I'm stuck to a "type" in online dating. How can I break out of it?
July 28, 2016 10:34 AM   Subscribe

I like to talk, discuss, debate, make puns, be intentionally clever, gesticulate extensively, and so on. That doesn't mean that I only want to date women who are the same way, but those are the only women I get on with. How do I expand my horizons?

When I (male, early 30s, if it matters) meet someone through online dating, I'm usually excited to be sitting across from a human I've never met before, and I engage with them the only way I know how to engage interesting strangers: by talking, which I think I'm good at and I really enjoy. This doesn't by any means mean I'm overserious and will only discuss French film theory. Rather, to me, great conversations are those that bounce from the serious and personal to the silly and absurd and back, and where the participants riff off each other and carry the encounter lightly.

I've met a good number of women online who treat conversation the same way that I do, and its always gone swimmingly. However, I don't want to limit myself to such women/experiences for a few reasons. Firstly, online dating is starting to feel a little rote, a little too performative and intellectually demanding. Secondly, more often than not, these meetings lead to friendships rather than the romance (and occasional casual sexual encounter) that I want - I think because I don't know how to change tracks from "witty repartee" to "flirty banter," and also because when I'm deep into "repartee mode" I settle into a more platonic mood.

The strange thing is that in my offline life, I haven't had this problem. My friends as a group are diverse, personality wise - and none of my previous major relationships have been with women who treated conversation as sport. I can flirt just fine with various sorts of women, but apparently only if I meet them at social events connected to my IRL social circle. When I meet women who are not "talkers" through online dating, I usually have no idea how to interact with them, and my usual of volume of talking quickly becomes one-sided and makes me feel like I'm being dominant and creepy. So, I get self conscious, and the encounter usually ends quickly. I've tried consciously not taking the lead, and had this result in a depressing "interview" type of conversation. Frequently these have been women that I found interesting and attractive, but I just couldn't quite get the encounter on the correct track, and neither could they.

Is there any way out of this? Or should I simply accept that I have a "type" and that women who fit that mold are the only ones I should expect to click with?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't really see the problem? The fact that a fun chatty women hasn't become your long-term romantic partner doesn't seem to be related to the fact that they are fun and chatty. One will eventually. Fail until you succeed.

Would you really want a long term romance with someone who doesn't interact this way? Who you can't have a great conversation with? Seems like you should just flirt a little more with the chatty ladies.
posted by French Fry at 10:48 AM on July 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Practice listening, and actively listening. You don't have to ask a bulleted list of questions in order to draw someone out and get talking to them, it's more of building on what someone has said and encouraging them to speak, as well. So maybe pay attention to the way you speak with your friends and how they speak with one another and model your behavior on dates based on that?
posted by xingcat at 10:49 AM on July 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

When I meet women who are not "talkers" through online dating, I usually have no idea how to interact with them, and my usual of volume of talking quickly becomes one-sided and makes me feel like I'm being dominant and creepy. So, I get self conscious, and the encounter usually ends quickly. I've tried consciously not taking the lead, and had this result in a depressing "interview" type of conversation.

I think you can reframe it as you just not clicking with these people, which is more likely to happen with online dating because when you meet women in offline life, it's almost always a given that you have a commonality. I am very deeply A Talker. You sound very much like me (though I am female). And yet, I have absolutely no problem intuitively shutting up and listening to the quietest, most reserved people in a good conversation. I've been on both sides of these "interview"-type encounters. It usually just means you're incompatible. No one's doing anything wrong, there's just no spark. You're probably doing fine.

Firstly, online dating is starting to feel a little rote, a little too performative and intellectually demanding.

I think this is also just a thing that happens with online dating, and has nothing to do with your conversation or communication style. Almost every single person I've ever met who has dated extensively via okc, tinder, etc. has relayed this or a similar sentiment to me.
posted by capricorn at 11:04 AM on July 28, 2016 [11 favorites]

If you are as forthright in your online dating profiles about your love of gesticulating wildly and cracking puns as you are here, it is no surprise that only people who share the same proclivities would want to go on a date with you.
posted by cakelite at 11:26 AM on July 28, 2016 [10 favorites]

Online dating is a numbers game for most people. You have to move through a lot of volume (and a lot of performative dating) to find a good connection. Your issue sounds like a volume issue.

Are you spending too many dates with people with whom you're not achieving much sexual chemistry? Your convert-to-friendship rate indicates this could be the case.
...these meetings lead to friendships rather than the romance (and occasional casual sexual encounter) that I want - I think because I don't know how to change tracks from "witty repartee" to "flirty banter," and also because when I'm deep into "repartee mode" I settle into a more platonic mood.
This is a major clue. If I'm attracted to someone with whom I am having a great conversation or "witty repartee" on a date, the conversation will naturally move into a more flirty zone. It happens on its own if there's a mutual attraction. If that's not happening, I'm guessing that the person you're on a date with isn't feeling it. If I'm not feeling attracted to someone and they try to steer into flirty, I will steer back and make sure things stay in a platonic mood. I feel like that's a clear signal and, while it's more subtle, it's also nicer and easier than coming out and saying, "It'll never be on for you with me. I feel no chemistry with you at all."

Someone can look good in person and "on paper", but if the encounter doesn't get onto a successful flirty date track, it's extremely likely that it's a chemistry/attraction issue and things aren't going to click despite attempts to steer the date into a more flirty or romantic zone.
posted by quince at 11:26 AM on July 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

One thought, based on how I behave when I feel I have to be "on" and how I behave in more comfortable situations: Maybe try pushing on to second third, fourth dates with some of these banterers? You might find the quiet moments with them (and yourself) when there isn't a bright hot first-date spotlight on everything. Then you'd have the best of both worlds: sparkling conversations and golden silences.
posted by kapers at 11:57 AM on July 28, 2016

Have you tried non-talking-centered dates? Something like getting coffee or having a meal requires a lot of conversational effort. What about going to the movies, a play, or some other activity that removes the need to talk all the time?
posted by smirkette at 12:03 PM on July 28, 2016

So, I get self conscious

This seems like the bit you could change. I imagine you're feeling awkward because, since these are new people about whom you haven't a clue, you don't know how they feel about you. Also, your date activities may be set up so that "talking" is the main form of interaction.

Maybe you could plan some way of interacting so that either silences or long pauses are more comfortable, or find some activity that lets you be around each other without having to fill the spaces entirely from your own minds (maybe a thing you do that you could talk about during or after the activity, or an activity like dancing where you don't have to talk a lot, or some kind of group interaction where you can observe each other without having to focus ON each other).
posted by amtho at 12:09 PM on July 28, 2016

I would suggest trying first date activities that are not coffee/drinks/dinner, if that's what you're currently doing now. When I was online dating, I found "activity" dates to be way more interesting and it gives something to talk about/look at during quiet moments/not have to fill the space with conversation the whole time. I would suggest things like an art gallery, adult's night at a local museum, wine tasting event, (short) hike, etc. depending on your interests.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:15 PM on July 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

The word "performative" resonated with me. I, too, can be a performativel charming talker. But eventually it starts to feel like work and like we're not really connecting.
So maybe...when you notice that you're detatching while talking, take a moment to just sit with it and not cover it up with more talk? Awkward silences can be really uncomfortable for talkers. But pause for a bit and then try to reconnect. You could do that by sayinghow you feel right now candidly. Or by saying something serious as a change of pace.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:04 PM on July 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would do several things:

- Limit your time talking to people online before meeting them in real life. I found that if I spend several days getting to know someone then when we meet up we have nothing really to talk about. So I'm very quick to ask a few questions then see if they want to meet up. That way you don't immediately delve into weird topics because you've exhausted all the others. Some people like to take it slow like it is the antediluvian south. That's okay, but I think it is antithetical to how online dating works when it works well.

- Listen to people like Howard Stern (current Howard Stern!) and how he talks to guests. He became a very good interviewer and I'm not saying go in there like you're interviewing Bill Murray, but online dating has taught me how to talk to people at length in ways that engage them. It means leading questions, but more importantly how to listen to your responses to drive them. Charlie Rose is another one but he might be a bit too high brow, Howard is much more conversational. Howard Stern doesn't usually ask, "How often do you have sex?" or provocative questions (anymore so don't do that) but he's great at getting people to open up in a casual way.

- Pauses in the conversation are natural, don't force them to talk the entire time. If they start people watching a bit, don't force conversation. You're not going to a formal dance, if people check their phone use it as a time to check yours. This is a first date with a stranger.

- Be pithy and not pretentious. Another huge early mistake I made was trying to impress dates. I think I did this to yes, impress them, but also extend the conversation. Sometimes in the business world people do this and it caught on. Mostly because they weren't trying to impress they were just relaying something to me. If my old boss said, "I drove a really cool Porsche today!" I know it is because he was with some client or vendor who has a Porsche and he genuinely enjoyed it. If I said the same thing on a first date I'd look look like Patrick Batemen. Perhaps a better Metafilter version of this would her mentioning Ann Arbor. That's a good chance to go, "I went there once, it is a pretty town. What did you enjoy about it?" Not "I love Ann Arbor, they have a great independent bookstore blah blah blah." If they return with something like, "I went to college there, why were you there?" You can say why and then play dumb, say why and casually mention there was a bookstore you really liked and can't remember the name. Then see if it more naturally comes up. Soften the blow.

In summary people like to talk about themselves, and they don't like people who have an opinion on things. Sorry, be yourself but you don't have to throw yourself in their face on the first date. I hope this doesn't come off as pick up artist stuff and being inauthentic. I think it is sort of like in interviews where people don't know how to adjust themselves to the situation, and this is basically an interview.

Hope this helps, once I started "toning myself down" I started getting more interesting second and third dates. Annie Hall would be a really boring movie if they did the realistic thing and dragged themselves over multiple dates.
posted by geoff. at 1:09 PM on July 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

People are responding to your profile as written. If you want to attract a different sort of person, you'll need to highlight things about yourself that they would find appealing. A quiet or shy person may well be intimidated by a profile that showcases intellectual debate / avid conversation.

I'm not saying you should try to hide that you do this, but maybe make it clear that you are not looking for a verbal sparring partner, but rather someone who can enjoy quiet moments with you.

And yes, try going on dates where talking is not the main entertainment and / or mode of connecting: go dancing, take a guided tour of a museum, go see a comedy show, etc.
posted by ananci at 1:47 PM on July 28, 2016

When people express frustration about how they're not getting results when dating, I like to think of it in terms of friendships and acquaintances. So think of all the people you know. It's probably in the hundreds. Your friends, your colleagues, people you may share a hobby with, the person you see at the store, etc. It's probably a lot of people. Of those, how many of them would you consider a friend? And of those friends, which would you consider a really close friend? A 'has your back' kind of friend-- the kind you feel a real kinship with. I'm sure the number of people has narrowed considerably by this point. It might be only one or two people you feel that close to.

So think back to the sheer amount of people you know and have met and are friendly with, and consider that from all of those people, you're only super close to a small few. Why? Because despite casting your net far and wide, people that click with you and vice versa is rare. Sometimes it's because you have no real interest in each other, and sometimes it may be because you just lack the incentive to want to get to know someone better.

Dating is the exact same, even when it's facilitated by online profiles and such. Yes, it makes it easier to 'connect' with someone on paper, but in person, it's hard to find people one truly clicks with. You can literally meet every kind of person, day to day, and not connect in that way to anyone very easily.

I think it's less that you're stuck on a 'type' that isn't really working for you, and more that you haven't met someone that truly works for you with that type. You may or may not meet that person, it depends. You probably got lucky with your real life relationships-- networking at parties and meeting new people via friends is faster and casts the net much wider than having a vis a vis with someone you met via their dating profile. Moreover, when meeting new people at a social event, you'll probably automatically exclude people you feel no real attraction to as a prospect, and be instead drawn to those you are. But in online dating, you can't truly gauge attraction until you meet in person, which, when you set up a meeting and find you don't actually click after all, may make it seem as if there are more 'misses' than in your offline life.

Honestly? I think you're overthinking the whole thing. I also think you settle into platonic banter because you're just not quite feeling it with those people. My advice is to focus on the individual rather than a perceived 'type'. Drop all that baggage at the door -- and just keep at it. Keep meeting new people, keep getting out there; do what comes naturally. If the conversation flows, let it flow. If it starts to feel like it's rote or a chore, then it's a sign its not quite working out. Eventually, you'll find someone that doesn't feel like its draining you intellectually, that it flows naturally with. For most people, it takes a lot of looking to find someone like this. This is normal.

As for your flirting issues, if you're truly bad at indicating your interest or flirting with someone, then you may want to read something like Superflirt. It's not a bad book. It goes into reading body language and escalation, as well as gauging interest levels. Some people are really bad at both recognizing if they're actually being flirted with, and escalating flirty body language. Also, some people think polite attention is actually flirting. This may be you. If it is you, this book might help. But truly, most people are hard-wired to do it naturally with people they're into.
posted by Dimes at 1:48 PM on July 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've gone on more than my share of first dates with very charming and quickwitted clever people. Those dates can be fun, but I rarely see those people twice because keeping up with their performance is exhausting. I want to date someone who wants to know me, not play a game of wits and try to out-clever me.

I like to talk, discuss, debate, make puns, be intentionally clever, gesticulate extensively, and so on.

So - you may be a lively and exhausting first date. If you're debating and punning and being clever, that's fine up to a point, but after a while your date is getting to know you as Oscar Wilde but not actually you. And you're not getting to know your date, either.

It may be that just as you're not presenting your actual self, you're also putting your date into a position where to keep up with the energy you're giving they also have to become someone they're not. And then you don't see them again.

I would consider emphasizing more of just being YOU, not trying so hard to be clever and trying instead to get to know the person sitting with you. You may find you actually are meeting all types of people.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:52 PM on July 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

I know a lot of men like you, and they're wonderful friends but frankly lack as romantic partners, because of the performance thing. It has felt hard to get to know their tender underbelly, and they forget to show interest in mine. So things just can't escalate into romantic and sexual zing. Here are some things that would have helped in my experience:

Ask me questions and give me space to answer them.
Let there be times when you don't have to show off your awesome pun or joke (especially if I'm talking).
Flirt. But when you flirt, make it about me, not about showing off how clever you are.
Experience and talk about feelings.
Let some sexual tension build up -- cool it with jokes sometimes.

Basically, let her take up more space in your interactions.
posted by spindrifter at 2:31 PM on July 28, 2016 [10 favorites]

I think you should keep it up. I would love to meet someone like you. It's so difficult to find anyone who can carry on a fun conversation.

How do your second dates usually play out? I think the first one is good for meeting up and having great conversation, but I like when a guy plans a fun second date. I think you should keep up your witty conversation, but for the second date, plan a date where you a little more active - maybe a museum and dinner or mini-golf and dinner. Try something where you have the chance to touch one another a little.
posted by parakeetdog at 6:07 PM on July 28, 2016

I'm in my late 30s, and you are probably, other things being equal, "my type." Maybe try to keep in mind that an intelligent, articulate person doesn't need to "sell" him- or herself so hard. It's good to lead with your strong suit, right? But your personal qualities will still be apparent during a mellow, relaxed encounter. Don't oversell. That's my take. Good luck!
posted by 8603 at 8:56 PM on July 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maybe you're conflating clicking with someone conversationally and clicking with someone sexually? I also am a gabber and what I've learned is that if there's mutual sexual interest between me and someone else, conversational compatibility doesn't really matter either way.

That's really another way of saying I don't think this is something you can manage by conversing less or differently. Some people will dig you. Some won't.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 9:57 AM on July 29, 2016

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