~Part 1~ is here. Or just scroll down, lazy.
It’ll be clear from the first part that these paragraphs are mainly based on the conversations, the note-comparing, the analysis that went on while doing the dating site thing.
So for part two here are some of the recurring key debates for your education and consideration. How fun.
To play it safe or not to play it safe
The obvious thing when starting out on dating sites is to be terribly polite, terribly normal – an eager and interested blank page, like a daytime talk-show host at a business networking event.
This, I discovered, is wrong. Or at least it seemed to be for me – about a month in, one of my fellow dating-siters told me he was despondent about how women just weren’t getting his sense of humour. As soon as he dared say something a bit quirky they did the online-messaging equivalent of a nervous, blank look before disappearing altogether. He resolved to play it safer, keep up the “normal”, at least until they met in person.
But I was in an altogether different place. I’d decided, hell, screw it, if they don’t get my off-kilter asides and dry bon-mots from the off, they never would.
There was a reason for this beyond my own massive ego, mind. I’d spent a while doing the usual bland small talk, and it hadn’t really got me very far after the initial interest. I felt I wasn’t living up to my oh-so witty and self-deprecating profile – and worse, I was boring myself. How come, after a couple of back and forth exchanges to get the basics out of the way, I’ve ended up telling her about my f***ing commute to work, ffs? Why are we discussing things neither of us, quite clearly, give a crap about? This is not a good start.
Then, someone popped up who responded to my (very minimal, as I wasn’t sure I was really interested) initial prod with a distinctly kooky and vaguely sarcastic come back – and that was it. Suddenly I was interested. Never mind the “I do this for work, blah-blah, my commute is long” woman I was talking to, I wanted to talk to this one. There’s fun to be had here, I thought. So I, uh… told her about my commute. But in a way that was funnier. The conversation zipped along, it zinged, it fizzed, she was fun and suddenly things seemed to be happening.
Another time someone else appeared online with what can only be described as an utter piss-take of a profile - all “My hobbies include having feelings of self-loathing over baked beans” and “I hate to travel – who doesn’t, right?” and I was instantly smitten, even though she was too far away to be a realistic option.
Now, I suppose if you’re a hot female you can get away with being a bit more “out-there” than if you’re just some average-looking bloke like me – but all the same it was not lost on me that the people who stood out and got my interest were the people who played it light, honest and slightly knowing (ie piss-takey), and I resolved to be the same. It was simply a lot more fun than all this earnest “let’s compare notes and see if we’re suitable life-partners” stuff. And I got a lot further with it – that was very much a game I could play.
To facebook-friend or not to facebook-friend
On the one hand it would seem to save a lot of time and effort – why not invite ‘em into your everyday social media world? But it’s a massive, massive gamble, because, if you’re a regular user like me, you will have put a hell of a lot of yourself online and that’s going to be a hell of a lot for someone to take in all at once.
Rather than the natural slow drip-feed of getting to know each other, it’s like slapping each other with a family photo album of embarrassing pictures, forthright opinions and stupid in-jokes with friends, which is just as likely to alienate as endear. I was naively confident that I’d appear like a witty, interesting man doing interesting things with witty friends on the ‘book. But to a complete stranger with no context whatsoever, who the hell knows what it would look like? You may know your social-media self is but a warped caricature of you, but they will not. And who knows what state the constantly changing stream of nonsense will be in when they check it?
One of my friends (an artist with a love the female form) quickly regretted doing the “hey, find me on facebook” thing when it dawned on him what this poor, innocent woman had been faced with: “When asking girls you met on dating sites to find you on facebook, remember not to have a friends list full of burlesque dancers, lots of pictures of women in the nip and a status with the phrase 'If in doubt whip it out'. Needless to say, she hasn’t added me,” he said.
Nevertheless, maybe it’s not such a terrible thing. It’s a good test – if she’s still interested after clicking through your horrible photos and boggling at the oddball content of your wall, then that’s a pretty good sign.
And at least it’s even – you can see hers too. That can help you establish things like x) you may have no idea how you would fit into her life, but y) she says some funny things and is clearly not a hideous idiot, and z) most importantly she has a good ratio of good pictures to bad, so on balance she probably is actually hot in real life. Pursue.
To message much or not to message much
On balance, it’s probably best to meet up ASAP, and not a good idea to spend too long chatting online first.
Because it’s sad but true that, no matter how amazingly you think you get along in text, you simply never know how that will translate face-to-face.
On the one hand it’s not completely useless – if you’ve spent a couple of weeks chatting, laughing, and flinging information and observations at each other, you will at least know there is something there to build on. On some level you get each other and can communicate. And being someone who “writes”, I’m fairly comfortable and confident about coming across well in that medium.
But I’m aware I can also get ahead of myself – it can take a while for me to realize what I think is a terribly witty and zinging conversation is actually mostly me amusing myself and her just making (possibly bored) encouraging noises. I can happily carry on “hilarious banter” with just myself, really. All she needs to do is pop her head into the room and go “uhuh” and “haha” now and again. With no face and body language to tell you, you can think your material is going down better than it is.
And people often have different personas in writing to in person, it never completely prepares you for the sometimes jarring meet-up in the flesh. No matter how much you have been messaging, nor how many pictures you have seen, people are never quite the same as you imagined – mannerisms, voice, attitude and all. You are then faced with a weird decision to make – you knew you fancied the person you thought they were, but do you fancy the person they actually are?
It can be a bit deflating when your new exciting love interest of the past few weeks turns out to be a figment of your imagination. So because of this, I decided, along with prevailing wisdom, that maybe chat should always be kept to an absolute minimum – in fact if it wasn’t for stupid society and its stupid conventions, I’d happily wade right in with “When are we meeting up then? Day, time, place, let’s go, I ain’t got time to f*** about.”
Which is kind of what one woman did to one of my fellow dating-siters. After they “liked” each other she told him she was no good at web-chat and they should immediately set a date. A bit functional maybe, but refreshingly bullshit-free, no messing about, no false hopes raised, all done and dusted with the minimum of fuss. There’s a lot to be said for that.
But there’s a downside to that also, he pointed out – it puts massive pressure on the date itself. At least when you’ve done plenty of web-chat leg-work you feel like you’ve properly given each other a chance. You can be satisfied you’re not just making a decision based on an hour or so of awkward random first-meeting small-talk, which may be grossly misrepresentative if, for whatever reason, you’re not on form on the day.
It’s got to be said, if much messaging is done first, it makes for a much more easy and relaxed first meeting – as you already know each other a bit and you’ve got topics of conversation up and running. It’s pretty safe that you’ll get on ok and it won’t be horrible, romantic future or no. Maybe a quick meet up over a drink, with no little or no foreplay, is the quickest, easiest, most practical solution – but I can’t help feeling it’s missing something, and just not enough.
To big date or small date?
Though saying that, I’m in two minds. When I first entered into it I was keen to go all out - dinner, drinks, days out; zoo, art gallery, hill walking, whatever – maybe break the mold I thought, be inventive, have new experiences. But I must say as time has gone on I have downgraded to a more cautious “coffee is probably fine”.
The reason for that is just the realization that really, all you want is the chance to talk a bit, establish you are not weirdos, see if there’s any spark, and that’s it. Anything is else is just (possibly expensive) dressing, additional pressure, and doesn’t necessarily help.
As one friend commented on part one (you can go check): “The trick to internet dating is to keep the emphasis on dating. You’re not choosing a life partner there and then, you’re just asking someone to grab a coffee and chat nervously for a bit.” That's advice that I should really, probably take, probably. Really.
Another friend insists that a first date should never last longer than an hour, but I don’t necessarily agree with that. Maybe you should not plan for longer than an hour, but if you get on, who knows? In my (ok, limited) experience the best dates are the ones that linger, that become an adventure, that neither of you want to end – obvious, really, but you can’t plan for that. One of my friends famously had a 36 hour first date. Or a 10 year one, she says, because she never really went home again.
The truth is there is clearly no “right way” to have a date. Everyone responds differently to different things. If you get on and the will is there, whatever you do is likely to be charming and fine. If you don’t, or it isn’t, you’ll blame it on all sorts of things. It’s alchemical. Who can say?
So how successful was I? And how do I feel about it now? Well, I’m not hearing no wedding bells anywhere in the near, or even distant future, let’s put it that way. I think I have exhausted the pool on the site that I’m on – having gone with one of the less mainstream sites, the volume of people is not massive, and nor is the turnover.
Part of the problem is living in a small provincial town. You do a search for people including the nearest city and you get pages and pages of eligible types. You narrow it to 25 miles around where you live and there are, like, 10 – three of whom you recognize as people you already know. You quickly work out you may have to travel if you want to get a date.
When I first signed up I was getting a lot of interest, but that seems to have tailed off dramatically – mainly because I’ve seen everyone and everyone’s seen me and who’s interested in who (or otherwise) is now already kind of settled. I’ve reached stalemate. I’m now just waiting for new people to show up to pounce on. But I have also kind of lost interest, in a been-there-done-that kind of fashion, and of course, with these sites you only get out what you put in.
But it’s been an experience, and a confidence boosting, perspective changing one – at least I’ve felt like I’ve tried (a bit), encountered some interesting people along the way, and learnt quite a lot about other people’s attitudes, hopes and fears with regards to romance and dating. I don’t feel anywhere near as odd and isolated as I did, now secure in the first-hand knowledge that a massive amount of people out there are all struggling with exactly the same thing.
“So what’s the next step?” asked a friend of mine (who swiftly and happily met his partner of the best part of year on such a site).
“My next step?” I said, pausing for thought. “Well, die alone, I ‘spose,” I told him.
But I didn’t mean it. Maybe I’ll try a different site. Or maybe, what the hell, make a tiny bit more effort in the real world.
~end Part 2~