Once upon a time, I made an OkCupid profile which I deleted 60 seconds after making it. Earlier this year, I also went on a Grouper – if that even counts as online dating. If you’re unfamiliar with it, a Grouper is when you and two of your friends are set up with three other people on a “date.” On the site, you fill out a mini profile with “Two Truths And A Lie” but you don’t see the person’s picture. My Grouper was interesting but for all the wrong reasons.
None of us were attracted to or felt any connections with any of the guys. Not only that; they were late, did some pretty unbecoming things like take calls during the date, and were all round, kind of douchey. We started looking for an out so one of my friends ended up lying that she had baby twins that she needed to put to bed. The highlight of the conversation was when my friend said, “Yep, I have kids,” to which one of the guys responded, “Define ‘have.’” Then he said, “This comes as a surprise.” So my friend responded, “They were a surprise to me too!” Funniest dating experience ever.
Other than the Grouper and the 60 seconds of my OkCupid existence, I don’t really have experience with online dating. I’ve considered making a profile for another local Chicago site where the company sets you up rather than you scouting profiles and messaging people. But I go back and forth with actually doing it because I don’t really know if I like the concept of online dating. I understand that online dating is practical – we’re all supposedly very busy and spend a lot of time on the internet anyway. So it makes sense that we would look to the internet for dating experiences. And of course, there is a wide array of statistics to back the fact that online dating can be a successful way to meet people. I also don’t subscribe to the stigma that sometimes still exists, that positions online dating as a last resort.
Still, I often wonder whether online dating isn’t adversely affecting our ability to romantically connect with people in real life, at least spontaneously. I theorize that there are two main areas in which online dating has the potential to negatively affect us – one of them is communication and the other is confidence. Firstly, it is redundant to claim that the digital space has changed the way we communicate; that is obvious. But what is not obvious is the discrepancy between our communicated identities online and our communicated identities in real life. Many times I have heard from people and have experienced myself, the inconsistency between someone’s personality online and their personality in real life.
In simple words: sometimes people seem to appear to have these magnificent personalities online and then you meet them in real life, and they suck. Of course, you can meet someone at a grocery store and realize later on that they suck too. But I feel that there is less expectation with the person at the grocery store; you had no preconceived notions. When we are online, we have time to perfectly craft and communicate a personality that appears appealing. I think our digital identities reveal who we want to be perceived as, which is not always identical to who we really are. Aside from this dubious communication of our identity, online dating is yet another reason people are spending time behind a computer, rather than going out into the real world and meeting people organically.
Then there is the issue of our confidence and this is what concerns me the most. I think one of the consequences of the digital age is the loss of our ability to have the courage to go up to people and express interest in them. I assume that since the beginning of time, expressing romantic interest has always been difficult. But people sucked it up and did it. Now, people use Facebook, Twitter, Gchat, and all the rest of them to try and express their romantic interest in people they know. With regard to online dating, I think that sometimes people use it as a means of avoiding the very nerve-wrecking instance of going up to someone and making romance happen the old-fashioned way. It takes guts and confidence to put yourself out there in real life; real life has no “sign out” or “log out” button. In real life, you don’t have all the time in the world to sit down and create cute one-liners about who you are. Online dating and our constant virtual presence have made us want to evade the natural awkward and uncomfortable scenarios that involve meeting people spontaneously.
When it’s all said and done, I am not against online dating in theory. Right now, I know it’s not something for me because I just don’t care to meet people that way. And maybe that makes me old-fashioned in this respect but I’m okay with that. To me, there are certain things that never go out of style. If online dating is just another way to meet people, then I say go for it. But if it’s the crutch that we’re using to avoid having to do uncomfortable and awkward things for romance, I think we need to re-evaluate how our society is evolving in terms of communication and confidence. And maybe it’s just also a personal evaluation that needs to take place for some people. Is online dating making us more communicative and confident about who we date and how we date? Or is online dating making us avoid the awkwardness of spontaneous encounters and turning us into cowards? The way I see it, being awkward sucks; and sometimes it even hurts. But it sure as hell beats being a coward.