I’ll never forget the last time I tried online dating.
I’d gotten out of a committed relationship, and I was excited to test the waters again.
Because once upon a time, I knew online dating inside and out. I’d written a mini-book about it called Your Guide to Online Dating and was the featured expert for a now-defunct online dating site.
And I had the personal experience to back it up. I’d online dated in three different countries. I’d experimented with my profile using scientific rigor. (One of my favorites was a compatibility quiz, where men had to send me their answers before I divulged mine.)
Online dating didn’t just find me relationships. It found me friends. It was a different time, when folks hopped on those sites because they wanted to meet new people. Expanding my social circle felt effortless.
Then life swept me away, and I didn’t look at an online dating site for over a decade.
In those ten years, a lot happened.
Tinder, for one.
I don’t swipe. It reminds me too much of the old days of Hot or Not.
I’d seen the disconnect between what a person looks like online and what they look like in real life. As you know, profile pictures lie. The only people who look good in them have practiced in front of the camera way too much.
So I was excited to test out the waters of good old-fashioned Match.com again. I wondered whether anything would have changed since last time I was online. Would there be scads of handsome men, since 40% of singles are now dating online?
Oh, the shocker…
Perhaps I can blame the mistiness of memory for forgetting one crucial fact about online dating:
When you go onto an online dating site, you immediate revert back to high school.
No matter how mature you are. No matter how much experience you have. No matter how much you prefer conversation over eye candy…
Online dating is high school all over again.
There are a handful of men and women who get all the hits, and then the undifferentiated masses.
Online dating makes people pickier. The more options you think you have, the more likely you are to dismiss anyone who doesn’t fit your preferences—even if your perfect match isn’t the least bit interested in you.
It’s like falling in love with the captain of the football team. You know he’s going to date a cheerleader, but you can’t help it. You can’t look past that chiseled chin and toothpaste-ad smile to see the kind geek in math class who secretly adores you.
I’d forgotten I had that in me.
My eye immediately went to the guy who’d had professional photos done—and probably had help crafting his profile, too.
He looked too good to be true. Loved his mom, owned his own business, volunteered, ran marathons, and was looking for that one right girl.
I browsed the other suggested matches, clicking not interested on every single one before I realized what I was doing.
I’d let Mr. Picture Perfect raise the bar.
His skillful presentation made every other guy look like an average dull Joe by comparison.
Worse yet, my sneaky mind kept popping up with annoying little messages. “Has he seen your profile yet? Go online and see. Maybe you should write him first. Get back online and try!”
I was back in high school again, doodling hearts in the margin of my notebook.
I was a grown woman. I wasn’t looking for a man to complete me.
And yet my mind had taken this one image and run away with it.
Embarrassing. Seriously embarrassing.
Mr. Picture Perfect didn’t message me back.
After 24 hours of listening to my mind’s incessant nudges, I did go back online. I looked at his profile a little more closely. I saw a few red flags I’d missed the first time around, including his preference for “girls” in their 20s and 30s.
I was no girl. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to be with someone who was looking for a girl instead of a woman.
Here’s what I learned from the experience:
You can’t let your teen brain run the show.
All of us are old enough now to realize that a picture can’t sum up who we are. A picture can’t sum up who he is, either. Judging someone on the basis of their online dating profile is like judging them on the the quality of their résumé.
It’s something I wish men understood, too. I’ve had guys on these sites tell me with their very first message that I’m their dream girl.
You don’t know me! I want to tell them. You’ve just seen my profile. It isn’t me. Don’t get so excited.
But online dating wouldn’t be so popular if it didn’t feed those sorts of fantasies. Nothing is better than imagining a life with someone you’ve never met but can picture so clearly in your head.
A word from the wise?
That kind geek in math class might grow up to be the next tech millionaire. The captain of the football team might end up selling used cars and growing a beer belly. We can’t predict who we’ll be happiest with.
We have to do the work of meeting people in person and spending time with them and connecting with them before allowing ourselves to take that next step of fantasizing about a life with them.
And that guy I thought was so perfect?
He did end up messaging me back in the end. We went out on a date, and I discovered that he was just an ordinary guy. Not even half as cool as me. Good thing I only wasted a day of my life fantasizing over him. 😉