Finding a New You

One of the things I enjoy the most about online dating is the opportunity it gives you to meet different people than you would in your everyday life, to try new things you may not have otherwise, and to pick up new hobbies or interest that will far outlast the people who introduced you to them. I thrive on new experiences. Sure, I could go out and find them myself without the ‘benefit’ of sitting through countless dull coffee dates waiting for the next person who actually wants to do something different, but I am honest enough with myself to admit that that would not happen. I’m either too lazy, too busy, or too content with my current life to actually make the effort to seek out new experiences on my own. Besides, everything is more fun when you do it with someone, even someone who is a complete stranger.

I used to love taking pictures. Even before every smartphone was a camera I would carry around a small point and shoot in my purse, just in case there was a chance to capture a moment. I purchased my first DSLR over a decade ago, and used it religiously. No sunset, landscape, or random animal was safe. For a while. Then life got busy and I put the camera down. I forgot that it was a thing I loved to do, or it got lost in the things I had to do, I’m not sure. Then about 10 months ago I met a photographer through Plenty of Fish, and he reminded me how much I absolutely love to take pictures. Not just the regular day to day family or event pics, but those pictures you take just for the beauty of the shot, or to capture an emotion. We would spend hours in his truck just driving around, stopping randomly on roadsides because one of us saw something in a landscape, cloud formation, or shadow. When it was ugly outside we would find things to take pictures of indoors, or we would discuss or plan shots we wanted to take, or ideas we wanted to try. The relationship didn’t work out, but I will be forever grateful to him for returning my love of photography to me. 

Writing is something I have always been interested in, something I’ve always wanted to try, but beyond journaling I could never find a reason to do it. I didn’t have a grand story to tell, I wasn’t an expert in any field, and I’ve never really felt like anyone was going to care what I had to say. I had nothing motivating me to get started. Then I started online dating, started talking to other people about my dating experiences, and I realized a few things. First, people get really, really tired of hearing your dating stories. Really tired. Second, if I was going to run myself through the dating gauntlet I needed an outlet for all the things I would see and feel. And third, maybe, just maybe, there were other people out there who needed a sympathetic voice. And there it was. I had found my reason to write. This blog has grown and will continue to grow beyond what I originally imagined, but it and my reason to write only exist because of online dating. 

Both of those examples are interests I already had that dating brought back to me, or that dating gave me the opportunity to grow. I have also found new interests, things I had never considered before, or things that I had only heard about but never seen. One of those is Shibari, the Art of Japanese Rope Bondage. When you google it you will find thousands of examples and dozens of definitions, ranging from very sexual to very artistic, but what it comes down to is using rope to create geometric designs that bind and accentuate the body. It is a method of applying art to the human body, of conveying emotion through an image, and of learning to love all parts of ourselves, even those we consider imperfect. I was introduced to it by someone I met online, and it has brought me a new passion, a new community, and a new way to learn to love myself. 

Dating can be frustrating, heartbreaking, and exhausting, but it can also be something that helps you rediscover parts of yourself, or find new things inside of you that you didn’t know were there. Try to remember that even when you are having a bad streak of relationship luck there is always something new around the corner, and that you may find things through dating that will make you happier than any one person ever could. 

The Other Benefits of Online Dating

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.