My partner, Caroline, and I have a secret that we keep from most people. Normally, we keep it secret by omission but I’ll admit that we’ve lied about it once or twice when asked. If we fess up, it is only after shooting each other a quick glance to see if we are in agreement about disclosing our story.
We haven’t done anything wrong and it’s not that we have regrets. It’s just that it is hard for us to come out of the online dating closet.
If I lie and tell someone that Caroline and I met at a party through a friend of a friend, people smile and nod. It’s a boring but inoffensive answer and I get a boring but inoffensive response.
Things change when people hear the cyber truth. The smile is not the same. Instead of a “that’s nice,” I get an “oh?” and a raised eyebrow. Their smiles tighten.
Imagine that you are at an event and have to tell a multi-millionaire diamond vendor that you have a lucrative career in manure distribution. There is a difference in the type of response that you get than if you were to just say that you are a doctor. Of course, this is an exaggeration of the issue. Hopefully you get the gist.
It shouldn’t matter but when people express slight pity/dismay upon learning our secret, it somehow feels like an indictment of our relationship. Or, at least, a dismissal of our first few dates.
Our love story doesn’t begin with a lingering glance on the train, a chance meeting at the grocery store, or a mutual friend’s dinner party. It begins with me writing an awesome profile and Caroline being curious about the names of my cats.
I am old enough to remember when online dating was new. When only the undateable would stoop so low as to post an ad in the personals. Of course, I was one of the undateables and I did use online dating sites. But, I never told anyone. It was a source of shame. At the time, people found it to be such a dangerous way to date that I was afraid that my parents would find out and try to stop me.
It’s not 1997 anymore, though. By some counts there are more than 40 million people in the US who have now tried online dating sites. Many of us have either done it or know someone else who has.
My best friend, Emily, and her husband met this way. So did my older brother Nick and his wife. These are awesome people and they have every right to be happy that they found each other at all.
I have had two long-term relationships, at least six short-term relationships (two to six months), and no less than two dozen one or two date encounters that started online. Much more importantly, it’s how I met the love of my life.
Caroline and I may have missed out on a few things that couples who meet in other ways get to experience. For instance…
Wait, no. I can’t think of anything. So, why keep trying to justify it? I’m not sure, but somehow I feel like I should.
Maybe it’s because there are tons of resources about the pros and cons of online dating. Unfortunately, a lot of it is a complete crock, dreamt up for sensationalization’s sake.
There’s no mystery? Bullshit. No one fits their entire being into one personal ad. Also, there’s always the fun of figuring out the one thing your date lied about in her or his description.
There’s no excitement? Puh-lease. Like it’s easy to commit to an entire dinner with a perfect stranger. It’s enough excitement to cause a heart attack.
I’ve been thinking about this for about a week now after a random discussion with my dad and then seeing a post a few days ago on Belle of the Library. I just can’t figure out why this matters any more than the fact that Caroline and I chose Hellmouth Happy Hour for our first date. I didn’t choose to date this way because I had no other choice. I did it because it was the best choice for me. I tried the alternative and it totally sucked.
My online dating experience was both cheaper and more effective than any bar I’ve ever been in or any hobby I’ve ever picked up just so that I could meet other single people who also have that hobby. Using it was also more effective than relying on fate or my friends to set me up with someone who is right for me. As a person who has been predominately interested in same-sex relationships, I can safely say that it also worked a lot better than my gaydar.
I had previously used Yahoo!, Match, Chemistry, and eHarmony personals (before I realized that the company sucks and wouldn’t let me look for girls) but OkCupid was my favorite online dating site when I met Caroline. It is free, features a high number of “quality” individuals in my city, and has several tools that make the experience fun and help it to provide better matches than I’d ever had before. Generally, I found that its suggestions of potential partners represented a pretty accurate assessment of the types of people that I was interested in. I would gladly write them a long, glowing review. (Dear OkCupid, please pay me to write you a real review.)
That’s not to say that online dating is the easiest thing in the world. It’s not for everyone. I spent quite a long time crafting a great profile, filtering out the bad eggs, responding to or contacting the good eggs, etc. But, dating is never easy anyway and I’m honestly not sure where anyone could have a better shot, percentage-wise, of finding a suitable date.
So, why the shame? Some of it is clearly a remnant of the past. The rest is because of that look that people give.
Like other secrets, the more I get used to saying it, the less it’ll hurt. From now on, no more shame on me. To the people that think there’s something inherently negative to the smartest decision I ever made? Shame on you.