Starting online dating when you're still a bit a broken inside
April 20, 2014 6:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm 30, male, British. Over the last few weeks I've felt the clouds of my latest depression begin to part and some sunlight poke through. I'm contemplating trying online dating again. How can I take advantage of this improvement whilst being careful not to over-tax myself and do an emotional crash-and-burn?

I've had issues with depression and anxiety on-and-off for the best part of a decade. At my best I'm pretty much normal (in a quiet, shy, slightly self-hatey way), and at my worst I pretty much want to go to sleep and never wake up again. My mood took a turn for the worse last autumn when I decided to leave my job due to stress and burn-out and I've been struggling for the past several months to... well, exist.

However, I've recently made some good progress on the medical front by being referred to a psychiatrist and adjusting medication, and so on, and I'm currently on a waiting list for CBT. In addition to that, as ridiculous as it might sound, I feel I've made some terrific progress in the last couple of weeks by exchanging emails with a girl on reddit who has patiently let me talk through some anxieties around sex, relationships, self-esteem and so on. My conversation with her has helped to put a lot of my distorted ideas about myself into perspective, and it's also sort of given me permission to acknowledge my desire for female companionship, love, sex, intimacy, a girlfriend, etc.

I'd really like to use this momentum to do something - maybe online dating, maybe making penpals with other British women, maybe trying to find a cuddle-buddy or something. But I'm also aware that you need to really 'sell yourself' when dating, and I don't want to misrepresent my faulty goods. Further - I'm very wary of diving in with both feet as there's a danger of overloading myself and having a bit of an emotional collapse (or a massive depressive relapse).

Do you have any advice that might help me here? I could use it! I'm kind of hoping not to get too much advice telling me to wait until I'm in a better place before dating, as I'm in the best frame of mind that I've been in for months, if not a year. I mean, I'm sure people who are more broken than me manage to meet partners...

Anyway, further relevant info:
- Very little sexual experience.
- Uncomfortable in groups ( looks terrifying).
- Physically average at best (overweight, body-hair, bald). Terrified of the gym.
- Reasonably intelligent, educated, literate.
- No particular passions or interests.
- Entertaining in one-on-one conversation. Funny etc.
- Kind, nice etc. People tell me I'm a good person and sometimes warm to me (when I don't freeze them out) and so on.
- Unemployed and not looking for work yet (Two reasons - one, I'm caring for an ill family member and it may be over a month until she's well enough to cope alone; two, I haven't been well enough until very recently to think about work.
- Have my own place but currently living with family member (see above).

Thank you! Sorry this question is such a mess.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My advice would be to make sure you do not take online dating too seriously. It can create a lot of weird, alienating situations that don't happen in traditional social environments.
posted by johngoren at 7:13 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

if i were you i would not do online dating right now, i would focus on spending more time in groups in a nonromantic setting, and finding a passion or interest that you enjoy. both of those activities will be highly beneficial even if you don't meet any single women, and at the same time they are decent ways to meet single women, depending on the interest you find.

also wait until your family member and you are in better health. if i started seeing someone and they had all this going on i would be a little worried about their ability to meet my needs as we saw each other more, since everyone has a limited amount of time, energy, etc. & i myself would not have those types of things to put time and energy into, so things might get out of balance, if that makes any sense.

but yeah if you decide to do it take it really un-seriously. any message is just a chat, any first date is just "let's have a nice conversation with a new person" and don't expect anything bigger than that. that's how i have always handled online dating.
posted by zdravo at 7:18 PM on April 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would also advise you to be very careful with online dating as it tends to be full of experiences that are likely to feel like rejection. Most of these will have nothing to do with you, but it can be tough to keep that in mind unless your self esteem is high to begin with and fairly robust. Even if you are feeling great about yourself, the nature of online dating seems to be one of many, many misses, so you need to be able to cope with that.

I set up an OKCupid profile earlier this year, before I had really put myself back together after the end of my last relationship. I found the process, particularly meeting people, to be quite difficult and had more knock backs than I'm used to. I ended up pulling my profile again after a few months because I was finding a bit demoralising.

Old fashioned ways of meeting people, such as those that zdravo suggests, are going to be a lot easier on you and have positive side effects as well.
posted by mewsic at 7:28 PM on April 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh, honey. Women love a good sob story. Pull off that Hugh Grant little boy lost thing, you'll get faaaaaaaaaaaar.

(or just date Americans, we're generally suckers for the accent)

Okay, but more seriously:

I think it's good that you're starting to date again. Online dating kind of sucks, but overall I find it to be more positive than negative and it has definitely added some interesting stories to my life. First thing to keep in mind is that making a profile, messaging people, going on dates, and actually having a relationship are all completely different skill sets that have nothing at all to do with each other. (Not to mention photography). They all have their own learning curve. It's really much, much more analogous to job interviewing than "natural" dating.

First rule: Be positive. I know you're in kind of a bad place, and you don't want to hide the truth: Well, fuck that. Don't worry about lying. Be ruthlessly, unflinchingly, positive. This is like the golden rule of online dating profiles. Don't insult people, don't tell jokes that are dark or negative, don't tease, don't have strong negative feelings about basically anything, including yourself or your life. If you are a nice person, this shouldn't be too hard for you. (It was for me, because I can sometimes be an uptight, caustic bitch, but I digress...)

Also, you need activities. Not necessarily "interests" or "passions"- but activities. I'd start with eating. You eat, right? What kind of places do you like to frequent? That counts as an activity. You can do solo activities like swimming or reading if you're afraid of groups. You're going to need friends though; you can't expect a girlfriend to meet all your emotional and social needs all the time.

The family member thing paints you in a good light, IMO; it makes you sound kind and caring, loyal, responsible and family-oriented. Those are things that appeal to many women. However, take care that you don't expect too much emotional support from a girlfriend- if she's working full time, and you're unemployed, you're going to have a lot more bored downtime than her and that could stress both of you out.

As far as not being a model doctor who donates millions to charity and travels all over the world and speaks 6 languages- hey, at least you're not arrogant. That counts for a lot in this world. Flatter her instead of yourself, you know? Talk about her. Emotionally support her.

Expect to ask out a lot of women and have them flake on you even if things seemed to be going well. If you even get to the first date stage, expect to go on a lot of first dates that go nowhere. Accept that this will occur.

I just want to speak to the "physically average" thing for a second. Forgive me for getting up on a soapbox.

Get good photos, dress well, don't expect to date drop-dead gorgeous perfect supermodels; you'll be fine. The only way this matters is if you let it become a giant mental block. Just let people like you.

I hated myself for a long time. Every person I’ve ever dated has liked something weird about me. It makes me laugh. I still don’t understand it. But boyfriend #1 always used to say, “You have amazing collarbones.” He’d trace them, kiss them, stare at them. I giggled the whole time, but my collarbones really did it for this dude. Any time I wore something that showed them off he really dug it. He wasn’t flattering me, he legitimately liked them.

Boyfriend #2 out of the blue one day when I’m getting dressed and doing my makeup says, “I like your nose.” Now, as noses go, I am not blessed, let’s put it that way. I kind of cringed and laughed incredulously. He legit got angry. He legit was like, “Don’t laugh, I’m fucking serious, I love your nose, shut up.” Dude really liked my nose. Okay! I backed off! I let this dude like my nose.

Girlfriend I had liked my (tiny, weak, veiny) wrists. She also liked my scar, and my crooked bangs. Other things people have liked: My hands. My freckles. My birthmark.

I mean, shit. I am just an ordinary person. But I just get out of the fucking way and let people like me, you know? I don’t even like me. I don’t even like my wrists or my collarbones. But who am I to say they’re wrong? Who am I to argue with this dude who really liked my nose, you know?

Whenever I look at fashion magazines, or feel really shitty about myself, I remember over and over these comments. And it helps a lot.

These are all distinctive things, I suppose, when you get down to it. My nose is not a perfect fashion magazine nose, but it’s definitely mine. So are my prominent collarbones, and my scars, and my tiny wrists. Mine. Different. Unique. Memorable. Not perfect, not a mold, not cookie cutter, but mine. Maybe that counts for more in the long run.

The moral of the story is, you may not like you, but it's completely possible and likely that other people may disagree. Just put yourself out there and don't expect anything or feel like you're owed anything, but be open to the possibility that there's someone out there looking for someone like you. Don't put yourself down too much; other people really hate that.

I met some of my best friends when they were on the rebound or out of work; I'd be really sad if they'd shunned all social interaction out of shame as I'd have missed out on some good people.
posted by quincunx at 7:59 PM on April 20, 2014 [20 favorites]

I will be blunt: you sound like a handful right now. You've got a number of serious issues going on and your resources for "giving" in a dating/relationship situation (emotionally, practically) are very low.

I mean, I'm sure people who are more broken than me manage to meet partners...

This is a pretty shit attitude, gotta say. You want your potential girlfriend to be the sort that sets her standards right above drug addicts or chronic abusers? Do you think so little of her that you want her to settle for someone "broken"? Dude.

It's more than just about how a girlfriend will be good for you - it's about how you can be good for someone as a boyfriend. I think right now you are focusing more on the former than the latter. This isn't wrong of you - heck, that's pretty human, to want a connection that will help bolster you against the cold in the world - but you may need to use this as motivation to work on yourself now instead of jumping on the impulse to put yourself out there for dating.

Of your list of info, what troubles me the most is this: No particular passions or interests. The rest is somewhat conditional or not a huge deal (you can find another job, the situation with your relative will resolve itself, most of us are average looking and socially awkward in one way or another). But when I meet someone with no passion or interests, it makes me think 1) they are neck deep in possibly unrecognized depression and need to do some serious work on themselves to rediscover their inner joy, or 2) if they're not depressed, they are a bland person looking to entice someone more interesting into their life as an entertainment source. I can tell you #2 is no fun for me, and #1 is no fun for anyone.

My boyfriend has a hobby he loves that I have zero interest in pursuing. What I do love is listening to him talk about his hobby, because I enjoy his point of view and what he finds interesting is interesting to me. So he goes off once a week and does this hobby and has his hobby-friends and he comes back and tells me about it. It is very good for both of us. When he shows his passion for his hobby and works on his projects and such, it makes me more attracted to him. Showing competency and drive is attractive. Having something novel to chat about is attractive. Having a life outside of the boyfriend/girlfriend sphere is a very mentally healthy thing. This is why I make a big deal of having passions and interests. It makes you a much more attractive person.

I think you should do those things you mention being afraid of (trying meetups, going to the gym). Not just because you are afraid of them, but because they are little growth experiences that will be good for you. Small successes breed larger successes. I mean, you won't be greeted with a fanfare of trumpets and a golden trophy for going to the gym and getting on the treadmill for a bit, but it will give you a tiny bump of accomplishment and a bit of self respect. First you go once. Then you go again. Then you go again and try something new. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Change builds up like layers on a pearl. The fear is the grain of sand that starts the process.

Keep it up with the therapy and mental work. The fact that you have identified that you would like a significant other in your life is an excellent step forward! Really, it's a big deal. It means you are coming back to life. But to be fair to yourself, you want a good relationship, and a good relationship is a lot easier to find when you are capable of being a good partner yourself. You do not have to be perfect to be "ready". You just need to know that you are strong enough to handle the heartbreak the world can and will dish out. When the idea of heartbreak doesn't scare you (because you know you are a whole person on your own), then you're ready. Right now, you are terrified of stepping in a gym. That's a problem.
posted by griselda at 1:52 AM on April 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

I'm going to say, don't do on-line dating now.

On-line dating is a ball-buster, especially if you're one of those people who grows on folks. I've had guys get to the door and say, "OH HELL NO!" and then get back in their cars and drive away. Could you deal with that?

I think it would beat up a fragile self-esteem more than it would build you up.

If you don't like going to meetups in person, are there on-line forums you feel comfortable in? Perhaps you can grow a few relationships that way. I've met a lot of friends and Husbunny on-line, in...a Daria Chat Room. (cue pathetic violin music.)

Rather than thinking of what it is you might get from on-line dating, assess what it is that you have to give. You're not a little broken, you're a lot broken, and while a person on Reddit may have helped you, you need to do more work before you'll be ready for a relationship.

Work on some of your other issues. For example, what's up with the gym thing? Perhaps you can start by doing some fitness activities, walking, a DVD, then once you see that it's no biggie, you'll feel comfortable joining a gym. I'll tell you, I'm a fat broad and I've been going to gyms since the Butt-Floss Eighties. I was self-conscious, but after starting my workout, I realized that I wasn't all that interesting and that *shock* people, weren't all that interested in me. Then I just did my workout. Hell, just visit a low-key gym and take a tour. We have Planet Fitness which is aimed at regular people who just want to work out. Check this place out. Cheap and doesn't look like a meat market.

Once you're out of yourself more, you'll be in a much better state to date.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:50 AM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Internet is crying out for a dating site especially geared for those of us dealing with awkwardness, self-doubt, anxieties, and less experience.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:47 AM on April 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

About the gym: I get being a bit "terrified" of working out in public. Other posters are correct, however, in that no one is really watching or judging (too much). Most everyone at a gym is simply there to become more fit; they're focused on their own activities, not the awkward overweight person. About the only thing you can do to get negative attention at the average gym is hog a piece of equipment or jump ahead of the queue for something. A couple of visits should give you an idea of when the lower-traffic periods are, which can allow some freedom to "fail" more privately, or try out a new machine. If the problem is a fear of injury, most gyms have personal trainers on staff who can teach good technique, for a fee, or you can learn proper form from some of the gazillions of free youtube videos on that topic.

I'm focusing on this aspect of your question, because -- dating or no dating -- I suspect that regular exercise will be incredibly beneficial for you. As someone who deals with cyclical mild-to-more-serious depression, I find that staying active is a fantastic way to boost positive feelings. Whether this is due to brain chemistry or just the pleasure of meeting simple goals, a quick workout is the best natural mood enhancer I've found, barring sex. It could be argued to be cheaper and more proactive than tinkering with/adding on to your existing medications, too.

When you are ready to start online or IRL dating again (like many here, I suspect you aren't quite there yet), your increased fitness can only be a plus. You'll feel a bit better about your appearance, you'll feel healthier, and you'll have ingrained some solid, baseline self-respect regarding your accomplishments.

Online dating can be great -- it's definitely my preference -- but it has a steep learning curve. Not only can you experience rejection in a more "classic" sense, but there are all sorts of little unspoken etiquette things to navigate, as well as new and interesting forms of passive/active rejection to recognize and shake off. Although you sound a lot less needy or, to use your words, "broken" than many already in that pool, it's probably in your best emotional interest to work on gaining interests and confidence before jumping in.
posted by credible hulk at 9:04 AM on April 21, 2014

Your question is not a mess! Don't apologize! Feeling like you need to apologize for asking for help or being a little scatterbrained or vague or just exisiting is going to make online dating and just moving forward in life very difficult. I say this as somebody who's wasted a lot of time apologizing.

I say make a profile and see how you feel.

Online dating isn't for everybody and requires a certain frame of mind but simply having a profile does not immediately equal dating and rejection and all the stresses involved with that. Sometimes it's just fun to browse, see potential matches, message one or two people, tweak your profile and have the feeling that you're making motions towards dating, if not actually dating. If you feel it pushing you towards a negative mental loop just deactivate it and walk away for a bit. As somebody with depression and anxiety issues, that's what works best for me.

As for being faulty goods, ignore that. Everybody is faulty goods. Try to figure out what you want out of a relationship rather than worrying about all of the things that might prevent one. Having an online profile and reading others' can even help with that. You'll be adjusting yours to attract certain types and sorting through others dissecting why you're attracted to one profile but not another.
posted by AtoBtoA at 9:08 AM on April 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I too would suggest keeping things casual and focusing on opportunities to meet people (men as well as women) face to face, and perhaps being wary of online dating, but only because a) the ratio of effort:dates for men is reported to be discouraging at the best of times and b) your natural charm may have an easier time surfacing under less direct pressure.

But, you're right that people with greater challenges than yours do meet partners. I definitely don't agree that having been depressed and being unemployed = being "a step above addicts and chronic abusers", wow. (Though I guess some may see it that way. That's fine; you don't have to date them.) If your dating pool's going to draw from the likes of AskMetafilter, you'll see that recurring depression and anxiety are incredibly common. So is unemployment, these days. Caretaking a little less so, but not unheard of, and it sounds like the person you're caring for is on the mend, even if it's happening a bit slowly. And, you should be proud of the fact that you've helped out a loved one.

It happens that you're emerging from an episode, so, it's fair to say that's a bit tricky, and that it might be worth protecting yourself from too many of the headaches of online dating, for now - AtoBtoA's strategy sounds ideal.

(And I'd encourage you to think of your depression and anxiety flare-ups as periodic and episodic, unless you've been diagnosed with something that suggests chronicity. You've had other kinds of experiences in between, right? Focus on those, when you think and talk about yourself.)

I agree that continuing your personal development will serve you in all kinds of ways. But like quincunx, I'm sure you have interests and preferences you've not mentioned, perhaps because you might think they're unexceptional. Not everyone goes hang-gliding every weekend. Lots of people like to stay in, make a nice dinner and watch a film, including, probably, some of the people you might like to date.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:26 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Something to keep in mind is that even a great, rewarding relationship will still involve stress. At the very least, it's an emotional commitment that you might find you're not actually equipped to handle right now. It totally makes sense that you would want companionship and love at a low point in your life, but even the world's most A+ successful relationship is 100% pure good stuff. Just be honest with yourself about whether you might be romanticizing the idea of "girlfriend" a little bit.

That said, I don't think there is anything wrong with carefully and honestly looking for someone to date, even when you're at a low point. Do be open to the idea of forming non-romantic friendships with girls you don't end up "clicking" with. Broadening your social support system is a good idea.

I also wanted to say that you don't sound undateable or broken to me. Not perfect, and in a difficult spot with the depression and the sick family member, but not undateable at all. Someone else will think so too. :)
posted by jessicapierce at 1:18 PM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

> having a profile does not immediately equal dating ... Sometimes it's just fun to browse

Good advice. I'll add that you should really read profiles that seem interesting.

Some people reveal a lot about themselves that can be surprising and enlightening; I keep telling myself "I didn't know there were people that felt that way". Some people list qualities they're looking for in a partner. If you honestly ask yourself if you fit those, you might surprise yourself that advantages you'd minimized turn out to be important to some. You have to ease up on self dislike & approach it in a sort of detached way. I've managed to go from "she'd hate me" about most profiles to "oh, it seems like it wouldn't work with us, OK" with ones where there's some compatibility but some sticking points. And a few look promising.

> I'm also aware that you need to really 'sell yourself' when dating, and I don't want to misrepresent my faulty goods.

It's like real estate and resumes: everyone embellishes and you learn to read between the lines after a while. Emphasize the positive. My profile isn't the happy, breezy ideal and I managed to find someone to go on a date with. I'm not expecting a lot and if the second doesn't work out I'll probably take a month off from trying again, but every step I make outside my comfortable but depressing little existence helps my attitude towards myself & the world.
posted by morganw at 5:31 PM on May 6, 2014

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