Are We Addicted To Hope?

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 riverbank.

It can feel overwhelming, like being stuck in a supermarket with endless aisles and too much choice. But don’t be misled by this illusion of variety. Most of what’s on offer is not worth a cent. It’s facile, duplicitous, fake in every sense. To get to the genuine gold it requires a lot of digging. This 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. This all takes its toll.

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. I’m almost embarrassed to recount this story because I was such a newbie and so totally clueless.

I’d just uploaded one profile picture on Skout, together with a very brief personal description. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but I know it was brief. As a professional copywriter it was probably meant to be intriguing and succinct, but I was new to the self-marketing business and so it probably didn’t tick any of the key boxes.

However, my phone had been pinging all afternoon at work, so that evening I sat down to go through the prospects.

There was a clear standout that weekend, and I was caught unawares by the arresting power of someone else’s desire.

He spent the entire Saturday and most of Sunday messaging me and of course I was eager to respond. He was almost 20 years my junior and wearing my rose-tinted glasses, I thought he was gorgeous. A little rough round the edges, but sexy, passionate, tall and manly, but shy and more than a little awkward. This was all fine, because he was the first!

There was no one to compare him with, no benchmark of normality and no holding back either!

The banter and the sexual tension built steadily over the 48 hours and by the Sunday evening, I was firmly ‘besotted’ by this 32-year-old mechanic. By now, we were messaging constantly between 7.00 in the morning and 9.00 at night (his bedtime). He was well behaved as he learnt early that I didn’t tolerate boundary crossing. I compared myself to a nervous wild pony, whinnying with excitement but flighty and skittish. (He loved this analogy). So there were no dickpics or semi-naked sexting, just bonding, innuendo and by the Monday, blatant desire barely concealing our yearning.

I say ‘yearning’ because, back then, I was fresh meat, and also pretty fresh out of a long marriage, so it was all new and sexy as hell. As for him, I think he was desperate to forget being jilted and sexually betrayed by his ex, as well as keen for a good old-fashioned root (to use his lingo). There seemed to be a heavy emotional component too, but who knows how genuine that was?

By the end of Day 5, the UST (unresolved sexual tension) was almost at fever pitch. We decided to meet on Sunday. That day, it felt like the most important event on my annual calendar, and after some last-minute child-minding problems, I arrived at our destination: a quiet part of the botanic gardens in my city.

Botanic garden archway

I’ll be blunt – it was a shock. He didn’t exactly look like his photos, but only because he’d taken no care whatsoever in his appearance. Sure, he was the same size and age, but in the cold hard light of day, he didn’t look as attractive.

His photos hadn’t revealed his food-infested teeth, bad breath, two-week old stubble nor his unwashed body odour and daggy tracky dacks. Then there was his body language and manner – this was the man who’d been lusting and groaning about me, as well as painting optimistic pictures of the relationship we’d have. He could barely meet my eye, and seemed aloof and embarrassed. Lesson number one – to use his phrase – it’s easy to be a keyboard warrior. It’s a lot harder face to face to manifest the false persona you’ve created.

Being the people person I am and especially as a communications professional, I managed to slowly squeeze a stilted sort of conversation out of him over the three hours we spent together. It was abundantly clear that his reclusive, real-life personality was nothing like the confident, sexy man I’d expected. To his credit (um, I guess?), he did grope me and tried to stick his hands down my pants.

So, it was also blindingly obvious that we were totally unsuited. You might not be surprised when I tell you that I didn’t run a mile or ‘ghost’ him, newbie that I was. Instead, in the hours following this 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 brutish and 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.

In my first year on the dating apps, I kept 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 gave men a chance when I should have politely declined. I was blind to their glaringly obvious faults and fixated on the idea that playing the field meant exploring EVERY opportunity I could get. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration but you get my point? 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. This is risky territory.

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. Love bombing is now a thing.

“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’m still a bit obsessed about what this social media-enhanced experience of ‘relationships’ in the 21st Century means. I read everything I come across, I lap up other people’s stories or roll my eyes in knowing agreement. I share the highs and lows and I feel their pain. After all, I’ve been there. 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’m reminded time and time again that finding like-minded people is not easy.

Authentic, mentally healthy men and women who are prepared to open their hearts are rare and precious. 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!


PS – This story is one I’ve revisited and revised from the early archives of this blog, back when I had just a few scattered visitors. If you’re a new reader, I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Expectations in Online Dating and the Risks of Addiction

In this series of articles (see the first one here), I examine some of the social/cultural factors behind the technology that has overtaken our lives.

Yes the internet has made life a darn site easier in so many ways, but online dating, as one example of how the internet reaches into our personal lives, is already beginning to have profound implications for our relationships and choices.

If you look just at the issue of 24/7 availability and the way our smartphones are like an extra appendage, we can see how technology has changed our expectations.

We expect our messages to be returned within the day, if not within the hour.

Research shows that 94% of online daters say they expect a response from their message within 24 hours. (Online Dating Industry Facts and Statistics accessed 25 July 2017)
So often, we expect someone we’re ‘chatting with’ to talk every day, possibly all day, because they can – if their phone is with them. If they don’t, we wonder why not. We can allow ourselves to be eaten up with pointless worry and self-doubt, reading ridiculous motivations or meaning into their behaviour. (More on this next time).

Sex on tap?

And then there is the deeper, more nuanced topic of sexual expectations in this modern era, or other undisclosed expectations.

This hidden agenda so many people carry with them like a set of spare clothes. Does this online dating era mean that people are more promiscuous? Almost half of all American singles have had a friends-with-benefits arrangement. (Elyse Romano Singles in America Study Tackles Sex and Exes 7 April 2016) One man I know on a polyamory dating site claims to have had more than 600 partners – and he’s only 26. Mutual friends believe him! In one hushed conversation between these three poly guys at a party, they worked out that they had sexual connections between more than 30 people.

So does it also mean that people’s expectations about sexual contact are skewed?

These are interesting questions and I’m not sure there’s an easy answer. There is definitely a fair percentage of people on dating sites who are after just sex, as well as those who are after so-called relationships. (Then there are those who are just there for the ego thrills and never intend to meet). Clearly on hook-up sites the expectation is usually about NSA sex. Some men (not always young ones) on dating sites expect to be instantly invited sight unseen to a potential mate’s home. Interestingly, in contrast there does not seem to be that expectation on hook-up sites (in my experience).

Communication is the key to avoiding potential misunderstandings. Be clear about what you want – and as a woman you should feel no shame saying so if it’s sexual intimacy. Slut shaming has no place in the modern world as far as this cougar’s concerned! Later, I’ll bring in some more interesting research I’ve uncovered about sex and online dating.

Addicted to the swipe

There’s a side issue related to expectation. Addiction might be seen as the bad-apple cousin of expectation, because this new technology more easily enables us to become obsessed with another person. Or even obsessed with the idea of perfection – or choice.

I have compulsively checked my messages. I have been borderline obsessed with more than one man on this journey. I have juggled numerous ‘conversations’ at once, getting a kick from the energy of being wanted. There’s nothing quite like the distraction from mundane life around you when you have a heap of guys competing for your attention online!


I have also opened my apps and wondered why no one was messaging me, why my inbox was empty, why the notifications had suddenly gone quiet. Sometimes there is just no explanation why this happens. There seem to be peaks and troughs in people’s energy or focus, just like in other areas of life. I have greedily added more and more ‘potentials’ to my list to fill my daily existence with talk and fantasy and facile desire. I have also allowed my sense of self to be subsumed within a ‘relationship’, to be swallowed whole by hope, daydreams and the sheer addictive quality of being wanted.

Men are 97% more likely to feel addicted to dating than women – although more women feel more burned out by the process (54%). (Kelly Seal Match Releases 7th Annual Singles in America Study 13 March 2017)

You have a virtual someone in every part of your life – your home, your bed, your car, your work – constantly sending you images of themselves or their world. They occupy you with conversation, they share confessions, whisper (via keypad) you how beautiful you are and how much they want you.

It can be overwhelming. It can leave you wanting more. And when it stops (for whatever reason, even because they are asleep), when that constant gratification is gone, you feel that gap as a chasm of loneliness. You feel that person’s lack, their absence as a deprivation. I shared my story about being catfished and how much that hurt me at the time, and I have other similar stories to come. It’s taken me a long time to build a shield between my heart and the attractions to be found online. Sometimes now I wonder if I am numb from online dating – but then I meet someone really special (like E) and realise that no, my heart is still raw and pumping, even if that’s not such a wise thing after all.

The ending of an online love affair in which I was deeply emotionally invested was one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. It’s so easy to give in and send a message or a photo, when really you should be licking your wounds and keeping yourself safe, away from them.

You should be experiencing the ‘old world’ reality of separation (‘they are somewhere else and I have no idea what they are doing right now’). Instead, you stare at your phone and yearn for their message or call. Or worse, you trawl through screenshots or kept message threads, or you replay videos or voice messages. I’m such a sucker for this – I still have voice messages, screenshots and dozens of videos from a man I was smitten by more than a year ago. Can’t bring myself to delete them – yet.

As a Generation X woman, I sometimes think that life was so much simpler before this technology invaded our lives. Millennials and Gen Z youngsters have normalised the technological route as an acceptable way to break up with someone, with at least one in seven Australians under 24 believing that it’s acceptable to break up with someone on social media. (Elyse Romano Digital Love in Australia 1 Jan 2013)

Contrasting with this claim, an American study found that more than 90% of (all-aged) singles agreed it’s not acceptable to break up with someone via text. (Elyse Romano How Singles Use Technology in Dating 19 March 2013) Personally I think it’s at least better to be told something, rather than the coward’s way, which is becoming increasingly common – ghosting!

Poor Millenials are apparently struggling with addiction to online dating in a way that other generations aren’t.

“In the 2017 Singles In America study it was found that 15% of singles say they feel addicted to the process of looking for a date on a dating service. Millennials are 125% more likely to feel addicted than older generations.” (Elyse Romano 2017 Singles In America’ Survey Reveals Secrets Of Millennial Dating
1 March 2017).

It makes sense, when you think about it, why this would be the case – millennials are most likely to be looking for a mate to settle down or start a family – or they may be inexperienced in relationships and feeling the pressure to ‘pair up’. This pressure is all around us and difficult to escape, especially for young people.

Sometimes I really worry about Gen Z, who are growing up as I write, into a world where meeting potential romantic partners online is the norm, where people don’t talk to each other or socialise as much as in the past when it was ‘normal’, and where people disappear from each other’s lives with no accountability or resolution of conflict (if it was ever even voiced). As always, technology is a double-edged sword.


PS. I just came across this video of a spoken word poem on You Tube. My god it’s powerful. Though I’m not a millennial I feel every word of it. A part of me wants to share it with my 16-year-old son, though he hasn’t even started that journey. But I want to ward him away from this…emptiness that I feel in the writer’s words. The loss of hope, the confusion and the emotional turmoil disguised as ‘cool’. An incredible piece of writing and performance.