Bikes, books, Brooklyn, and boredom: help me normalize my expectations of OkCupid.
June 19, 2011 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Please help me manage my expectations about online dating!

I am a 30 yr-old woman living in Brooklyn: cute, smart, funny, in good shape, currently attending grad school to pursue my dreams after an interesting and artsy career. I also have been single for 4 solid years. I vacillate between wanting a partner very much and not caring less (I don't want kids). IRL dating for one reason or another is very difficult for me -- NYC, getting older, not a lot of available men in my friend/academic/work circles.

I've been in and out of the online dating game, most recently on OkCupid. The dates I go on are. . . fine. Some are horrible, some are boring, some seem promising and then interest peters out quickly. My problem comes when I really hit it off with someone online, meet them, and things are good. . . but can't hold a candle to the deep, palpable connections I've experienced with my past likes and loves. This plunges me into a pit of despair and loneliness in which I contemplate staying in my apartment and never dating again.

I know that this is in part do to my own skewed expectations, but is there any way I can be better about changing that? What *should* one expect from an initial meeting with someone who online seems just fantastic? And, for bonus points, how do I deal with my (all happily coupled) friends who, when I talk about this -- rarely -- either blow me off or tell me I'm silly because "I can have sex whenever I want, if I just tried."
posted by sideofwry to Human Relations (24 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Those "deep, palpable connections" take time to build. Expecting that on a first date means you're going to be disappointed, I'm afraid. Why not try a few second, and maybe even thirds with the guys for whom "things are good?"
posted by amileighs at 11:13 AM on June 19, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Previously.
posted by John Cohen at 11:22 AM on June 19, 2011

how do I deal with my (all happily coupled) friends who, when I talk about this -- rarely -- either blow me off or tell me I'm silly because "I can have sex whenever I want, if I just tried."

"I'm looking for more than just sex."
posted by John Cohen at 11:24 AM on June 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

How openly are you going into these dates? You say you vacillate between wanting a partner and not really caring, and it seems like you're dating because you think you should--you sound just barely even interested in the whole process. Remember that no one can make a deep, palpable connection with someone who is effectively not open to that connection, or not ready for it. It's not going to just fall out of the sky on the first date, generally speaking, and it's certainly not going to just magically appear in the hands of a person who is ambivalent about dating at all.

The only thing you have to be in life is yourself. If yourself isn't really into this, why do it? If yourself really does want to meet someone, be actively engaged in the process of getting to know them and explore whether there is a potential for a deep, palpable connection.
posted by so_gracefully at 11:29 AM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think of the first meeting as dates, I just think of them as going out to meet a new person for an activity. This way I can't be too disappointed if it goes horribly, because, hey, just going out and meeting a new person is cool and just doing something outside the apartment in lovely NYC. Fun! Win!

Also -- I too am in my thirties and have happily coupled friends -- I don't discuss my feelings about being single with most of them. It's usually an aggravating mix of pity and/or advice of the style of "when you're your most perfect self, it'll happen," or "when you're not looking..." It just got too annoying. Everyone has feelings about everything in their lives, and sometimes they're good and sometimes they're bad. Life as a single person isn't super yay thumbs up 24/7, but people don't always get when you're just venting and want to "fix."

I have a few single and coupled friends I'll discuss dating with but mostly I discuss it with my therapist.
posted by sweetkid at 11:31 AM on June 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Dating online is really challenging and it requires you making adjustments. So make them.

In the beginning, I had very high expectations that were dashed by my first date, who I flirted back and forth with over email quite extensively, but ended up looked literally nothing like her pictures. Poor me.

After that, I decided to push for dates faster. Didn't really want to get to know you first, thought that "chemistry" was everything, so let's get to the chase. But this didn't really work out either, because you end up casting too wide of a net, and you find yourself, as you said, having boring dates. Or random hook-ups. Basically, in this category, second or third dates were really challenging. "Single serving" dating is hell. I say this from a guy's perspective, because some guys are driven by quantity over quality. But like I heard someone say, doesn't matter how many second-string quarterbacks you have on your team, it's not the same thing as an elite first-string quarterback.

My last online date was perfectly fine, but there was certainly a moment when she was talking about her views on Obama where the volume on everything all of a sudden went down and I ended up having an mini dating-related existential crisis.

So I went back to my (Match) profile and wrote down exactly what I want. Fuck it. Brutally honest. And I based it on my experiences up to that point. If you're this, this and this, not interested. If you're this, this and this, I'm interested.

Examples are: if you're going to be on your blackberry on our date, don't wink at me. If you think part of being in a relationship is knowing how to make someone feel special, contact me. I will return the favor. That is true about me, but I am shy to share it.

Instead, I say things like where I'm from, I'm sarcastic, I like someone that makes me laugh etc. Everyone says this shit. Ask for what you want. Be brave. The tables have turned for me somewhat and now instead of pursuing I am the one being pursued.

And watch "Beginners" with Christopher Plummer. It's a really cute movie, his character will teach you how not to give up on love, even if you're 75 and just came out of the closet and have stage 4 cancer. There is definitely a big love waiting for you in the future.
posted by phaedon at 11:43 AM on June 19, 2011 [23 favorites]

I also want to add that I have met someone now whom I think I like and am taking online dating one person at a time, despite the way the system is set up to allow you to play the field. I'm exercising a little bit of faith here, because I don't really know the person that well. But it's now one at a time, and I'm going to try and be patient and not check my profile during that time, everyone else can wait.
posted by phaedon at 11:47 AM on June 19, 2011

Okay, this is just my weird theory about this specific problem. The premise is that usually when you meet someone who intrigues you, there's a lot of unknown and it is exciting. Would this person ever be into me? Do they even know I am alive? What can I do to get them to notice me?

But when you contact someone via online dating -- well, you know that they know you are alive, and are into you enough to go on a date with you. You don't have to do anything more to get them to notice you other than hitting "Send" on your email. It all happens in seconds, rather than maybe days, weeks, or years of wondering IRL.

So my weird theory is you need to do something on the date to replace all that fear and adrenaline. Is there anything that gets you a little scared and a little excited? A horror movie, going dancing, going skydiving? Walking over a bridge, going to the top of the Empire State Building?
posted by Ashley801 at 12:06 PM on June 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

but can't hold a candle to the deep, palpable connections I've experienced with my past likes and loves.

That's because you can't accurately remember the first time you met your past likes and loves. If you remember it at all, you likely have some post hoc romanticized version of your first date with them. In all probability, it was "okay," and the deep connection came later.
posted by desjardins at 12:59 PM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

amileigh got it right, right off the bat. You can't necessarily expect a deep connection with someone on the first date, and more than one person has suggested that with online dating, your first date is more like a pre-date interview, for better or worse.

I did the online dating thing for a while. And I got sick of it for a while and quit it. And then started again. The second time, I tried to enjoy each date on its own terms—not as a prelude to something else, just as a chance to meet someone new and have a (hopefully) interesting conversation. If there was chemistry, great. If not, at least it got me out of the house.

One of the things I figured out is that some of the things that I thought mattered when I started didn't matter at all in the end. I had to cast my net wider—I had to realize that I had to cast my net wider.

The first online-dating date that I went on with the woman I eventually married definitely did not feel like an interview, happily. We wound up having a really long conversation about a movie I had just seen and not much else. The second date, I did something sufficiently gauche that there almost wasn't a third date. And it was only on that third date that something lit up in the back of my head and made me feel like there might be the potential for something more serious.
posted by adamrice at 1:12 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had very similar experiences with online dating; easy to establish a connection via email, but no matter how well that goes, my main feeling after the first date is how far we'd have to go to get to the point where I'd be comfortable being in a relationship with that person. And this is following a couple of hours of perfectly fun, entertaining conversation/whatever.

No advice to offer, just pointing out that your reaction is probably fairly common, and may be often shared by the other side.
posted by deadweightloss at 1:13 PM on June 19, 2011

I think part of the problem is that you're vacillating between wanting a partner and not caring. What exactly do you want out of online dating? You can find a partner who also doesn't want kids, you know. You can put in your profile something like: "I've given it a lot of thought, and I know that I'd like to live a child-free life. If you do too, give me a shout!" or whatever. (If someone already had kids, would you be ok with that? If the kids lived with the person, or didn't?)

I think OkCupid worked for me because it was just a tool to an end goal: I wanted a partner and got to a point in my life where I was ready for one, i.e. I became emotionally available (for a long time I wasn't!). One of the OKC matching questions is: "Are you looking for a partner to have kids with?" and I answered "no." So you can be upfront that you don't want kids. I decided to use online dating because I don't get out much and wouldn't meet people otherwise, and I trust my ability to get a read on people via their writing in their profiles.

Once you know what you want (partner or just casual dating or whatever) that will help you with your expectations. It's not about what one "should" expect from your initial meetings, but what YOUR expectations are. What do you want out of these meetings, but what do you want relationship-wise? You define what you want. If what you get is not measuring up to what you want, call it a day and move on to the next. All I wanted in a partner was a good guy that I was also attracted to, and not racist, homophobic, etc. I know a bunch of good guys whom I'm not attracted to, so I knew that good guys existed; it was just a matter of finding one that I had mutual chemistry with (and who was available!).

Once you know what you're looking for, it can happen pretty quickly. I joined OKC last spring, met up with one guy who was very kind, but no chemistry, met another who was also very kind, got to know him, spent more time, and my feelings developed (I was slower than him in becoming attracted on all levels :D ) and that's who I'm with now a year later.

And if this is how your friends are responding to you about your relationship stories, don't talk to them about it, even if you rarely bring it up. If you know they don't get it or can't help you, don't go to them with this issue. So feel free to memail me if you want to talk further. :)
posted by foxjacket at 1:23 PM on June 19, 2011

Are you sure the correct comparison isn't between the grounded realism of you at 30 and the giddy naivety of you in your 20s, rather than between your online and offline dating experiences? Look at the 20-somethings writing to Ask Metafilter who have 'deep, palpable connections' with abusive, shallow losers to see how part of growing up is reducing one's tendency to fall for any old pair of dark eyes that shows interest.

(Of course, that doesn't mean you don't get to fall in love past thirty - I did well after that age and have the ring to show it.)
posted by Busy Old Fool at 1:34 PM on June 19, 2011 [7 favorites]

You're not on The Bachelor/ette. The odds of a "deep, palpable connection" on a first date with a stranger for a 30-year-old adult are very, very low.

On a first date from the internet, I look for finding the person attractive, not seeing any weird red flags, and having a nice enough time that I'd be interested in a second date to get to know her better. That's it. It takes time for a major connection to develop.

Of course, if you really don't want to meet someone, this might not work.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:21 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Look at online dating as a parade of cheap and memorable entertainment. Don't take it so seriously. If you're not sure what you want out of dating, and the whole issue's giving you stress, then maybe that angst is rubbing off on the people you're dating.

Or, why not skip "dating" entirely and just do something social that interests you. Maybe you'll meet someone, maybe you won't. Just have your own life, without being so on-the-nose about meeting That Special Someone™.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:40 PM on June 19, 2011

Best answer: My secret has always been to meet in person ASAP. Because, yeah - it's nice when you connect with someone online, but face to face chemistry is the most important thing.

I also have taken heart from the idea, stated somewhere in one of these internet dating AskMes, that your first date via a website is really like date 0.5 or -1 or something. It's not really a date, it's meeting someone and seeing if you're attracted to them or what. Keep in mind that, off the internet, when you have these palpable connections, you probably don't have them the first second you see the other person.

If it makes you feel any better, I'm also a 30 year old woman living in Brooklyn and I'm feeling rather underwhelmed by the dating world, on and off the internets. Pretty sure I'm going to die alone and my corpse is going to be eaten by my cats because nobody will even notice I'm gone. So, you know. You're not alone.
posted by Sara C. at 5:00 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a 32 year old lesbian in Seattle. I put a profile up on OkCupid and didn't really pursue dates at all, but made a policy of being willing to go out on one date with almost anyone who asked me out. I felt I was dating in bad faith and didn't really want a girlfriend, but my mother said "there are so many girls out there who would love to meet you, let them meet you!"

I suspected that, just as some people are really good at campaigning for president, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'd make a good president, that women's ability to write a good online dating profile wouldn't necessarily translate into chemistry between us. That played out over and over. So I wouldn't try to get excited about someone until I met them, and I wouldn't spend a lot of energy trying to get to know them online. One or two messages and then lets meet and see.

Dating kinda sucks and relationships are hard, but I am currently seeing someone! She messaged me on OkCupid, I wasn't particularly excited by her profile, her photos looked cute enough, and so we met. None of the things about her that I adore were in her profile at all. It was just a vehicle for making that initial connection.

I made a profile because my roommate wanted to start dating and we did it together and then I just left it up and dealt with messages as they came in; the girl I'm seeing only went on OkCuipd because her friend made her make a profile and message ONE person. I was the lucky lesbo to receive that ONE message!

Your first date is basically meeting someone to see if you'd like to ask them out on a date. It's really not often terribly fun or interesting, but putting yourself out there is brave, go for it.
posted by palegirl at 6:21 PM on June 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

I met my wife online. If it wasn't for online dating I'm certain that we would have never had the opportunity to meet each other. That being said, I can tell you from several years of online dating's hard...really hard. I did it for about 4 years until I met my wife. During that time I only had 1 slightly long term relationship and even that was still very short. The majority of women I met either never struck my fancy or I never struck their fancy. Rarely did I go on more then 2 dates with a girl. It was a whole lot of hit and miss. I would do it for a while then take a break for a while. So know going into it that it's gonna be hard to find someone that seems like a potential long term partner. But I think that this is true with any sort of someone in a bar, in school, at a supermarket, or through a friend. I will give you some tips that I think will at least make better use of your time. First when it comes to communicating online via email or chatting, try to keep it to a minimum. should meet with the person sooner then later. Very very rarely is anybody even close to what their profile makes them up to be. Whether it's pictures that aren't accurate, or personalities that seem very different on a computer screen then they do in real'll have a lot more disappointment if you wait a long time to meet with someone. That brings me to my next tip...don't judge someone too heavily based on their profile. It's a just a jump start, a book cover. If a guy shows some interest...unless he seems absolutely horrible... give him a shot. Go out with him. You have nothing to lose. Just make sure you meet in a public place and try not to do something you know is going to turn into a really long date should you wanna make a quick exit. Another thing is to try to think of online dating as a world of multiple adventures. I've met some pretty strange people over the years through online dating. I've also met some very interesting, and decent people. Some that I still keep in contact with regardless of the fact that no romantic relationship ever materialized. One person actually led to some work for my business.

So just try to have fun. Go out on as many dates as you can. I'm a firm believer of the numbers game. Play the numbers...ya gotta play the numbers. So get out there and go for it. At the end of the day you really have nothing to loose...only something to gain. You'll meet someone special. It just may take a while. Hope this helps.
posted by ljs30 at 9:19 PM on June 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

When I was doing the online dating thing, I went on countless first dates. After a while I learned to not treat them as dates, not get my hopes up or immediately scrutinize whether this person was relationship material. My objective instead was to see whether we could be friends. That helped me relax a lot and just enjoy myself, which also puts the other person at ease too. My conversational skills improved, and some of these guys had very interesting things to talk about - teaching in Africa, being a social worker, etc... I learned a bit more about the world every time. So even if it didn't lead to a second date, I felt like I was getting a lot of entertainment out of it.

I've gone on first dates simply because I thought that person would be interesting to talk with. When my current boyfriend first messaged me, the fact that he's military and I'm an academic made me think it was highly unlikely we'd hit it off. But I thought it would be fascinating to talk with someone who possibly has a very different perspective on life than me. I'm glad I gave him a chance for a first date.
posted by lizbunny at 10:24 PM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

if this is how your friends are responding to you about your relationship stories, don't talk to them about it, even if you rarely bring it up. If you know they don't get it or can't help you, don't go to them with this issue.

Seconding this. My friends are all a lot more sympathetic to my single state -- one has even applauded me a couple times for being gutsy enough to not just give up like so many of her other single friends. Another couple I know has announced that they are making "finding EC a boyfriend" their special project (and I love them to death, plus the guy in that couple is one of my exes, so I actually trust them with this). If your friends aren't taking your complaints seriously, and aren't being supportive, either call them on that shit, or decide that they don't get have you confide in them any more.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:57 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: There are a lot of great responses here. I had a hard time picking the "best" ones. Thanks, MeFi, I actually feel better about this.
posted by sideofwry at 10:33 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Three quick things:

1) Do things that you're not sure about: For years when online dating I would talk a girl on a fun regular date of mine. Without fail? They always had an amazing time. The problem? It was so rote for me at that point that I was getting nothing out of it. And when I didn't connect with them afterwards, they were completely blindsides. So doubly unfair. My solution? I started doing things that I was actually interested in and wanted to try, whether it was a good date or not. Sometimes it worked out. Sometimes it ended with me getting dragged onstage for a soba noodle eating competition and ruining my chances entirely. But whatever happened, it was a new thing for BOTH of us and we both got to share in way or another. And if your story together is going to start, I think that helps start it. Something you BOTH weren't sure about.

2) Eliminate people: The advice by several people here to be specific isn't just important, it's vital - you need to be INCREDIBLY specific on things with the aim of scaring many many people off. When a girl says "I just want a nice guy" she'll JUST get a nice guy. Who enjoys eating with his hands. And doesn't love his job. And is a religion you'd never raise your children in. And it doesn't work out. So BE SPECIFIC. And by that I don't mean just listing out a ton of adjectives. Eg: "I want a man who's kind and thoughtful and easy and reflective and..." This helps NO ONE. Well women mainly. I think women think about these labels. Men? Not so much. But actions? That we get. So "responsible" isn't nearly as helpful as "the kind of guy who shovels the walk for the old guy next door just because it's the right thing to do." The wrong guy will read that and move on. The right guy will say "Hey, that's ME she's talking about." So give some thought to what you DO want in CONCRETE things. And you'll get that. Generally.

3) Not everyone is Hemmingway: There are a lot of good people out there. And most of them can't write. Especially about themselves. On the other hand, a lot of very slick rapscallions know how to write very well for the personals format and use that to their advantage (as I did back in the days when I wasn't nearly as commitment minded as I am today). The point here is, if you're on the fence about someone from a profile, shoot them a note and take a chance. Ask a question. See if you get something different out of them. Answering big fill in the blank questions about yourself is hard for most people. But starting a dialogue with someone about something THEY want to know is a whole different dynamic. So start that conversation. And if it's not awful, meet them sooner than later.

That's my advice. And also to take photos with your camera timer. Take 50. Have an evening and have fun with it. Drink. See what you get. Now if you want to throw in cleavage and ease off on the smiling, The OKCupid blog shows those two things will make you look several levels more attractive for some reason. But that's up to you. I'm not here to tell anyone how to frown or wear a bra. Because that's just a little too personal for personals.
posted by rileyray3000 at 3:04 PM on June 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ask yourself "was going on a date with him better than staying home and doing ...?" or going out with your friends or whatever else you were going to do instead of going on a date with him. If it was, then chalk it up as a win and schedule another date.

Here's something to consider: are you putting all the responsibility of making the date a good time in your date's hands? I mean: do you expect him to be entertaining you constantly? Maybe it says more about me, but I've noticed a tendency in some women to expect the guy to do all of the work in terms of moving a conversation along and making in interesting and enjoyable. So, ask yourself if you're taking enough responsibility while dating; maybe it's up to you to try to keep it going before "interest peters out quickly."

re: This plunges me into a pit of despair and loneliness in which I contemplate staying in my apartment and never dating again.

As someone who no one (yet?) wants to date, consider yourself lucky to have even so-so dates.
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:47 PM on June 21, 2011

My problem comes when I really hit it off with someone online, meet them, and things are good. . . but can't hold a candle to the deep, palpable connections I've experienced with my past likes and loves.

I was just reminded of this again recently. I don't know if this is true for you, but for me, seeing a guy do something he's really good at is something that often makes me feel a spark. For me these things are all over the map and have included (among many others) being really good at sports, and performing really well at moot court (in law school). Is there anything like this that can create a spark for you? Maybe, I don't know, creating art you love, or being adept in awkward group social situations, or being good at fixing bikes. It might help if you meet him in a situation where what he's good at can really come through, as opposed to just at dinner or something.

And the same thing for you too. I have found in my life, I don't attract the people I want with just my looks. Any guy I've really been into has been attracted at least half by something about *me* or my personality, and they can be super random things -- like once when I was playing ultimate Frisbee super aggressively as a teenager. So if I am looking to attract people I have to be in situations where those things can come out, and a dinner date is not necessarily that time. It might be worthwhile to think for yourself about what has made guys really attracted to you.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:31 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Who stepped on a duck?   |   Help me open the vintage store of my dreams. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.