Help me become comfortable with online dating
July 26, 2011 4:49 PM   Subscribe

I am a 29-year old straight male who needs some help with both the mechanics of online dating as well as becoming comfortable with the idea of online dating. Snowflakely details inside.

At the age of 29, I have not yet been in a relationship, and I would like to change this. I got to this point through a combination of being busy with extracurriculars in school, having some social anxiety issues, and being relatively introverted and quiet. Since then I have dealt with the social anxiety, but I have not been successful in actually going on dates. I have in essence tapped out my social circles as well as the resources of my friends who have tried to play matchmaker.

Despite these challenges, I'm confident that I would be an interesting person to date. I'm smart (currently finishing my Ph.D.), funny in an intelligent way (I love wit, allusions, and puns, rather than slapstick, lowbrow humor, or jokes that cut at others), active (I go swing dancing multiple times a week and am pretty good at it), and good at hanging out with friends (many of us love to play board games and talk about good books we've read, so we have plenty of fun). I also like cooking, am genuinely caring about others, am in good shape, and have a well-paying job. In short: I'm quality date material, but because I'm on the quieter side I don't make an immediate impression on people.

It sounds like online dating was made for people like me, and so I need advice about the mechanics of using that tool, especially in regards to choosing a site and getting started.

However, I also need help in being ok with the idea of online dating. I have a mental block about signing up. While in college, I was not interested in getting plastered on the weekends because that it seemed to me that, if you needed to get raging drunk in order to have a good time, you must suck as a sober person. (As unfair as that may be, I met lots of frat boys who did nothing to discourage that thought.) Well, I feel similar about online dating: if I can only get a date online, that must indicate that my real-world presence is pretty miserable. I don't know how to best address that barrier, and so I welcome any suggestions the hive mind has for dealing with that particular block.

A couple of final details that may or may not be relevant, but I'll include because it's an anonymous post and so I'd rather err on the side of too much: I've been incredibly unsuccessful at pursuing relationships in real life. I've only gone on dates with less than 5 women, despite asking out close to a hundred over the last several years. None of those dates have turned into relationships; in fact, only one went beyond a first date. My friends (male and female, ranging from my age range up to 40s) assure me that I am not giving off awkward/creepy signals and that I am being reasonably selective in the people I pursue (i.e., I'm not just asking out any woman I meet, but I'm also not setting too high of a standard for who to ask). They are at a loss for why I am so unsuccessful. I have yet to be romantically kissed or have sex, and am starting to become nervous about my inexperience in both physical intimacy and in relationships in general being a liability.

Finally, I apologize for the ridiculous number of parentheticals. I've been reading a lot of academic German lately and it has messed up my sense of reasonable sentence construction.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
It's astonishing to me that people are still snobs or skeeved by online dating, but okay, here you go:

- You can't start and have a coherent conversation substantial enough to establish interest if you are somewhere loud, busy, or you approach a person who does not enjoy being approached and chatted up randomly.

- You specifically have a hard time getting the better of your anxiety when talking to new people, which is often MUCH easier when that first contact is written.

- Your articulate nature will self-select for other articulate people, thus cutting out an immense amount of chaff from your wheat.

- You have an entire pool of interested people to present yourself to. This does not happen in the real world unless you go to a manufactured dating event. I guarantee you this pool is better and broader than that one, and even before you start filtering gives you better odds than the average room full of people.

Honestly, just try it before you judge it (which is a good policy for life in general maybe part of your problem?). They won't revoke your "walking up to girls in bars" card if it turns out you don't like it. There's no forehead tattoo. Give it a shot.

I met my husband at a mutual friend's birthday party, which I'm sure is how you'd like it to all go down for you too. But most of my previous boyfriends I met online, either from dating sites specifically or hanging out in the same places.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:09 PM on July 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

Honestly, I got over the block by realizing that meeting someone at a bar or party isn't much different from pre-selecting someone online to meet up with you at a bar. In both cases, you're meeting up with strangers that you probably won't get past the first date with (nothing wrong with you or them; it's just hard to get the right kind of chemistry going). If anything, you're more likely to go on a second date with someone you met online, since you'll have more in common and more to talk about.

Also, I was still mildly ashamed of online dating until I noticed that many of my real-life friends and acquaintances were also on the same site (OkCupid, if you're curious). It's becoming pretty commonplace, even though no one talks about it. It's not easy to meet people, period--online dating just widens the pool of people you can meet.

I'd suggest you think of online dating as a supplement to your social life, not a solution. I was/am pretty introverted and quiet, but I'm finding that the more I date, the easier it gets for me to make conversation and hit on people I like. Even if the date goes nowhere--I've gotten more practice and a little more game. It's also been a useful exercise in helping me identify what I like and what kinds of people are really compatible with me.

Mechanics--well, I'm female, so I don't think my experience will be particularly helpful to you. I'd only suggest that you make a profile that is very reflective of who you are--your sense of humor, your strong opinions, and your quirks. Post an honest picture of yourself. Also--try to have fun with it! If it makes you miserable or desperate, you won't get much out of it.
posted by millions of peaches at 5:12 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, I feel similar about online dating: if I can only get a date online, that must indicate that my real-world presence is pretty miserable.

I felt this way about online dating even as I was posting my own profile and going on dates with people I met online. At least, I felt that way for a little while. Once I'd met some people that way, I realized that online dating sites are just a way to meet people you wouldn't have the opportunity to meet without that avenue. You still have to impress that person from the internet in the real world before it can turn into a relationship, anyway.

So I guess my advice for getting over feeling that stigma is just to try it out. I'm not sure whether I am just rationalizing my own experiences or what, but I see basically zero stigma attached to relationships that begin through online dating sites, at this point. (I say this as someone who never ended up in a relationship that began through an online dating site, but I'm certainly much more open to the idea in the future.) So that's my take: just put up a profile and meet a couple of women and you'll get over that aspect of things.
posted by adiabat at 5:14 PM on July 26, 2011

When you first message the other person 1) mention something about their profile and an anecdote relating to it about your life or something and 2) ask them a question so they have something to reply to.

Be sure to meet in person after exchanging ~2-3 messages. You can never have a real relationship without meeting in person, so cut to the chase.

If the date goes neutral and the person is pretty good, go on a second date. Sometimes it takes more than one date for sparks to form, so give the relationship a bit of time to develop.
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 5:29 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

if I can only get a date online, that must indicate that my real-world presence is pretty miserable.

Well we don't know you, so we can't speak to your real-world presence, but I feel like I'm just fine and I met my current boyfriend (as well as my ex of 6 years) online. Frankly, you can keep doing what you're doing and keep netting less than stellar results or you can try a new venue. I'm not sure how to help you get over your current attitude about online dating, but it's likely that you will receive a swath of anecdotal responses here that indicate positive experiences, other than that, you just have to do it.
posted by Asherah at 5:30 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know anyone who is interested in dating that does not participate in online dating. It's the norm, not the exception, for meeting people.
posted by Wordwoman at 5:31 PM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

There are a lot of legitimate ways to meet women. Online dating is one of them. A good one is nothing more than a service that allows you to screen potential dates and then, possibly, will introduce you. That's it.

I met my fiancee online, and a previous relationship also started out as an online thing (MUD). And I didn't have that much trouble meeting people offline, either. I used to be a little hesitant to tell people, but I have yet to meet anyone who thinks this is unusual.

Honestly, there is no reason for you not to get introductions this way. Good luck!
posted by Hylas at 5:34 PM on July 26, 2011

Yeah! Online dating is fine. I did online dating because I work late almost every night and didn't (and still don't) get out reliably before 9. It's a big world, and it's hard to meet people.

Plus, I think you'll find that if you're smart and witty, introducing yourself with a quasi-essay is a great way for people to get to know you--far better than drunkenly telling someone at a party that "I like how your hair matches your shoes." Also, playing board games and talking about books really is not everyone's cup of tea; if you're looking for someone else who will find that fun, spelling that out in your profile is a great filter.

As I've mentioned several times here, I'm going to marry the lovely girl I met online. No regrets.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:39 PM on July 26, 2011

The online dating pool is filled with ALL SORTS of people. There will be people more successful, attractive and experienced than you. There will be just as many who are less successful, attractive and experienced than you. As well as scads of people who are right where you are, but into both wildly different and eerily similar things as you.

Try to take the pressure off yourself. It's not that big of a deal. Set the expectations low. Go on a date to have a coffee and talk to a stranger. That is all. Expect no more. And you'll learn something and gain more experience each time.

At first it will seem a waste of time and money and emotional investment. But then you will get better at adjusting YOUR STAKE in each matter and it won't seem so taxing in each of those areas. I promise.

Do it enough and it will actually get boring. But as you get to know the online dating world and how it all works, you'll get better at selection and at participating in the exchange. This will actually 'improve your odds' of meeting someone who is relationship potential. Just don't go into each date hoping, asking or expecting for a relationship. That puts unnecessary stress and pressure on the both of you, whether you express this outwardly or not. The vibe you give off really does start in your head. Just go to see.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:42 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I met Mr. Leezie online in 2000, the Dark Ages of Skeevy Internet Dating. And you know what? It was so much better than my previous efforts at dating. I knew that I wanted to meet someone who had similar interests as me and who was similarly not interested in meeting people in bars. Online dating offered that opportunity.

Were there creepy people on there? Absolutely. But, I was able to pick them out a mile away and was able to ignore them happily without worrying about their feelings or them hitting on me at a bar when I can't escape.

On-line dating is no longer the Cesspool of the Desperate (and I don't know that it ever was). Like the previous posters mentioned, there are lots of different people online. And online dating presents a great opportunity to evaluate potential dates from the privacy of your own home with no pressure from someone in your face wanting to know if you're interested.

Mr. Leezie and I have been together from 2000 and married since 2003. I'd say online dating worked for us.
posted by Leezie at 5:56 PM on July 26, 2011

There's another post up just today of someone who is attracted to the local barrista in his coffee place--and she's also on OKCupid. As is he.

So that tells you that people who online date are perfectly capable of meeting people in other ways. They are just smart enough to realize that more options = better chance of meeting someone compatible.
posted by misha at 6:00 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also need help in being ok with the idea of online dating. ... if I can only get a date online, that must indicate that my real-world presence is pretty miserable.

Maybe you could help me understand the above statement, because I don't understand it.

How does using a dating website mean you can only get a date through a website?

Would you say that since I found my apartment through CraigsList, I can only find apartments through websites? No, I can find apartments other ways, like walking around town looking at signs. And if that happens to work out, that's fine too. However, I still focus on finding apartments through CraigsList. And I buy plane tickets and other stuff online. And I find out about which of my friends are going to be in town through Facebook so I can meet up with them.

In none of these cases am I incapable of accomplishing what I want without the internet. But technology exists for a reason: to allow us to do what we wanted to do anyway, but more efficiently than before. Online dating isn't the only way, but it might be the best way. If you don't question whether your friend is capable of getting an apartment if he or she mentions they found it from CraigsList, and you don't think the apartment is any less valuable as a result, and you don't think the stuff you buy from Amazon is any less real than the stuff you buy at a local store, and you don't question how authentic or meaningful the time you spend hanging out with an old friend you reconnected with on Facebook is, why would you question whether someone is good dating material if they mention how they met their significant other on OKCupid? All it means is they understand how useful the internet is. In fact, if online dating worked for them, that proves they are good dating material.

Your statement implies that there's some hierarchy of different dating techniques, with the internet at the very bottom, but how did you decide to put it there? Why not put the internet in the middle or at the top? Why not say anyone who has to stoop to finding dates [at a bar, in school, at work, in church, in a bookstore, wherever people meet each other] must be incapable of attracting anyone on OKCupid?

People who use dating sites can find dates in other ways. But they can only look through so many options, viewing so much essential information before meeting people, in a system that's so powerfully geared toward bringing compatible single people together, by using a dating site.

You have a goal. You want a girlfriend. You've figured out one of the most efficient ways of accomplishing this goal. Use it. Once you have a girlfriend, no one will care (except to make bland small talk before moving on to a more interesting topic of conversation) how you found each other. What will matter is that you found each other.
posted by John Cohen at 6:17 PM on July 26, 2011 [10 favorites]

Check out this related post:
posted by tacoma1 at 7:19 PM on July 26, 2011

Online dating is a way to identify and connect with other single people -- and since you say your personal networks are "tapped out," a way to identify new single people would be useful to you.

Making the date "work" is a different issue. Is it possible that your friends haven't directly observed your behavior with women, and are thus unable to shed light on why your previous dating hasn't worked out? I wonder if you could track down any of those women who you dated briefly and ask them why it didn't work for them. Like, send them an email, make it clear that you're not trying to restart things with them, and ask them if they have any hints or insights or tips that could help you date more happily in the future. If someone sent me an email like that, I'd be happy to help them out.

Good luck, anon.
posted by hungrytiger at 8:14 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was a former graduate student that pushed dating away while pursuing school. I regretted that decision later in life. And I think I wanted to experience sex so I wouldn't be so awkward about it. I listened to advice Mefites gave to previous virgins and I ended up being honest on Craiglist casual encounters that I was a 27 year old virgin. A 28 year old attractive girl ended up showing up to my place. We had casual sex for a few months. After losing my virginity, I do feel way more confident in myself and I'm able to interact with girls without feeling depressed. Sex isn't that big of a deal though and it may form a bottleneck towards your interactions with girls that you need to get past.

But anyways, if you want to be successful, making them laugh is an achievable goal. This is coming from a physicist / computer scientist here. Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory has made nerds sexy. I've had regular dates now where I'm clear that I would like a second date. Though, sometimes it's the girl that doesn't know what she wants and there's nothing you can do.

I've only felt more confident for six months now though and I've had a second sex experience, but the girl in the second experience was a bad sex on the first date experience. She wasn't comfortable with her body and I don't know why she offered. I had no ability to communicate with her about my sex wants. (I feel that foreplay and complete nudity is necessary when the guy wears a rubber). So I don't think the casual sex experience is better than seeking a relationship.
posted by DetriusXii at 8:23 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm just going to put this bluntly: do you think you are an attractive person? You mentioned that you are in good shape, but I'm talking about being handsome/"traditionally" attractive. It does sounds like you have some good qualities about you; however, I think that a key element to any successful relationship is having a serious, mutual attraction to another person. That being said, really start asking your (female) friends on how you can improve your look.

Also, don't bash the college binge drinking; find me an ex-frat guy who's 29 years old and still a virgin. Ditching swing dancing for a night at a bar might do you some good.
posted by lobbyist at 9:07 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Back in 2003 when I was single I wasn't quite ready to try Internet dating so I tried singles events instead (single volunteering (where I met my husband), singles dinners etc.) it's better than going to bars because you know everyone is single and looking and they try to facilitate conversation.
posted by bananafish at 10:11 PM on July 26, 2011

My friends (male and female, ranging from my age range up to 40s) assure me that I am not giving off awkward/creepy signals and that I am being reasonably selective in the people I pursue (i.e., I'm not just asking out any woman I meet, but I'm also not setting too high of a standard for who to ask). They are at a loss for why I am so unsuccessful.

Your friends haven't actually been on a date with you. Maybe it's time to ask one of those women.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:15 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

You know the great thing about online dating? Everyone is there because they want to date! That already increases your chances of meeting someone, because you already know everyone there is available and looking. You know the other thing that's awesome? If they're on OK Cupid (for example) they're in no position to judge you for being on OK Cupid.

You're literate, intelligent, have your own life going on and can express yourself well in writing. That puts you ahead of a good deal of the profiles I saw when I used to date online, so get a good picture, write up a good profile and go meet someone. Good luck!
posted by Space Kitty at 12:53 AM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]

I was going to add something here, but Space Kitty took all the words out of my mouth. But, for a bit of hypothetical stretching, maybe you're a bit annoyed that you're really awesome at all those other things you do, and here you are having to scrabble around with the hoi polloi, rather than just having an ideal partner waltz up to you. But aaaaalll kinds of people are doing the online dating these days, and you could find someone you love, which is a pretty good return on the investment.
posted by robself at 1:14 AM on July 27, 2011

Space Kitty nails it. I am attractive enough but a bit shy. I now and then meet someone face-to-face, but I have a much easier time with online dating because I know my date is looking to meet someone and thinks he might be interested in me. And I know that he can spell and is not a Republican. :)

I date a lot of very geeky men. This is how the best dates with geeks have gone:
- talk a bit of geek, but then ask me questions about myself. Where am I from? What do I do? Do I like my job?
- Smile at me
- Remember you don't need to prove that you're smart. I know it. I want to see if we can relax and be comfortable together.
- Do not watch the TV behind my head unless you are 100% positive you never want to see me again
posted by bunderful at 4:17 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Looks like my earlier comment was deleted, presumably for my clumsily constructed metaphor sounding too much like an ad for a site that I think does it well. (I'm not affiliated, only a very satisfied customer.)

My point was that online dating should be seen in the same light as the reason you buy any retail goods online: variety of locations, huge inventory, convenience, time-efficiency of searching, ability to winnow down and filter out all that doesn't appeal, low commitment.

If you liken meeting people offline to buying goods offline, your experience is generally going to be more hit and miss, because there's no filtering capability before you show up in person. Unless you have very good prior experience with the same places and keep returning there. And it sounds like that's not your case.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 6:17 AM on July 27, 2011

I've had similar qualms about online dating ... I think people who are 30-ish or older remember the days when online dating was more stigmatized, but that's no longer the case. Although I still haven't gotten around to trying it, I look at it pragmatically: I work long hours, and my hobbies tend to be either solitary, or involve activities that are dominated by women (e.g. yoga). And I'm not the type to hang out at parties or bars. So how else am I going to meet people? And even if you do meet someone in "real life," you don't immediately know whether they're (a) single, (b) looking for a relationship, (c) have interests/hobbies in common with you. Online dating clears all of this up. There's really no reason NOT to try it these days. (Ha ha, I should take my own advice!)
posted by phoenix_rising at 6:48 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

My husband and I are one hot couple that met online 14 years ago. So there's a data point. :-)
posted by Dragonness at 8:03 AM on July 27, 2011

I talked pretty honestly about my experiences with it a few months ago here and gave my tips on requesting a date here.
posted by lattiboy at 10:10 AM on July 27, 2011

In this instance, the Internet is merely a tool to meet people. It's no different than speed dating, booze or Meetup. If online dating is just one tool among many (and it is) then there's nothing wrong with using it, as long as you meet someone you like.

I would focus on why you're getting turned down on dates. You've asked close to a hundred women out over the last several years? If it's a hundred in three years, that's a new one every 10 days. That's a LOT of asking. It sounds like you may be approaching strangers and asking them out cold, asking women out at work, etc. That's a *really* tough road for most men to travel. Make sure you're actually conversing and establishing some kind of rapport and mutual interest with these women before you ask them out. Addressing that issue will likely help your dating as well.
posted by cnc at 11:17 AM on July 27, 2011

I want to chime in here because you sounds like me... a year ago! I definitely get where you are coming from. Right down to being a 29 year old and having no relationship experience. Like you, I focused on school and work. Although as a female, I didn't have the experience of asking out close to a hundred women, but I share your feeling of anxiety and nervousness about physical intimacy and relationships because I don't get asked out much in real life and my previous dates were rather blah. I was open to the idea of online dating, but I keep putting it off due to my focus on school and work. A very very bad experience with a douchebag that I met in real life pushed me to take an active instance towards dating to find a better guy. Long story short, I signed up at an online dating site, started going on dates, and less than two months later, I met a wonderful guy off that site. Now we've been very happy together for more than a year. When people ask us how we met, we tell them we met online and no one bat an eye. In fact, before people know where we met, I've got multiple people asking how I snagged such a hot guy :), so just because you do online dating, doesn't mean you're ugly and a social misfit or your real-world presence is miserable. In fact, the overall caliber of the guys I met online are way higher than the guys I met in real life, both in terms of physical looks and professional achievements. Of course, that is not true for every online guy I went on a date with. But there're bad apples everywhere, online and offline.

I'm sharing my story to let you know that there're people out there just like you. It's normal to feel anxious and nervous in your instance, I was that way too. But it gradually went away after a couple of dates. Also, keep your expectation low helps alleviate some of the nervousness. I treat my first dates as a way to meet new people, that's it. Even if there's no romantic connection, you can still have a nice conversation with someone.

Have your friends proofread your profile. You might need to tweak your profile several times to get the best response. Make sure you have good pictures of yourself up, be specific in terms of your interests as well as what you're looking for. Saying things like I enjoy reading, walking on the beach is not as helpful as saying I enjoy reading Stephen Hawking because... or I enjoy walking on the beach to relax after a long day, especially XXX beach, I would love to do so with that special someone.

When you message someone, just a friendly Hi, I'm so-and-so, mention a personal fun fact from that person's profile and maybe one of your shared interests or a witty remark. Keep it simple and short. Being a guy, you'll have to take the initiative and send out messages. Don't get discouraged if you don't have a good response rate right away. Sometimes these things are just numbers and luck. But it's like finding a good job, you only need one right person :)

Move things from online to offline quickly. Keep things online means you could be building a fantasy relationship in your head when the real person does not meet that high expectation. It's much better if you arrange a meeting after you message back a couple of times to see if you have in-person chemistry to avoid wasting each other's time.

Feel free to message me if you want more advice. I hope you find that special someone soon.
posted by wcmf at 12:35 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I also want to add that online dating is much easier for me than real life, because if someone contacts you online, you know that they're interested in dating you, whereas when you meet someone in real life, you don't know if that person is only being friendly in a platonic sense or interested in you romantically. You'll have to find that out, but in online dating, it's much more straight forward. So it saves you time. You also know if they're looking for a relationship or just sex based on their profile. When you don' have a lot of relationship experience, these things can be difficult and awkward to bring up. Again, online dating saves you a lot of headaches here.
posted by wcmf at 12:43 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try to think of online dating as going to a different kind of party. These are all people you just haven't run into yet in your city and this is an awesome way to meet them! It doesn't mean it's the ONLY way you can meet these people but it's likely to be a bit easier than roaming your city hoping to bump into a single lady with similar interests.
posted by buteo at 11:00 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your story sounds very familiar to me, except I'm three years older and tried my luck at online dating for quite some time already. While I didn't find anybody, you might be more lucky. However be prepared for a lot of heart break and people suddenly ignoring for no apparent reason. If you are confident about yourself, that might not be a problem. If you aren't, be aware that online dating most likely will not help your confidence, to put it mildly.
posted by Richard MacDuff at 4:46 AM on August 1, 2011

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