Online dating often gets a bad rap. And, at times, that reputation is warranted. But should we ditch it altogether? That was Beverly Hallberg's recommendation in a recent piece titled, “Why I’d Rather Die Alone Than Date Online.”
Hallberg does raise some real potential pitfalls to online dating: “It’s transactional, not relational”; “There’s no accountability”; and “It’s a full-time job.” While I agree with the author that these could be some all-too real pitfalls of online dating, I don’t think they are unavoidable.
The truth is, much like dating IRL, online dating can be done well, or it can be done poorly. And, without a doubt, the biggest factor that can make all the difference in your online dating experience is intention. But there’s a catch: not only do you have to date intentionally, but you also have to look for others who are dating intentionally, too.
So if you’re interested in dipping your toes into the online dating world—or looking for reasons not to give up on it quite yet—maybe my own experience will give you hope.
Keep It Relational
When I first signed up for online dating, I was a freshly-minted 21-year-old junior in college. A girlfriend of mine had been trying to talk me into it for months, and after returning from a semester abroad (and after sharing a couple “welcome home” glasses of wine in her dorm room), I finally acquiesced. I was definitely not looking to get married right away, but I was open to the possibility of meeting new people and entering the dating world for the first time.
I learned that just because you’re not looking to be serious right away, that doesn’t mean that you can’t date with intention. As long as you keep your non-negotiables in mind and treat everyone with respect and kindness, you can still date with intention while not being totally focused on getting serious right away and while avoiding the pitfall of turning online dating into a “numbers game” (i.e., a transactional experience, rather than a relational one).
To start, it's a good idea to avoid men who are using online dating transactionally, rather than relationally. If someone sends you a message that can be summed up as “ur cute,” they’re playing the “numbers game” by casting a wide net and hoping for a few bites.
For those men you do interact with, stay curious, like you would with any other person you meet. As one Verily writer has explained, “look at [men] as the other half of the human race who have something to teach you about life, the world, and yourself.”
Don’t Let It Become a Full-Time Job
When I first signed up for online dating, I was very busy (I’m talking a full course load, two part-time jobs, plus a Capitol Hill internship busy), and so I knew that while it would be important to treat everyone kindly who took the chance to send me a message (at least, a message that went beyond “ur cute”), I also wasn’t going to spend time getting to know anyone with whom I clearly was not a match, or anyone who didn’t seem at least interested in the idea of marriage down the road.
Admittedly, after only a week, I found that the whole online dating endeavor was starting to take up too much of my already-busy schedule. I was about to throw in the towel when my friend encouraged me to at least give it another week before deleting my profile and, most importantly, to take a break. “Don’t check it more than once a day—maybe not even more than once a week!” she cautioned me. “People with good, full lives—the kind of people you want to be dating—will be doing the same.”
This was good, sane advice, and it helped me use my time online with greater intention. After all, since I didn’t want to date someone slavishly addicted to online dating, I decided not to become that person, either. Following my friend’s advice kept me from feeling like online dating was eating my life, and it prevented me from throwing in the towel altogether.
Idealization is NOT Intentionality
As it turns out, it was a good idea that I took my friend’s advice. A few days later, I got a message that was completely different from all of the others. This was a message that showed the writer had clearly read through my profile and was interested in learning more about someone with whom he felt he shared a lot of important interests and qualities. It was flattering without being over-the-top or creepy, and it was completely honest about relationship expectations—in short, it was a message positively brimming with respect and intention.
Naturally, after reading such a message, I immediately checked out his profile. My first impression was that he was very handsome and seemed intelligent and kind. But I also have to admit that I found parts of his profile a little dorky. With college photos of him playing the French horn (not that instruments are dorky—just that the "puffed-out cheeks" look is hard for anyone to pull off) and some cheesy cliches in his “about me” section, his profile was markedly different from the profiles of the men I’d sought out as my “ideal”: men who were handsome, successful, intelligent, with perfect pictures and polished profiles, but none of whom had answered any messages I’d sent to them. As it turns out, I might have been confusing intentionality with idealism—a dating pitfall that can stop us from meeting some truly wonderful people.
Take It Offline ASAP to Ensure Chemistry—And Accountability
Fortunately, dorky photos aside, I couldn’t quite shake the gut feeling that there was something different about this new guy (with whom I had a very high match and no glaring non-negotiables), and so I messaged him back.
He had asked to meet me right away, but I asked if we could message a bit first. He politely agreed, and so we had been going back and forth for a week when I confided in a trusted friend about the situation. She offered me an excellent piece of advice: Don’t wallow in online-land for too long, especially with a match who seems particularly promising. She warned me that that could be the path to idealizing someone with whom I might not actually have any real, in-person chemistry. Plus, she reminded me, since the goal of online dating is to meet an actual person, keeping things online for too long sends mixed messages about your intentions. Meeting someone IRL also helps you to understand that they are, in fact, another flesh-and-blood human being with real feelings, just like you, which can help to hold you accountable if your natural inclination is to ghost someone (as, I’m sorry to say, was my college dating habit).
So, after a week of messaging this promising new guy, I finally asked if we could meet in person. He jumped at the chance, and we spent four hours over dinner on our first date. As you might imagine, the rest is history: that man, who pursued me with such intention from the very beginning, is now my husband of nearly five years.
I know that my story is atypical in the world of online dating (okay, very atypical) and that not everyone can be so lucky to find the person they’re going to marry within a week. But my story is the reason I bristle at articles like the one about how dying alone is better than online dating. I am saddened for those who could have a wonderful experience dating online (whether they meet their spouse there or not), but won’t because they think the pitfalls are simply unavoidable; I hope that my story shows that that's not the case. Dating with intention may be hard in some ways, but it is possible—online and off.