To Online Date, or Not to Online Date, that is the question
February 5, 2011 10:24 PM   Subscribe

Should I try online dating or stick to hoping to meet someone in the outside world? More details inside.

Okay, so even though I am a female in my early 30's, I haven't had much experience dating. I would like to change that this year. After reading about online dating and peoples' experiences with it, I've noticed that some people are against it and opt for just randomly meeting people at events. I am up for trying either one, online dating or just meeting people. However, here's the complication: I'm an shy introverted geeky type who has had limited social interactions with guys. I have no clue how to flirt or when I am being flirted with, so I'm not sure if any guy has really shown any interest in me and if they have, I have totally missed the signs of it. I'm not sure if I have the courage yet to ask a guy out I like, but am working on it with my therapist.
So, I'm not sure if I should give online dating a try as I've heard and read about some horror stories from there, or I should just focus my attention on meeting more people and hoping to pick up on all these social cues that I hear of? Any input I could get on this would be great.
posted by Polgara to Human Relations (29 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a guy who tried online dating back in 2003/04. I went on a string of dates and all of them sucked (except for one who I made a good friend out of). After a few goes I gave up and swore never to go on another online date again.

Then one day a girl at the site 'winked' at me and for some reason I wrote back. I was still intent on not going on a date with her, and expressed as much when I first spoke to her over MSN. I was happy to be friends though, I said, and so over the course of several weeks we chatted and chatted and chatted some more.

Eventually I couldn't help but realise I was falling for this girl and when I admitted as much, she said she was falling for me also. We went on a date. it was good. A few years later we got married and we're still happily married today.

YMMV but the way my wife and I see it, online dating is as fraught with as many perks and pitfalls as meeting people in the more 'traditional' way can be. And as we're both introverts, we both agree that online dating can be a better way for introverts to find the one they like/love. Give it a try. Be careful, as you would be with anyone you might consider opening yourself up to online or not, but dont be overly cautious. You may end up getting your heart broken, you may end up finding new ways to hate people... but you may also find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.

Dating, online or off, is a risk, but a fun one. Go for it!
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:37 PM on February 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

Shy introverted geeky types are what online dating does best. You can forge a genuine connection online, with the safety of relative anonymity, before you ever meet in person. It completely removes the uncertainty of not knowing if someone's interested in you; if they choose to message you, and you've swapped a few dozen messages, they're interested.

Horror stories: sure, there are dates that go badly. You could meet a creeper. But I'm unconvinced these risks are any greater if you meet someone IRL. If anything, the protracted prior contact you get in online dating gives you a marginally better sense of getting to know someone. Take a few common sense precautions, like meeting for the first time at a busy restaurant.

The real benefit is something you haven't mentioned, though: you can simply get to know far, far more guys in a few months online that you would run into at a whole lifetime's worth of charity events or awards nights.
posted by dontjumplarry at 10:44 PM on February 5, 2011

Effigy2000 has it. Online dating is really only a way to meet people you wouldn't have met otherwise. That being the case -- why not try doing both for a while? You can always drop one option if it's not working, or it makes you uncomfortable.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:56 PM on February 5, 2011

A friend met her husband online, they've been happily married for almost 10 years now. As Effigy2000 says, it's as hit and miss as trying to meet someone in the flesh; at least online you get some filtering built in. Why not give it a shot.
posted by arcticseal at 11:05 PM on February 5, 2011

(assuming you are looking for a relationship) dating is like terrorism, you only have to suceed the more dates you go on the more likely you are to get the one success, so I say date as much as you possibly can, including Internet dating
posted by bananafish at 11:08 PM on February 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

The biggest advantage of online dating is you know that the other person is also looking to meet people romantically. This is the biggest unknown when you're meeting people at social events.

Depending on the site and information available, you can also pre-filter, saving yourself some time (diet, religion, politics, fitness, lifestyle, children, relationship status, looks, interests, etc). But don't be too aggressive/strict about filtering, I've found that being different is what makes people interesting!

Anyway, use common sense and be safe, and there's nothing wrong with online dating. You'll meet no more crazies than if you were to go to a club or other random social event.

Ultimately, remember that it's a numbers game...some people will respond to your add, some of those will meet in person, some of those will be worth a second date, and some of those you will actually date. And at each step, it takes both of you to go further. Those are some small odds, so don't be discouraged! And sometimes it's just not the right time.

Finally, really do be honest about yourself - don't try to be who you think they want to meet, that will be bad eventually for both of you.

Get a friend to review your profile and give feedback (male and female friends for feedback!). Use flattering, current, pictures of yourself. Include a good headshot and a body shot. Don't try to hide anything, as they'll be meeting you in real life if things go well and you don't want them to be surprised.

Don't be offended if you get no responses or communication suddenly ceases, this is the online dating way of moving on w/the least amount of pain. You don't have to respond to every message that you receive.
posted by jpeacock at 11:14 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I met my husband 11 years ago online. Best thing I ever did, even though I wasn't looking to get married AT ALL. Online dating does have its horror stories, but we both feel that it gave us an opportunity to get to know each other deeply before we'd ever met in person. It took away the dumb mistakes you make when you're physically attracted to someone you've just met and replaced it with getting to know each other on the inside before you meet in person.

It was pretty weird meeting a person face-to-face for the first time who I already knew very well, and to hear his voice coming out of a real live person I'd only known online and by phone for a few months. But that strangeness lasted about 5 minutes, and he's been my best friend ever since. I hope you have the same experience or better!
posted by northernlightgardener at 11:33 PM on February 5, 2011

However, here's the complication: I'm an shy introverted geeky type who has had limited social interactions with guys. I have no clue how to flirt or when I am being flirted with, so I'm not sure if any guy has really shown any interest in me and if they have, I have totally missed the signs of it. I'm not sure if I have the courage yet to ask a guy out I like

I don't understand how that's supposed to be a complication with the idea of trying online dating. I don't see any dilemma. It sounds like you sort of know it is worth trying, but you're looking for excuses not to?

There's always someone who shows up in any thread on online dating to give the anti view. Frankly, I never really know what they're talking about. I assume they tried it and weren't successful — during the period of time in which they did give it a try. Don't let internet commenters tell you not to even try something, something that could easily turn out great for you.

Oh, yeah, online dating has its horror stories. Why is that? Because it involves interacting with human beings, who sometimes behave badly. Problem is, same thing's true of "meeting people in real life." (Scare quotes because "online dating" tends to quickly turn into ... meeting people in real life.) There's risk in anything.

Reality check: The men on dating sites aren't some bizarre other species that's any different from the people you meet in your workplace, school, place of worship, cafe, bookstore, bar, laundromat, or wherever else you might go to meet them. Many of the people you see at those places are, of course, on dating sites! They're the same people. Websites cannot magically concoct a Mr. Right or a Mr. Wrong for you in a lab. They're just efficient tools for getting access to normal (or abnormal!) people you already walk by every day in the street without realizing you could date them.

I'm shy and introverted and wasn't good at picking up social cues about whether someone liked me. Online dating changed my life.

I think you should try online dating.
posted by John Cohen at 11:55 PM on February 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

Numbers. It's all damn numbers. Here's what you've got to ask yourself - how often do you get asked out 'IRL' or ask someone out? So, as an introvert, you meet maybe 20 people a month, we'll say, through friends, at work, whatever. What are the odds that you're into one of those people? What are the odds they feel similarly?

With online dating, you change that to 20 a day, maybe a week. I'm not saying it's easier, or even better. But it's more. And as a shy introverted dude, that's been a big difference.
posted by OrangeDrink at 12:08 AM on February 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just started trying online dating about a month ago and was nervous and skeptical--I also tend to be a bit shy--but figured I may as well give it a try. I just got home from a really excellent first date with someone I connected with online.

Now I'm not saying he is going to be the love of my life or anything, but I had a wonderful and fun evening that I wouldn't have had otherwise if I hadn't given the online thing a try. I've had some other dates that haven't been nearly as good, but none of them have been horrible, either.

The nice thing about the online aspect, especially for those who tend to be a bit more shy, is that it does give you the chance to get conversations going before meeting in person--I'm not saying you want to message someone forever, but if you get an exchange going beforehand, it gives you some starting points of conversation when you do meet in person rather than going in cold. And, because it is written initially, you have time to think about what you are saying and conveying rather than agonizing about how you are coming off during those initial conversations. For me, anyway, I think it helps take the edge off the nervousness.

Online dating is no guarantee that you'll, ahem, find your Durnik but I'm essentially echoing what others above are: there is no harm in trying, or in trying to meet people through assorted social events. It isn't zero-sum, and if you really are interested in dating, the more you get yourself out there in whatever form, the more likely you are to find something that could work. Good luck!
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 12:08 AM on February 6, 2011

Here's the other thing that I think helps overly intellectual shy types: online dating sets your formal parameters for you. You know you're on a DATE and it's okay to be sexually and emotionally interested in someone. You're not coworkers or friends or whatever. You're on a goddamn date, and you act accordingly.
posted by OrangeDrink at 12:12 AM on February 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

There is no difference between online dating and offline dating. The only people who think there is are the trends editor of your local newspaper, and your parents. Neither of whom should have any say in how you meet people.
posted by auto-correct at 12:44 AM on February 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

I met my own husband through online dating. For me, it was a matter of filtering since my schedule didn't leave me much opportunity to meet the kind of person I wanted to by going to random events. For me, it was preferable to get to know the person by correspondence, first - this way I could assess the intangibles that work for me: education/literacy, ability to respond to messages in a timely matter, ability to listen/pay attention to details about my life and so on.
posted by medea42 at 1:27 AM on February 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

  • You widen your pool of eligible men, by meeting people outside of your group of friends and acquaintances.
  • You're on a dating site, so he's looking. If he's talking to you on a dating site, he's interested in you. You don't have to deal with the awkwardness over "Is he flirting?" "Should I be flirting?" "Is he even single?"
  • If you are nervous about making the first move, online dating provides a variety of low-stress ways to do so (wink, poke, save to favorites) that will let a guy know you're interested.
  • You can find the answers to questions about your compatibility that it would be weird or rude to ask somebody you just met at a real world event. This may be relevant if you're very invested in politics/have a specific kink you want your partner to share/refuse to date anybody who isn't on the same page as you re: how to deal with an unwanted pregnancy or any number of things that aren't suitable for casual conversation.
  • Online dating makes screening easier. So I've found the dates themselves tend to go better. My worst online dating experiences have involved having nice conversations over drinks with guys who share my interests, but ultimately not feeling any spark. The same cannot be sad for my worst dating experiences with men I met offline...

  • The initial search for suitable men online can be a real slog when it's not going well. If you're at a party with friends and meet a guy who turns out to be a bad match, then who cares, right? At least you're still at a party with your friends.
  • If you live somewhere online dating isn't popular or even just somewhere remote, then online dating will probably be kind of pointless. It works best in densely populated areas where there are new people signing up all the time.
  • No matter how divey the bar, propriety will usually prevent multiple guys from wandering over and attempting to show you their penis without so much as a good evening. The same could not be said of online dating until I turned off instant messages and a lot of other things in preferences.
  • In the real world, only one guy will try to ask you out at a time. Online there is a significant gender bias which means you will be constantly getting messages from guys. This can be really hard to navigate at first, especially if you're not used to getting lots of attention from men. Trying to thread your way between "Why did you send me a message just to tell me you aren't attracted to me. That's cruel!" and "Why didn't you respond to my email? Even a polite 'I don't find you attractive' would have been better than leaving me hanging like this!" is difficult. You can expect to accidentally hurt somebody's feelings or to have somebody hurt yours. Also, if you're not good at maintaining multiple flirtations at the same time, you'll find yourself rejecting perfectly good men because you're already deep in conversation with somebody else and aren't very good at romantic multitasking. In the real world - unless you're supermodel gorgeous - it's unlikely that you'll have to deal with this.
  • You may find it less embarrassing down the road when asked "So how did you two meet?"

posted by the latin mouse at 2:41 AM on February 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Look at it this way: you can exclusively go to meetups, and spend four hours and one-and-a-half times your budget sitting next to eleven women and two guys of whom one is out of your age range and another does not look at you or speak to you.

You can go to larger gatherings of 100 people, and after filtering out those who are too old or young for you, not available, not attractive, or not stable in some immediately observable way (e.g. is on his third double whisky in an hour), your choices are reduced to four, three of whom you don't cross paths with, and the fourth of whom is not attracted to you.

Now wait until next week and do it all again.

Arduous, isn't it? Don't you long for the days when you went out just to do stuff you liked, and not to go on a snipe hunt?

Maybe you could go online and start screening 20 pre-filtered guys a day. Watch out, though: axe-murderers rarely answer the "Are you an axe murderer?" question honestly. Online people are DEVIOUS. But at least you know they're looking for a date.
posted by tel3path at 2:48 AM on February 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do both. There's no reason to limit yourself to one or the other.
posted by massysett at 3:29 AM on February 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

My wife and I wrote back-and-forth for a good month before our first date almost nine years ago. I'm not sure what your horror stories are, but I would think the most horrible of them happen in real life too.
posted by troywestfield at 4:44 AM on February 6, 2011

Yes, yes, yes, sign up. I really had no idea how to meet guys, because of the pitfalls described he flirting? probably, i'll go for it.....oops, he's married / gay / way older than he looks.......

Online, you can winnow down your interests at a quick glance by focusing on people with similar interests, so you won't get stuck on a blind date set up by someone who doesn't really know either of you. It can lead to lots of false hope when someone with a great profile and good e-mail chemistry is a total troglodyte IRL. I met lots of troglodytes, but while I was quickly going through one or two bad dates with them, I was sending more and more emails back and forth with this other guy....who's now been making me ridiculously happy for about six months.

Another reason online dating is good for introverts: too much pressure? Just turn off the computer!!
posted by motsque at 4:58 AM on February 6, 2011

Shy, geeky, introverted type guy here: I'm going to run crosswise to most of the comments above and suggest that addressing having "no clue how to flirt or when I am being flirted with" (as you've said you are doing) is going be more important to your success and enjoyment of dating, and ultimately, of a relationship, than where/how you got introduced. Both a date you arrange online by yourselves, or a fixup by your mutual friends, is a blind date, with all that goes with it. And then, there you are! in real space with a real guy, and some time to get to know each other. Where and how would you feel comfortable doing that? Over a cup of coffee or dinner? Walking in a park? On an organized bike ride? Let your answer guide your invitation, or how you negotiate an invitation made to you.
Ask a guy friend you'd be comfortable to role-play with, to role-play inviting you on a date or you inviting him. It will help take the edge off that sometimes scary first step. Don't forget to role-play declining each others' invitations as well as accepting them and arranging the time and place.
A lot of guys would describe themselves similarly to how you did: shy and without much experience in reading someone else's non-verbal cues. Talk about those things with your therapist and role-play them with your friend. Making and breaking eye-contact, how we sit when we're with someone we're interested in (or not), ditto how we stand and walk, communicate our interest, intentionally or not, and accurately - or perhaps not. Once you get more aware of some the cues people use and read, you'll start noticing them in other people and noticing what you do yourself.
Then, practice - for real - and have fun!
posted by TruncatedTiller at 5:08 AM on February 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I met my husband after a bout of online dating several years ago. I turned to online dating when I realized that I just wasn't meeting a large enough pool of appropriate eligible bachelors IRL, and I had certain constraints on significantly expanding that pool through IRL activities (my big constraint was being a single parent--yours may be being geeky and introverted). After extricating myself from yet another in-hindsight ill-advised relationship, I felt it was very important to do SOMETHING to keep my romantic thoughts from turning toward the handful of inappropriate (usually due to not having their shit together in one way or another) bachelors in my IRL world.

I frankly had a very good time doing online dating, and if it weren't for the fact that I have no intention of becoming single again any time soon, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I tried to view it first and foremost as an opportunity to go out and have a good time with another adult human being. I'm sure I've read advice about online dating suggesting you keep your first date super low-key--like a mid-day coffee date or something. I took the opposite tact--I planned dates (even first dates) where even if I didn't really hit it off with the person, I'd still have a good time doing whatever it is that we were doing: ethnic restaurant, museums, brew pubs, folk music at the coffeehouse, etc.

It's a good position to be in, making a decision to move forward in a relationship based on the sense that this is a person you're compatible with and who has the qualities you're looking for, and not just because they're the only person you could find who seemed interested in you.
posted by drlith at 5:30 AM on February 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Honoria already made my joke, but I was going to say, dude, online dating -- you have a built-in filter. Just mention Polgara in your profile somewhere (maybe put the Belgariad under your favorite books) and you have a built-in nerd lure and a pretty effective filter too. Anyone who gets it is likely to share at least SOME interests with you and send you an e-mail saying, "OMG, I LOVE PAWN OF PROPHECY" and anyone who doesn't get it (or doesn't mention it!) you can proceed with more caution.

Nerd men respond well to nerd signals. They're frequently also unclear on when they're being flirted with, but they're totally clear on wanting to discuss their favorite books with female nerds! (Or, really, anyone who will share their enthusiasm even a little.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:44 AM on February 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's no commitment to online dating. Make a profile. Go browse. Once a week, once a day, once an hour, once a month. Respond to messages, write messages. Ignore messages. Go on five dates in two weeks, let the profile sit dormant for a year (actually, a free site is probably better for this unless you're very flush, but OKCupid is generally considered one of the better sites anyway). Really, why not? Get together with a girlfriend and enjoy a couple glasses of wine and draft your first profile. The ease and mainstream-ness of online dating nowadays makes it feel to me a bit like *not* trying online dating when you know you're looking for dates is a bit like deciding you're purposely never going to go to events where there will be people you don't know, in the real world.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:28 AM on February 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Online dating is awesome for women. A good profile will garner hundreds of responses and then it's just a winnowing process.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:58 AM on February 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I spent a couple very interesting years online dating in my early/mid-twenties. As an introvert, I was not very good at asking out people at social events, so online dating was very helpful. One thing that I learned was that the longer I corresponded with a person online before meeting, the more difficult it was to disengage after meeting in person if I did not want to go on another date. Maybe it was my guilt complex? Disappointment over unmet expectations? So I made it a rule to set up a first date after a just a couple e-mails -- but only if they could write coherently, didn't sound creepy, and included or sent me a picture. That way I didn't get too attached to the writing style of a person and actually formed a relationship with that person in real life. I had friends who would write to people online for months and months, and then things would flop when they eventually met in person. I couldn't handle that type of let down, so I kept things short and sweet online and set up low pressure first dates.

It was a great adventure, and I met a ton of fascinating people. As a woman, you will probably be bombarded by men responding to your profile/post. I had the best luck when I picked men's profiles or Craigslist posts to respond to -- at my own pace. When guys initiated contact with me, I wasn't as selective because the messages just kept coming and things got a bit overwhelming. All of my actual relationships during that period were from guys that I sought out myself - including my husband, who I met off Craigslist (crazy!).

Give it a shot and see what happens!
posted by Maarika at 7:45 AM on February 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Should you try online dating? Absolutely!

I'm a fellow shy, geeky type whose friends finally pressured me into online dating about two years ago. While I like seeing all the success stories posted above (and still wistfully hope I'll have my own success story someday), I'm going to give a piece of advice I wish I had known from the get-go: consider online dating as a way to meet people and get practice dating - but don't go in with any other expectations. If you meet someone, great - if not, at least you're getting experience with dating and interacting with the opposite sex.

Personally, I've decided to take a break from online dating for a while. It's been fun and I've had several pretty good dates (plus quite a few bad ones!), but there's never much chemistry and as a result none of them lasted more than a couple of dates. I don't know why, maybe it's just not my cup of tea, but who knows - you might have better luck! That being said, I'm still really happy I gave it a go. Now I'm a bit less intimidated to ask out women, I'm way more perceptive, much more comfortable on dates - all skills that will no doubt come in handy when I DO finally meet my match.
posted by photo guy at 10:07 AM on February 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I did the online dating thing off and on for the past 4.5 years. (I'm female and almost 30.)

Jacqueline's statement above (online dating is great for women because you get tons of responses) and other like it, used to make me livid. I did *not* ever get tons of responses. I really got irritated with people telling me I should be getting hundreds-- and therefore was horribly unattractive or undateable or who the heck knows what when I only got maybe 10/month.

The thing is, 10/month was plenty. And fancy this, you can *send* messages too! Who knew! When I was actively dating I didn't have time to go on that many dates in a month anyhow, so between the people who messaged me and those whom I messaged, it was really more than enough.

The sad thing for me is that I don't really meet people that way-- it takes me a long time around a person before I feel any chemistry. Some time last summer I more or less stopped paying any attention. First dates just get old after a while, and I've got a career to pay attention to, and frankly I'd rather be hanging out with awesome friends/doing fun things I love than going on tens of dull icky first dates anyhow.

Then, quite recently, the other way worked out for me-- met a guy through one of my regular activities. Yay!

So, in summary: do both. Try the online dating thing; worst case, you'll get disillusioned but learn some flirting skills and maybe meet a friend or two (I did meet one friend that way). But don't stop doing your regular activities; you never know where you'll meet someone, so just make sure you spend time around other humans! And if you don't have regular activities you do with other people-- get some. Social skills are tremendously useful things to have (even for us natural introverts).
posted by nat at 11:53 AM on February 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

"dating is like terrorism, you only have to suceed once"

And if the lack of a catchy headline was preventing you from trying online dating, you may proceed.
posted by santaliqueur at 1:38 PM on February 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think online dating is fantastic for shy people, especially if you're a decent writer. If you look at online dating profiles, you'll immediately notice that most people write really lame statements about themselves: "easy going . . . like to go out for dinner . . . want a nice girl" etc., etc. If you can write at all, you've got an advantage, and you don't have to be gorgeous or a social butterfly to attract men. I found it to be a great ego-booster, because shy, plain me had lots of male attention for the first time in my life. I didn't post a picture (because I don't have any good ones), but I was upfront about being plump and no great beauty and I still got lots of interest.

It also saves a HUGE amount of time because you don't have to go out on dates with people you have nothing in common with. I'm a lefty atheist who doesn't want kids, and I live in a very conservative, religious area; where am I going to meet somebody like me? I tried to be very honest in my profile, and it worked spectacularly for me.

A warning, though: don't waste time with guys you meet online who find excuses not to meet you in real life. The first time I tried online dating, I spent way too much time waiting for a guy I met to find the time to meet me (I was lonely, and I settled for much less than I deserved). If you e-mail or talk on the phone a few times, and you're ready to meet but he keeps putting it off or making excuses, cut him loose; he's probably one of those who just likes the chase or the flirting and isn't really interested in you (or he isn't single).
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 6:21 PM on February 6, 2011

Look - it's scary. You have to put yourself out there. You have to risk rejection. But that's dating - regardless of which way you do it.

I am a shy, quiet, nerdy guy - not the kind to fearlessly put myself out there. Unless I was introduced by mutual friends or the like, I can't imagine meeting someone any other way. You should definitely join OKCupid - (sadly now part of - I hope they don't ruin it) - it's definitely the most geek-friendly dating site out there. It's not a geek-only site - it just does a great job finding the kind of person you'd be into. It's how I met my amazing, awesome girlfriend (and fellow nerd). And if you want to geek out on stats and data, definitely read their highly informative blog.

You do have to answer a reasonable amount of profile questions - those are even more important than filling out the usual profile info. Question-matching is how OKCupid does its magic.
posted by O9scar at 9:01 AM on February 7, 2011

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