When we are online dating it becomes very easy to develop a negative perspective on the process. We tend to focus on all of the things that we aren’t finding, whether that is love, the perfect fling, or something else, and not the things we are. We go into it with our lists and our expectations and often come out of it feeling even more alone or unfulfilled than we were when we started. On top of that not all dating experiences are good ones, so sometimes we develop new social scars to go along with the ones we already have. These feelings can make it very difficult to see the other benefits of the experience, beyond meeting the person or persons you think you are looking for.
The first unexpected benefit I found when I started online dating was the realization that I was not alone in being alone. At the time most of my friends were in long term relationships and I had been single for over a decade. The need I felt to partner up, either by lowering my expectations or increase my desirability, was intense. My inability to do it bothered me to the point that it became a source of shame, something else that made me feel alienated, unworthy, and unwanted. The constant commentary from family and friends that I should find someone, and their expectation that it should be easy for me, only added to this. I know they all meant well, but the pressure I felt from being unable to meet the social expectation that we should all couple up ultimately made me very depressed.
When I started online dating I found out just how many people out there were single, and I was amazed. Some of them were like I was, desperately looking for a partner. Others fell into the category of people who were single for a reason, either by their own choice or due to something they needed to work through. Several were in that brief period between relationships that most serial monogamists experience. Ultimately it didn’t matter to me why people were single, the fact that there were so many of us made me feel like less of a failure. I wasn’t an outsider anymore, I was part of a community, one that I had previously known nothing about. Through the shared experience of dating I became closer to the few friends I had that were also single, and realized there wasn’t anything wrong with any of us. Eventually the imposed feelings of expectation and loneliness left me, and I was able to realize the complete person that I already was.
I credit online dating with improving my social skills. When I was younger I had no problem talking to anyone, but during my long period of being single I had forgotten how to meet new people, how to interact in a crowd, and even how to talk to people I already knew. I became very introverted, uncertain of myself in every situation, and that added to my isolation. I wouldn’t say or do anything because I was so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing.
Online dating gives you a unique opportunity that I don’t think you get anywhere else – the chance to edit yourself. Most communication is done through messaging, which means you can compose and make changes to your words before you send them. It is a social crutch, but one that I found very helpful when learning how to put myself out there again. The chance that I would blurt something awful out, or laugh at the wrong time, or miss part of what a person was trying to tell me was gone. I could read, reread, write, and rewrite to my heart’s content. Over time I found myself doing this less and less, as I re-learned the skills I used to have, and as my natural confidence began to come out again. I was shedding layers of self-doubt and fear with every message, and it felt wonderful. By the time I felt ready to have a real relationship most of my unnatural shyness was gone, and I was able to show the person I wanted who I really was from the beginning.
My favorite benefit has been the improvement to my social life. I am very glad that I never fell into the habit of ignoring a connection because it didn’t include the romantic element I was looking for. Online dating gave me access to people I would never have met in my everyday life, and some of those people have quickly become my closest friends. Because of them I have been exposed to new experiences, different points of view, and have developed a better support system than I have ever had before. Without them my current hopeful, happy, and excited personality would not exist, and I would have missed out on far too many wonderful aspects of life because of that.