Dating in a Digital Age
By Rebecca Pikula
hese days we rely on our devices to make all kinds of decisions for us: where to eat, where to shop, where to go on vacation. It naturally proceeds that we turn to our devices for more important existential questions, such as how to find love.
The number of couples who meet online is growing steadily in this country. Only about 40 percent of heterosexual couples and less than 30 percent of LGBT couples are meeting organically through friends or at social events. With access to hundreds of potential matches at your fingertips, online dating can be thrilling. It can also be overwhelming, daunting, and potentially too filtered.
I have many friends who have met their significant others through online dating, and about as many more who have turned into nitpicky perfectionists. Online dating certainly offers the opportunity to become so picky that you may be passing Mr. or Ms. Right over just because they don’t listen to the same 80’s hair metal bands that you enjoy. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of helpful Do’s and Don’ts for your online dating pleasure.
- Be prepared to actually meet someone. Look, I know there are a lot of crazy and scary stories out there about someone’s cousin’s friend who met someone online and ended up in bits in a freezer, but most of the people pursuing online dating are just like you. They want to meet someone they’re crazy about and spend a few months, years, or decades enjoying their company. While it can be intimidating to go on what is basically a blind date with a stranger, just remember to be smart about it and you’ll be fine. Pick a public place; never go to anyone’s house or alone in a car with them until you feel safe; trust your instincts, but probably carry pepper spray also.
- Be positive! When filling out your online profile, it’s better to emphasize what you love rather than what you hate. We probably all hate those drive-throughs you can’t get out of if the line is taking too long, people who talk during movies, and the way Netflix judges your life by asking if you’re still watching every third episode, but that doesn’t mean those things are all you care about. Emphasize your sense of adventure, your passion for finding great new restaurants before anyone else, or your creative nature. Tell your potential suitors what gets you excited about life.
- Be clear about what you want in a partner. If you’re not in a place where you’re ready for a long-term commitment, and maybe just looking for your Mr./Ms. Right Now, you should say that right off the bat so that you don’t get a few weeks in with someone who is looking for their forever home, only to disappoint them. If you’re ready to settle down, buy a house, and get a dog you should be upfront about that for the same reasons. It’s also helpful to know what attributes a person needs to possess in order to mesh with your personality and work well as a couple. If you have a great sense of humor and need someone to laugh at your jokes, you probably won’t last long with someone who is very literal and pragmatic. Opposites do sometimes attract, but it’s easier going if you know what does and doesn’t work for you.
- Do your research. There are tons of online dating sites. So many, in fact, that there are now niche sites catering to any one of dozens of specific desires. Religion, lifestyle, orientation, etc. Then there are broader, more popularized sites that will expose you to more people, more frequently, but it may be harder to find exactly what you want in a partner. Look through a few before you decide what might be right for you. It’s also okay to maintain a profile on more than one site.
- Don’t choose bad pictures of yourself. We’ve all got a million selfies and group shots, but we all also probably have that one great picture at the beach last year, or atop a summit that’s just been hiked or even a great picture from a night out in your best dress. Group shots can confuse people, especially when used as your main profile pic. Which one are you? Who is this person with their arms around you? Worse, the other people in the shot may be on the same site and find themselves in your photos, or even be using the same shot. Try to choose pictures that are either just of you or that you can crop so that it only shows you. Look for pictures of your whole face, not just that one good selfie angle of your right eye and jaw bone. In fact, look for pictures of your whole body. You are, after all, trying to offer an accurate depiction of yourself. There are also some statistics that show those who are portrayed doing something fun or interesting get more traffic.
- Don’t lie! This inevitably ends badly. The truth will eventually come out, and you never know how many more lies you’ll have to spin to support your first lie. Just be honest about who and what you are. There are seven billion people on the planet, at least one of them is going to think you’re cool.
- Don’t bring your baggage on a date. If you’re still hung up on the person who dumped you three months ago and can’t help abusing them at every opportunity, you’re probably not ready to date. Don’t torture some other poor, unsuspecting soul that doesn’t know your history. Check your baggage at the door and bring a set of fresh eyes.
- Don’t allow yourself to become a screening machine. It would probably be great if your significant other had the exact same favorite song, movie, and ice cream flavor. It might also be terribly boring. When we meet someone for the first time in person, rather than online, there is usually some physical attraction and then we sort of get to know things we like or dislike about them over time. Online dating takes out this middle bit. You get to see McDreamy’s likes, dislikes, and bio before ever even reaching out. This can be a good thing if it saves you wasting time on someone you’re obviously not compatible with, but it can also be a bad thing if you start passing people over just because they haven’t read The Shining or they prefer burgers over sushi. A lot of the fun of growing close to someone is experiencing things together. You could take them to try sushi for the first time and they may end up loving it. Let go of the reins a little and take a chance on the person who doesn’t love photography, because they might just love that you love photography in the end.
If you try out a good strategy and still decide online dating is just not for you, never fear. The whole wide world is out there. It’s still okay to meet someone at a party, a bar, or a social event somewhere. Try out a local hotspot, like a new bar with the fancy cocktails. Volunteer or sign up for an event you might not normally do, like a fun run or a community clothing drive. Actually go out with your friends even if all you really want to do is eat French fries in your pajamas. Whatever you do, the most important step is being available and open to the possibilities. Close your eyes and jump!
Rebecca Pikula lives near Atlanta with her husband of five years. She attended Georgia College and State University. She has visited 14 countries and 36 states, and enjoys travelling and motorcycles, sometimes simultaneously.