I’m an online dater and it changed me

There are a few things you learn when you do online dating. You learn about the different faces of humanity’s heaving, aching loneliness. You learn just how lonely you are. You learn about the opposite sex. You learn about how much your ego can take (from the incessant rejections; on most sites you’re alerted to who is checking you out…followed by a loud silence when they don’t make contact; on one site one works their way up the “most popular listing” by responding to all contacts, which results in a lot of automated rejection emails). But mostly you learn about yourself.

Photo by Tierney Gearon
Photo by Tierney Gearon

I first gave the phenomenon a go a few years back. And I approached it as just that: a phenomenon. With my journalist’s hat on, I used my need for a column topic as my excuse for entering the fray. But, really, my excuse was that I was lonely and the tactic, frankly, was cowardly.  In the resulting column I wrote about how online dating is a great way to learn to be thoroughly yourself. That is, the forms you fill out to join the various services are a great way to remind yourself of what you like doing, what your values are, and so on. I stand by my theory, even if the pretense was a cop-out.

But I learned more this time.  This time I signed on to two sites. I’ve been on them for two months.

About men, I learned this: they like to hold fish up high in the air, go to a lot of events on boats toting bottles of boutique beer, “hit the gym”, watch Two and Half Men and Shawshank Redemption and read the Sunday papers. They’re “laid back” and “easy going” and “down to earth” (what Australian man isn’t!?), but “don’t do the club scene any more”,  don’t have time to read (except for aforementioned Sunday papers and Bob Marley’s biography),  get into a bit of the Foo (as in, presumably, Fighters) like it’s 1997, and take “selfies” in bathroom mirrors.

I also learned that young men with tribal tatts wearing muscle tees living in outer suburbs with Mum and Dad (a detail I gather by the bathroom accoutrements I can see in the reflections of their selfie portraits) are overly represented in the single scene. Actually I didn’t just learn this. I already knew it. It’s just that on online dating I’m connected with them (they’re overwhelmingly my main pursuers on the sites). I’ve written about how educated, career-orientated women in their late 30s and early 40s are overly represented in the Western world today, while for men it’s this younger, blue-collar demographic. It’s the result of “hypergamy“. And it leaves a huge disconnect in the dating market. Although, frankly, I find this kind of bloke more authentic and open with their intentions and overall spirit than a lot of the polished men working in finance, divorced and in their late 40s and 50s.

I learned I don’t like internet dating, but I stick to it to see if it can surprise me. I find attending to “criteria” is not how I want romance to strike. And the point being, I want to be struck. I want to be pursued, courted. Knocked over. It’s going to take that…a real blow to the kneecaps from a guy who’s brave enough to come that close. Which leads me to…

I learned – or had it reiterated – that the disconnect between single men and women (and there is one; we all talk about it, right?) can be blamed in part on the fact that old-fashioned courtship just doesn’t happen anymore. Women want it. Men are scared to do it, especially in their hardened thirties and beyond (when too many knockbacks leave them “gun shy” and the pool of women is so broad that they don’t really have to “fight” for the woman they want…so much so, they lose sight of what kind of woman they actually want). And, I’m sorry, I do think intimacy works out better when men do the active courting. It just does.

The rules of courtship once made things clear: “you do that, I do this”. Now we send non-committal “free kisses” to each other, hoping the other will take the lead and buy some stamps or make the first concrete, move out into the non-virtual. Me, I don’t respond to free kisses, only the men who “man up” and pay up and send me a proper message or invite into the non-virtual, real world. Which is the equivalent of wanting a man to actually walk across a room and introduce themselves, as opposed to giving a cursive glance as they walk past on the way to the loo.

This was the saddest picture I took from the whole thing:

We’re all noncommittally sending out free kisses. Waiting for the other to pay up and get real.

Noncommittal, waiting, too scared, too proud. Many of us are like this in life in general.

I learned there are a lot of nomads on internet dating. I’m a nomad. I move around a lot; I’m not a nester. This, I know, is a big part of why I’m single. I always look like I’m on my way to something else (or so I’m told), or I’m too busy to pin down to a date. There’s also this: my life is so varied and fun (in it’s nomadicdom) that relationships become a distant second to everything else.

A relationship has got to be special enough to enhance my life, and not detract from it. The better your life, of course, the higher the bar that a relationship must reach. The older you get, the better – or at least, richer – your life. See what I’m saying?

This is neither a good or bad thing. But it’s a thing.

The older you get, the more varied and enhanced your life is…and the higher the bar for someone to be able to come in and add something. At my age, a woman rarely needs a man. She wants one. Which is a very different bar, no?

Anyway, I’d say 80 per cent of the men I’ve encountered on the sites are nomads. They’re either just returning from being overseas, or they travel a lot (all their photos are from foreign locales) or, going by their “interests” rundown, they spend every spare moment out of town surfing, biking, travelling, moving…not settling.

This is why so many of us stay single. We’re nomads. We don’t like commitment.

This is also neither a good or bad thing. But it’s a thing. Learning this has certainly made me feel better about the whole caper.

I learned I’m happily lonely. Or, rather, I’m happy and lonely. I’m lonely for company when all my friends are in marriages and families with nights on couches in front of the DVD player. Internet dating exposed to me that I’m also lonely in my interests and particularities. In two months I’ve not encountered a “profile” that reflects back at me some kindred spirit-ness. I’ve been told I seem “unique” and “odd”. I was even emailed by a man who – compassionately – said he felt sorry for me, that my predicament (by which he meant my odd interests and needs) was  a tough one. Odd? Particular? So be it. I’m happy to be alone in this. I realise I have been most of my life. Ergo my nomadic tendencies.

I learned to be lonely is to be human. Raw-ly so. And found the men who shared their take on their loneliness truly attractive. To the point of overlooking their Two and A Half Men predilection.

I learned – and this is the big THING – that I really don’t care any more. Yes, I debated whether to put up a photo and run the risk of being outed. I decided to. And I ran a photo where you can clearly see what I look like.  I’m 39. I’ve copped much shit. I have little to hide. Life is delicate and not nearly long enough. Game on!

I tell you, when you care less, your heart opens wider.

I’ve only gone on one date from the whole online dating flirtation. As I say, I don’t like it. It’s taken a while to work this out and now that I know it, I’m about to pull down my profile. That one date was with a guy whose pictures I didn’t look at until later, but I read his profile and I liked his rawness and reading habits. He paid for an email contact (stood up, paid up, manned up). Invited me to coffee. We had a wonderful chat about loneliness and particularities.

And I learned this: you can have relationships at all kinds of levels. It doesn’t have to be exclusive and romantic and permanent.

Don’t you think?



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