Dating for dysthymics
November 21, 2013 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Single guy here, doing the online dating thing. Despite pickiness in who I message and high on-paper compatibility, all my dates so far (about ten different women) have been meh. This may be just a statistical fluke, but I suspect it's related to the meh-ness of life in general: I have dysthymia, aka constant mild depression, so am rarely very excited about anything, women included. I'm in therapy for this, and may be starting on meds soon, but meanwhile, what should my dating strategy be? Should I try for second and third dates with women who don't really interest me and hope I warm to them with time, or should I keep searching for that spark?

So the ten or so women I've gone out with so far through OKCupid have all looked great for me on paper: common interests, similar values and attitudes to life, etc., and I've found them all reasonably physically attractive, or in a couple of cases more than reasonably. The first dates have all gone fine, in the sense that there was chit-chat and occasional laughter and not too much awkward silence, but there's never what you'd call a spark, and in none of these cases have I particularly wanted to see the woman again. (There was one exception, but that was mostly based on physical attraction, and in that case she wasn't interested in seeing me again.) Perfectly nice, intelligent, attractive women, but do I care? Nah. Would I rather stay home with a book than go on a second date? Yep. I did ask for second dates in a couple of these cases, just to give it a chance, but (of those who accepted) the second date was the same and things then fizzled out for mutual lack of interest.

(To make it clear, what I'm after is potential relationship material, not casual sex.)

Now I know that online dating is a numbers game, but I'm pretty picky about who I message in the first place, so if even after all the filtering it's still less than one in ten to find someone I might actually want to go on a second date with, well, something is off here, and it's probably me. I'm a pretty glum and unexcitable kind of guy, or "dysthymic" if you prefer the DSM term, and it's rare that anything really gets me going. I'm working on this with a professional and am considering starting medication soon. But that may be a long process, and in the meantime I still want to date (both just for fun, and because I know that loneliness feeds my depression in a vicious cycle). I see two possible approaches:

(a) Keep looking for that spark, and trust that eventually I'll meet a woman who I actually feel interested in. Don't bother trying for second dates with women I'm not really interested in, but loosen my filters, go on as many first dates as possible and hope that maybe on the twentieth or hundred and sixth I'll be surprised.

(b) Accept that I'm wet tinder at the moment and there isn't likely to ever be a spark as long as my brain chemistry doesn't change, and given this, try for second and third dates with women who don't set my heart a-flutter and hope that a relationship might nevertheless develop and that I'll warm to them with time.

Option (b) is unattractive to me because who wants to go on a date with someone who doesn't excite you, and also because in the past I've been in one or two relationships that started that way and I never did end up warming to the women, and this was not much fun. But option (a) doesn't seem too promising based on my recent experience either, as it seems perfectly possible that I could go on any number of first dates and they'd all be meh. So I'm not sure what to do.

(Please no answers to the tune of "first take care of your dysthymia/anhedonia, then start dating" - I'm working on it but I want to date in the meanwhile, and plenty of people go on dates who don't rejoice in perfect mental health.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
How long do you spend messaging these ladies before you go on dates with them?

For me personally, I take a little while to warm up to folks, so I prefer to message for a while before meeting someone. And not like "hey" "sup" "lookin forward to friday" " me too" stuff, but like reasonably in-depth messages that let me get to know a little bit about their personality and them know a little bit more about mine.

This is especially important for me because going places and doing things and meeting people is tiring and I have limited free time. If I can't carry on a reasonably entertaining text-only back and forth I'm probably not going to be interested all that much in person, either.

So, if you are pretty quick to meet in person, try a more long game approach. This can be achieved by saying something like "I'm busy this weekend but free next Saturday, but I'd like to keep talking to you in the meantime! What's up with that picture of you and the capybara on your profile? Where did you get to meet a capybara!?"

If you're hitting it off with someone through the messages, you're likely to be more excited going into the date, and better primed to enjoy the other person's company than going into it relatively cold.
posted by phunniemee at 9:20 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have trouble getting excited about a woman then you may want to consider what Helen Fisher has to say about anti depressants and love before getting on meds
at 18:06

Basically that the meds can severely mitigate the enthusiasm that naturally stems from the process of falling in love.

Also, as someone who is very much a homebody, I would suggest to force yourself to ask for a third date, and plan it to be something exciting. Make it one where you guys don't have any pressure to talk and get to know eachother, but just enjoy a shared experience.
posted by anonop at 9:32 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Keep looking for that spark, and trust that eventually I'll meet a woman who I actually feel interested in

This. It's a numbers game, but a big numbers game. The 'spark' you want isn't some mythical quality. It's chemistry, timing, physical attraction, compatability, worldviews and many other variables mixed together. There are literally billions of people in the world, so finding that perfect match after a few dates is actually hugely unrealistic, and its a pity that we live in a society that suggests its easy.

(I did not actually believe any of this, by the way, until it happened to me.)

So I'd say there is nothing wrong with you, and there is nothing wrong with them, it just hasn't been right yet together. It might take time but I wouldn't advise you to settle. In the meantime look upon dates as interesting evenings out, where finding the spark is a bonus and not the objective. You will learn something from every woman you date, good or bad. Hearing about a new movie, finding a different political perspective, or just figuring out "well, I'm definitely not interested in someone who does/says X", it's all part of growing and expanding as a person. Good luck!
posted by outoftime at 9:36 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

For what it's worth, my experience on OKCupid has been similar, and I'm not depressed. Even for me, it takes a lot of emotional energy to get all worked up before a date, only to have it go so-so. I have had some sparks, yes, but they've all (so far) burned out quickly.

Just gotta keep putting yourself out there.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:40 AM on November 21, 2013

Initial internet dates tend to be meh as a rule.

The thing about it is that this is the first time you've ever met this person.

Now, despite being attracted to their photo, despite a mutual appreciation for Pavement and Wes Anderson movies, despite both being non-smokers who love dogs and don't want kids, you haven't actually MET each other yet.

This means that, for all your mental preparation, a first date with someone from an online dating site is about as likely to produce a spark of attraction as a meeting with any random stranger.

So keep getting out there and meeting people. I've had one very successful serious relationship that developed from a dating website and a couple of other more casual relationships that were lots of fun. I've also had plenty of fun outings with interesting people who I romantically felt meh about and did not date, and only one or two total duds.

Approach that initial date not as leading to a potential serious relationship, but as meeting someone for the first time. Meh isn't a failure. It just means you weren't attracted to the person. Which is fine, and is only a problem when you turn initial meetings into loaded Auditions To Be My Girlfriend.

One caveat: if you really have literally had this happen with more than ten women, and never ANY result other than meh, you might want to reevaluate the types of women you're gravitating to on the site. Are you going for women who look too good on paper, but aren't the type of person you really feel comfortable with? I've had a tendency to do that ("Well he's not that attractive but he's a foreign correspondent!!!! Coooool..."), and it never produces very good results.

I've also had bad luck punching above my weight level (in the figurative sense, not talking about literal weight), in general. If that gorgeous architect with a PhD who climbs mountains on weekends would likely shoot me down at a cocktail party, he's probably not going to suddenly realize he's in love with me on an awkward internet date. There's only so much OKCupid can really do, you know?
posted by Sara C. at 9:49 AM on November 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

It does take a while for a spark to develop sometimes. You may want to go in with different expectations, such as that some of these women might end up becoming platonic friends of yours even if there is no spark for either of you. On preview, Sara C. said much the same thing but better.
posted by xenophile at 9:50 AM on November 21, 2013

This might sound like a weird suggestion, but maybe you are being so particular about compatible-on-paper that you end up having too much in common with the women you are meeting? Part of what makes a spark is finding something interesting in another person, something about them that is unfamiliar and exciting and makes you want to come back for more. Sometimes a little friction in the way of difference of opinion about some things, or different backgrounds, different ways of living life, can create a huge spark.

Disclaimer: I'm not saying that you should go date hardcore republicans if you are a tree-hugging hippie, maybe just step out of your comfort zone a little?
posted by joan_holloway at 9:52 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

if even after all the filtering it's still less than one in ten to find someone I might actually want to go on a second date with, well, something is off here, and it's probably me

I disagree. One in ten is about my experience as well, and I am not at all depressed, and also filter pretty extensively beforehand. It is hard to accept sometimes, but online dating really, really requires patience, unless you're very lucky.

If you feel like you're in a rut, you can change the kinds of things you're filtering for pre-date ("is it really a dealbreaker if they do X, if they're otherwise perfect" etc), and/or you can focus on self-improvement and/or take a break from dating for a while until you feel more excited about meeting new people.
posted by randomnity at 9:59 AM on November 21, 2013

Re joan_holloway's advice, I find that I have better luck when I ignore all the micro level stuff like what bands they like and read the profile for broad strokes. What their favorite novel is can tell me some things about how compatible we'll be, but I spend more time looking at things like do they smoke, are they vegan/raw/some other annoying diet, are they religious, what their general political outlook is, are they allergic to my dog, etc. That and whether I'm attracted to the picture is a much better way to use the site than to obsess about the fact that they made a bunch of pop culture references to things you also enjoy.
posted by Sara C. at 10:03 AM on November 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think you should be picky. if you only feel meh about them and would rather read a book, then the relationship will feel like work. make sure you find some one who is compatible including attractiveness, becauseif that keeps you mildly more excited, then that is better.

I know someone who took a few years to find the right girl on okcupid who created that spark. she was the first girl that he actually want to go on the second date with. so it is timing and luck and numbers.

you just can't force it.
posted by Jaelma24 at 10:23 AM on November 21, 2013

you're not wet tinder! that's just what dating is like. one in ten is a pretty normal outcome. it's frustrating and it's not necessarily a reflection of your mental state. i have found that in filtering, sending and receiving several messages then following up with a quick phone call is a good method. i would also tell you to mentally manage expectations - don't expect anything out of an initial meeting from online dating other than "i hope this person is nice and we have a nice conversation." otherwise disappointment can easily snowball.
posted by zdravo at 10:27 AM on November 21, 2013

I think you're doing it right. Online dating isn't supposed to be easy or fun. It's hard work. It should feel strenuous and demanding. You should feel tired. It takes a lot of patience. It takes a lot of practice. It's expensive. It's a numbers game. It's a meat market. It's a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup. Feel the burn!
posted by Nomyte at 10:50 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Okay, you've got some good advice re: online dating.
I think perspective is important in this matter: how do you feel about friends? Or family members? Is meh just your baseline? Or were those dates worse compared to the other things?
posted by travelwithcats at 11:07 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Keep being picky! That's good. Also, I agree with messaging a bit more. I know every online dating advice thing is all Meet as soon as possible! You must meet to determine chemistry! Meet meet meet! But I'd rather spend my time messaging from bed than going on dates that go nowhere. If I can get a good rapport with someone through messaging, I know I will probably at least like them when we meet, even if there isn't the spark required for dating.

I've messaged back and forth with about a million people and only met a tiny fraction of them, but all my first dates have been good, even if I didn't want to continue seeing the person because of attraction or whatever.
posted by Polychrome at 11:28 AM on November 21, 2013

Basically, if you can get excited about meeting someone before you meet, I think the date will go better.
posted by Polychrome at 11:30 AM on November 21, 2013

I think your 'hit rate' on these dates is probably about right -- in fact, it does sound like 1 of these women did give you that 'spark', it's just that she didn't happen to be interested. That happens (quite a bit!) with online dating, but it does mean that you have the potential to find that spark with someone, you just have to keep trying in order to find someone where it is mutual.

For reference, I did online dating pretty regularly for maybe 3 years. In that time, I went on lots of first dates, some second/third dates, dated 1 guy for 6 months in a situation where we knew it would never get serious (liked each other but were incompatible in long-term ways), dated a guy for 3 months who I fell hard for but he ultimately broke it off, and then met my current partner who I've been with for 3 years. So, if you do the math there, it was a huge success in the end but it took a lot of patience to get there! During that period, I also did a lot of work on myself to get to a place where I think I was more ready for dating/forming intimate relationships, so I think that is part of it too. Doesn't mean you shouldn't date in the meantime (it's great practice, and who knows what will happen!) - just look at it as a longer process.

As for going on second/third dates where there is no spark: I tried this at first in the thoughts that maybe I just needed to give people more of a chance -- after all, was I really expecting to go from total stranger to 'spark' in a couple hours?! As it turned out, none of these 'second chance' people ever went anywhere, and mostly just led to extreme awkwardness. I'm sure everyone is different, but for me that spark is really either there from date #1 or not, so I learned not to waste everyone's time if I wasn't feeling it.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:41 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you've got a great pool of dates with people you think you'll like but it hasn't worked out so far. To date though, you haven't been as successful as you would like to be. Consider taking risks on people who you don't think you'll be compatible with. Complimentary people sometimes are also good. Note - I'm not saying date someone completely incompatible, but don't limit yourself to what you think you want. So far, you've found out that hasn't been so successful. The beauty of online is that you can quickly and easily sample multiple choices. Use this as an opportunity to validate that what you think is important in a partner is ACTUALLY important.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:26 PM on November 21, 2013

Sometimes it takes a few dates for that "click" of interest and attraction to happen. I would suggest that if you have a mid-level or above interest in the person -- let's say, a 6 out of 10 on the interest scale -- that you do one or two more dates with that woman. Remember that people are often not at their best on first meeting -- nerves, etc. -- so it may take a few get-togethers for someone to relax and blossom around you.

If you find the gal potentially kissable, and you basically enjoyed spending time with her (it doesn't have to be over-the-moon, just pleasant), you may want to continue dating them (not exclusively, just continue seeing them while you date others).

Some dates are growers, not showers. (My favorite partners were all guys that didn't make my socks roll up and down on the first date.)
posted by nacho fries at 12:36 PM on November 21, 2013

You sound like you're looking for somebody out of your league, somebody you have to work for, rather than a real connection.
posted by timsneezed at 12:55 PM on November 21, 2013

In my experience, compatability on paper is way overrated. The guys I went on dates with who were supposedly 99% perfect for me on a dating site always turned out to be duds. Meanwhile, I almost certainly would have passed over my husband's profile if I saw it on a dating site. Are there any women you meet in "real life" that interest or excite you?
posted by Jess the Mess at 1:06 PM on November 21, 2013

I love the answers to this question, because they're wildly contradictory, yet all strike me as very true.

In contrast to some of the comments above, I found my impressions of profiles to be pretty spot on (so I wouldn't recommend broadening *too* much - that can lead to burnout). In fact, I was trying to decide which dating site to sign up for, read a great profile and decided to sign up for that site as a result...and now I'm married to him.

That said, that's probably about as common as meeting your soul mate in 6th grade. From everything else I've seen, it really is just usually a random numbers game.

Try to think back to the last time you met 100+ new, attractive women (college, maybe?). Think through the percentage of those women you would actually have had a spark with, if you went out on a random date. Less than 10%, right? So try to keep the faith. You sound intelligent and kind and interesting. I'm sure it'll happen - it just might not happen immediately.
posted by leitmotif at 8:13 PM on November 21, 2013

Basically that the meds can severely mitigate the enthusiasm that naturally stems from the process of falling in love.

Except that with dysthymia, there really is no enthusiasm anyway.

OP, I don't think batting 0 for 10 is at all statistically unusual (in fact I would be surprised if you'd found someone in that number of first dates) and I would continue down Path A while trying some meds to see if they help you regain some enthusiasm in general.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:02 AM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

spark isn't something you can find online. You can meet someone online then in person and find spark there, but just because you're filering or whatever doesn't increase your chance of spark. I would try one of those online dating services that offers single's experiences, where a group of people, all single, meet up for a night of bowling (or whatever). After a few events like thath you should be able to find one person with spark enough to carry interest over 2 or 3 dates (and then go from there).
posted by WeekendJen at 11:44 AM on November 22, 2013

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