Oh, What Promises Abound in the World of Online Dating!
Behind every miniature digital face is an opportunity, the potential for thrilling heart connection, laughter-filled friendships, amazing sex, or D&Ms while strolling along a river bank.
It can feel overwhelming, like being stuck in a supermarket with endless isles and too much choice. But don’t be misled by this illusion of variety. To get to the genuine gold it requires a lot of digging. It can be very time consuming and before long, you can find your daily life subsumed by messaging, checking for messages or scrolling through a multitude of faces or profiles.
And yet the allure of potential is what often keeps us coming back for more.
Addictive and ‘Hyper-real’
Chatting to people on dating apps can easily become addictive and ‘hyper-real’. This ‘blog is in some ways a chronicle of that addiction, and my very first online liaison was the perfect example.
On the first night after I’d uploaded my profile picture on Skout with a very brief description, I was caught unawares by the arresting power of someone else’s desire. Though it built steadily over a couple of days during the weekend, I was firmly ‘besotted’ by this 32-year-old man at day three. By this time, we were messaging constantly between about seven in the morning and nine at night. The tension during evening hours was almost at fever pitch by day five, and we decided to meet on the following Sunday.
Mostly we flirted, chatted about our day, shared the occasional photo and fantasised a little about touching each other. I was still finding my feet (the typical ingénue) so I warned him not to send any ‘dick pics’. I just wasn’t ready for sexually explicit talk. A lot of women stand firm at this stage, and that’s absolutely OK. No one should be forced to endure dick pics and demands for boobie or pussy shots!
When Mr Charming and I eventually did meet, exactly seven days after our online liaison began, it was a shock.
Firstly, he looked far worse than he did in his photos. They didn’t reveal his food-infested teeth, bad breath, two-week old stubble nor his unwashed body odour and daggy tracky dacks. Though I managed to slowly squeeze a stilted sort of conversation out of him over the three hours we spent together, it was clear that his reclusive, real-life personality was nothing like his confident, online persona.
It was also blindingly obvious that we were totally unsuited to each other, but I didn’t run a mile or ‘ghost’ him. Instead, in the hours following our first meeting, I examined my feelings of being duped, being sold a bum deal – that I’d fallen (however lamely and superficially) for someone who didn’t exist.
The fantasy I’d developed over just that one week (or approximately 98 hours) had such a strong hold on me that even when he turned nasty a few days later, I still held onto a half-baked notion that we could somehow make it work.
It should have been a salutary lesson but it was not one I learned quickly.
This build-up of intimacy online can happen quite suddenly and if we’re honest, unrealistically. We all know deep in our sensible selves that you can’t start chatting with someone and understand them deeply, trust them with your life or want to shack up with them forever after. I was being sucked into this dynamic over and over again but I couldn’t see it. Even after I recognised the dangers, it was difficult to stop repeating the pattern. I’m a lot wiser to my weaknesses now.
After only a couple of days messaging intensely, it’s possible or even likely that a ‘false intimacy’ develops. When combined with physical attraction, it can be a potent mix of ‘fantasy pheromones’ and a tender hopefulness that so many of us carry within.
Intimacy is built and maintained in the ‘hyper-reality’ of initial online liaisons in a number of ways: the showering or steady drip-feeding of compliments, attention, and the sheer amount of time spent ‘chatting’ with someone. It’s good advice to be wary of these tactics, as narcissists and psychopaths use them to do real damage.
“Romance, real romance – being courted and wooed on screen and in messages and letters – is a thing difficult to say no to,” writes Stella Grey of The Guardian in her column about looking for love at age 50.
“It’s especially difficult when you are sad. It’s easy to fall for someone over email. Things can accelerate way too fast, especially if you’re both accelerators. What is difficult is following through into life. The closer email conversation brought us, the more risk there was that a real encounter would be the beginning of a big letdown.”
I’ve thought about every minute aspect of what this social media-enhanced experience of ‘relationships’ in the 21st Century might mean. I read everything I come across, I lap up other people’s stories or roll my eyes in knowing agreement. I think we can all benefit from sharing and getting the word out about what the traps are here in the online dating world.
I am reminded time and time again, that finding likeminded people is not easy.
Men and women who are prepared to open their hearts are rare and precious, particularly in this sometimes facile and duplicitous world. Finding people with common interests, compatible free time and a relationship status that works with mine is also a challenge.
And that’s another whole new topic!