Elisabeth Shaw, CEO, Relationships Australia NSW, examines the downside of online dating. She also gives helpful tips to manage your experience when looking for a partner virtually.
There will be many people who see the downsides of online dating as blindingly obvious. It’s too risky, unromantic, contrived, untrustworthy and engenders too much potential for deception. Like any system, product or service, there are upsides and downsides, and depending on your position with online dating there is plenty from each camp to choose from.
Online dating platforms are quite simply a contemporary version of a matchmaker, with a sophisticated algorithm taking the place of a wise elder. Instead of being limited by who you or your friends know, you can search far and wide. Instead of going months or even years without meeting someone through personal connections or happenstance opportunities, you can engineer a date as often as you want one. You can explore dating opportunities across several sites, finding the right person in terms of age, profession, interests, values, goals. Those who are newly single later in life might have no single friends or limited opportunities to engineer new relationships, and online has broadened the horizon for those looking for love.
The immediate downsides are easily recalled, but they are more about the users than the platforms. There can be people on the site who are not genuinely looking for what they have advertised. They may be otherwise committed, live overseas and visiting occasionally, are looking for a hook up or are otherwise lying about who they are and what is on offer. When you think about it though, this can happen if you meet the “old fashioned way” but seeing it on this scale makes us suspect the online platforms are themselves the problem.
There are not just polishing themselves up in description but are actively lying and out to use those who contact them for sex, money or in other totally self-interested ways. There are those who are so afraid of being alone, that having separated from a relationship yesterday, are today looking for someone new, painting themselves as available and ready for a relationship when this is far from the case. Given their socialization, women can be particularly vulnerable to waiting for a man to recover, only to find him return to the previous relationship when they kiss and make up.
Someone who is afraid of loneliness or desperate for connection will arrange a lot of dates and give none a chance. It is impossible to really know what a connection could be like if at the first date, you write it off quickly. If you have met someone you really like and they say they are “still deciding” and you see them still active on the site, it can feel like you are interviewing for a job rather than exploring a connection. Someone who struggles with commitment and lives a lot in the space of ambivalence will also find it hard to decide. Perhaps the grass is always greener? That can lead to a lot of good people feeling burnt by the time wasted on dates that went nowhere.
It is a balancing act as to how much time to spend talking before meeting. On the one hand, checking out the connection through phone, video and text can provide a lot of information, but only in a meeting you can really assess the final pieces of the relationship jigsaw. People can over-disclose on dating apps, speaking late into the night by phone, only to find on meeting that this has advanced out of step with other things you need to assess. It may also be that moving quickly to meeting and sex can seem to validate a connection, only to find that emotionally, psychologically and in terms of commitment, you weren’t on the same page at all.
The negative of all methods of dating is that you might be deceived, used, betrayed and abandoned. These are extremely painful experiences and yet are in no way unique to online dating. However, online provides access to a much wider range of bastardry than you might run into had you stayed within a smaller social circle.
Here are some tips to help manage your experience when looking for a partner virtually:
- Know yourself. What is your relationship history? Have you healed from any past hurts? Are you ready, and for what?
- Lead with your values. Even if dating apps can be used mischievously, it doesn’t mean you have to join in. Be true to who you are and be upfront about what you are after. Your honesty can set the lead for your date to be upfront too.
- Take your time. Spending a bit more time in talking before meeting is useful, but then move to meeting in a timely fashion once you feel it will be worthwhile to do so. You don’t have to give out a lot of details until you are ready and it’s ok to start with a more casual date if that is what suits best. Pressure to do otherwise can be a red flag in itself. Meet in a social environment so you feel comfortable to leave at any point. Try and limit your date variety so that you have time to really reflect on the date you have just had. There is learning to be had even when the date was a “no”. If you start to feel burnout or disenchanted with the process, take a break.
- Practice assertiveness. Online dating requires an ability to speak up for oneself.
- Get support. Having some good friends to process the experience can be important. Talking to friends or an experienced external expert can also help you stay on track with the goals you set yourself.
Online dating is as good an experience as the people you meet doing it. In that way, nothing about partner section has changed. It can now be assisted by more efficient, convenient and accessible means, but that speed and volume can provide new and different challenges in the context of the fast pace of life. It can be harder to take your time and think straight, indeed, to savor the best of the anticipation and excitement experienced in those first few dates. There is still some residual shame in meeting online too for some people, who have associated it with something tawdry or desperate.
If you are seeking professional support to hone your dating skills and goals, or trying to overcome a negative dating experience and would like to speak to a professional counsellor, Relationships Australia NSW is here to help. Relationships Australia NSW is a non-profit organisation that provides a variety of professional support services to assist with mental health, and navigating family and relationship issues such as separation, divorce and domestic violence.
For more information, visit: www.relationshipsnsw.org.au or call 1300 364 277.
Elisabeth Shaw is CEO of Relationships Australia NSW and a clinical and counselling psychologist specialising in couple and family work.