Online dating can be a force for love, change, the power of the self. A fluid quest, not a consuming fire. Its nature is mutable, like water.
I’ve been thinking about dates ever since stumbling upon a Buzzfeed post about people’s first and favourite ones.
I don’t have much basis for comparison, as I’ve been on three actual ‘dates’ in my entire life. One was over a decade ago. One turned out to be with a Trump supporter who believed President Obama was trying to ban his air conditioning. The third was with someone who turned out to be married.
Even without that disappointing line-up, dates have scared the living daylights out of me. The traditional formula of dinner and flowers won’t give anyone a chance to get to know the real me. I can wear a little black dress to fit in at a classy restaurant but I’ll be in costume. I’ll also be so nervous that I’m likely to drop food down my front.
“The Rules” may well work for those whose goal is the partner, progeny and white picket fence. That’s said without sarcasm, by the way – if it’s your dream, go for it. For the weirdos who find online dating a trial by fire, I count myself among your number. These personal tips are for you.
1. MEETUPS RULE
Just to re-iterate, a date can be scary. I know a few people bemoan “hookup culture” but a coffee, brunch or look around a new place that’s just opened is a good way of getting to know someone while keeping it casual. If things go well, you can call it your first date. If it’s awkward as hell, it was just a meetup you can forget about.
2. SAVE TIME WITH TRUTH TALK. POP THE QUESTION(S)
That married guy I mentioned (date number three) made me a firm believer that “are you actually single?” is a great question to ask on a first date. Preferably even before that! Kickass people don’t have time for bullshit. It’s a fairly obvious question and most people will understand why you’re asking.
If there are huge dealbreakers or big questions you need to know, there are ways you can probe without directly jumping into The Future. I defend my right not to have children and won’t date anybody who wants or has them. I usually make things clear with a joke about my lack of interest in babies compared with my rabid adoration of four-legged floofs. At the very least, I’m setting out my expectations and desires (or lack of them) in this area. If they’re an animal lover too, it’s another conversation starter!
3. PERSONAL STORIES (THE ROMANTIC ONE)
Looking through the list of dates on Buzzfeed, I noticed that expensive ‘grand gesture’ blowouts featured in about a third of the encounters. If you want to go all-out and don’t think it will scare your potential love away, go for it. Of course, it means that later dates have a lot to live up to…
A friend of mine asked her now-boyfriend simply to take her somewhere that was special to him. She later did the same. For romantics, it’s something personal that invites an interesting backstory and invests consideration, not cash.
4. MINI BUCKET LIST (THE ADVENTUROUS ONE)
Do you want to find out how they deal with a challenge? Maybe you already know you both share an adventurous side. If so, arrange to do something you’ve always dreamed of but never got around to doing. If they’re up for similar adventures, you’ll share one you’ve never had with anyone else – with plenty of fun photo opportunities.
A shared adventure means you’ll (usually) have to work as a team. You’ll also have new memories and stories to tell after you’ve climbed the local mountain, visited a new city or taken a life drawing class.
5. DO SOMETHING PRACTICAL (THE SHY ONE)
If you’ve met through your cosplaying hobby or you’re both into cooking, meet up and make something together. If you love history, see if your nearest city does guided walking tours.
Are you currently researching a paper on architecture or searching for the best coffee in town? Are you doing something that requires you to go on a quest – like searching for interesting buildings and amazing coffee, for example?
Do something practical you know for a fact you’ll both enjoy. It’s easier to get to know someone if you start with an activity you’re both into.
6. RATION THE AWESOMENESS
I’d like to share some advice from my mum who is usually right: don’t tell all of your stories in one go.
If you’re passionate about life, the universe and everything then you’re probably interesting from every angle: a diamond with a hundred facets and a million fascinating twinkly bits. That can be overwhelming. If you’re getting on well, save a few stories and bits of information for the next date!
7. KEEP ICEBREAKERS AT THE READY
My friend Dom is universally appealing, knows how to put anxious people at ease and is the perfect gentleman. I asked him for his best dating advice and here it is:
“I have a few emergency questions in my head that get conversation going. Questions like “what would you do with a million pounds?” or “where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world right now?”. These can tell you a lot about the person and give you another talking point.”
8. LOSS OF HABITAT – MEET SOON, BEFORE FANTASY TAKES OVER
Social media has a lot to answer for! People simply don’t feel the need to get up and mingle as much. You can talk to anybody online. If you live in the middle of nowhere (especially if you’re not a party animal in the first place), even finding a dating pool is a challenge. No wonder there’s such a huge market for online dating.
As a friend of mine wisely put it, “the kind of man I wanted to meet would spend his weekends chilling at home with a good book. There was no point in going to a club to try and meet him.” She met the man she later married, online.
I’m currently writing something a little more in-depth about the world of online dating but here’s another jewel of wisdom from a friend who’s just moved in with her boyfriend of two years, after meeting him via online dating:
“You build a fantasy around the information you have and the picture you see. Meet each other as soon as possible before you have the chance to form too many ideas and misconceptions.”
9. ONLINE DATING OVERLOAD – IT’S OKAY TO STOP.
I had been enjoying the utter silliness and bonkers encounters with the crème-de-la-internet. Then, one day, there came a point when the urge to eyeroll was greater than the urge to have yet another funny story to tell later.
That’s when I realised I was done with dating.
It is completely okay not to be in a relationship.
It is completely okay to not want to seek a relationship.
In fact, I think that one of the best things we can do for ourselves is learn to be completely okay with being single. I believe that’s especially true in a world that likes to imply there is something wrong with single women.
This year I’m celebrating Galentine’s Day with a round-robin trinket exchange. I’m really looking forward to it… and all those half-price chocolate hearts on sale the morning after the Valentine’s Day before!
10. FOCUS ON YOU. THIS LIFE IS YOUR QUEST.
Self-help and visualisation books, positivity websites and mantra manuals all advise you to focus your attention fully on what you want.
Meditate on that every day. Go out and be proactive, if you’re in a position to be able to go out. Seek what you want. Focussing your entire being on Finding Someone can come across as a little scary and there are so many other valuable things in life to focus your energy on.
HOW NOT TO DATE
In the spirit of how not to date, the best way to get back in the saddle of online dating is by NOT making it the focus of your life. Make your mind so full of other things that there’s barely a moment to consider the fact that you are back in action and on a quest.
As just about anybody can tell you, things happen when you aren’t looking and when you least expect them.