March 1, 2013

You Can’t Find Real Love Online

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I’ve said it numerous times. And I didn’t think it was possible. It certainly isn’t possible with that attitude.

But here’s an interesting modern statistic: 1 in 5 relationships start online.

According to research recently published in the journal “Psychological Science in the Public Interest,” 20% of all relationships begin on the internet. Apparently, the stigmas once attached to dating online have disappeared and been replaced with a real appreciation for the effectiveness of finding love digitally. No longer is internet dating an escape for the desperate, the lonely and the dirt-bags of the world. These days single people all over the world find each other in that vast digital environment of 1s and 0s.

My introduction to online dating was through a friend. He used Yahoo Personals and Craigslist Personals to meet lonely divorcees and single mothers. Invariably, he would go out with them, woo them, give them an awesome night out, sleep with them and never see them again. And when I say a friend I’m not secretly referring to myself. My mom was both a single mother and a divorcee. So is my sister. I can’t treat a woman like that. Regardless, seeing someone use online dating that way tainted my view of it. And those goofy ads for dating sites like Match.com made it seem like it’s for people who couldn’t attract a date. That’s not really my problem.

I don’t struggle to find dates. Instead I have difficulty meeting a woman who holds my interest. Living in Los Angeles, I’m surrounded by beautiful and attractive women but I rarely meet a woman who’s as much of an odd duck as I am. And now I’ve reached an age where people worry I’ll always be alone so they often gently suggest, or ask, “Have you ever considered online dating?”

For those who’ve discovered the love of their life on the internet they can’t imagine anything more natural. And truth be told, as someone who fell in love on the internet I know how they feel. Before, whenever someone asked me about finding love online I scoffed and haltingly described it as kind of laughable or sad that a person couldn’t find love in the real world and had to turn to the internet. To avoid hurting their feelings, I usually just changed the subject. Now, I know how wrong I was.

What can I say? I was a judgmental jerk and only believed in what took place in the real world. The internet was like an imaginary world filled with gamers, perverts and losers looking for love. It just felt geeky, kinda like believing in magic.

When you meet someone in the real world their smile might be what catches your eye or perhaps it’s the quickness of their mind which intrigues you. Perhaps it’s the sound of their voice that tickles your ears. Or perhaps they make you laugh so much and for so long it hurts your sides. Or maybe they’re just the sexiest creature you’ve ever seen. We never know what will draw our attention, what teases our lust and leads us to the moment when we open our heart to love.

Now, if you meet someone online, obviously it won’t be their laugh you hear, or their unmistakable aroma and mix of pheromones that overwhelms you, or their physical presence that gets your blood pumping. With so many reductions of what fires those initial impressions, instead online dating highlights the more ephemeral aspects of a person — their wit, their worldview, their accomplishments, their shared interests and individual observations. In many ways, the distance gives one a chance to detect the other person’s unique spirit, their inimitable way through the world.

I know, I sound like a cheesy Irish poet relaxing by a lake waxing about the moon in my lover’s eyes and the spirit in her breast… but it’s true. At a distance, the very attributes that are normally prominent and dominant fall away and the person’s subtler style and general attitude comes through far more clearly. Instead of watching them walk into the room, when meeting them online, one first sees how witty or worldly they are in their bio, how curious or adventurous they are; these deeper qualities become what you first notice. With only a few pictures to view, the look in their eye becomes far easier to see.

For those who are shy, and equally, for the ones who come from families of divorce or were raised by a widow or widower, or people who’ve already been married and find themselves divorced and reluctant to do it all again, or for the single parents out there raising their children alone; basically, for those of us who are far more prepared to go through the world alone, the distance provided by online interactions allows one to dream of a future without the instant pressure of commitment, the risk of rejection or the sometimes overwhelming intensity that arrives like a rainstorm of emotion in those first love-struck days of dating. Also for those of us who live such busy lives that normal dating is nearly impossible to manage, online dating allows one a modicum of control so the early relationship has a chance to take root despite the challenges of a hectic schedule. There are many reasons why internet dating is such a life-saver for those bobbing along, still hoping to find someone special in the sea of potential mates.

In an extreme version, some online daters spend all their time together on the internet, never seeing each other in the real world. And what we’re finding is their love is just as likely to bloom despite such limitations. The woman I fell for doesn’t even live in the same country as me. For us to communicate regularly we’ve used email, Facebook messages and posts, and the wonder of Skype video chats which allow us to talk and laugh and share stories for hours at a time. In those video-chat conversations, I delight in how her mind works like a hummingbird, it moves so fast and she speaks so quickly she often skips a word and has to back-up to correct herself. And the faces she makes when she tells a story make me smile just recalling them. Her laugh is like music to my ears. And all young lovers know exactly what I mean. Despite the fact that we don’t get to spend time in the real world, I feel the same pangs looking forward to the next time we can Skype. For someone like a busy single parent, chatting on Skype can keep a relationship viable when there isn’t time to get away or a chance to find a babysitter. And thankfully, technology widens the window of opportunity for such time-challenged lovers.

For the cynics and those like me who once laughed at it, finding love online is totally possible. In fact, for some folks, I would highly recommend it. However, I recommend it with one caveat. You must really think and truly believe it’s possible. And I know this is true because when I told the woman I met online I’d fallen in love with her — she told me she didn’t think falling in love on the internet was possible, that it wasn’t natural and she was surprised by the intensity of my feelings. This was because we hadn’t met on some online dating site, we’d met through work and thus she thought of us only as friends. She said she had affection for me but couldn’t get all the way to love. She said things would be different if we lived in the same city but… we don’t.That’s just how it goes… sometimes. The irony of her not believing you can fall in love online was not lost on me. Before her… I agreed with her.

So it’s important you first overcome your doubts, and remember… just like with anything you ever want to do, you must think it’s possible and then it can happen.

If you don’t, then it won’t. Love, like magic, is only possible if you believe in it. TC mark

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