Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Stigma of Online Dating

Though online dating (or as I would like to call it, "online meeting") is clearly here to stay, connecting countless people who are looking for new relationships, for many there is still a stigma attached to it.  I have experienced this personally.  I've used online dating sites before, and I've hidden it from my best friends because of the stigma attached.  Am I right to feel that way?  Are people right to look down on online dating?

I don't believe so...

Usually there are handful of negative connotations associated with using online dating sites...

1. Online dating sites are for people who are losers or who are "desperate."  You don't need an online dating site.  The right one will "come" when the time is right.

Reply:  If you are a full-time working adult who has children, how exactly will the right one "come" along?  You aren't 19 years old any longer.  Depending on the person, their lifestyle, and their situation, the potential for meeting new people who are looking for partners for long-term relationships drops off significantly.  So it makes you desperate because you use a tool that helps you meet other people who are looking for the same thing?  It makes you desperate because you don't want to rely on having a chance-meeting of your "soul-mate" at a grocery store, like in a movie, and you don't want to wait to get invited to a big party that has lots of level-headed, single, respectable members of the opposite sex (you know...those parties that either don't exist or which you rarely get invited to)?  Maybe you are at a place in life where you want to find a new partner but haven't the foggiest idea, due to your life situation, of how to meet one.  Guess you're stuck, then...  or you could do something so unbelievably degrading: join an online dating site.  Seriously, who are others to judge you?  Don't let them put their own hangups on you.  Sorry, that is crap.

2. Online dating sites attract weirdos.  You aren't going to find quality people in online dating sites.

Reply:  And you aren't going to find weirdos at bars, night clubs, or parties?  So what if you joined an online dating site?  Does that prove this wrong, by proving that there is at least one non-weirdo and therefore probably other decent people out there, or does the act of joining an online dating site prove that you actually are a weirdo (see #1 above)?  Online dating is certainly not the same as meeting people in person, and people may be able to "hide" things better at first, but the reality is that you bump into "weirdos" every day because everybody hides things about themselves.  It takes discernment and listening to your gut when it comes to letting anybody new into your life, regardless of how you meet them.

3. Online dating sites are superficial.  People just post pictures to get noticed.

Reply:  And again... you don't get that at bars, night clubs, parties, or really in any social setting?  Of course you do.  People go out and want to look nice.  And when that guy or girl notices you from across the room, is it because they noticed your personality or your face?  You can call that superficial all you want, but that's how it is.  Online dating is no exception.  But lots of people opt to not post photos of themselves for this very reason (among others).

4. I've heard horror stories of people who used online dating.

Reply:  Let's say it one more time... And you haven't heard horror stories of absolutely crazy and terrible relationships from people who met in other ways?  And nobody lied about themselves before online dating?  Riiiiight.  Online dating is a portal to meeting new people.  That is not going to change how people are.  People are all sinners with baggage -we are inherently complicated and dysfunctional (and because of the decline of our culture, we are probably getting worse).  Welcome to real life.  That has nothing to do with online dating.  Online didn't make them dysfunctional or immature.  It didn't make them rush into things blindly and foolishly.  That happens pretty well on its own, doesn't it?

Using a tool that sets you up with others who are single and looking does not take away the need to use your brain.  There are risks -some of those risks inherent to online dating, but many of them involving common sense.  You need to be careful with what information you share with people whose character you really don't know.

I'll admit one thing.  You can probably get a more informed initial impression of someone by meeting them through other more traditional routes.  That goes without saying.  But online dating is for discovering new people before you meet them in person.  It sets up an opportunity, a possibility, nothing more.  You get to decide what criteria are important, and it affords you the ability to learn some things about the other person before you meet them in person.  Maybe you won't waste your time after reading that they smoke or have 8 children.  Maybe, after listening to them freely offer up nasty information about their ex, you decide they aren't for you.  But if they pass through your deal-breakers, maybe they are working chatting with and maybe meeting in person at some point.  Again, you have to use your brain, your discernment, and your intuition just like with the rest of life and making life decisions.  Sorry, yeah... I knew you were hoping you didn't have to.

The bottom line is this.  Once you have kids and get settled into a family and a career of some sorts, your social circle loses much of its potential to expand.  If you are lucky, you wind up with a handful of close friends who are more like family to you, but the rest of your time is spent taking care of your children and working 40-plus hours a week to support them.  If you are lucky enough to go back to college, you will find yourself able to meet many more people, but how many of them are potential long-term friends or mates?  Most of them, if you are in your mid-30's for example, are much younger than you, usually don't have children, and are overall far less mature.

Therefore, as a late 20-something, 30-something, or 40-plus adult, your social opportunities for building relationships and meeting new people become generally limited to:

1. Your workplace -Many employers have policies prohibiting the dating of fellow employees, though you may meet new people who are friends of fellow employees.  If you work from home or don't work for a company with lots of opportunities like this, this is something of a dead end.

2. Your church -And that is only if you go to a small church or do something like join a home-group.  Are you really going to meet someone new and ask them to coffee during the 2-minute "greeting" time before the sermon?  Probably not.

3. Bars and night clubs -Really?  That is so much better than online dating?  Reality check.

4. Your childrens' school -You may meet other parents who are single or become friends with other parents who have single friends.  Possible, but not easy.  Unless your children "play" together, you usually don't get to know other parents very well.

5. Neighbors or existing friends -You meet neighbors and friends of neighbors, or bum off the ever-expanding social circles of your current friends. 

So maybe in your situation these five spheres above don't offer you very much by way of meeting new people.  And maybe there are other factors that get in the way and limit things even more.  What on earth is wrong with adding in another way to help you meet someone new, someone who is looking to meet someone new, as well?  Is it really so much worse than drinking another beer so that you can have the "courage" to go talk to that person at the bar?  Give me a break. 

Besides, I hope that I have demonstrated how online dating is not a crutch to begin with.  It is a tool to open up possibilities that your life situation may not currently have.  You weren't supposed to be 38 years old and single.  Your life was supposd to be settled.  That's why it is hard to find new people.  But here is one of many valid ways to find others looking for the same thing.

I say let the stigma die.

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