It takes energy and a certain level of commitment to give online dating a red-hot try. It might seem like an easy step to download an app or register on a dating site, but trust me, before too long you’ll have a lot invested in that choice, and no idea of what it will cost you. I don’t mean dollars and cents cost either – I mean what it will cost your peace of mind, your sanity and your faith in the human race.
This might seem like a downbeat start to an article about dating, which is supposed to be fun, right?
Dating IS fun, it has the potential to be hilarious and energising, but like everything, there’s a downside. The flipside to the good stuff is part of its magical appeal. The things we go through to find companionship, sex, romance or relationships – all perfectly human needs – can also have the potential to drive you crazy with frustration, or eventually lead to a jaded lethargy and a belief that you will always be alone.
That’s probably not true. There are plenty of fabulous people on dating sites but mixed up with them are the ones you want to give a wide berth. Telling the difference is the key.
Be yourself and don’t fake it
This might seem like obvious advice, but there are many ways to put up a front or pretend that your something you’re not. Being authentic was a major drawcard and bottom line for me. I wanted someone genuine who had a high degree of emotional intelligence (EQ) to go along with the other qualities on my wishlist. It wasn’t a long or unrealistic wishlist and it just covered some basics particular to me.
It turns out that faking it is a lot more complex to detect than I’d ever have realised. It took me months to learn how to spot a catfisher, a romance scammer and even a player. People can be such good liars, and half the problem is that men think women want to hear certain things so rather than just admit what’s on their mind, they concoct a story. It goes something like this: “I’m looking for a relationship, definitely not a one-off”. If you’re a woman and you admit to seeking casual sex, you will be judged, often by double standards.
To spot a catfisher or romance scammer is quite simple. Remember that if someone seems too good to be true, they probably are. Ask them to take a selfie just for you – come up with something unique (eg holding up three fingers or poking out their tongue) – and send it to you in real time. Doing live video chat is also a good way to verify someone’s physical identity, but that takes a certain level of energy and interest, as you will obviously also be visible and that may not be convenient.
Once you have a physical identity confirmed you also need to be wary of requests for money of any kind, and behaviour that quickly escalates into adoration or declarations of love.
It’s incredible how common sense flies out of the window when we’re faced with seemingly genuine over-the-top interest from a prospective mate. While some dating advisors who focus on avoiding scammers say you shouldn’t move to a chat app like Kik (100% anonymous) or What’s App (you have to give out your mobile number), in my experience most dating sites have an unfriendly and clunky chatting interface. I had no problems moving to Kik, which was my preferred identity-safe option. Do not give out your phone number unless you’ve met in person and you have some level of trust. You can still be harassed even after blocking numbers by the stalker calling you from a private line, which can’t be identified or blocked.
Stay local and don’t even bother with people on the other side of the world
If they don’t live in your town or place, forget it. As much as you might think you’d be prepared for a long-distance relationship, in reality, what you’d be signing up for is sexting and heartbreak – or disappointment and another notch in the jade-coloured belt. Dating sites are chock full of guys who want to sext or string you along until the moment they’ve got you invested in the idea of them. After that point, you’ll get the dick pics or sexy stories, role-playing or requests for some bare flesh.
As a newbie you’d be forgiven for being blind to the complex ways people can hook you, ready to reel you in when it suits them. Fact: Most relationships rely on face-to-face, in-person contact to thrive and survive. If their arrival at your place isn’t imminent or they expect you to pay for a ticket to their country, back off and cut the connection. Better still, block any attempts from people further than, say a 50km radius, to contact you. It’s easy to get hooked as I found out many times.
Even when I chatted to guys with the sole intention of flirting fun and chat, no catching feelings, things quickly went sour. Though it’s hilarious fun and great for the ego, chatting with tens of people at the one time can be complicated. Once you’ve whittled down the list to the people who attract you the most – a certain rapport, their looks or body, their way with words or humour – you’ll be left with a subset of people who have the capacity to cause you pain.
You know in your mind that it will never lead anywhere, but if you let things brew and ripen, you’ll be left with a yearning for someone you don’t actually know and who isn’t anywhere nearby to genuinely spend time with. There’s nothing so frustrating as longing for someone who isn’t there – believe me, I’ve done my time in long-distance relationships and they suck.
Have a short but firm list of non-negotiables
There’s something wild and free about going into dating with an open mind. A lot of people fresh out of long-term relationships think they’re up for anything – but this probably doesn’t include getting fucked over by a narcissist, or getting ripped off by a scammer. And certainly not getting messed around, lied to, used on false pretences, or having your precious time wasted.
There are a lot of timewasters on dating sites, along with all the sociopaths and people with strong narcissistic tendencies.
Along with random, unsolicited dickpics, the internet is powered by lies, fake news and hope-stealers. Best have some house rules and stick to them right from the getgo. I’d suggest something like the dating behaviour matching promoted by Matthew Hussey, where you respond with the same sense of urgency as the person you’re chatting to (within reason – if they spend all day online and expect you to be available 24/7 that’s ridiculous). It works like this – in the initial spark of excitement, you text like crazy back and forth, but then they might start ignoring your message or delaying a response, perhaps not replying for a couple of days. So next time you reply, you match their response time and tone. If they cool off, so do you.
On your list of non-negotiables should also be a rule that you will meet face-to-face within a couple of weeks, max. Stringing things out for longer than that is just tiresome, and I’d even go so far as suggesting a ban on all contact in-between-time if there is a seemingly legitimate reason why the object of your admiration can’t meet with you sooner. That way, you’re not all talked out and the textationship hasn’t devolved into risky territory (eg sexting and dickpics – which invariably mean someone isn’t genuinely interested in you as a person.)
You’ll have your own other deal-breakers too. These might include being single (eg no married or partnered peeps), being of the same sexual persuasion (eg hetero if you don’t want a bisexual lover), body type/height/build (whatever turns you on) or age range. I once had a firm rule that I wouldn’t talk to any cheeky young cubs under 20, but that went out the window when I got lured into textationships with young ‘uns who gave me a lot of laughs and confidence-building (who’d have thought guys so young would be interested in someone their mother’s age or older?!). Ultimately though, they wasted my time and energy.
Be prepared to get ghosted
Sadly, ghosting is a hallmark of modern post-internet relationships. I’ve written widely about it and I highly recommend also seeking out Esther Perel’s articles about this insidious and disrespectful way of ending a liaison.
When there are no personal consequences to just deleting or ignoring someone, people often take the easy way out.
Rather than have an awkward conversation, they ghost someone. Ghosting hurts and it’s disrespectful. It isn’t a mature way to treat another person and it leads to the behaviour being normalised by vast numbers of people across the planet. The old chestnut, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ applies now more than ever, and not only when it comes to ghosting.
Behaving respectfully when online is one of my touchstones – if I wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, I don’t say it via a keyboard. The best you can do when dipping your toe into the online dating world is to expect that some people will drop away without a word, sometimes in the middle of a text conversation or sometimes weeks or months later when they get bored or a better offer.
You may never know the reason why, so just walk away and disengage. People who do this once will invariably do it again, so don’t bother giving them a third chance to behave respectfully, which means communicating clearly, staying in touch and stating their intentions and/or feelings. A big thing I learned through online dating is that if we were all a lot clearer about this, life would be simpler!
Have fun and try not to overthink
Wouldn’t it be fabulous if we didn’t have to play stupid guessing games about whether or not that special someone likes us? Reality check – humans can’t always say what’s on their minds, communicate or be aware of their feelings, or take emotional risks. Maybe that’s part of the thrill anyway? New relationship energy is intoxicating, and that also goes for the thrill of the chase. All that potential is packed into every response and the way you interpret what they say and how they say it, and how quickly they say it! When you’re waiting for someone to text back, or confirm an actual date, or get online to chat, it can feel like forever, or even life and death.
Our rational mind knows it isn’t. We will probably have forgotten them in a month – and if a friendship has legs, you’ll get to meet and maybe even connect on a deeper level. Whether this is sexually or platonically, taking it slowly sometimes has merit. The sooner you have sexual contact with someone, the sooner it may end, or head south. And no, I don’t mean oral sex! I mean that for a lot of men after they’ve ‘conquered’ you, they lose interest. Women could be the same, or they might have different behaviours that reinforce the advice to take it slow. Sex really does change everything, and only sometimes for the better.
Accept that a lot of people online don’t have good intentions, but that you have a reasonable chance of meeting perfectly decent people as well.
If you’re clever about your filters (see points 1 to 4) and exercise some common sense and EQ, you can work through the nutters and time-wasters to find the gold in the rubble heap.
Go for the fun and excitement where you can, especially if no one is going to get hurt and it’s consensual and mutually rewarding. I’ve learned from online dating that a lot of men are only interested in pleasing themselves or what used to be called ‘sowing their wild oats’.
Casual sex through dating or NSA sex sites can be a temporary fix for a physical need, but if you’re not getting many of your own needs met, try something else. My (unconscious) motto used to be ‘try and try again’ and certainly I know many people who just keep getting back up to face the same old behaviour over and over.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you set your boundaries you can have fun (and safe sex) with lots of partners, build some amazing experiences and meet interesting people who would never have crossed your path if not for this technology we now take for granted.
You never know, you might even meet a serious partner or the love of your life, as I did.
PS – further reading
Here are some of my articles that touch on the slightly suspect topic of dating advice. I don’t give it, except to share my own experiences and what I’ve learned. Best of luck!