I’ve been seeing headlines in the news lately that haven’t really surprised me. Headlines like this one from Huffington Post: Online Dating Leads to Higher Marriage Satisfaction, Lower Divorce Rates. You can imagine that anything that claims “lower divorce rates” catches my attention. I’ve always had a good opinion about online dating – seems efficient, no need to make a fool of yourself at a club, and as an introvert, I actually prefer email communication to talking in person. But, regardless of my positive opinions, I’ve never had any experience with online dating.
In dreaming up good stuff to share with our Sensible Single readers, I really wanted to put something together that would be helpful. At the same time, I don’t want to pretend to know about something I actually have no experience with. So I went downstairs, of course, to talk with our housemate, Emily.
Emily and I bonded in sisterhood in 2005 when we met while working together on a small staff of four. We were both single then, putting in way too many hours in the office, and doing our best to keep our heads above water. She coped with our challenging job by playing Christmas music in July. I coped by making an excel spreadsheet for everything under the sun and ignoring the printer every time there was a paper jam. She kept things fun when I got too serious. She still does now that we share a house.
Along with being one of the most fun friends I have, she is phenomenally insightful. I can’t wait for you to hear from her yourselves. Here she is!
Adventures in Online Dating
Michelle asked me to guest write on the #staymarried blog about the benefits of online dating, and it’s taken me a few weeks to weed out all of the millions of things I would like to use this forum to say on the subject of relationships. You see, a few years ago, I made the decision not to stay married. I have re-written the following sentence 12 times attempting to sum up my story so we can get to present day. So here you go: I met a man and fell in love, we got married, it was bad, we separated, then we divorced. Caught up? Great. Let’s move on.
To those readers who are married, you might be tempted to check out right about now and take a pass on today’s #staymarried post. Hold your horses and read on– I’ll bet you $10 that there’s a single person in your world who would like to no longer be single. A very happily married person, my youngest sister, Haley, recommended to me that I try online dating, and today I am planning a life with the most wonderful man and two beautiful step-children.
When Haley encouraged me to try online dating, I intellectually knew that online dating didn’t mean I was a loser who couldn’t find a date on my own, but it felt that way regardless. I visited a few online dating sites and landed on eHarmony. I figured, like most things in the world, the more expensive the product is, the better it must be. So, I started to fill out the online profile with zero expectations that it would produce any positive results. Best 60 bucks I have ever spent!
After taking three days to fill out an application that would rival the one I filled out for college, I hit submit and didn’t check my profile for nearly a week. I full-on freaked out. Would I be matched with someone I already knew and then he would know that I am an online-dating-loser? Would I be matched with someone who is a bigger online-dating-loser than me? But the worst of my fears was that I would be matched up with, and fall for someone, like my ex-husband. I wanted to get married again… someday. I wanted a family with a man I could respect and trust, and I believed it could still happen for me. I had fought hard for my marriage, so I knew I have what it takes to roll up my sleeves and work on a marriage. Now, I just needed to find someone else who also had that fight in them.
Naturally, I called Haley sobbing and asked her to check my profile for me. Her advice was priceless: “Stop being such a baby! Check your profile, delete the guys you can tell that smell bad, and have fun going on practice dates with the rest. Don’t call me again until you checked your profile… but make sure you call me, because I am dying to know who you got matched with. Better yet, send me the crazy ones so Ben (her husband) and I can read them.” I love my sister.
So, from the comfort of my home, in my PJ’s with a cup of coffee, I read through over 20 profiles of men that I had been matched up with. It was like the Sears and Roebuck catalog of husbands. My attitude toward online dating was turning around rather quickly – It was like being able to cram the same amount of guys I had met in all of my 20’s into a 90 minute time block. No awkward “Let’s just be friends” talks or faking my own death to get out of a relationship. I just hit the delete button and kept on reviewing potential matches.
For the next few months, I met a few guys and ended up going on a few dates. All of those dates were great experiences, but nothing more. Then I met Jason.
Jason, like me, had been married previously, and he was tip-toeing his way through online dating to see what he might be up against. He had been out of the dating world for over 15 years and, like many adults, was looking for an appropriate and safe way to meet other people. We were matched up, and he pursued getting to know me better using eHarmony’s guided question and answer system. After a few days, we graduated to open emailing on the website’s interface. I remember trying to craft witty and thoughtful responses to his brilliant questions, pressing send and watching my email inbox like a hawk for his response. We moved onto sending emails via our personal email accounts, then to the phone, and then we met nearly two months later for our first date. It was perfect.
Jason just proposed a few days ago, and I didn’t know I could be this happy. I didn’t know I could love someone, and be loved, this much. Whenever anyone asks how we met, without skipping a beat, I tell them we met online and that it was the greatest dating experience I’ve ever had. We usually get one of two responses from people we talk to about our online dating experience: they either know someone who just got married after meeting online, or they lower their voice while leaning in and ask us how we did it. Well, aren’t you in luck, because I have a few online dating tips to share.
1. Determine your motives before you start.
To have and to hold forever or for the night? Knowing what you want out of this whole thing will help you find which online site best fits your needs. Having a clear goal in mind will also determine what your profile will look like to give potential matches a baseline understanding of who you are. I knew I wanted to get married someday, but I wanted to go on some practice dates first. I wasn’t interested in any casual physical relationships, so I kept my profile light and humorous while remaining 100% honest about who I am and what my likes and dislikes are.
2. Be positive, honest, and brief.
Don’t waste your time, or anyone else’s, with statements, answers, and pictures that don’t accurately represent who you are. Filling out your profile isn’t a test from 10th grade history class on which you try to supply the “correct” answer. Showcase yourself in a positive way that is honest and to the point. Stand back and ask yourself if you would date you. Ask a friend to review your profile and encourage honest feedback. Jason won me over when he talked about how much he loved being a father, his passion for writing music, and how important his personal faith is to him. An online dating profile is not the place to emotionally manipulate people to pay attention to you.
Pictures are a huge part of the online dating process, whether you think they should be or not. Posting a few shots of yourself doing something you love can help matches learn a little bit more about you. Toss up some current shots of yourself regardless of the few extra pounds you’ve put on since Christmas, or the few less strands of hair you’ve been sporting since college. Jason had posted some shots of when he had long hair, and I posted shots from 50 pounds ago. We had to have the awkward conversation where he told me that he was starting to bald and I told him that I was actually heavier than a few of my posted pictures. His exact words were, “I think I would like you even if you looked like Herman Munster.” Um, Thank you?
4. Play capture the red-flag.
Red flags are hard to see when you are staring into a pair of dreamy brown puppy dog eyes over candlelight at your favorite restaurant. Take your time before meeting a match face-to-face to search out potential deal breakers in your online communications. I talked to a guy for a few weeks before I realized that he never once asked me a question about myself. He made a lot of assumptions about what he thought I would like, and asked me to make a trip from where I live in Seattle, to where he lives in Portland, to meet him. If we had met, let’s say in a bar, I may have been too busy staring at his perfect chin to notice that he talked about himself constantly. Because our computer screens divided us, it was very easy to send him a “thanks, but no thanks” note, discontinue our communication, and move on with my life.
5. Ask the hard questions.
Are you married? Do you have kids? Do you like kids? Are you currently employed? Are you the craigslist killer? (That last one was an actual question I asked Jason.)
6. Brush up on your typing skills.
Pen pals aren’t just for inmates anymore. Take some time emailing back and forth, and then moving to phone calls before meeting up. Building an intellectual and emotional relationship with someone may help you make a better choice about who you may want to spend an afternoon, or your life, with. Jason and I took our sweet time before meeting. Our first date was so much fun – it felt like we had known each other for years. We talked for hours that night and have talked every night since. We still write each other notes nearly every day.
7. Try not to get killed.
When you do decide to meet up, choose a public place. Have an agenda planned out beforehand and don’t accept the “It’s a surprise!” date invitation. Know where you are going, what you are doing, and what time you might be wrapping up. Keep in mind that not everyone, and everything, on the internet is as it seems. Don’t give out your last name, phone number, place of employment, home address, credit card information, your mother’s maiden name, your social security number, etc. Before Jason’s and my first date, though we had been communicating for several weeks, I told my housemate, my Mom, and Facebook where I was going and what time to expect me back. If I had wound up dead later that night, it wouldn’t have been a hard case to crack.
8. Lighten up and have some freaking fun.
Dating is fun! Talk with new people. Go grab a drink or a meal with the intention of learning more about yourself and another human being. Just because you meet someone online doesn’t mean you have to marry them. I went out with a few guys before meeting Jason, and do I have some stories! One guy owned a successful boutique software company with his brother and had a keen eye for architecture. Another guy was a D&D Game Master and into Live Action Role Play. Who cares? I was going on practice dates and keeping my hands to myself! I was seeing who was out there and meeting some truly fascinating people along the way.
Michelle and Tony like to say that they met like normal people: in a bar. That was sooooo 2004. Jason and I met like normal people: online. When Jason took me ring shopping, the lady helping us asked where we had met. We both beamed and I told her, “we met on eHarmony! Isn’t that great?!” She told us that at least 75% of her clients meet online, and the last four weddings she attended were from online matches. My encouragement to anyone who is thinking about trying online dating would be to just go for it – you have nothing to lose, but an entire future to gain. Worst case scenario: you go on some dates with some duds and decide online dating isn’t for you. Best case scenario: you meet the right person, fall in love, and #staymarried.
For more of Emily’s musings, you can find her on twitter @emilykgarrison