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Should Big Brother give advice?
March 3, 2011 10:27 AM   Subscribe

How old should you be to start online dating? Should I (very gently) suggest it to my sister?

A bit of background: my sister's just coming off her freshman year of college (18 turning 19 this year). She's pretty introverted and a little awkward, but has intermittently dated a few (equally shy, awkward) boys these past few years, with varying degrees of success, but not recently. She's in a pretty academically-intense program, works part-time, doesn't have many hobbies conductive to meeting new people, but she just wants to go on a few dates once in a while. She's told me about going to bars a few times with friends (drinking age here is 18) but said that it was "too loud, made [her] tired, wanted to go home".

I know this because I (quite-a-few-years-older brother) am her primary confidant in these things (our parents are worse than terrible at this kind of thing). I usually just make some sympathetic noises and offer a bit of my perspective on things (I was a shy awkward nerdy freshman once, too). Another point to note is that she's usually not just venting at me or anything -- if I offer up a bit of advice she'll think on it a little bit, and sometimes we'll discuss it further (usually all this takes place on email, as we're both more comfortable with the written word than face-to-face conversation)

I've noticed that the kinds of situations she comes to me with are remniscent of a lot of questions brought up in AskMe ("I like him! I don't know if he likes me! We're both too shy to do anything about it!). I've also noticed that online dating crops up a lot in AskMe "introvert" threads. My sister's internet-savvy and has been interacting with people over the internet in a sensible, safe way since her early teens, so I'd think meeting someone online would be a natural progression for her.

Do you think it'd be a good idea for me to gently nudge her in the direction, of, say, OKCupid or something like that, or is that just weird? Is it ever a good idea to do that, regardless of age? If I do end up suggesting it (and she actually agrees to try it), what are some tips I can offer to help keep her safe? (She's generally pretty smart about these things, but I do have to do my big brother duties.)

(anon because some family members are occasionally on AskMe)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do you know that she even has an interest in dating at this point?

If your sister is internet savvy, she has heard of OKCupid, and might even have a profile.

Let her do what she wants to do. If she comes to you for specific help, suggest it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:31 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm 21 and a member of OKCupid... a lot of the people I see on there are 18-20, and many of them are students somewhere. So, no, I'd say she isn't too young.

I don't think it would be a bad idea to suggest OKCupid to her -- I've suggested it to friends before, and wouldn't hesitate to suggest it to my sister if she was older.

As far as safety is concerned... if you get vibes from someone that make you uncomfortable or if they're pushing too hard or something, don't be afraid to say no or stop. Meet in public places the first time. Don't give away too much personal information too early. That common sense Internet stuff, mostly.
posted by naturalog at 10:33 AM on March 3, 2011


I would worry that OkCupid, even if she meets someone great, is liable to isolate her more from her peers. If she's the typical introvert, she'll spend all her time happily with that one person and neglet a social life. This bodes particularly ill for her mental health post-breakup.

If I were you, I would focus on getting her to connect with her college community via extracurriculars. Having a network is more important in college than having an SO.
posted by Nixy at 10:37 AM on March 3, 2011 [20 favorites]


Sure, mention it as an idea. She's free to take it or leave it. I assume she will be better at weighing the pros and cons than you or I.

If anything, you seem a bit too eager to make a really compelling argument to her for why she should do this. I assume, reading between the lines of your question, that she does want to date. But I'm not sure why you're so intent on optimizing her dating options when she's just 19.

The age minimum for OKCupid is 18. There are many well-known good reasons to use OKCupid that would seem to apply to any age from 18 to 88. You can go on OKCupid and do a quick search for people of a certain age, like 19, and see how many there are in your area.

There are many, many articles out there with more online dating safety tips, which you can quickly find through a search engine such as Google or Bing, using a query such as [online dating safety tips].

A few basic tips off the top of my head: At least the first date should be in a public place. Don't give too much personal info right away. Follow your instincts and never feel pressured to do anything (that means you're free to abruptly end the date at any time). You can let a nearby friend know where you're going to be and stay in touch with that person in case any trouble arises. You'll probably find all these tips mentioned if you do the aforementioned internet search.
posted by John Cohen at 10:42 AM on March 3, 2011


Is she bemoaning a lack of dates or boyfriends? Only suggest it if that's the case.
posted by schroedinger at 10:54 AM on March 3, 2011


There is no more conducive environment in the world for meeting people than college. If she isn't making the minimal effort there, I doubt she'd really get much from a dating site anyway. She needs to meet people - period. It doesn't matter if they are male or female, date-able or not. College is unique 4 years - encourage to join a club, volunteer, whatever. Anything where is hanging out with like minded college kids will lead to friendships, dates, and maybe relationships. OKCupid will still be there after college, when meeting people suddenly becomes exponentially more difficult. Encourage her to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by college while she can.
posted by COD at 11:01 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think Nixy and COD have it. She's probably mature and savvy enough for online dating, but there's no substitute for being surrounded by people your age. Online dating will still be around after she graduates; the built-in social network of college will not.

She's only in her second semester, and the first year can be really hard on people, especially shy ones. She'll find her people in the student body; don't encourage her to pull away from it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:04 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


...bars a few times with friends (drinking age here is 18) but said that it was "too loud, made [her] tired, wanted to go home".

Hey, Sis, you know, you might meet people who are more interesting to you if you looked somewhere you could be more specific; there are a lot of loud exhausting people at college! Maybe even through a web site, even a dating site or something -- I've heard OKCupid's not too bad, and there might even be other college students on it, although there's a chance you might enjoy the company of people who are a little older.
posted by amtho at 11:15 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anyone who is in college is going to have better luck in "meatspace" than on any dating site. It's largely a numbers game, and the process of being enrolled at a university constitutes much better numbers than almost any online dating scenario.

She should be meeting people in class, college housing, and other common university scenarios. There are TONS of ways to "date" in college without going to bars. In the US, most college students are not of drinking age, and very little socializing happens in bars (I can see this being different wherever you live, especially if there's a strong pub culture).

Thinking back to when I was in school, I met people in the following ways: dormitory hall-mate, class, class, class, friend of dormitory hall-mate, fellow editor on the school paper, dormitory hall-mate. Then after I moved off campus (when I was a bit older), it went: housemate, friend of housemate, fellow art collective member, mutual friends on Friendster, visiting artist-in-residence at the gallery I worked for.

In contrast, since I have left school, my choices are dating a coworker or snagging one of my last remaining single friends-of-friends, none of whom seemed enticing all those years ago, so why "settle" for them now? This is the reason people in their mid to late 20's tend to go online. The world of dating post-college is sad enough - why go there if you don't have to?
posted by Sara C. at 11:19 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would worry that OkCupid, even if she meets someone great, is liable to isolate her more from her peers. If she's the typical introvert, she'll spend all her time happily with that one person and neglet a social life.

This is not a problem specific to OkCupid, though. It could happen with some person she meets in her chem class or coffee shop, too. It's not fair or accurate to characterize that as a caution against OkCupid/online dating/online social networking when she might actually find a lot of benefit from using it to connect with people who share her interests and might even encourage her to, universe forbid, feel great about who she is. There is a false dichotomy being set up with "internet = more social isolation and depression" versus "real life = more social and happy".

Anecdata point: I am one of those really sensitive, introverted people. In college, I had a hard time meeting people who had anything remotely in common with me because I went to a tiny school populated by wealthy, religious, politically conservative people (and changing schools felt at the time like it was not an available option). Being at school made me more depressed, and my unhealthy behaviors and emotional state only got worse when people tried to tell me to spend more time there "getting involved". There was just not a lot for me. I made friends through going out to see bands play and doing what I liked to do "in real life", sure, but the internet has more than certainly connected me to more of the people I value in my life than it has harmed me. I was sort of scared of OkCupid because I was under the impression it was a hookup site more than a dating site, and then I met the greatest person I've ever known through it, like 2 days after I signed up. I, like the OP's sister, have been relatively smart about "meeting people from the internet", and know how to monitor my own feelings of safety or unsafety. If I did not have the friends I've made from online sources, I wouldn't be able to believe that there are people in the world who "get" me at all. I am now a happy, healthy adult, with many people I love and who love me. I feel like I have strong social support when I need it.

Next time your sister complains about a social thing or dating thing, just ask her, "hey, I have heard a lot of good things about online dating, especially OkCupid... have you thought of trying that? Or something like meetup.com?" Those things work for a lot of people, and it's ok to communicate to your sister that you want to encourage her and see her happier.
posted by so_gracefully at 11:20 AM on March 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Freshman year of college is kind of a whole new ball game, socially, for most people. I'd encourage her to just meet people, in general. There are almost definitely groups out there for her- finding her niche will help her meet dudes and will just make her life better overall.

Also, I have trouble imagining using a dating site in college. No one "dates" at my school. If she isn't into getting drunk at bars and parties (which is option A for meeting people where I go) than you should encourage her to get involved in some groups and see if there are any guys there she likes. This option B is what has worked for people I know who aren't into hooking up.
posted by MadamM at 11:22 AM on March 3, 2011


For what it's worth, if the issue is that she's not happy at school, she should address that by either working to find her niche or changing schools. Not by diving into relationships.
posted by Sara C. at 11:23 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree with so_gracefully.

The fact that college might be a dating wonderland (though this is actually a caricature and doesn't always reflect real life) doesn't mean she should shun all other dating options outside of college.

It's rather elitist to insist on only dating students who attend your college. Online dating can be a great way to meet people from walks of life you wouldn't have otherwise interacted with.

But again, this isn't our decision or your decision; it's hers.
posted by John Cohen at 11:31 AM on March 3, 2011


Nixy: " If she's the typical introvert, she'll spend all her time happily with that one person and neglet a social life."

The key word in that sentence is "happily." If she's happy spending her time with 1 person or 100, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. Trying to engineer your sister to be anyone other than who she is isn't your place.

Also, shyness and introversion are not the same thing. Shy people have trouble talking to or interacting with others. Introverts prefer the company of one or two people, or being by themselves, to that of a large group. Just because someone prefers something doesn't mean they have contempt for or fear the opposite. Please go read the Jonathan Rauch article on this that gets cited here a lot.

Your sister may prefer online dating and take you up on the suggestion, she may not. You're within your right to make it, but not to push the issue.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 12:32 PM on March 3, 2011


Sure, why not mention it?

College was not an easy place to meet people for me. I didn't wind up with any real new close platonic friends, other than ones I met online during the same time. I DID meet my husband there, but it was so close to not happening, and he's literally the only person that I regularly see that I met during that time. College isn't always the friend fiesta that certain types of people think it is. If I did it over, I'd probably do better, and I'd be more of a joiner and talker. But who knows if it'd result in more friends.

Also, for people who've been out of dating for more than a few years, online dating is WAY more pervasive than you think it is. There was a recently published article/study that found something like 25% (?) of current couples met through an online dating site. The thing that really shocked me about the study was that the researchers found it hadn't led to an increase in new couples overall -- it had apparently simply replaced other methods for finding dates, I guess. So for many people, ignoring online dating because it seems to be too new, strange, weird, or fringe-y is probably a bad idea: rather than just not adding what you were thinking of as source of potential extra dates, you might be unknowingly and passively reducing the "regular" pool.
posted by wintersweet at 1:46 PM on March 3, 2011


There was a recently published article/study that found something like 25% (?) of current couples met through an online dating site. The thing that really shocked me about the study was that the researchers found it hadn't led to an increase in new couples overall -- it had apparently simply replaced other methods for finding dates, I guess. So for many people, ignoring online dating because it seems to be too new, strange, weird, or fringe-y is probably a bad idea: rather than just not adding what you were thinking of as source of potential extra dates, you might be unknowingly and passively reducing the "regular" pool.

Well, I wouldn't draw any conclusions from this study as to what any specific individual should do. Even assuming the study is 100% accurate (doubtful), it's describing broad, statistical categories of people. In other words: fine, the same number of couples exist overall, but that doesn't tell me, John, whether online dating will increase my chances of finding a date. It might increase my chances (it certainly has!) while decreasing some other individual's chances. And that other person might not even use dating sites; maybe he or she is staunchly committed to IRL methods, which don't work as well anymore because a lot of people are sitting around sending messages on OKCupid, when 20 years ago they would have been at a "singles bar" *shudder*. All this also applies to the OP's sister, of course.
posted by John Cohen at 1:57 PM on March 3, 2011


If she wants to be dating more, yeah, suggest OKC or something as an option. I wouldn't go beyond that in terms of trying to convince her unless she asks for your opinion or tries to engage in debate/discussion about the idea.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:32 PM on March 3, 2011


I think you should leave it alone. If she's not desperately lonely, I would let things take their own course. She has time. Look out for her, as you are.

Bonus: If she's been successfully on the internet since her early teens, she's well aware of online dating. Also, if she's been on Metafilter, she knows where she can find a source of somewhat acceptable guidance on the matter of introverts, dating and the internet.
posted by cior at 7:36 PM on March 3, 2011


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