For those of you joining the world of online dating for the first time, you’ll quickly learn that the rules are VERY different from meeting people face-to-face – or “organic dating” as I like to call it!
Here are some of the lessons you’ll learn ….
You can very easily build up a fantasy person from online chatting which bears very little resemblance to the actual person! It’s impossible to guess what someone who is three-dimensional and moves around is like from a static picture. We all project our own wishes and needs onto the person, based on what we read into their online messaging. Research has shown that people are often disappointed by their dates in real life. Don’t message too much and meet them after just a few days; and be on your guard not to reveal too much during that time. Phoning and skyping first can help.
We filter out the warning signs
At first, you may be so relieved to meet someone you can talk to and let your guard down with that for a while you ignore things that aren’t right about the person. As you date more people, you’ll learn to notice these and become more picky early on. Read back over the messages AFTER things don’t work out and you’ll spot the signs ….
The illusion of connection
You’ll experience the illusion of a quick “strong connection” with someone. It happens more often that you’d think and it’s not the basis for a relationship. The connection is with a fantasy, not a real complex person. It represents our NEED to connect with others. You’ll soon realise that there are other considerations, like shared values, emotional responsiveness, empathy, listening skills, and how they deal with difficulties that are needed to keep the connection going. Don’t let the emotional power of the connection cause you to put up with mediocrity or being treated badly!
Dating can often involve a lot of attention, hundreds of messages, quite intense emotions and a lot of sharing of personal stuff at the beginning. This can often wear off quite quickly, especially after sexual intimacy, and you can feel the other person withdrawing. At this stage it can be easy to become insecure and start wondering what you did wrong, but this is just a very common phenomenon in today’s dating game. After dating a few different people, you’ll find it happens to you too. It just means the person didn’t turn out to be the perfect partner you thought they would be. You’ll learn to be more sceptical at the beginning and not get so swept up in the hopeful euphoria of thinking you’ve finally met the person of your dreams!
Expect short-term experiences
Remember that at this stage you won’t be ready for a serious relationship. Accept that you’re most likely to have a series of short-term relationships while you’re adjusting to your new life and discovering who you are, what your needs are and what kind of person you’re looking for. If you take this approach, you will protect yourself a little from getting hurt.
Dating more than one person
You might think this is crazy and you might not have time for it … But don’t just arrange a first date with one person. Arrange several. It’s a great way to stop yourself getting involved too quickly, good for your self-esteem, and it makes you less likely to put up with stuff. It’s like buying a house or a sofa …. You need to try out a few to compare before you know what you want.
You also need to be aware that dating several people is the norm for online dating, so don’t assume your date is only dating you.
You’ll have these generic emotions that can easily and quickly become associated with a particular person, even if they’re not right for you. They are probably partly grief for previous relationships, partly a need to feel loved and understood, partly an expression of the depth and complexity of the human experience. If you date more than one person at a time you’ll see that it’s quite easy to have the feelings for more than one person, meaning that it’s not really about the other person. You’ll learn to relax and enjoy your feelings while remaining essentially self-sufficient.
When ending a dating experience or relationship, many people say something like “I’m not looking for a serious relationship”. This is code for “I don’t think you’re someone I want to get serious with”. If you want to end it, do it gently and kindly. You’ll learn to treat each other like a mutual interview, rather than feeling like you’re the one on trial and not getting the job. Just because you’re not right for someone, it doesn’t mean you should value yourself less. Often, we know the other person isn’t exactly right for us but we wait for them to end it. You just need to keep on looking and enjoy the process!
You will probably find when your first dating experience/ short-term relationship comes to its inevitable end that you’ll suffer quite a lot. It’ll bring back many of the feelings you had when you split up from your long-term partner, and it can feel even more painful than that. Treat it as part of the grieving process. It’s like when a new bereavement can bring back the pain of a previous bereavement – it is a necessary stage that we have to go through. When you’ve experienced a few endings, it’ll become easier. Endings are inevitable.
If you’ve been in a relationship a long time, you will have developed some little quirks or ways of relating that your previous partner just put up with, but that you need to change! For example, you’ll have to keep any critical comments to yourself for quite a few weeks or months. So it can be good to get feedback from a date to find out what these are, if your ego can cope. Of course they may tell you anyway…..
You’ll realise that it is not a good idea to reveal new relationships to your children or the rest of the family too quickly. The intensity of a new relationship may very well wear off after just a few weeks. Be very cautious.
OK, so you are probably too scared to do any dating at all after all that … But it will be fun, too, I promise!
 Frost, J., Norton, M. I., & Ariely, D. (2007). Improving online dating with Virtual Dates. Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 44(1), 1-15.