Nathan Thompson writes about his experiences with online dating, and how the stories we weave about people we haven’t met in person can sometimes lose their luster in the face of reality.
Online dating. It’s fast becoming a mainstay of 21st century dating practice, for better or worse. Over the past seven years, I have done three stints on various dating websites. What has that given me? Lots of experience meeting strangers. Some headaches. And a fair number of life lessons. Here’s one: it’s really, really easy to get caught up in stories about someone you have never met.
You read a person’s online profile, see their photos, have a few e-mails filled with enjoyable conversation about topics you are mutually interested in, and suddenly you’re in love. And that’s just the beginning of the tale spinning. Maybe you actually meet the person, have a great conversation over coffee or dinner, and by the time you reach home that night, you’ve planned out the next three years of your life with the other. She’s “the one!” He’s “Mr. Right!” You’re gonna get married, have babies, travel the world together. Then you wake up, and a phone call or e-mail message drops you right back to earth. “Thank you for dinner last night. I don’t think I’d be interested in seeing you again. Best of luck.”
I remember several years ago, when I first tried online dating, exchanging a couple of e-mails with a woman who was juggling a job, being a single mother, and few other things I can’t remember. She seemed really nice, we shared a lot in common, and I started to get excited about meeting her. My long relationship drought was almost over, I thought. I was even imagining spending time with her kid already, playing games in her apartment (which I never had seen before).
The day finally comes for the first date and I’m sitting there at a table outside a local coffee shop and she comes up to me, says hi, and then her cell phone rings. It’s her ex. They start arguing about something having to do with the kid. I’m listening to her talk to the guy. She sounds a bit like a mother, a forceful mother. Not a good sign.
Finally, she hangs up and we have coffee together. A nice conversation, but I’m still sort of wary, given what I had witnessed. We part ways, agreeing to go out again.
A week or so later, I meet her for dinner a favorite restaurant of mine. Things are going ok, but I suddenly start to sense that voice she was using with her ex creeping into our conversation. We were talking about the new non-profit I had just co-developed with some friends of mine, and I was getting the sense that she felt I’d be “better off getting a good job” instead of devoting time to that project. Given that I hadn’t landed the teaching job I would be at for years yet, it wasn’t the worst comment someone could make. And if that had been it, it wouldn’t have been an issue to me. But suddenly, other comments started appearing that suggested to me that she was used to be in charge in her relationships, and being something of a caretaker of the men she dated. Comments about clothing choices for example, and the length of my hair (which was fairly long back then).
The thing is, she wasn’t saying all of this because she didn’t like me. She was the one who asked for another date at the end of dinner, and I went because I was less experienced than I am now, and more desperate as well.
However, anyone who knows me knows that this wasn’t going to work. The third date ended with me basically showing a lack of interest. We even had a small disagreement about some political issue, but I still think she believed we’d keep going out because she was surprised when I e-mailed her the next day saying I wasn’t interested in going out again.
These days, I tend to cut those stories off at the pass. Not that they never happen, but I have learned that you really have no idea until you meet someone. And that’s ok.