Are We Addicted To Hope?

Oh, what promises abound in the world of online dating!

Behind every miniature digital face is an opportunity, the potential for thrilling heart connection, laughter-filled friendships, amazing sex, or D&Ms while strolling along a riverbank.

It can feel overwhelming, like being stuck in a supermarket with endless aisles and too much choice. But don’t be misled by this illusion of variety. Most of what’s on offer is not worth a cent. It’s facile, duplicitous, fake in every sense. To get to the genuine gold it requires a lot of digging. This can be very time consuming and before long, you can find your daily life subsumed by messaging, checking for messages or scrolling through a multitude of faces or profiles. This all takes its toll.

And yet the allure of potential is what often keeps us coming back for more.

Addictive and ‘hyper-real’

Chatting to people on dating apps can easily become addictive and ‘hyper-real’. This ‘blog is in some ways a chronicle of that addiction, and my very first online liaison was the perfect example. I’m almost embarrassed to recount this story because I was such a newbie and so totally clueless.

I’d just uploaded one profile picture on Skout, together with a very brief personal description. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but I know it was brief. As a professional copywriter it was probably meant to be intriguing and succinct, but I was new to the self-marketing business and so it probably didn’t tick any of the key boxes.

However, my phone had been pinging all afternoon at work, so that evening I sat down to go through the prospects.

There was a clear standout that weekend, and I was caught unawares by the arresting power of someone else’s desire.

He spent the entire Saturday and most of Sunday messaging me and of course I was eager to respond. He was almost 20 years my junior and wearing my rose-tinted glasses, I thought he was gorgeous. A little rough round the edges, but sexy, passionate, tall and manly, but shy and more than a little awkward. This was all fine, because he was the first!

There was no one to compare him with, no benchmark of normality and no holding back either!

The banter and the sexual tension built steadily over the 48 hours and by the Sunday evening, I was firmly ‘besotted’ by this 32-year-old mechanic. By now, we were messaging constantly between 7.00 in the morning and 9.00 at night (his bedtime). He was well behaved as he learnt early that I didn’t tolerate boundary crossing. I compared myself to a nervous wild pony, whinnying with excitement but flighty and skittish. (He loved this analogy). So there were no dickpics or semi-naked sexting, just bonding, innuendo and by the Monday, blatant desire barely concealing our yearning.

I say ‘yearning’ because, back then, I was fresh meat, and also pretty fresh out of a long marriage, so it was all new and sexy as hell. As for him, I think he was desperate to forget being jilted and sexually betrayed by his ex, as well as keen for a good old-fashioned root (to use his lingo). There seemed to be a heavy emotional component too, but who knows how genuine that was?

By the end of Day 5, the UST (unresolved sexual tension) was almost at fever pitch. We decided to meet on Sunday. That day, it felt like the most important event on my annual calendar, and after some last-minute child-minding problems, I arrived at our destination: a quiet part of the botanic gardens in my city.

Botanic garden archway

I’ll be blunt – it was a shock. He didn’t exactly look like his photos, but only because he’d taken no care whatsoever in his appearance. Sure, he was the same size and age, but in the cold hard light of day, he didn’t look as attractive.

His photos hadn’t revealed his food-infested teeth, bad breath, two-week old stubble nor his unwashed body odour and daggy tracky dacks. Then there was his body language and manner – this was the man who’d been lusting and groaning about me, as well as painting optimistic pictures of the relationship we’d have. He could barely meet my eye, and seemed aloof and embarrassed. Lesson number one – to use his phrase – it’s easy to be a keyboard warrior. It’s a lot harder face to face to manifest the false persona you’ve created.

Being the people person I am and especially as a communications professional, I managed to slowly squeeze a stilted sort of conversation out of him over the three hours we spent together. It was abundantly clear that his reclusive, real-life personality was nothing like the confident, sexy man I’d expected. To his credit (um, I guess?), he did grope me and tried to stick his hands down my pants.

So, it was also blindingly obvious that we were totally unsuited. You might not be surprised when I tell you that I didn’t run a mile or ‘ghost’ him, newbie that I was. Instead, in the hours following this first meeting, I examined my feelings of being duped, being sold a bum deal – that I’d fallen (however lamely and superficially) for someone who didn’t exist.

The fantasy I’d developed over just that one week (or approximately 98 hours) had such a strong hold on me that even when he turned brutish and nasty a few days later, I still held onto a half-baked notion that we could somehow make it work.

It should have been a salutary lesson but it was not one I learned quickly.

This build-up of intimacy online can happen quite suddenly and if we’re honest, unrealistically. We all know deep in our sensible selves that you can’t start chatting with someone and understand them deeply, trust them with your life or want to shack up with them forever after.

In my first year on the dating apps, I kept being sucked into this dynamic over and over again, but I couldn’t see it. Even after I recognised the dangers, it was difficult to stop repeating the pattern. I gave men a chance when I should have politely declined. I was blind to their glaringly obvious faults and fixated on the idea that playing the field meant exploring EVERY opportunity I could get. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration but you get my point? I’m a lot wiser to my weaknesses now.

After only a couple of days messaging intensely, it’s possible or even likely that a ‘false intimacy’ develops.

When combined with physical attraction, it can be a potent mix of ‘fantasy pheromones’ and a tender hopefulness that so many of us carry within. This is risky territory.

Intimacy is built and maintained in the ‘hyper-reality’ of initial online liaisons in a number of ways: the showering or steady drip-feeding of compliments, attention, and the sheer amount of time spent ‘chatting’ with someone. It’s good advice to be wary of these tactics, as narcissists and psychopaths use them to do real damage. Love bombing is now a thing.

“Romance, real romance – being courted and wooed on screen and in messages and letters – is a thing difficult to say no to,” writes Stella Grey of The Guardian in her column about looking for love at age 50.

“It’s especially difficult when you are sad. It’s easy to fall for someone over email. Things can accelerate way too fast, especially if you’re both accelerators. What is difficult is following through into life. The closer email conversation brought us, the more risk there was that a real encounter would be the beginning of a big letdown.”

I’m still a bit obsessed about what this social media-enhanced experience of ‘relationships’ in the 21st Century means. I read everything I come across, I lap up other people’s stories or roll my eyes in knowing agreement. I share the highs and lows and I feel their pain. After all, I’ve been there. I think we can all benefit from sharing and getting the word out about what the traps are here in the online dating world.

I’m reminded time and time again that finding like-minded people is not easy.

Authentic, mentally healthy men and women who are prepared to open their hearts are rare and precious. Finding people with common interests, compatible free time and a relationship status that works with mine is also a challenge.

And that’s another whole new topic!

 

PS – This story is one I’ve revisited and revised from the early archives of this blog, back when I had just a few scattered visitors. If you’re a new reader, I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

If You’re New to Dating, Work Out What You Don’t Want

From the beginning of my journey into online dating, I knew what I didn’t want. The list was extensive.

What I definitely didn’t want:

  1. A conventional relationship
  2. Boring, humdrum or ‘average’
  3. Rudeness, poor communication, poor spelling, arrogance
  4. To create a list of all the qualities I sought in a man, or needed in a relationship
  5. Dinner dates, assumptions or expectations about my time and our status
  6. Just one lover
  7. I didn’t even necessarily want a man my age.

Instead, I wanted novelty, flirtatious, rambunctious fun! I wanted kissing! I wanted lots of touch. I wanted to be pursued as if I really mattered, hunted down and staked out on the ground to be ravished. Well, maybe not literally, but you get the gist. I wanted lots of other things too, but at that early stage I couldn’t name them.

In hindsight, I was a fairly typical midlife woman out to reclaim her sexuality and experiences of youth and dating! I was fed up with feeling ignored and unseen by my ex, feeling like ‘a mother’, or ‘a colleague’ or ‘a friend’. I wanted my time in the sun feeling sexy and desired – to release my inner cheeky, flirtatious self.

Back then (about 4 years ago), this was not really a thing, but now I find these rebellious women in all corners of the interweb writing about their amazing experiences of finding life again. Life after divorce, or still loving life being single.

Idealistically at first, I dipped my toe into this new dating world. You can picture me as wide-eyed and relatively innocent at the start but gradually I became wiser, more familiar with online dating patterns and common issues and sadly, somewhat jaded.

Online dating is not for the faint-hearted

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

If there was just one point in my favour when I began dating online, it might be this: I didn’t have any preconceptions.

I was a wide-open book and also wide open to experiences. My internal regulator, and sometimes my quality metre, were on the blink. I was far too forgiving, generous of my time and body, in the beginning. Once I described myself as a shy, flighty pony unused to handling – neigh!

I hadn’t touched another man in more than 20 years and frankly, I was curious. I soon became very focused on sex, which is probably a natural result of the novelty and choice that flooded into my life (and inbox).

But it’s one thing to be focused on sex and quite another to manifest it into your everyday. I eased myself into the idea and reality of sex gently, resisting the potentially crippling doubt and embarrassment masquerading as a pervasive body loathing.

Readers often comment on how brave and fearless I seem but I can assure you, I am not a perfect visual feast of a woman; I have flaws just like anyone. I have experience and confidence but it can be easily shattered. I am never arrogant or stupidly self-assured because it’s pretty obvious (statistically at least) that men online consider 22 as the golden age. The further a woman drifts from this magical number, the fewer her dating chances. Unfortunate fact.

It was a balm to the bruised ego; being appreciated and desired by others can be immensely healing. Each of my stories, and the men behind them played a part in helping me to examine my own limiting beliefs or prejudices about my body. Some men played a huge role in freeing my sexuality, and they stayed in my life for a long time.

From the outset, a part of me wanted instant intimacy along with satisfying sex – and that was never going to happen, so I was setting myself up for disappointment. It’s very rare that you can meet a stranger and feel immediately close to them, ‘connected’ in a genuine way. It usually takes time to get to know their character, personality, likes and dislikes, and to build rapport.

And while there’s nothing wrong with relationships that are primarily sexual, I wasn’t sure if I could do that. I was soon about to find out.

During the first year of online dating, my positive ‘never-say-die’ attitude kept me buoying back up and most of the time, I could heartily laugh about it. You need a sense of humour to face all the bigotry thrown at women and girls! This begins as soon as we become sexual beings (if we’re allowed to), continues after we become mothers (maternal and definitely non-sexual). It’s perpetuated after we reach a certain age (so the story goes, non-sexual and invisible).

As with trying anything new, especially something as risky and daring as plunging into dating again, it’s realistic to remember The Learning Curve.

We all start out as somewhat innocent, no matter our age. We all think we know what we’re doing – especially if we’ve had a long relationship – but it’s possible that we don’t!

Debrief with trusted friends

I regularly shared experiences with people close to me but I was careful which ones. Only a few understood where I was at, and talking to people who have experience here really helped.

People who’ve been partnered forever just don’t get it. They can be judgey or just plain unrealistic. My two main ‘go-to gals’ listened to my excitement, my confusion and my tears, as I listened to their stories. One dear friend helped me to express my feelings about the socio-political in the every day, which is a big interest that I share on this blog.

I’m very grateful for these support networks, because to deal with the online dating world alone would be suffocating. It also helped to have women I could have a laugh with, or ask ‘curly’ questions (like, how come so many men ask about the status of my pubic hair?!)

In more recent times, since starting my own blog, I’ve discovered the balm that is the WordPress community online – fellow/sister bloggers who share their dating disappointments and excitements. We all open our hearts and use words to reach out, to document, to express and to understand what we’re going through. Thank goodness for that, it’s yet another example of the twin sides of technology: we see the crap, and we see the good stuff too.

 

PS – This story is one I’ve revisited and revised from the early archives of this blog, back when I had just a few scattered visitors. If you’re a new reader, I hope you’ve enjoyed it.