is the burden of expectations.

You've advertised your availability by virtue of having a profile up, and you've advertised your interest by either contacting someone or by responding positively to their contact. In old-fashioned courtship, of course, we're generally a bit more coy than that. But now you and the mark have already indicated mutual interest. So there's mutual interest, and a nice correspondence, and maybe even a fun coffee date. Full speed ahead on the romance, right?

Of course not (but you knew that). What's going on? Who knows? The point is that, as with the person at the party, you know very little at this stage, and you shouldn't be assuming too much.

There might be somebody else waiting in the wings. Important point in internet dating: assume there's someone in the wings. There's either somebody they've already been out with, or someone who's caught their eye who they haven't yet been out with. It's not right or wrong; it's just the landscape.

They might like you, and think you're a hoot, and think you're hot, and all sorts of other good things, but they might be wary -- maybe you've got some deal-breaker that makes a serious relationship with them problematic.

They might have a secret, dark or otherwise, that they're withholding for tactical reasons, like they're considering an out-of-state job but want to keep their dating options open in case they stay.

The point is that you don't know where you stand, and shouldn't expect much. Just enjoy the party, enjoy the sense of possibility, keep an open mind, and keep mingling. If that one great conversation leads somewhere, great, but if it doesn't, don't be surprised or hurt. (We'll spot you a bit of disappointment, however...)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Here's why

If you're single and reading this, you'd probably like a partner. You might be doing fine without one, but we're social creatures by nature, and almost all of us want someone to hold us, to talk to us, and to stand beside us. We are happiest when we have strong and successful relationships with other human beings. And generally speaking, strong, successful romantic relationships make us the happiest of all.

So how do you find a partner? We know a fair number of single women of a certain age, and a consistent theme that we hear from them is that they want to meet a guy the old-fashioned way. But none of them seem to notice that they rarely actually meet guys that way. Which is why internet dating exists in the first place.

Sure, you might meet someone in the course of your everyday life, and that should be part of your dating strategy. (A second part of your strategy should be to get over the word strategy, as though there's something horribly unromantic about it.)

Important note: having an actual romance is way more romantic than not having one, regardless of how it was arranged.

The simple fact is that you can find and contact a lot more prospective partners online than you can by going to work and back, and going out a couple of times a week, and waiting to see what happens. How many interesting prospects have you met that way this week? Yeah, that's what I thought. But if you were using the right online dating service, and logged on right now, you'd have between a few and a bunch to sift through, just like that.

In four years of dating before I met Nancy, I'd estimate that I met four times as many women online as I did in the course of my everyday life, and I was going out and doing different things all the time. Of course, Nancy was one of the ones I met online, and it scarcely bears mentioning that there's no way I'd have met her the old-fashioned way.

I hope you'll concede that internet dating is likely as efficient a way as any to identify prospective candidates. What remains, then, is to overcome your objections. If you keep reading this blog, we just might get you over those...