Friday, August 31, 2012

Screw "Dating": Let's Hang Out!

Dating Blogger Kelly Seal asks "Is online dating a thing of the past?" Certainly, at this point, the answer is no. And it's a little difficult to imagine a world with the internet, but no online dating. However, it is fair to to say that things are evolving.

Have you ever heard of social discovery sites? I don't think I have before this morning. Here's a description and a bit of commentary from Seal's current article:

Social discovery sites provide a place where people can meet and socialize online - to date, make friends, play video games, exchange music, or a number of different things - not just for dating. Which means users who join stay around longer, even after they meet a significant other.

AreYouInterested's new move from a dating app to a social discovery site is an interesting one. They already have a large user base (more than 6 million monthly active users) and are synced with Facebook, so it's obviously popular for singles who want to meet via Facebook. The company wanted to expand its purpose, to be more than a site used only for dating. According to an article in Mashable, this move will appeal to a broader audience.

Users who are already on the site for dating purposes can continue to use it for dating, but new users might be there for different reasons. So I have to ask the question - doesn't this kind of muddy the water? How do you know if someone is interested in you or if he just wants to hang out and be friends? It seems much less ambiguous to join an online dating site, since you know why people are on it.

Ambiguity. Yeah, I don't think there's any way around ambiguity. On her blog, Seal declares herself "not a fan" of ambiguity. She goes on to say, "Maybe I’m old-school, but if you’re interested, why not show it – at least enough to let a girl or guy know that it’s a date, even if they don’t want another one after that?"

It's funny. If you look at things historically, what we call formal dating has existed for perhaps a little over a century now. Coinciding with the rise of urbanization, introduction of the automobile, development of restaurants, and the increase of equal rights and opportunities for women. And so, while Kelly might be "old school" in one sense, we are all new kids on the block in another.

I think one of the big challenges facing us all is that the rate of change is so much quicker these days. Twenty years ago, "online dating" was mostly a concept in the imaginations of a few enterprising, and perhaps lonely, tech geeks. In just over a decade's time, we went through the meteoric rise of online dating, and the corresponding cultural struggles to develop appropriate guidelines and mores for people trying to meet each other, and develop successful relationships. It all happened so fast; it's no wonder so many people are looking for something, anything to hold onto to understand what's going on with.

Over the past few years, it's become apparent to me that the waters of online dating are already muddy. Kelly suggests that the multi-purpose approach of social discovery sites is making things more ambiguous and by extension, more confusing. I'd argue they're just a more transparent expression of what's been happening with online dating in general. When I first started doing online dating, back in 2003, it was quite clear that the vast majority of people on websites like and the old Onion Singles were looking to date someone. They may have had a diverse set of understandings about what constituted a "relationship," but the idea that we were single people looking to go on dates with other single people was pretty much universal. This simply isn't the case these days.

Some people use online dating sites as a form of entertainment. Or to find penpals who they can write to, but with whom they have no other strings attached. Another percentage of folks are date collectors - people who like going out with other people, but who really have no intention of making any sort of commitment. Some of these folks aren't even looking for sex; they just want the short term companionship. Then there are the relationship fakers, who write like they want a relationship, but actually only want casual sex, but can't come out and say it straight up. The list goes on and on, but what Kelly is worried about changing as a result of social discovery sites has already happened.

Is this a good thing? I don't really know. It makes things more challenging in some respects. On the other hand, Americans claim to love their "freedom" and "independence." Which makes me think "Hey! Here it is folks! You don't have to be tied down to anything. You can meet someone, hang out, do whatever and not call it anything in particular.

I do think that learning how to be at peace with ambiguity is a life skill everyone would be wise to develop. Whether you put a label on what you are doing early on or not, it's always ambiguous in the beginning. You're getting to know each other. You have no idea if you match up over the long haul. The unknown is infinitely more present than the known.

At the same time, there is a danger of free-floating for years on end. And perhaps Kelly's comments could be pointing towards a culture where such free-floating and lack of definition is considered the highest achievement. I have wondered this myself in a different way. Thinking that you have the free floaters on one side, and the reactionary "traditionalists" on the other side. And the rest of us somewhere in the middle.

What do you make of all of this? And how do you handle ambiguity?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Do I have a Bad Attitude? A Dater Asks.

Over the past few months, I have been receiving e-mails from readers asking questions about their dating lives. If you'd like to have your situation posted with comments from me, just indicate that in your e-mail, and I will work up a post.

Today's letter is from John, a reader in his forties from Long Island, NYC.

I sent an email to a girl on POF. She replied and then she suggested talking on the phone in her second email to me. We had a good conversation. I live on Long Island and she lives in Brooklyn. It is about 35 miles but with traffic (and there is always traffic)it would take somewhere between 1-2 hours each way. She does not have a car. So I agreed to meet her at a bar for drinks/apps in her area.

Upon further reflection, this bothers me. I knew she lived 35 miles and 1-2 hours with traffic when I initially emailed her, but her not having a car caught me off guard. I guess I wish that she could have suggested she take public transportation to someplace closer to me but she didn't. She didn't even offer to do that. Presumably, I will pay for the date plus the gas plus the drive time. Seems a bit much for a first date. I hate it when I assume all the risk and am wondering if thats just a bad attitude on my part or just being a more efficient dater. I do go out on a lot of dates, so thats why I prefer to keep first dates either low investment time/moneywise or have the girl put in just as much effort. The onesidedness always bothers me- perhaps too much so.

Any thoughts would be appreciated on how you would handle this.

First off, let's consider the "money issue". I have long held the view that in this modern age, where men and women are making more equivalent incomes, there's really no reason for heterosexual men to be expected to pay for dates with women. In theory, you'd think women would consider this a good thing. They wouldn't be beholden anymore to offering something in return, such as sex, for the drinks, dinner, or whatever the man paid for. The idea that they can pay their own way would be considered a sign of respect from the man, and also an awareness that he sees her as capable of taking care of her needs financially.

However, the reality appears to be that the majority of women think otherwise. Which leaves men who don't like the idea of constantly footing the bill stuck.

I wish I had an easy answer for the money issue, but I don't. If a woman thinks you are cheap or not interested in her because you didn't pay for all or most of a date, there's isn't that much you can do. And if you are concerned about that happening, you might decide to pay for first dates, and then suggest to those you go out with again that you'd like to share costs from then on. Here are two ideas worth considering though.

1. Reduce the number of dates you go on.

Online dating offers you more options. Way too many more options. It's easy to get caught up in meeting everyone that responds to you, and seems good looking and interesting. However, you have to think about how much time you want to devote to meeting strangers, knowing that the majority of dates will be 1 and done events. Even if you manage to find women who will split the bill with you without complaint, it can still get expensive to go out twice a week or more, which some folks seem to do. So, consider being more selective.

2. Do activities that are free or very low cost.

During the warmer months of the year, check out the local listings for free outdoor concerts, arts events, or food-related festivals. Or offer to go for a walk around a popular lake, in a public park, or along a river boardwalk. In the winter, check out a museum with no or low cost admission fees. Go skating. Or do some other outdoor winter activity. There's always the coffee meet and greet as well. The main thing is that if you're budget conscious, consider shaking up how you're meeting your dates.

Now, let's consider the "car issue." I have never owned a car, which is a rarity for folks living in the Midwest. Has this created some challenges while dating? Sure. Does this mean I expect my dates to always come to me? Absolutely not. On first dates, I usually have erred on the side of going towards where my date lives. Sometimes, this has meant somewhere half way. And sometimes, this has meant me finding a way over to somewhere close to where they live.

As a non-driver, I think it's incumbent upon John's date to make sure she's choosing men that live fairly close to her. Close enough where she can get transport to their neighborhoods at least some of the time. Even in a less congested city, 35 miles apart isn't that close for someone without a vehicle. I guess if I were John, I would wonder if she is going to expect that he always come to her. That may not be the case, but because she's not offering to meet somewhere half way, it does raise a flag.

Finally, let's consider attitude.

I hate it when I assume all the risk and am wondering if thats just a bad attitude on my part or just being a more efficient dater. I do go out on a lot of dates, so thats why I prefer to keep first dates either low investment time/moneywise or have the girl put in just as much effort. The onesidedness always bothers me- perhaps too much so.

Whatever you end up doing or not doing, it's really important to be at peace with it. If you enter into a date feeling bothered or unhappy about the length of the drive, the cost, or anything else, odds are it will have a negative impact. So, you either have to let go of those concerns and just enjoy the experience, or you have figure out ways to address the concerns before meeting.

John, you agreed to do drinks in her neighborhood already, so you probably should just go with that, and request a different venue next time. Before finalizing details on future dates with anyone, make sure you are ok with the location.

Overall, I'm wondering if John is feeling pressure to move quick, and accept whatever comes his way in the interest of keeping things moving. It seems like for some folks dating these days, it's all about showing you want them, and showing it RIGHT NOW. If you aren't rolling in bed after a few dates, it must be a failure. Furthermore, some of the same people tend to assign entirely too much value to money spent on a date, thinking it represents a high level of interest.

If you are looking for a committed relationship, you have to consider what qualities are needed over the long run. And you need to decide what is most important to you, and then let that drive your decisions. Even if that means some of your dates, or potential dates, reject you out of hand.

For example, I'm interested in dating someone that is flexible and fairly easy going. If I find myself in a battle negotiating basic details of a first date, that's not a good sign. It shouldn't be a big deal to swap suggestions for places to meet and things to do, and then agree upon something that both parties think is a good idea. The majority of the time, in fact, I make a suggestion that's fairly conveniently located for both of us, and it's accepted. Sometimes, it's been the other way around with me accepting the suggestion. Occasionally, a few ideas are shared, and then one is chosen. But the overall tone is one of ease, regardless.

The times there hasn't been ease in this process have turned out to be miserable dates for me. Because the tussle over the venue and other details represented a general inflexibility and pickiness.

Point being, once you decide what's most important in the long run, then you aren't as concerned about scaring away those who don't fit in the short run. It seems like a lot of dating advice these days in geared towards shifting your behavior to get a maximum number of dates. That's fine if you're into casual dating and sex, but if you want something lasting, you have to be ok with sticking to your core values and desires, and rejecting or getting rejected by those who aren't a match.

Readers, any thoughts for John?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Social Media May Be Messing Up Your Relationships

I'm troubled by the ways social media are sometimes used in the context of intimate relationships. In fact, we could move beyond the romantic context to our friends and family as well. Facebook, Twitter, and the rest are really useful tools that can help us stay connected and share information. They also have the tendency, if you aren't careful, to become a form of surrogate living. In other words, you think you have deep connections with a lot of folks, but actually you have an abundance of shallow connections.

When it comes to our romantic lives, the lines between public and private have become quite blurry. Some people are willing to subject their entire relationships to public scrutiny, offering a blow by blow account of conflicts and make ups for anyone connected with them to read and comment on. Whether its Facebook status updates or daily blog postings, for some folks, it's all on display.

One of the major problems with this is that every little high experienced, as well as every mistake made, is both magnified and amplified. You tweet your first kiss to a thousand "friends" and receive several dozen virtual high fives in a matter of hours. Or you write about your latest fight on Facebook and have dozens of sympathizers calling your partner all sorts of names and telling you to get rid of him or her.

How is it possible to develop and maintain a clear and realistic assessment of your relationship amidst all of this?

Furthermore, how is it possible to stand on your own two feet, and make your own decisions about your partnership when you have dozens of other voices nearly instantly appearing in your head to compete with whatever your gut is telling you?

Here are a few guidelines I have for myself, which might be helpful for you as well.

1. Don't share current relationship conflict on social media. If I want to talk about current struggles with others online, I might head to one of the numerous dating and relationship sites. I have a list of excellent ones on the sidebar of this blog.

And I'd be more than willing to host letters or write about questions readers have about current conflicts/challenges.

The main point in this is to aim towards minimizing harm, while also supporting the need to work through issues with others.

2. I don't have a relationship status on Facebook. Early on, I did change my relationship status a few times, and found that it just led to confusion and having to tell people stories about very short term relationships that really didn't need to be told. Dating someone for 3 or 4 weeks doesn't need to be highly publicized, nor does the end of that connection. Reserve the status for major milestones.

3. Mostly, I have steered this blog away from "real-time" intimate relationships. Perhaps there might be some reason to break that rule in the future, but for now, I think it's a smart decision that also upholds point #1.

How about you? How do you handle social media and your intimate relationships?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bringing Community Back Into Modern #Relationships

Last night, I was a member of a Quaker clearness committee in support of a friend who is getting married next year. It was the first of several meetings over the course of the fall/winter, during which the group will explore issues in their relationship, and support them going forward into marriage. From what I can tell so far, it's quite a reflective and open process designed to help couples bring forth any potential challenges to the relationship, as well as highlight strengths, known to the couple and not known to them.

We are a diverse group age-wise. I, my friend, and his partner in our mid-late 30s. A couple in their 60s. And two elder women whose husbands have passed on.

As I sat there listening to our different experiences with relationships and marriage, I thought to myself: "How many Americans experience anything remotely like this before getting married?" I am aware that some Christian couples undergo a period of council with a priest before marriage, but the dynamic there seems completely different. It's not really about sharing and exploring, but more about getting guidance from the minister, who may or may not understand the particular needs of the couple. Beyond some Christian communities, I'm not aware of any set practices around supporting couples getting married over a period of time. I haven't heard about much of this going on formally in spiritual communities like my Zen center. Surely, there are informal processes happening for certain couples, but nothing established and out in the open like these Quaker committees.

I have been writing a lot about what constitutes the fragmentedness of modern dating, and this fits right in. From meeting online or at some event, to the process of getting married, having children and raising them, so much has become privatized and isolated. If you have trouble in your partnership, you're support is often limited to a few good friends, family members, or hired therapists. Some don't even have these people around, due to issues in the family, busyness, and lack of financial resources. It can be even harder for queer folks, who not only face some of the same issues of isolation, but also continue to experience strong levels of discrimination, despite gains in recent decades. Furthermore, couples and folks living in "non-traditional" relationships, such as open marriages or polyamorous relationships frequently face barriers of understanding that limit who they can turn to for help during crisis.

Given all of this, it seems to me that developing the kind of cross generational support committees, like the one I am participating in, would be a good thing for many couples. They need not be focused around marriage, since some people choose to not be married. They can easily be structured to focus on a current crisis in a long term relationship, or perhaps to support a couple make a major step like having or adopting children. And they need not be connected at all to a religious or spiritual community.

Some folks have the kind of friendship and family support to do this kind of thing informally. Perhaps that's all that is needed. I have to say that the cross-generational aspect of the committee really appeals to me. Getting views from different stages in life helps balance out the understanding of what is important and what isn't.

Have any readers experienced something like the Quaker clearness process before? Who do you go to for support and advice when having a relationship crisis or are making a major relationship decision? Do you wish you had more support?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Some Perils of Modern Dating

I think a lot of people – regardless of gender – forget how different online dating and "blind" dating in general are from what most of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents did in the recent past. Go back further than three generations, and you'll find even more differences when it comes to dating and courtship. What folks think of as ingrained social conventions are truths are products of modern, industrial society - and there has always been some flux in what is considered "normal" and "proper."

Going on a date with someone in the recent past often meant being tied to an intricate set of social connections. You were probably connected through peers. The parents of both daters sometimes knew each other. Perhaps you were both part of the same religious/spiritual community. Lived in the same neighborhood. Regularly attended events in the same locale over a long period of time. In other words, the odds were that the two of you were not total strangers.

Given that, there was a stronger sense of urgency around treating the other person well on a date, even if nothing came of it. Because if you didn’t, it could quickly burn your reputation. This, coupled with the fact that men were the breadwinners and were expected to be in control of relationships, brought about a lot of what is considered chivalrous behavior. With rigid gender roles in all facets of life came a set of reliable, but also limiting and often oppressive intimate relationship cultural norms. Some of which linger today.

Certainly, plenty of people still experience these kinds of social webs when dating. But with online dating and other forms that bring strangers together, the dynamic is different because there isn't a social network to consider. You can literally meet dozens of people over the course of a year that you see once or twice, and then never again. The shopping mentality of it makes it easy enough for people to ramp up their list of desired traits and behaviors, and also ramp up their level of rejection for anything that "doesn't fit" the dream. Even when those things are quite minor and not direct, reliable indicators of someone who could be a quality long term partner. In addition, some folks take the fairly anonymous quality of stranger dating as an opportunity to let their worst out. Fits of anger. Litanies of criticism and judgments. Pressuring for sex. Using dates for upgraded, expensive meals and entertainment.

Unfortunately, sharing dating horror stories and publicly ranting about all the things people dislike about each other is quite common these days as well. Indeed, all it takes is a few clicks of the mouse to locate a blog or dating comment board filled with people who will gladly reinforce how awful dating is in general, and how much of an asshole or bitch your last date or partner was.

The seeking of a like-minded tribe online (or amongst friends who only know you) has mostly replaced the social circle of people who know the other person, and can offer some more accurate, specific back story about them. While there is a certain freedom in much of modern dating that wasn't present in the past, it also can be a pretty lonely place. Meeting people you know next to nothing about. Having to rely mostly on generalized dating advice from other strangers you'll probably never meet, and the sometimes not helpful, or overly biased advice of friends and/or family.

In the end, it always comes back to your gut feelings, the connection you feel, and the level of trust you develop with another person. It's always vital to open yourself up to learning more about relationships and about yourself - your needs and also the places where you need to grow.

But I can't help but notice that a lot of what people consider good dating advice these days is little more than grasping for straws.

We live in muddy times. And I think this requires people to let go of a lot of assumptions and expectations.

At the end of the day, especially with online dating and blind dating, going on a single date with someone only gives you a tiny slice of information. Unless someone is totally off, it really is mostly a gut decision whether or not you decide to go out again. How much can you truly know about a stranger after a few hours together? And how much can they know about you?

The muddiness of modern dating is calling for all of us to be a bit more kind and open to possibilities. To turn people down with more grace. To give people that are a little rough around the edges another shot. And to let go of the fairy tales so many of us have been force fed by the popular media.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Avoiding and Overthinking in Relationships

My first long term relationship probably should have been over in a few months. Six months in, I was quite clear that we were a poor match, and even made some weak attempts to end it. However, I didn't want to be alone, and I also wanted to "give it a chance." Of course, I was also avoiding all the ways in which our lives were really different. How our life goals were on quite different pages. Our interests often didn't match up. How we frequently ran out of things to talk about. Even though things never really got any better, we stayed together over three years.

With another long term girlfriend, instead of breaking up with me fully, she asked for a month apart so she could "think about things." That seemed reasonable enough to me, and I wanted to give it one last shot myself, even though the previous several months had been fairly miserable. Then that month stretched into two, three, four, five months, with all of my attempts to meet her to have a conversation rebuffed. Finally, I just gave up, and moved on. I found out later that she had moved on long before I did, but for whatever reason, decided to keep answering my requests to meet with "I'm not ready to see you yet," instead of just telling me she was seeing someone else.

I often write about how in a rush folks seem to be these days when it comes to dating. However, the opposite can also be true. Over-thinking. Avoiding facing deep pockets of incompatibility because you're attracted to someone, don't want to hurt their feelings, or are simply afraid to be alone.

I'm all for thoughtfulness and spending the time needed to suss out what you really want and how you want to move forward. However, there comes a time when that place becomes like a cave you go to hide in. A protective zone from all the possible consequences you can imagine. Consequences from leaving someone. Consequences from staying with someone. And eventually, the consequences that come from waiting too long to make a decision.

How about you? Are you someone who over-thinks your relationships? Do you sit on the fence for weeks and months on end, wondering about the many what ifs? Have you dated people like this?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bitter, Controlling, Hyper-Critical and In a Hurry

I have been having a lot of conversations about relationships lately. Intimate relationships, friendships, and family. Instead of a post on a single theme, I'm going to offer five short, pithy reflections that have come out of these discussions. Enjoy!

1. We are too hard on each other, precisely because we are too hard on ourselves. Learning to be ok with things not being "perfect" in the way you see "perfection" is a vital skill in having healthy, long lasting relationships.

2. A natural reaction to the changing, diverse modern dating world is to seek some way to control it. Having unrealistic expectations, indulging in bitterness and cynicism, and frequently criticizing the actions of your dates or partners are all common methods of controlling. Perhaps you can think of others to add to the list.

3. In heterosexual circles, there is a lot of bickering and posturing between men and women. Some of it is due to the confusion around changing gender roles and expectations, but I honestly think more of it is due to too many in the dating media, and in pop culture in general, pushing the idea that there is a war between the genders. It's a reinforcing loop. Some set of writers or commentators pit men against women in some way, readers buy into the idea and spread it, and then you have more writing and commentary in a similar vain. All of which seeps into our individual relationships.

4. I really think it's best not to rush our relationships in the beginning. I've experienced the fall out of rushing both in intimate relationships and in friendships. With intimate relationships, I'm convinced that the two main culprits behind rushing are lust mistaken for love, and a fear that not moving quickly will cause the other person to leave. With rushed friendships, there seems to be a pattern of over-emphasizing commonalities, and/or imagining common ground that isn't there.

5. You don't know the future. You might be able to make an accurate guess, but sometimes things turn out really differently from what you thought. I have had relationships that I thought were dead redevelop again after months, even years in surprising fashion. I have also had connections that I thought would last for years, maybe a lifetime, that completely fizzled, a couple of times in spectacular fashion.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Consumer Love: Online Dating as a Commentary on Modern Relationships

This post from Evan Marc Katz's dating blog has gnawed at me for awhile now. It's title question, "Do dating sites promote gender stereotypes?," provoked a number of "No. What nonsense!" kind of responses. Many readers were irritated with the snarky writing of Lindy West, whose article was the inspiration for Katz's post. Others defended "traditional gender roles," using everything from the old biological differences arguments, to the idea that bucking the "system" leads to failure. A few readers agreed with West's article, while onesuggested the gendered advice itself isn't a problem, but more how dating sites like eharmony frame it that is problematic.

Other than a somewhat snarky and cryptic comment early on, I stayed out of the conversation over there. It didn't take long for me to recognize that trying to debate the gendered quality of the online dating world wasn't going to go well. In addition, although I think that online dating advice does sometimes advance stereotyped notions of men and women, there's a lot more going on than just that.

There's no doubt that online dating is popular. Here in the U.S., a good 40 million people have tried it at least once, and according to one study of people in 18 different nations, nearly 30% found their partner through online dating services. Amongst the reasons for it's popularity: great expansion of the dating pool, ease of connecting with potential partners, ability to bypass the in person ask and dreaded in person rejection, opportunity to learn more about someone before going on a date, and the general flexibility offered for people with busy lifestyles.

Years of online dating experience taught me a lot about myself, what I need in a partner, and what I don't want as well. I learned to let go of a lot of the fears that come with asking someone out on a date, and also meeting them for the first time. I also learned how to be more of who I am, and to forget about trying to "be perfect" early on, because it isn't going to hold up over the long run anyway, and actually, attempting to appear perfect stifles your personality and individuality. Another thing I learned over time was that no matter how well a first or second date went, there's no guarantee that such initial "success" would lead to something more long lasting. All of this and more has been invaluable to me in dealing with the ups and downs of dating and relationships. And I can thank online dating in part for these revelations.

However, after years of personal experience, learning about the experiences of friends and family, and also reading about online dating, I have become wildly less impressed by it as a method. One of the interesting statics cited in one of the links above was the difference in length of courtship before marriage for those who met online and those who met offline. Online romances that lead to marriage go there over twice as fast as those that began in other ways. Which leads me to one of the major challenges I have with online dating as a whole, as well as the modern dating culture that has cropped up around it: the speed factor.

Because there are so many more potential options available, many people feel a great deal of pressure to move quickly through the steps and "lock" someone in as their partner. Better follow up after that first date really quickly, or you'll be left behind. Better have sex within the first few weeks of meeting or you'll be considered not interested. Better declare exclusivity after a month or two, or else you might loose out to some rival.

All of this leads me to my second point, which is that online dating is a majorly driven by consumerism and tends to promote dating and relationships in business-like terms that warp who we are and how we act.


You meet someone and like them enough to want to spend more time with them. But the website you are on is filled with hundreds, even thousands of others who could be better, and so you continue shopping, either while seeing the first person, or after dumping the first person because you figure you might do better with someone else.

You disqualify people for decidedly unimportant reasons you'd probably never fuss about if you met the same people in person. Their user name is goofy. They like a musician you think is awful. They are 5'11 instead of 6 feet. They're 30 years old instead of 28 years old. (I have experienced the last two personally.)

You spend entirely too much time looking for "red flags," instead of actually being on your dates and experiencing what's happening.

Your list of must haves and must not haves both become so long that almost no one could ever meet your desired qualifications.

You find yourself doing things differently not out of a sense that changing would help you be a better person, but because you think that you'll sell yourself to others better.

You find yourself justifying withholding certain critical aspects of your life from those you date, as well as more and more "little" lies.

You find yourself conforming to old gender roles not because that's who you are and what you believe in, but out of a sense of practicality. While prioritizing the practical is definitely called for sometimes, it can become a way of loosing yourself or sacrificing who you are and want to be, in order to get or keep someone around. How many of you have woken up one day while in a relationship and thought to yourself "Who have I become? Why did I keep doing X, or stop doing Y and Z?" It's definitely happened to me before.

You become fixated on the next date, the last date, the number of potential dates, and everything else related to being an active dater. To the point of obsession.

You find yourself keeping tabs like an accountant. Constantly checking off pluses and minuses in your head.


Now, any of these can happen to people who are not active online daters. But it seems to me that more of them, in greater quantities, are present in those who are submerged in the dating culture that online dating has spawned. Which goes beyond people actively doing online dating, but is driven by online daters.

The thing is, though, that these qualities I am linking to online dating are actually sourced in our overall capitalist culture. Where dating and finding love are both a highly profitable industry, and also a means of demonstrating personal success and worthiness in social settings. Being single after a certain age - say 30 - is widely considered a mark of failure or at least a sign of being deficient in some significant manner. Whereas those who have long term partnerships and marriages tend to be viewed more positively, even if the relationships are destructive or totally stagnant. It usually takes high levels of physical and/or emotional abuse spilling out beyond a given couple to make their "stock" drop. Whereas the single person, divorced person, or person only doing casual dating often has to ramp up other aspects of their life to be considered successful and worthy in mainstream society. The same is true to a lesser extent for couples without children. You better damn well have a highly successful business, be an uber active community volunteer, or someone who is wildly generous with your time and/or money to make up for the lack of a partner and/or children.

What's fascinating to me is that online dating has probably opened the door for people to more easily engage in a diverse array of relationship arrangements. You want to meet people for casual sex? It's a click away. You want to date people interested in polyamory? A click away. People who want long term commitment, but not official marriage? A click. Folks into fetishes? A click. It goes on and on.

At the same time, the nuclear family, a model that's intimately linked to modern, industrialized capitalism, continues to be the norm. And what I have noticed is that as more of us buck this norm in various ways, the rhetoric of "lack" and "sin," attempts to legislate "morality," and general calls for a return or continuation of "traditional values" get stronger. It's not just coming from religious conservatives either. EMK's blog doesn't seem to attract overtly religious types (here, meaning people who couch most of their arguments in religious teachings or directives) in general, but the main audience of the blog are people looking for nuclear family marriages. Some might not want children, but it's a great minority the number of regular commenters who are considering options outside of marriage. And lest you say "But that's his niche," it's the niche of nearly every popular online dating site and dating writer.

I can hear folks saying, "Duh. That's what people want. Love and marriage." Which is true in a practical sense, but if there was less pressure to conform to this model, would the same truth remain? I can hear other folks saying "But the family is the glue that holds society together, and the vehicle for raising healthy, successful children," which may be the case in the capitalist, privatized society we have created. But would it be true if major changes come to our country? Would it be true if the economy completely tanks? Or if global warming brings even more extreme weather and land condition crises? What if it becomes impossible for every couple with a few kids to maintain their own household? Have you not noticed that this is already the case, and has been for awhile.

Getting back to online dating specifically, regardless of the kind of relationship you want, I think finding a decent one through online dating requires a lot of insight, the ability to remain true to yourself and buck outside pressures, and probably a bit of luck as well. It's popularity is understandable given the sped up, overly busy modern culture we live in, and I wouldn't tell people to reject it out of hand. Like I said, I learned invaluable lessons going on dozens of online found dates over the years. But online dating is more than just a vehicle to potential romance. It say a lot about modern society, and a fair amount of what it says is troubling, even if many people find the loves of their lives in the process.