You know, I’d never seriously considered online dating until a fortnight ago. It had crossed my mind as an option I could pursue at some point, when I felt ready, but I’d not put any serious thought into it. Then, pretty much overnight, I realized that I was ready to think about dating again, and a glance around at prospective options hurled me headlong into a “how does one ever meet anyone” spiral of despair. A spiral which impacted on every element of my self-esteem and gave voice to feelings I’d never admitted to before.
And then I wrote Wide Load, and you all left me incredible and supportive comments, and several of you mentioned that you had met your partners via the interwebs… and taking the plunge suddenly seemed a whole lot less scary!
Previously, my experience of online dating was limited to some friends from my former life up north (one male, one female), who documented to me over many glasses of wine the joy and despair of their experiences. I guess these two lifted my blinkers and dispelled any previous prejudice against the format – both very attractive, bright, lovely people who hadn’t the time to meet new folks elsewhere, nor the motivation to continually face the dispiriting mating ritual of the bar/clubbing scene. Of course, I was spoken for at the time, so their tales were merely alcohol-fueled anecdotes provided for my obvious amusement. (I should have paid more attention…)
But when I moved down to Leamington I quickly discovered that almost every single (single) person I encountered was signed up online. Whereas my talk of twitter or blogging was often met with blank stares, my absence from the world wide dating web was worthy of comment.
As I say, at this point I was actually far from ready to jump back into the world of boys. I was starting my life from scratch with a new job in a new town where I knew very few people. On top of this, dating was unfamiliar territory for me – what with my never having been on a date before. This was partly because the last time I was single was high school where dating really didn’t feature, and partly because here in the UK “dating” is not the typical way a relationship starts. We’re a people of hedged bets, preferring to strike up friendships, often through mutual friends, which occasionally develop further… Usually after a few too many tequila shots and a donner kebab.
Luckily, my dating virginity was broken without my realising, saving me a considerable amount of terrified apprehension. One autumn day, a friend and I went out for coffee and cakes and, after about 30 minutes it became clear that we had entirely different agendas for the afternoon. The longer “coffee” extended, the more transparent his intentions became, and I confess I spent the latter part of that particular non-date praying “please don’t kiss me, please don’t kiss me…”
(In case you’re wondering, my prayers went unanswered.)
I think what appeals to me most about online dating is the relative anonymity that makes rejection less painful. These aren’t friends you’re going to lose if one of you makes an unwanted move, they’re people you met with the mutual understanding that you’re looking for something in particular. For the uninitiated amongst you, dating websites enable you to contact members via an internal messaging service to instigate contact, and if this goes well you exchange email addresses/IM handles to simplify chatting further. I feel this is the vital step, as it allows you to check that your potential date is capable of holding a basic conversation (albeit non-verbal) and that you have something in common! You can see straight off if someone matches your tastes and hobbies, hopes and expectations, making mismatches infinitely less likely. How you play things out from email stage is entirely up to you.
The stigma of “lonely hearts” seems to have entirely lifted from online dating (for my generation at least: my Mum’s immediate concerned response “You’re not that desperate are you?” probably still rings true in other circles…) and as I previously said, it seems increasingly difficult to find an over-25 single person who hasn’t at least given it a whirl. Because, and here’s the eternal truth that has hooked us into story, screen and song throughout history, everyone wants a little love in their life. The world revolves around love and sex, and no matter how hard work and money try to overthrow them, they will hold true. Everyone wants a piece of them.