Online Dating Part 2: It's a Party

Lesson #2 in online dating: Treat it like a party

One problematic thing I often see with girlfriends taking online dating out for a spin for the first time, is that the response they receive or don't receive becomes a huge focus in their dating life. It can be hard to put yourself out there, feel like you're back on Hot-or-Not.com, and worry that if this doesn't go well your dating life is doomed.

Whether you receive 20 messages in a day, or you're hoping the one message you sent out is returned, it's important to realize this is just a website. People vary in their usage of it, and anyone is allowed on it. 20 messages doesn't mean there is a quality match in the bunch, while receiving a response from a the one existing potential match three weeks down the road is normal. The key is to not hinge your whole dating life on the website.

Over the years I was able to find the proper place in my life for online dating. I learned to look at it as a way to create initial contacts with people outside my normal circles, not as a place to actually date someone, and definitely not as a fiancée factory. Many friends, many business contacts, but only few good relationships came from the web. I treated dating sites as if they were a casual acquaintance’s party.

If I met a nice, attractive man at a party, it wouldn’t take much for me to give him my number if we had a decent connection. The connection could be friendly, business-y, or romantic, but you wouldn’t find out if it was a love match until much later. Is this form of meeting any less superficial than looking at a few photos and reading a few facts about a person? The only way it’s “safer” is the fact that I met him at an acquaintance’s party, which is a weak connection at best. There’s no reason a creep couldn’t crash a party and pick up on girls (unprecedented!).

It’s for this reason that all of the same safety precautions we take in real life should happen with online dates. In fact, I think people need to be more careful with real life encounters than they are. Always meet at a public location. Outdoor malls are a good start. Church events work well, too. I’ve never been drinking at a meet up with someone I met online, but I would imagine that would lower one’s ability to discern red flags (depending on the amount consumed, obvs).

Seeing online dating sites as an initial connector and nothing more worked wonders for me when combined with little-to-zero expectations on the quality of the match. I could then meet up with someone, expect nothing more than the chance to get to know a new person, and know that I was “putting myself out there” and expanding my horizons. If I was in a particularly busy or overwhelmed place in life, I didn’t put pressure on myself to go out or make matches. I would simply login to the site only when I felt like stepping outside of the same old circles.

That’s what the Internet is good for: meeting people who are enough like you that you could meet them somewhere, but haven't yet crossed paths. In the LDS world, there’s a high likelihood that once you add someone to your friend list on Facebook, you’ll find you have at least one mutual friend. The dating site simply speeds up the meeting process.

This is where online dating has an edge on traditional dating. When you're out at a party and you see an attractive person whom you'd like to get to know, you have no way of knowing their status. You can ask a mutual friend, who will most likely say something like, "He's kind of hanging out with so-and-so, I saw them together last week, but I'm not really sure because I think she went out with what's-his-name the other night..." Which ultimately leads to connecting with the person (they're at the party alone after all), but never actually getting to the date (after a lot of noncommittal texting), because things have taken off with so-and-so or what's his name.

Obviously, people can lie about their status and their profession and their level of activity in their religion and the number of martians living at their house. Of course there are trolls and creeps just looking for fast love and will say whatever it takes. We can't help this. But if you use your brain and the screening measures previously mentioned, the people you'll find on dating sites who say they are single and looking for a real match, are sincerely doing just that.

Oftentimes it can go a step further, to where you can establish whether someone is dating for fun or for potential marriage. At a social event, a person isn't typically going to approach you and say, "I'm 32, divorced. I'm looking to get back into dating, single now, and open to getting married sooner than later." It would be very helpful if they did, however. Knowing these basics up front takes a lot of the guess work out of first dates, which are hard enough as it is. Online dating wins in giving direct info on a person's status.

Then, the real work can begin of getting to know each other on a non-virtual level, discerning their authenticity and whether or not what they said online was genuine. But hey, it's a start, and it's more than you get from a two-minute conversation at the house party. Plus, you never even had to change out of your pajamas.

Are You an Interesting Person?

There was a time I was in the classic BYU ward (church group), doing the not-so-classic Provo thing of working, not going to school, and hanging out in Orem a lot. A stake president (church leader) spoke and said out loud what I had been trying to identify for years, while simultaneously removing a nagging guilt I hadn’t realized I had, but did have, until that moment.

He was speaking only to the Relief Society (group of women). He told us about his 31 year old, business-owning, not-married, daughter and how cool she was and all the cool useful and fun things she had done. He then got very stern and made this previously unheard-of statement:

“Some of you are here in Provo treading water. You are in jobs you don’t like, doing things you aren’t passionate about, waiting around to get married. Provo is not an interesting place, and it’s not the only place to meet other Latter-Day Saints. Get out. Go out there and make yourself a more interesting person. And in the process, you will meet other interesting people, and possibly a guy who has similar interests, and you will be even more attractive because you will be becoming more interesting than you are when you are here treading water.”

The lifting of rose-colored glasses, the sound of judgy parties getting off their high-horses, and the relieved sighs of those feeling the anxiety that comes from living only for potential marriage, were heard throughout the room. It was a beautiful message, and one I have imperfectly strived to live by ever since.

I think I was about 23 then, and I had already suffered through, and would suffer through more, self-inflicted 'waiting spells'. Times when cultural pressures-- that’s a cop-out-- my own fantastical imaginings of what my life should look like before I could really get going with it, got the better of me. Times when I was too lazy or scared to look further down the path of my life and figure out what I truly wanted to be- regardless of marital status. Over the years these annoyingly desperate times would become shorter in length, to the point where in the few years prior to my marriage they would occupy an overly hormonal weekend and no more.

Sure, the entire single population (LDS or not) and married friends continued to focus on little else besides my relationship status, but my feelings of patience and contentment grew stronger as I set my sights on becoming “more interesting”, rather than “more married”. In addition, I added more interested to the equation as well, as I found it was a surefire way to become more interesting. I wanted to be more interested in those around me, in the world around me, and the opportunities all over the place inviting me to grow.

Along the way I met a woman in her early thirties, active LDS, beautiful, amazingly fun, and single. I had never met someone so interested in aggressively seeking fun while also being highly responsible. In fact, she was in HR at the company where I worked-- the department where fun goes to die. I learned that she competed in karaoke competitions dressed in full character attire, had become certified in flying trapeze, enjoyed skydiving (who doesn’t?), and was forming a kick-ball team to compete in a city league.

I’m also ashamed to say that until then, I didn’t know that someone could be in her place in life and not obsessively talk about dating and marriage. I had simply never encountered it. It was so refreshing to not be painstakingly discussing the ins and outs of love life, but rather the wild new adventures from the weekend.

The fact that she was the first LDS person in my then 27 years of life whom I had met with this attitude is a sad, sad fact. Either it’s sad because I didn’t expand my horizons enough to meet more people like this, or because there aren’t many women like this out there. Considering I was in something like 22 different singles wards where I spent a lot of time with women, I’m pretty sure it’s the latter.

The tricky part is this: once married, it’s even more important that you are an “interesting person” who is also an interested person, curious about the world, motivated to learn, and willing to seek appropriate novelty. It has been repeatedly shown that variety is one of 6 basic human needs, and also that it is crucial in a marriage. Blending the safety of consistency with the adventure of variety is a challenge that, if mastered, will keep a marriage going. Good marriages end because of 'boredom'. Bored people are boring people. A desire to learn new things, a willingness to step outside of your immediate circle to see whom you might help or learn from, and becoming adaptable to new situations, is not a born-with or born-without trait. It is a skill that is cultivated through exposure and practice.

If our entire focus is finding a mate and nothing more, then the moment we find him/her, we are already heading for a boredom+unrealisticexpectations=disaster. The marriage is already doomed, as we are essentially saying, “I’m choosing to marry you, and by the life I’m currently living I am demonstrating that I’m choosing not to concern myself with anything other than you. Therefore, I’m counting on all of my excitement, fulfillment, passion, compassion, good works, fun, and pleasure, to come from you.” Yikes, needy much? I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been times where I’ve put that kind of pressure on my husband, due to that same nasty habit I picked up long ago of being too lazy or scared to look at my own life and what I wanted to make of it.

Two individuals who spend time seeking learning and developing their healthy interests and hobbies are going to be able to go out into the world --either together or separately-- and come back home, together, and share the new insights they have garnered. They will learn from each other, they will grow as individuals, and their synergy will be unstoppable. They become a force to be reckoned with in their life as a couple, far more than the sum of their parts. They will be able to more positively impact their children and their communities, and are more likely to become intentional about their purpose in life. Not to mention, each person’s desire to learn about the other increases, which leads to more love for each other, which leads to more service to one another, the glue that holds a couple together.

Developing this as a single person is crucial to getting out of the waiting mentality and finding fulfillment in the infinite areas there are in which to serve, love, and play. And more likely than not, it’s in taking your eyes off of the supposed “Holy Grail” that you become relaxed, joyous, and interesting enough for the right one to take notice.

But even if not...

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

-Matthew 16:25