Ever since I was sixteen, I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time online. It started with BBSes though I eventually graduated to the Internet. When online dating services were getting going, I tried them out extensively as did a lot of my friends. Despite this, not a single person in my circle married somebody that they met on an online dating service. Of The Big Four girls in my history, only one did I meet through any matching service and neither of us had on our profiles that we were looking for significant others. On its face, online dating seems to be the most logical way to pair off that there is. You (usually) get to see a picture and get to know a little bit about them before you meet. When you do meet, you’re both ostensibly have the same goal in mind. So why is it that despite all this, it so rarely seems to pan out?

A lot of people are under the impression that it’s because only screwed up people use dating services. Even back in the old day that simply wasn’t true. The selection of girls that I met from online dating services was actually not all that different from ones I would have met anyway. Others point to the gender disparity with men using the services in much higher numbers than women. It’s true that forces a lot more work on the guys part competing with other guys and ladies filtering through a substantial number of responses… but the thing is that even once you get past that point, it still seems never to actually work out. Why?

  1. Pressure. After a series of disappointments, I set up a rule where I had to try to set up a meeting with someone before no more than a week or three emails had passed. The main reason for this was that if there’s too much build-up, the meeting is bound to disappoint. The better the pre-meeting goes, the rockier the net-to-life transition. The more you know about them before you meet, the harder the meeting is. The correlation was about linear. Expectations get raised beyond the realistic when things have gone well before the meeting. You have this vision of what they will be like and they won’t ever match it. Not always because the vision is unrealistic, even. Sometimes they’re not worse in person, they’re just different.
  2. Mannerisms and presence. We are more than a profile-and-pic. We are more than we can write on a profile or in even in a blog. We are more than our picture. We are a hundred thousand little things that we do that have the potential to endear or agitate someone. There are so many little subtle things that affect how it is that someone comes across to us. We make all sorts of assumptions as to how they think they will be and then when they’re not that way at all we won’t even be able to easily explain why. “I… uhhh… expected more of a nightly way about her” was how I described one. Nightly? What the hell does that mean? I’m a pretty articulate guy and I still can’t entirely explain it without resorting to comparisons with other girls I know. Not even comparisons like “She’s more ______ than the last girl I dated” but more “She’s more like Girl A than Girl B even though her profile and actual personality is more like Girl B.”
  3. Raised standards. I know that I did this and I think a lot of guys do and maybe girls, too. Oddly, I think that we raise our standards when in a situation expressly designed to meet somebody. Particularly when we have someone to compare this person to. As guys glide through profiles, we see a lot of attractive girls that are out of our league. We’re naturally drawn to contact them first. With the limited information you have, the picture becomes a lot more important. Here are all of these quite attractive girls (and as a guy, those are definitely the ones that you notice the most) and they’re looking for a guy! and you’re a guy!! So you set your sites higher. You try to present yourself as being more impressive than you are so that they might meet you. Then of course they’re disappointed. Meanwhile, had you met the same exact selection in the office place, you would more naturally have gravitated towards people of your own stature if only because they’re the ones that smile at you from behind the receptionist desk while the hot girl at the copy station doesn’t even know you’re alive. Generally speaking, you have a better assessment of “How likely is it that a girl that looks like that would pair with a guy like me.” Lastly, you also don’t have the 100,000 little mannerisms to endear you to them, so you go with what you know, which is the picture, which expresses mostly more conventional beauty.
  4. Intellectualizing attraction. When you meet someone explicitly in order to pair off, you’re looking very deeply at this person from the start. You’re looking at every potential pitfall. Everything they want from life that is the slightest bit incompatible with what you want. You’re asking from the get-go, “Is this something that I want to devote time and energy into making this permanent?” I think in more natural pairings there is a lot more of a mystery about whether or not the other person is thinking in that context and how. With online dating, you’ve established a lot of that. You’re put in the position of deciding whether you want to fall for this person rather than simply doing so. It turns a lot of it into more of an intellectual exercise. I think a lot of people are more likely to find problems early on from an intellectual analysis than the emotional experience that unfolds when it’s entirely personal.

The thing that all four of these items have in common is that online dating (and personals of other sorts) create an unnatural environment for one of the most natural of instincts. It applies a lot of pressure to figure things out before you’re ready. It puts too much out there before you can process it. I mention above that only one of my Big Four were met online and that none of my friends married someone they met from online personals.

That is true, but it’s not the whole truth. Evangeline is the only one of the four that I got to know online, but the truth is that I fell in love with her across a room over a year prior. I just didn’t know that I had because I didn’t know who she was. As for the other three… the Internet played a roll in all of them. Clancy and I met through a friend I met on the net. Julie and I met through a job that I got by meeting a friend on a BBS. Tracey and I met simply on a BBS and got to know one another there. My friend Tony met his wife in AOL chatrooms. Even though meeting online carries some of the above risks — particularly if potential romantic interest is declared before you actually meet them or have spent any significant time with them — there is still more of an opportunity for things to unfold naturally.

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6 Responses to The Unnatural Unfolding of Internet Love

  1. Willard Lake says:

    Over eight years, and still wonderful. She answered my ad… was the first of about fifty responses. I had to filter them down twice before even looking at them all seriously. But, then again, we are both freaks, so our experience shouldn’t be used for anything but an outlier here.

  2. Peter says:

    My wife and I met via online dating. It was in late 1996, on the personals boards of the old Prodigy internet service. Online dating was still pretty new at the time and quite different from what I understand it to be like today. Most notably, the profiles tended to be sparser than today’s, so there was less ability to do filtering. All in all I’d say that was a good thing.

    The other major difference, it must be said, is that online dating in the mid-1990’s was not the complete fiesta de chorizo it’s become today. Men and women may not have been equally balanced, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly male like now. While I don’t remember specific numbers, I know I had a relatively decent response rate from the women I contacted and, if you can imagine it, even had some women contact me!

  3. Gannon says:

    Since you can’t meet girls below 18 but above the local age of consent I’m not interested in internet dating services.

  4. trumwill says:

    Gannon, do they have internet services in Argentina? Are they similarly restricted?

    When I was 17-21(ish), I had a girlfriend so that by the time I was out of that and using the Internet to date, I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in girls under the age of 18 anyhow. I actually mingled with a couple who’d lied about their age, but even setting aside the maturity issue they just didn’t have the freedom to make any sort of remotely serious dating possible.

  5. trumwill says:

    Willard, your advertisement was unusually ingenious (from your previous descriptions of it), so it’s not surprising that it served you so well. And as you mention, you’re both freaks.

    Peter, glad that it worked out for you, too. I’m not sure how big the gender imbalance is today since I’ve been off that market for some time. It was actually a sign of how serious I was about Clancy that as soon as she and I became an “us”, I gave all my Lavalife points to my friend. While I was in that market, though, there was a pretty notable disparity. On the one hand, most guys had no idea what they were doing so it was easy to create profiles that were far more interesting than theirs. On the other hand, you can’t profile away unimpressive appearance and it being obvious from any discription you can muster that you’re… unconventional.

  6. Gannon says:

    That’s a good question Trumwill. AOC in Chile is 14. In Argentina its 15, but can be as low as 13 if the inmaturity of the sex partner wasn’t abused. I’m pretty sure that most American dating services have a local branch in Chile and Argentina. MSN (hotmail) definitively has a local version. Dating services don’t allow anyone under 18 to join them, probably because they can’t agree to the contract anyway, and also to avoid criticism. General rules apply, making love to a 14/15 year old is legal, but pictures are completely ilegal (You can make love to a 14 year old in Chile but not film her). Myspace isn’t popular at all. However, facebook and photolog are, specialy among teen girls. However, the best way to meet a teen girl is at plazas walking with your dogs, going to anime conventions (if you are below 32 or so), at the mall, and at fast food places.

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