Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

The longer you date, the more you will notice that you keep getting asked the same questions over and over and over again. It doesn’t matter if it’s online during the messaging stage or in person when you meet. The same ones always seem to come up, and you can feel like a broken record on an endless loop, repeating yourself forever. It’s exhausting. At one point I was seriously considering starting up a document on my phone with the paragraphs all pre-written, so I could just copy and paste the answers in every time I was asked a question that felt like a rerun. I still might; sometimes I can be pretty lazy.

There’s a few important things to remember when you start to feel this way. First, if they are sending you questions then at least they are actually trying to get to know you. You could have just gotten a list of demands or a dick pick or an invitation to a hotel room or something. Second, you may have heard this question a hundred times, but they haven’t heard your answer at all. It’s old hat to you, but you are still new to them. Third, and possibly most important, consider this; if they ask you a question and you answer it, you get to ask it back with the reasonable expectation of a response. It might start an actual conversation. If you have been online dating for long you know how hard that can be.

If you are also considering setting up a few prepared answers, want a little preview into what you will inevitably be asked eventually, or need ideas for starting a conversation, here are the most asked questions I’ve received while online dating.

“How are you?” Generic. Boring. Uninspired. But at the same time, it is how most conversations with people you already know start, so it’s not entirely unfair. It even has the potential to show genuine care or concern. It most likely doesn’t, but the possibility is there at least. The biggest issue with this question is that in most cases you are going to get too short of an answer or too long of one. It’s not technically a closed question, but it is very easy to answer with just one word. Good. Fine. OK. Or if it goes the other way you might wind up with a 3-page diatribe about how they are feeling about something that happened at work or with an ex. Valuable information maybe, but not something you need right now.

“What’s up?” Or it’s backwoods cousin “Sup?” Similar to “How are you?”, this is a very common message, and a very lazy one. Let’s face it; if you were currently up to anything really interesting you wouldn’t be online answering your messages. Yet somehow something that used to be an actual exploratory question about why someone was contacting you has turned into an introduction designed to force the recipient to say something that entertains the sender.  

“What do you do for fun?” Depending on your dating platform this question is either good or lazy. If you are on something like Tinder that doesn’t allow you much space to write a profile then it is good, the person messaging you is trying to find out what you like, if you have any compatible interests, what kind of free time you have, etc. However, if you are on a site like Plenty of Fish and have completed your profile then this information should already be out there for them to see. By messaging you and asking you something they could see with just one mouse click they are telling you that they aren’t interested enough to do even that.

“What are you looking for?” This is a great question, if you know the answer. If you don’t, well, you are probably going to fumble a few times trying to give one. In general, it’s a good idea to know what you want before you go looking for it, but when it comes to dating, most people don’t. Answering this a few dozen times might actually help you figure that out.  

“Why are you single?” In my opinion this question is a little mean, even when asked in the most flattering way. First, it is very difficult to answer with any kind of positive spin. ‘I’m picky’, ‘I haven’t found what I’m looking for’, and ‘I am only recently single’ all have negative connotations that go along with them. And those are the easy answers. Second, a person who has been online dating for a while is probably already asking themselves that question. The realization that finding someone online isn’t fast or easy hits us all differently, but having someone else point out to you that you haven’t found someone yet and that they can’t see why is hard for anyone to hear. Particularly if they wind up being yet another person that isn’t for you.

Meeting

Your moment has finally come. It’s time for your prince or princess to see you, be swept away by your good looks, charm, and wit, and fall deeply and madly in love with you. But how should your fairytale ending begin? What story do you want your children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren to pass down for generations to come?

One of the biggest decisions you will face once you decided to meet is where you should meet. What place should you sit in or which activity should you engage in that will best help you determine if this is someone worth getting to know? There’s no one right answer to this, but there are a lot more options than you might realize. 

Go for coffee. I know. Cliche. Ovedone. Stereotypical. Boring. But here’s the thing; it’s still one of the best options out there. Why? Each person attending has the ability to control the length of time of the meeting. Not the one for you? Drink quickly and get out. Really enjoying yourself? Savour your drink, get a snack, maybe order a few more. Not sure if they like you or not? Pay attention to how quickly they are consuming their beverage. A coffee date has the ability to last 20 minutes or 3 hours, which makes it a lovely flexible choice for a first meeting.

Go for a walk. This one is my personal favorite. For one, it’s outside. Fresh air is energizing, natural light brings out the beauty in everyone, and you aren’t looking at the same boring backdrop wall the entire time. On top of that you get to experience how you move together, find out if you will help one another over difficult parts in the path, and will get an idea of what each of you notices about the world around you. It will also tell you if you are able to keep up with each other physically, and if you do it right it might even give you the opportunity to touch. A walk can be as long or short as you want, and as public or as private as you want. Personally I prefer well used forest paths in the middle of the day, but if your thing is meeting strangers from the internet in a deserted park after midnight all power to you. Maybe bring some mace or something though, just in case.

Meet for drinks. The “adult” version of the coffee date, this can happen at a restaurant or a pub. I don’t recommend a bar or strip joint, there’s just too much noise and too many distractions. Meeting for drinks can go really well, or really badly, depending on the individuals involved. Do you drink the same thing, or at least compatible things? If one person is into high end wine and the other drinks Bud Light things might not go so well. If they need 5 or 6 drinks to relax and you don’t drink at all that can be pretty awkward. Meeting for drinks will tell you a lot about a person, but it can also be a little riskier than meeting for coffee. Not just because of the things you will learn about each other’s drinking habits and comportment once you have had a few, but also because for some people meeting in the evening and consuming alcohol comes with expectations about what will happen once you leave the establishment.

Play a game or do an activity. Mini golf or billiards are my top choices, but if your city offers different options by all means use one of them. Board or card games work too, if you can find a public establishment that provides or allows them. Bowling isn’t great as it is difficult to maintain a conversation when you are taking turns going up to throw the ball. Games are a great way to learn about someone; how they think, how they react to winning or losing, and how well they can maintain a conversation while engaged in an activity. One on one sports work if you are both fairly fit and don’t mind getting sweaty in front of one another. Rock climbing offers all kinds of opportunity for touch, particularly if one person is teaching another. Having something to do when you meet can make things a lot easier, whether you decide you like the person or not.

Check out an event. If there is a trade show in town, a fair, a game, or a weekly trivia night at a local pub, go check it out. Even if you don’t want to spend any money crowd watching together can be a lot of fun. Bonding through experiences and learning what someone else sees in a moment you share is a great way to see if you want to share anything else. If you can’t find an event then you probably aren’t trying very hard but don’t worry, there’s a backup plan for that too. Go shopping. Even a couple laps around your local Costco can tell you a lot about the person you are with, and at the very least you might get a few free samples out of it.

Get a meal together. Another classic, but not one that I am a fan of. The principle is the same as going for coffee or getting a drink, but there is an added level of expectation with a meal; that you will stay until the end. One of the worst first dates I’ve ever been on involved a brunch that just would not end. I love brunch, but we were such a mismatch that all I wanted was out. Unfortunately, he ordered two courses and held the bill hostage until the date stretched out to almost 2 hours. Which is forever when you aren’t interested. Then there is that awkward moment of who pays to deal with. Personally I recommend leaving meals until you are sure you want a second or third date with the person, but again, it’s up to you.

See a movie. Probably the most ‘done’ date in human history, it is also a horrible way to get to know someone. On paper sitting close together in a dark room sounds great; in reality, you may as well go alone. You can’t talk during a movie, so how are you supposed to get to know one another? Sure, you will be able to find out if they can sit still in a chair for a few hours, and might get some insight into how they smell or how well their digestive tract does or does not work, but that really isn’t enough information to determine if you want to see someone again. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Save movies for after you already know you want to hold hands, cuddle, and see what you can get away with doing to one another in a public place.

Netflix & chill. If all you are looking for is random stranger sex or the exciting possibility of becoming someone’s backup skin suit then by all means, Netflix and chill away. Otherwise just don’t. Anyone offering to host is looking for some serious action, and anyone accepting an offer, even an offer with pre-defined restrictions put on it, is still going to be expecting something. Plus, do you really want a complete stranger knowing where you live? There’s a definite air of desperation that comes with an offer to ‘chill’, or with the acceptance of an offer to ‘chill’. If that’s your thing then good for you, not judgement here, but if you are looking for more you are not going to find it down this road.

The Down Times

Do you ever have those days when you are just feeling tired? I don’t mean physically, although that can be a part of it, but mentally and emotionally just plain run down? Exhausted, drained, and like all you want in the world is to curl up somewhere safe and protected from everything that is demanding things from you?

It happens to me sometimes, and I have a really hard time with it. I am a naturally sympathetic person, and as such in most of my relationships I am a supporter. Most of the time this works for me, as I truly enjoy the feeling of being able to help someone who needs something, whether that need is physical, mental or emotional. It makes me happy when I make others feel better.

The problem comes when I need the support. Because I’m so independent and so quick to help others most of my relationships don’t get the chance to develop in a way that makes them able to support me when I need it. Most of them can’t even tell when I need it, and I have yet to find a person who knows exactly what I need, or who can give it to me even if I spell it out for them. Because of my habit of supporting I get into a cycle of pouring so much of myself into others that there is nothing left in my batteries when the time comes to take care of me. Even if I knew how I wouldn’t have the energy to do it.

So what is the solution? I don’t really know, it’s one of the things I haven’t figured out yet. Sometimes I try reaching out to people, and once or twice it has helped, but never completely, never in every way I need. Most of the time I just ride it out alone, or find something or someone to distract myself with until it passes. I know that’s not the healthiest approach, but it’s what I’ve got until I find something better. Part of my personal journey is trying to find new ways to take better care of me, or maybe one day find someone out there who knows how to help me when I need it. 

Interview: Self-Sabotage

 “So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach so we never dare to ask the universe for it. “– Jim Carrey

We have all seen it, or more likely done it ourselves. Some great opportunity comes our way, something that could change our lives for the better, but rather than taking it we talk ourselves out of it. We give ourselves thousands of different reasons for this but at the end of the day they are all just symptoms of one thing; our natural tendency towards self-sabotage. 

Human beings come with something that some therapists refer to as a negativity bias; we are hardwired to look for the worst possible scenario in any situation. It’s a survival instinct, intended to keep us away from animals that might eat us, fires that might burn us, or rocks that might fall on us. Like everything else it has evolved, and for many of us is now linked to a seemingly endless cycle of rigidity, numbness, and negative self-talk. 

Recently a friend and I got together to discuss some of our views on self-sabotage and dating; what we’ve done, what we’ve seen others do, and what we try to do to prevent it.

The Happy Traveler (H.T.): What are some of the most common self-sabotaging things you’ve done, or that you’ve seen others do, when it comes to dating? 

Sugar Beard (S.B.).: Overthinking things, seeing them through to the death once I’m in a relationship; then I have a panic attack and bolt. Also, I think because of my religious background and how that is, I go into a relationship knowing it is going to fail, and I’ll warn them it is probably going to fail but that I’ll still care about them. If the worst happens, and subconsciously I know that the worst is going to happen, I’m preparing them, and myself, for failure before it really starts. And then after I’m into it for a while I realize that this isn’t the relationship for me because it isn’t going to get me to a point where I am truly happy and with my family again and then I just lose it and run away.

H.T.: So you go into these relationships knowing that they are going to end?

S.B.: Yes. But hoping somehow they won’t. I guess what I’m doing is I’m starting it off denying what I know to be true, for me, and hoping that I’ll feel differently this time. And it never does.

H.T.: I go in too hard too fast, every time. From the beginning. Because I do this I miss signs that should tell me something is not going to work. I also have an unfortunate habit of losing myself when I date. I become what they want, I don’t stay who I am. I’d call that self-sabotaging, because then ultimately down the road when who I am starts to come out again it doesn’t work for this person; I’m not who they thought I was.

S.B.: Sometimes it’s knowing what you really want out of life and a relationship, and then doing everything but that because you feel that trying to get it has been making you miserable all the time anyways so you’ll try the opposite. That’s what trying polyamory was for me, denying myself what I really truly wanted and trying to distract myself from that. I’ll ignore my personal checklist hoping that I’ll come up with a better checklist later and that the parts will just fill themselves out, or I’ll create a new checklist that lines up with where she’s at. But that’s not right, it’s not true to myself.

H.T.: For me it’s more that I don’t know what I want. I have no checklist, no desired outcome, no end goal beyond happiness. I’m making it up as I go along. This leaves me open to a lot more opportunity, but also means it’s much more likely that things won’t work out. 

H.T.: Do you have any ongoing negative beliefs or opinions about yourself, others, or the process when it comes to dating?

S.B.: I’m in a really good place right now so it’s kind of hard to speak to that. Thinking back, I think the feeling of ‘I’m better than every guy out there’ really caused me a lot of frustration. I would think ‘why don’t any of these women see that?’, and to this day I know that I’m probably better in a lot of ways than most of these guys online dating. Of course there are guys out there that are far better than me. They have jobs, a home, a dresser, etc., but I knew that I had a lot to offer and it just frustrated me that women couldn’t see that. Or the ones that could were ones that I didn’t want at all.

H.T.: What about the dating process, what’s your view on that, the way dating is now?

S.B.: I think it really is too reliant on checklists. There is so much competition online, and there is a sense of desperation amongst everybody. The women have the advantage in online dating, they get so much attention they don’t have to approach guys, but it is frustrating for them because they are overwhelmed with losers. The guys feel like they are having to send their messages, cast their seed to the wind, and are not getting anything in return. You feel like you have to be perfect; your pictures have to be perfect, your blurb has to be perfect, your opening line has to be perfect, how you say hi has to be perfect. In the old days you met in a lineup or maybe there’d be a get together with some friends and you’d meet someone and you would just hit it off and exchange numbers. The days where a natural connection was made are gone, and now it feels like you have to force a connection before you even meet.

H.T.: I never think I’m good enough for anything, so that’s a real issue for me. I fight it, I fake it really well, but when it comes down to it I’ll take almost anything as long as it wants me, which is definitely a bad thing. It’s something I’m working on right now. I encounter all those losers and their messages all the time. It takes a real effort not to assume everyone is a loser when 99% of your messages are from them. The process… I like online dating; I don’t have a lot of negative views on it. I think people approach it in negative ways, but the actual structure of it is sound; you get a chance to learn about people, communicate with them a little, before you decide to meet with them. That works for me. So many people go at it negatively, like it’s a numbers game. ‘How many messages did I get today’, ‘how many likes did I get on POF’, ‘how many matches do I have on Tinder’, ‘how many dates have I gone on’, etc. It becomes a popularity contest, not even with anybody else, but with yourself. ‘Oh god, I got 5 less likes this week than I did last week, what’s wrong, I’d better put up a racier picture’. ‘I went on 3 dates this week and they were all bad, dating sucks, I’m never going to do it again’. I just want to say to that person, ‘Honey, you went on 3 dates in a week, you are doing pretty good!’ People are approaching online dating too hard and too fast; ‘I’ve got to meet everyone at once, I have to do it all now, I have to find my person right away, because I have this tool that should do that for me’.

S.B.: And if I don’t get them somebody else will.

H.T.: Exactly. The process of meeting someone that’s right for you shouldn’t happen in a month, or 3 months, or 6 months, or even a year. There is no timeline. If you are really looking to find someone to spend the rest of your life with you are going to want to take the time to make sure it’s the right person, and not just go with one of the first one’s that kind of fits what you think you might be looking for, then scoop them up before someone else can get them.  

H.T.: Have you ever been in a situation where healthy skepticism has turned the corner, and has begun to undermine how you feel about yourself or a person you are communicating with? 

S.B.: I’m usually pretty patient with people, but I’ll use an example. I was talking to a woman online. There was no picture on her profile, and she started getting very negative, saying “Oh, well you’d never be interested in me anyway. I’m a big girl.” I told her the last serious relationship I had was a marriage of 14 years with a bigger girl, and that yes looks can matter, but there’s a lot more than just that. It’s connection. She just went from one negative thing to another, and I just got tired of it. I told her she really was coming across as bitter, and she was just offended at that. Eventually she did send me a picture and she was a very pretty woman, I could have easily gone on a date with her, but the negativity just completely threw me off. I was like ok, if you are that negative about yourself, and you don’t know what I like and are assuming things about me,this isn’t going to work. I hate it when people assume based on things they perceive from my picture, or my profile, or my interests.

H.T.: She may be coming at that from a place where she has heard those things from other people before, but she shouldn’t be assuming you feel the same way. Since we got into talking about negativity, what do you do to break the cycle when you mind slips into a negative self-talk loop? It happens to all of us.

S. B.: I used to have conversations in my head where I’d have confrontations with people. For example, I would fight with my 1st ex-wife. I’d be expecting a confrontation to come up and would be preparing what I would do. I’m not great at arguing, I would make a terrible lawyer, all of my clients would be going to jail and then about 3 hours later I’d be like ‘oh, if I would have said this they would have never gone to prison’. I was talking to a counselor once and he said there’s a reason I have anger issues, it’s because I am constantly fighting with people all the time in my head, and my brain doesn’t know the difference between a real fight and one that I have in my head. I was constantly battling in made up conversations with people. Even when I was communicating online I would do this, and eventually just had to tell my brain to shut up.

H.T.: Does your mind ever get down on yourself, or is it just your interactions with others you get insecure about?

S.B.: It’s more about interactions with others. Because of my background, injuries, and things I’ve done I have a pretty good self-image. I am a reasonably confident person. I have a belly, I’m missing a leg, some teeth, but I’m a typical sexy hollywood idol type guy.

H.T.: (after the uncontrollable laughter stopped) You are really selling yourself to my 5 readers in this article by the way. You are telling us you are homeless and jobless and missing all these body parts.

S.B.: And yet I am very confident. And I am better than everyone else.

H.T. I think you need to write the next article on confidence. When I hit a cycle of negative self-talk my negativity is usually at myself, and I usually find a physical way out of it. Exercise, going out, things that take my mind off of me. Endorphins. Get out of the house, go for a walk in the woods, sit in the sun. Once upon a time it was reading a book, but that’s not enough for me anymore, I need more stimulation than escapism provides. I need something physical to take my mind out of itself. I’ll find an event and go out with a group of people, because if I’m focused on them then I’m not focused on me. If I can’t do that I’ll put on my headphones and go for a walk through the forest with some upbeat music. In the winter it’s the gym; treadmills suck but they are better than nothing. If you’ve got a partner sex is a great one. There’s nothing quite as handy to getting out of any negative space as a couple of orgasms, especially when you aren’t giving them to yourself. The closeness and the intimacy of sex or even a good cuddle can knock you out of something like that. Touch is huge. If there’s someone that knows you well enough to get you out of your negative loop that can help. Lately it’s been writing.

H.T.: Do you believe people’s biggest hurdle when it comes to finding someone is themselves? 

S.B.: 100%. There’s never any other reason. There’s 8 billion people on the planet.

H.T.: You’re not a believer in there’s ‘a one’ true person for you?

S.B.: No, there’s a lot of them. Over time you change, so what you want changes, and relationships you have change. For me one of the biggest things is finding someone who has a lot of the qualities of one of my ex-wives, because those matter, those made me happy. Mostly. And then not some of the other qualities. What I want, my needs, and my requirements are always changing, so therefore my potential person out there will also change. We live in a city of 80,000 people; I believe that even in a city this size if you are patient and not just jumping at the 1st opportunity then you will find someone you really want.

H.T.: I definitely think people’s biggest hurdle when it comes to finding someone is themselves. Everyone goes into it with ‘I need to find my other piece, find the person that completes me.’ I disagree. You need to be the person you want to be when you find the person you want to be with. You shouldn’t be still becoming them, or if you are then acknowledge that and realize that the person you find while you are still becoming who you want to be is probably not going to be the person you are going to stay with. They can be good for you for a while and that’s fine; I don’t believe all relationships are meant to last forever. But don’t think you are going to go into dating as a very imperfect version of yourself and find the person who’s going to want you for the perfect person you might be one day. You have to be that before that person will find you.

H.T.: What is the biggest relationship opportunity you’ve missed out on because of something you did that sabotaged it?

S.B.: My second marriage. I allowed stress to get to me, and I had a very unrealistic view about the relationship and myself. I actually at one point went into counseling to see if I was delusional and couldn’t tell what reality was anymore. I totally sabotaged it by seeking stress relief by going online and talking to other women. It never became sexual or anything physical, but it completely destroyed my relationship with my wife because I lied about it and hid it. As hard as she tried she couldn’t trust me, because I didn’t give her any reason to.

H.T.: So the relationship opportunity you missed out on was that marriage being a lifelong one?

S.B.: Exactly. It was because I didn’t manage my stress level. I didn’t trust her enough to talk to her about it. Anybody who thinks that they can use a crutch to get through a relationship is guaranteed to fail.

H.T.: For me, I didn’t try to have any relationships for over a decade. I missed out on all of opportunity. There were good reasons, but not doing anything is the biggest way to sabotage everything.  Then I came out of that and I didn’t know who I was as a dater, a girlfriend, a partner, or even as a friend. I had been so shut off that I had to spend a lot of time learning that all over again. It was a long term sabotage. It took me a long time to come out of shutting everything off.

S.B: I never really dated much, and dating is not like riding a bike. Or it’s like learning to ride a bike, except that the bike has now got square wheels, and the road isn’t flat; it’s a roller coaster track, and you aren’t the one actually controlling the handlebars. I thought it would be easy because I had a friend that was dating online and getting some, and I was like ‘you are hideous, and you are not even a good person, I am going to get on there and clean up.’ But that wasn’t the case. He was actually doing a lot better, because he’s not picky at all. He genetically doesn’t know how to swipe left.

 There are hundreds of ways people self-sabotage; from overthinking to negativity to shutting down, and everything in between. Everyone does it to some degree, some are just more obvious about it than others. What we need to do is identify the ways we do it, see the warning signs, and try and course correct before we crash our ships on the reef of destruction. Again.

Getting Left Behind

Being single can be a lot of fun. You get to meet new people, experience things you may not have otherwise, and build new social circles. You will encounter other single people who may not fit as partners, but who will still become great friends. You will find you have a unique camaraderie and companionship with these people, and you may even find yourself spending more time with them than with your existing friends. 

New friends can be just as exciting as new lovers; you get that surge of excitement at the prospect of something different, the feeling of self-gratification that comes from a total stranger liking you, and the opportunity to swap stories you haven’t told in years. You get to be you, without having to worry about being sexy at the same time. It is important to remember to still be careful though, as there are a few things you need to watch for when you are making your new friendship connections through online dating.

The first thing you should keep in mind is your existing friendships. No one expects you to take your friends along on your dates, that’s just weird, but that doesn’t mean you can’t include them in anything. Talk to them about what’s going on and introduce them to the new people who become important in your life. Most of us have a habit of keeping our circles separate; we have our work friends, our school friends, our weekend friends, etc. Now you will be adding your dating friends to the mix. If you really think about it though there’s no reason all those groups need to be kept separate. If you make friends with someone through online dating because you have a lot in common or share a similar outlook on life with them, it’s pretty likely that at least some of your existing friends will like them just as much, for the same reasons. Merge your circles and you will have lots of time for everyone.

It is also important to remember that most of the other people you are meeting are trying to fill a space in their lives. At first your friendship may seem like a great way to do this, but as time progresses and particularly if they find that person they are really looking for, you may find that your services are no longer required and that they don’t have time for you anymore. This can be a heartbreaking experience, whether it is a conscious decision on the part of your friend or an involuntary side effect of their new relationship. They may not have realized there was something you were lacking until they found someone who had it, or they may have hoped that they would have time for both of you only to realize they were wrong. Either way it is very likely that you are going to come out second best in that equation, and that it is going to hurt. A lot. 

There are few things in life quite as tough as feeling like you have made a great connection with someone who will be in your life forever, only to find out later that you were just a placeholder for them until they found the thing they were really looking for. We expect to spend less time with someone when they are building a new romantic relationship, what we don’t expect is to be left behind completely, or to be replaced by a shiny new friend. Friendships should be something that fall outside of the dating cycle, that are immune to it; unfortunately they often aren’t and they suffer as a result of new relationships. Try and keep in mind during your dating journey that your friends are important too, the existing ones and the new ones. 

Messaging

You’ve come up with a great screen name, taken some awesome pictures, and done a funny write up. Your profile is finished and you have just hit the button putting it out there for the world to see. So what’s next?

Welcome to what I like to call the feeding frenzy. Depending on the size of your market, your gender, and your orientation you are about to be hit with a few weeks of seemingly endless messages and offers, likely more than you ever expected. Think of it like sharks in a pool, and your shiny new profile is chum in the water. Every hungry predator out there is going to come over, have a sniff, and see if they can get a piece of the fresh meat. All you can do during this time is hold on tight and wait for the maelstrom to end. It will be overwhelming, I promise. 

If you get past this period of insanity without becoming insane yourself you will be ready for actual online dating. You know, the part where you actually have to do some of the work. I can almost hear you saying “But wait, didn’t I do that already? Isn’t that what my profile is all about?”. Nope, not at all. Think about it like an advertising campaign; your profile is the billboard, but you still need to do the work to get people to want to buy your product. When it comes to online dating your best tool to attract foot traffic is messaging. 

There are a lot of people who online date that do not understand how to communicate. I’m not talking about people who can’t figure out how to type, don’t know how to form a sentence, or don’t understand that the pinging sound from their phone means someone is trying to get in touch with them. Those people are lost causes and will weed themselves out pretty quickly. I’m talking about the people who don’t understand the basic rules that should be followed when communicating with a human being for the first time. Here are a few of them to get you started.

Spelling and punctuation matter. Remember those grammar classes in elementary school? The ones where you learned how to capitalize the first word in a sentence, and how to put a period at the end? This is where that comes in really handy. The very little bit of effort it takes to use whole words and form fully structured sentences will pay off tenfold, I promise. This is your first real interaction with someone you are interested in; do you want them to think you are too lazy to type all nine of the letters in ‘how are you’? Probably not.

Don’t be negative. This one is huge. There are very few things that turn people off as much as someone who is whiny, makes irritating assumptions or unfounded accusations, and is so self-deprecating you wonder how they even get out of bed in the morning. Try and remember that you are trying to find someone to date here, not just looking for free therapy online. Sure, it’s good to be able to talk about anything and everything, but if you are only ever talking about your ex, your health issues, your problems at work, or whatever else has you down you are not going to come across as very attractive. Negativity is a giant buzz kill, and as soon as you go there the person you are interested in will lose interest in you. 

Ask questions. I know, it seems simple, right? You are trying to get to know someone, and the easiest way to do this is to ask them things. You would be amazed and how many people can’t figure this one out. They will answer asked questions, but won’t initiate any of their own. I also recommend asking open ended questions, the kind that can’t be answered with a one-word answer. How thoroughly they answer questions can tell you a lot about a person, and about how willing they are to let you get to know them.

Non answers. I don’t mean not answering, we will get to that in a minute. What I’m talking about here are those answers that are non-specific fluff, the ones that are so generic and non-committal that it is impossible to respond to them. Good, fine, lol, OK, and other words like that. Ones that make responding really difficult for the person you are talking to. Think of a conversation like tossing a ball back and forth; asking a question is throwing the ball, answering a question is catching it, then opening up a new topic is throwing the ball back. If you miss that last step and you let the ball drop it is very likely that the conversation will go with it.  

Tone. SARCASM DOESN’T TRANSLATE VIA MESSAGING. I’m sorry, but it’s true. No one has come up with a sarcasm font yet, and a new person reading your words for the first time is not going to know that you usually have your friends ROTFL with your acerbic dry wit. They are just going to think you are mean, confused, or stupid. Save your sarcasm for when they know you a little better; I’m sure it will be a super pleasant surprise for them later on.

Be original with your introduction. Let’s face it, there are a lot of people online dating who do not fit anyone’s standard definition of attractive. Not by far. This means that anyone who does fit into that definition, even just a little bit, is getting a lot of messages. The feeding frenzy may have never ended for them. They are probably constantly bombarded with an endless stream of “Hi”, “Hey”, “Sup”, “How r u”, “DTF”, “What’s up”, and other greetings that are just unbaited hooks thrown in the water to see if anyone will bite. Bait your hook. If you haven’t received a message from them they either aren’t looking at profiles, or yours wasn’t enough to get their attention. Your first message is your next opportunity to do that. Look at their profile, find something that you know things about in it, and send them a question about it that will make them realize you have more in common than the app you are using.

Time between responses. How long you take to respond to someone, and how long they take to respond to you, is a big indicator of how interested you are. It’s a very simple formula; quick and timely response = interested, increasingly longer periods between response time = losing interest. You can make all the excuses you want (work, kids, friends, etc.) but what it ultimately comes down to is that people make time for things that interest them. If someone isn’t making time for you then it’s time for you to move on.

Confidence (and My Previously Unrealized Streak of Arrogance)

I went on a coffee date earlier this month to meet a man I had been chatting with online. It was our first meeting, the one you set up so that you can have that ‘see if you are who you say you are’ moment. I don’t even drink coffee, it’s just a part of the process. I had tea.

The meeting was ok, there was nothing glaringly awful about him. He was a little dull and it felt like a bit of work on my part to keep the conversation going but that’s nothing new to me, I’m usually the talker. Physically he was thinner than I had thought and not quite as tall as I had hoped, but again, nothing awful. He had a nice smile, laughed at my jokes, and didn’t commit any huge first date mistakes like talking about exes or snorting cocaine. At the end of the date we parted ways with a hug and a ‘nice to meet you, text you later’.

I considered things on the way home and decided that he wasn’t for me. He just wasn’t interesting enough. He was perfectly acceptable in every way, but there was nothing there that made me want to know more, or that sparked that tingling feeling down under. I mentally prepared myself to let him know that the next time he asked me out, and went on with my day.

A few days went by before I realized that I hadn’t heard from him, and it stopped me in my tracks. At first I thought maybe he just got busy and hadn’t had time to message.  Then I checked his activity and could clearly see that no, he had been online. Quite a bit actually. I thought maybe he felt that I was too good for him and he was intimidated. I worked my way through the entire list of excuses we come up with for why people don’t message us (family emergency, hit by a bus, dying pet, etc.), and then it hit me. I had been so sure in this situation that I was the better catch and that I would be the one letting him down that it hadn’t even occurred to me that he might not be interested in me.

My issues with self-confidence go so far back I can’t remember what life was like before them. At a very young age my family decided I was ‘getting fat’ and put me in ballet. Awful choice for someone who is already taller and rounder than the average girl. For a decade I was sent to the back row in every class and performance because I was ‘too big’, regardless of skill or how thin I got. All of my body issues stem from this.  I later found many sports more suited to my build, and was very successful at some of them, but my self-image never fully recovered. I compensated by developing a quick mind and great social skills, so that I could feel good enough to be accepted by others.

When I was a teenager an incident occurred that destroyed all of that. Since I didn’t feel like I could build my self-worth around my physical qualities I had built it up based on my intelligence, on my likeability, and on my strength in putting myself out there trying new things. The incident took all three of those qualities and turned them against me, effectively knocking out all of the tent poles I had built my sense of self on. I felt like I should have been smart enough not to get into that situation, that I should have been liked and thus protected enough that it would never happen to me, and I found out that my so called strength was actually a reckless disregard for personal safety. I came out of that situation with nothing left, nothing about myself that I could value. I felt completely worthless, at a time in my life when feeling worthy was everything.

I spent a decade of my life trying to hide that feeling, hoping no one would notice, and then another decade quietly wallowing in it, once there was nobody left to notice. I became depressed, introverted, and really never spent time with anyone outside of work or my family.

About 5 years ago I got sick of what my life had become, of not having those pieces that had been such an important part of me, and finally decided to deal with it. It was a long process, a post of its own one day maybe, but at some point in the last two years I realized I felt like myself again. I can’t pinpoint when exactly but it’s there, or to be more accurate, I am there. I’m back. I still have a lot of hang ups with my physical self-image, I doubt those will ever go away and will likely continue to be an issue in some relationships going forward, but I have rebuilt the pillars in my mind that represent who I am. I once again feel confidence stemming from my intelligence, my likeability, and my strength. It has been hard fought but I have won back the things I thought had been taken from me, but that in reality I had unconsciously given up.  

The first few paragraphs of this post are easily the most arrogant thing I have ever written. They are all about me, how I felt, my judgement of him, and my plan going forward. I don’t mention his feelings or consider his thoughts at all, and I don’t think about where he is at in his life, how I would or would not fit in it, etc. Four years ago when I started online dating not hearing from a man within 24 hours of meeting him would have sent me into a tailspin of ‘what did I do wrong’, ‘what doesn’t he like about me’ and ‘what if I never meet someone as good as him again’.  I didn’t consider any of that this time. I didn’t even notice I hadn’t heard from him.

Arrogance isn’t something to strive for, it’s rarely helpful in life or an attractive quality, and it’s not something that I want as part of my personality. I crossed the line from feeling like a good person to feeling like a better person than someone else. Now that I know I have the potential to do that I will be watching for it, trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again. At the same time though, I can’t help but feel a little proud of the progress that I have made. I have gone from the lost in doubt woman I was to having enough confidence that I can brush off a new person not wanting me like I would brush spilled sugar off a table. Annoying maybe, but an expected part of life.  I’ve learned to accept that just because I’m not everyone’s cup of tea doesn’t mean I’m not a wonderful one.

The Social Stigma of Online Dating

“Willing to lie about how we met.” – random POF user

Online dating sites have been around for well over a decade, and it seems like new ones are showing up every day. There are sites for all different types of interests, from sexual orientation to religious beliefs to hobbies, and they all have apps to make them as accessible as possible. Meeting people is easier than ever, and yet there are still a large number of people who look at meeting someone online as something that should be lied about. Here are some common misconceptions about online dating, and some reasons why we should all try to move past them and accept this new world of dating for what it is.

“People who use dating sites are desperate.” This is probably the most common misconception about online dating. Yes, of course there are people using these sites who are desperate, but you will find that any place there are single people who don’t want to be single. It’s as common at a bar, a party, or a wedding as it is online. That doesn’t mean all the people who online date are desperate, or even most of them. Most of the people who gravitate towards online dating are just trying to meet someone outside of their current social circles. They aren’t there because regular dating has left them feeling hopeless or in despair; they are just casting a wider net.

“Everyone is lying.” Of course some people are lying, but again, this is hardly exclusive to online dating. Once upon a time men bought expensive watches to look richer, and women compressed their innards in vise-like corsets, all to attract a better mate. Lying has been a part of dating since Adam told Eve she didn’t look fat in that fig leaf. It is also important to remember that not all lying is deliberate. The human brain has an incredible capacity for self delusion. It is entirely possible that that guy still thinks he looks like that 10 year old picture from Mexico, or that that woman really thinks her skin is as perfect as that snapchat filter makes it look.

“Your dad and I didn’t need an app to meet, why do you?” The judgement passed down from older generations is one of the most difficult hurdles we face when it comes to online dating. The world was different when our parents and grandparents met. For example, when you needed money you went to the bank, stood in line, and talked to other people in line while you waited. You got dressed, got out of the house, and met new people. We don’t have to do that anymore. If we want to sit on the floor of our apartments and do our banking while eating popcorn troughlike out of the hood of our worn backwards hoodies, we can. No one talks in person anymore, and even if we do somehow wind up standing in the same lineups, we are all on our phones. We may as well be using those phones to meet each other.

“Only weirdos go online.” Let’s face it, we live in an unusual time. To my knowledge there has never been a time in human history where we have been so completely accepting of everything. If you want to go by the name Sweet Kiss Boo-Boo and wear a pink tutu to the grocery store no one will stop you, how you self-identify is up to you. If being around people makes you nervous and you never want to leave your home again that’s allowed, you have a social anxiety disorder and will be accomodated. If you just can’t stop getting off to anything and everything, from a firm behind to an underripe banana, thast’s ok, you have a sex addiction and qualify for disability leave. We are told we have to accept everyone, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything, and when we encounter people we have to accept but don’t agree with we call them weird. The  woman who wears a fully purple outfit every day of the week because she believes it makes her one of the royals, the guy talking to himself on the bus because he has a multiple personality disorder and needs to keep all the voices happy, and the kid who can’t stop sucking on his vaporizer because he has a nicotine addiction. They are all there, we see them in person and gloss over it every day, but where they really thrive is on the internet. It is anonymous, provides a community for anything you desire, and is readily available everywhere. So yes, of course it draws them to it. But you know what? It draws all the rest of us to. We are all weirdos to someone, and we are all online trying to find our matching weirdness.

“Online relationships are doomed to fail.” In my opinion this is probably the most ridiculous misconception out there. According to the latest Statistics Canada research the divorces rate in Canada is 38%, and 42% of those divorces occurred between 10 and 24 years of marriage. The most common age for divorce is in the mid 40’s. Based on the length of these marriages and the ages of the people involved very few of them could have met each other online; online dating has only been easily accessible for most users for a dozen or so years. I’m not saying that people that meet online are or aren’t more likely to stay together; there have been countless studies done proving both sides of that argument. What I’m saying is most relationships are doomed to fail. We live in a time where everything and everyone is considered disposable. Don’t like your sandwich? Throw it out and get a new one. Tired of your car? Trade it in for a younger model. Sick of your spouse? I’m sure you can see where this is going. Instead of doing the work to make something better, improve it’s features, or remind ourselves of the things that made us first fall in love with it, we are getting rid of it and getting something better. Until that better thing bores us too.

Keep in mind during your dating journey that online dating is still pretty rare. 12 or so years isn’t really all that long in the grand scheme of things, and most people have never actually tried it for themselves. They have heard the horror stories, seen it in movies, and have maybe even looked at a profile or two, but have never actually done it. The conclusions they are drawing are based on word of mouth and media, not actual experience. Try to keep that in mind, and that the next time you share some horrible online dating story with a friend also remember to include a few good ones too. Improving the reputation of online dating will help us all out the next time we have to tell mom we met someone through the world wide web.

Something a Little Different

About two months ago I met a man through POF. His profile caught my eye because of the honesty in his write up, because of his height (yes, I can be shallow too), and because of the style and quality of his profile pictures. Not what I could tell about his looks from the pictures mind you, but the emotion that he managed to convey in them. It appealed to the amateur photographer in me, and left me interested enough to want to know more.

We messaged a bit and then set up a meeting. My favorite type of first meeting actually, a walk through a local park. I think he even suggested it. The meeting went well; the conversation flowed naturally, there was enough light teasing and laughter to suggest the presence of chemistry, and we never seemed to run out of topics to touch on. He was comfortable with my polyamory, and seemed like he might be on the edge of looking for something similar, although for different reasons. It was definitely one of my more successful first dates. He was going to be working out of town for a bit, so we set up an early dinner date for the next day, just before he left. The second date went as well as the first, cementing the fact that there was a connection worth pursuing, whatever that connection might be.

Between him working out of town and my schedule it was about a week before we saw each other again. He was pursuing other relationships and so was I, but we continued to grow the one we were building as well. Our third date was something I wouldn’t normally do that quickly; we planned to hang out at his place, just to spend time together and see what would happen. I was so comfortable with him so quickly that I wasn’t even judging myself, I was just letting things happen as they would. They did, and it was great. No pressure, no expectations, just two adults enjoying each other’s company and planning to continue to do so. He went out of town again for the week, and when he got back we had a great night out followed by a great time in. Things were going really well. Then we hit a hiccup.

I have a habit of adapting to the needs of my partner, and I was getting the sense that he wanted or felt like he needed a relationship. Not an exclusive one, and maybe not even one with me, but something with feelings and future potential. I was happy with what things were, but felt strongly enough about him that if he wanted to try then I was willing. So I let him know that. It turns out I was wrong, and my assumption and ensuing declaration resulted in some anxiety on his part and some hurt feelings on mine. I think if we had less of a connection then things would have ended there, and we each would have gone our separate ways.

Instead of running away we wound up having a series of conversations, and out of those we were able to figure out what we wanted from each other. Not a romantic relationship, that wasn’t something either of us felt would work out long term. We each had our own reasons for that, some of which we discussed and others that we did not. What it really came down to was the fact that that particular spark wasn’t there, for either of us. Sometimes it just happens that way; everything else can be a perfect fit, but if one piece isn’t there the whole thing doesn’t work.

So if not a romantic relationship, then what? Friends, obviously. But friend is such a broad term and encompasses so many different levels of relationships that it seems too general. In the short time we have known each other we have shared things, supported each other, and connected in ways that I haven’t with people I’ve known for decades. Friends with benefits is too harsh, it sounds cheap and like we were using each other. When our other relationships allowed for it and when we chose to enjoy each other’s company physically it was as an add on to what we had; never an expectation or a pillar of the relationship. If it never happened again it wouldn’t change anything.

We were out for a walk the other night, chatting about our lives, other relationships, and various thoughts or experiences we had over the last few days. Just enjoying each other’s company. He turned to me at one point and said “I do love you, you know” and I replied with “I know, and I love you too”. Because I did, and I do. It wasn’t a big declaration, there weren’t any tears or giant smiles or passionate embraces or promises made. It was just a quiet verbal acknowledgement of something we both felt, something that had grown without effort or intent.

When I started online dating I expected to make friends, I even hoped for it. I also expected misunderstandings, and that some would go well and others would not. It happens. What I could never expect was that a mistaken assumption on my part would lead to a series of conversations that has allowed me to find one of the best friends I have ever had in my life. Would we have gotten here without that hiccup? I honestly don’t know. And really, it doesn’t matter. We are here. I may not have a word for exactly what we are to one another, it’s something a little different, but I do know that it’s special and that I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Online Dating Terms

If you are going to be out there in the dating world there are some terms you should familiarize yourself with. This is not a comprehensive list, so if I missed any please feel free to add them in the comments!

Bae: A term of endearment, a shortened version of babe or baby. Because apparently those words aren’t already short enough. It is also a Danish word for poop, and the acronym for “before anyone else”, “best at everything” and “bacon and eggs”. Use at your own risk.

Bread crumbing: Sending occasional flirty texts or giving just enough attention to keep someone’s hope of a relationship alive. Also known as “Hansel and Gretelling” for those of you who remember fairy tales that don’t involve vampires that sparkle in the sun.

Bot: A fictitious account on a dating app, designed to get you to hit a link or give up an email address and eventually pay money to see more.

Catfishing: So common that Merriam-Webster has actually added the term to the dictionary, it is used to refer to internet predators that fabricate identities in order to trick people into emotional relationships. Bottom feeders, much like an actual catfish.

Cuffing Season: That period during the fall and winter months when people who would normally rather be single or promiscuous find themselves desiring to be tied down by a relationship. Essentially the hibernation of the dating world, it is about as far from the kinky thing it sounds like as possible.

Curving: Like ghosting, but instead of just leaving you hanging their replies will get further and further apart, and will contain lots of “I’m sorry, I got caught up with <insert predictable excuse here>.”

Cushioning (or benching): A technique where you have a main partner or potential partner, but you are chatting and flirting with other people that you are keeping on the bench to cushion the potential fall if your better option doesn’t work out.

DTF: If you don’t know this one, congratulations, you have led the perfect life. Or a really boring one. Either way, if you see a profile with “DTF” on it, or someone asks you if you are “DTF”, make sure all of your personal maintenance is in order and that you are freshly showered.

DTR: The natural follow up to “we need to talk”, this one stands for Define the Relationship.

Firedooring: Just like that safety door at work, this is when access is entirely one sided. Any attempt to make initiating contact, meeting needs, or confirming plans go both ways is met with a flat, hard, impenetrable surface.

Ghosting: When a person cuts off all communication with a partner or potential partner and completely disappears, with no notice or explanation given.

Haunting: Occurring after ghosting, this is when the ghoster continues indirect contact by liking your social media content, but is still not responding to any direct communication attempts.

Kittenfishing: The most commonly used tactic when online dating, kittenfishing is making yourself seem way different online than you are in person. This means using really old pictures, fibbing about things like height, weight, or size, or exaggerating your interest, skills, or talents. Basically wasting everyone’s time.

Meet-cute: A scenario in which two people are brought together in some crazy, unlikely, destined to be together forever kind of way. See any romantic comedy for an example. If anyone has seen it happen in real life let me know, I certainly haven’t.  

Pied Pipers or Pie Hunters: People who deliberately seek out singles who have a disastrous dating history, so they can hook up with them when they are at their most vulnerable.

Sapiosexual: Originally defined as a person who is attracted to someone’s mind before their body, many online daters are now using it as a statement against the current hookup culture, to let others know they want more than just sex.

Stashing: When you are in a relationship with someone but you refuse to introduce them to your friends or family. Likely because you view them as temporary, replaceable, or lacking in some way. A nice word for being an asshole.

Sup: If you hear this from someone, move on. Anyone too lazy to say or write all 7 letters of what’s up is also going to be too lazy to satisfy you in any other way.

Thirsty: When you are so eager for attention, sexual or otherwise, that you basically look like a dehydrated fool wandering in the desert, willing to lap up anything thrown your way.