In the past few months, I experienced an odd if not intriguing happening in my romantic life: two ex-boyfriends with whom I’d had only occasional contact since the respective break-ups, manifesting through my iPhone screen under the guise of getting back in touch. Both were single, living in different cities, and more than a little nostalgic.
Resisting the urge to assume I was just completely irresistible, I realized the one major similarity in these past two relationships was that we had met through no online medium, before the era of digital dating had really even begun (a simpler time indeed).
It was refreshing to remember that in a not-so-distant past this was possible, had even happened to me successfully and once while dressed as a Care Near because, hey, anything was possible once upon a time before the online dating flurry.
Some short text convos with Mr. Care Bear turned into longer emails — apologies for mistakes made, attempts to fill in the vast array of things left unsaid — and winding phone calls as we began the process of re-getting to know each other.
We traded tales of our various adventures in the online dating sphere — so many options, so little satisfaction — and amidst one of our hour-long chats, Mr. Care Bear said, “When I met you, I liked you. So when we went out for the first time, I was already on a date with someone I liked, and that felt great.”
The simplicity of his statement struck me partially for the honesty and partially because it just makes sense to go on a date with someone you already like. Which requires meeting in that crazy offline, in-person way first. Which, in turn, requires some spontaneity and vulnerability.
And, this is where online dating and accessible hookups have changed the dating landscape — there are plenty of options and opportunities now to not be alone without having to exercise any of those pesky, risk-taking emotions. The bar is that much lower than it used to be, and Mr. Darcy would be so appalled.
The mere existence of so many options makes it much easier to avoid being, like, together because relationships are hard and OH, yes, the possibilities those options (could) present.
And, the infinite abyss between not alone and together just continues to grow, with so many people feeling stuck somewhere between abstractly seeking a relationship and remaining open to all the options.
What once (probably) started as a romantic notion of the possibility of the one existing, somewhere within a 3.5 mile radius also an iPhone user who “likes St. Bernards too,” became this endless buffet of availability — more people actively seeking first dates — okay, hookups — while passively becoming more closed off to real romance and relationships.
The major value of spontaneity and vulnerability has been lost in the ease of meeting online because, in online dating, the cycle of first dates (and perhaps a handful of seconds or thirds) is inevitable. You’re not going on a date with someone you already know you like from your friend’s 26th Birthday Extravaganza, but instead delving in rather blindly, with a virtual stranger, which (realistically) more often than not, won’t lead to anything meaningful.
And the things you may find attractive online or in a profile — a picture of someone not sky-diving, surface interests, of course Jurassic Park is the best — are separate from what you find attractive in person. During real encounters, you react to behavior, the ease of your repartee, the way you feel when you realize you like the way his mouth moves when he laughs. And while looks certainly play a big role, ultimately what it comes down to is the ways in which you interact — that intangibility of connection that can’t really be defined in words or pictures — the way someone makes you feel.
I’m not knocking online dating — because the possibility does exist that it can work. But it also shouldn’t be relied upon as the sole form of dating attempts and interactions. When that’s the case, it acts as a crutch, something to fall back upon so that you’re never really alone, floating in a sea of profile pictures, while hindering your ability to take romantic chances — because you don’t have to, not really, be alone.
It’s so much easier to go on dates where there’s so little at stake — sitting across from a pretty face, sharing a standardly polite conversation over a couple cocktails — to just kind of like someone to have around when you’re feeling lonely than it is to open up to someone you like-like, date them, introduce them to your friends, like them more, have a relationship, and weather all those gloriously dangerous unknowns and potentials for pain or failure that comes with the relationship territory.
So while re-connecting with Mr. Care Bear may lead to no more than whispered regrets and bold confessions of newly discovered relationship aspirations, it’s been the reminder I so desperately needed while navigating the strange new dating landscape: it’s nice to have options. But no what-if possibility will every amount to the bold reality of navigating that undiscovered territory of having a relationship with someone you like, and all the opportunities — good, bad, everywhere in between — that entails.