Even though I am no longer single, the horrors of dating are still fairly fresh in my mind, body, and soul. I was single and in the online dating arena for roughly 10 years, and I don’t believe things have advanced that much in the last 2 1/2 years that I have been in a relationship, so this topic still feels very real and very raw to me.
This post is inspired by a conversation I had this morning with one of my work colleagues. She was telling me about a friend of hers who was recently, abruptly broken up with (I hate using the word dumped) after 13 years in a committed relationship. The guy who broke up with her sounded a bit shifty and shady and I say good riddance! Now, this woman has a chance to finally be with a man who deserves her. However, she is apparently, utterly terrified to enter the dating world. And in all honesty, I do not blame her in the least.
Dating is terrible and terrifying, but it’s also a necessary evil if you are searching for love and partnership, and I do believe your dating journey is integral to finding who and what you are looking for. Unfortunately, you often don’t know exactly what you want, until you know exactly what you don’t want. That’s what dating is for.
I am so passionate about this topic and invite you to view my other love and dating articles in the LOVE AND DATING section of this blog.
While on the topic of dating, my colleague started telling me about another colleague of hers, let’s call her Sabrina, who used to talk often about her dating life. The one complaint Sabrina always had about online dating was the ghost factor.
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Have I been ghosted? Ummm, of course I have been ghosted, many times! Looking back now, I can see that I was ghosted for a range of reasons. Some perhaps had to do with my impatience, insecurity, and neediness (I pushed too hard and really did scare them away, or in general, just didn’t let the whole thing breathe enough). Other incidences had to do with the fact that the guy ghosting me was lame. Or honestly, he just wasn’t into me. It happens. It sucks. But it’s part of dating. For the most part, I tried not to read into it and just moved on as quickly as I could.
I typically tried to avoid ghosting others in an attempt to spread around some good karma. If I wasn’t interested in a person, I would tell them kindly yet directly that I wasn’t interested, in order to tie up any loose ends and to avoid any confusion on either person’s part.
Don’t ghost anyone. Ghosting sucks. If you don’t like someone, it’s better to gently let them off the hook than keep them wondering. You can make up an excuse if you want to, but just give a person the dignity of a response.
Ghosting can happen for so many reasons, but in general, it’s typically an indication of a lack of interest, a lack of emotional maturity, and/or a lack of willingness to commit. This is a hard truth that no one wants to admit.
Let me point out that the kind of ghosting I’m talking about is more of a harmless (it still sucks) ghosting and takes place in the first few days and/or weeks of dating. I have heard horror stories of people who ghost their partners after legitimately dating for months and months (or years?!?!). That is just too terrible for words, and again, if a person is capable of doing that to another person they supposedly love and care about, then the person being ghosted is 100% better without Mr. or Ms. Ghost.
Back to Sabrina and her complaints about being ghosted. Apparently, Sabrina experienced an ongoing pattern where she would meet a guy online and make a good connection electronically. Then they would chat and FaceTime and have tons of fun getting to know each other. They would set a date and would have an elaborate plan of spending the day doing fun things together. And when it finally came time to meet up for the date, he would be a no show.
Has this ever happened to you? If so, here’s why…
CHATTING WITH SOMEONE VIRTUALLY, NO MATTER HOW INTIMATE, DOESN’T COUNT AS DATING
Nothing is real until you meet in person. Nothing. Everything leading up to a face to face, in person meeting, is just crap. It’s meaningless, no matter what anyone says.
Yes, you need to view a person’s profile, and you need to text and chat beforehand to make sure the person is respectful and that you hopefully have some shared values and interests. But none of that is dating. That’s gearing up to go on a date with someone who may or may not suck. That’s it. And that is the only kind of communication you should have online with someone.
I understand that young folks these days forge and cultivate true connections with their friends and loved ones via FaceTime and other chat portals. I get it, I do too, and I would be sad without this technology to keep me connected.
However, dating is a whole different story. Dating is a prelude to a relationship. Dating is the precursor for intimacy. And when you are in a legitimate intimate relationship, for the most part, it doesn’t really work unless you are with the person, in person, flesh near flesh, flaws in the face of flaws, real life person looking into the eyes of another real life person.
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If true intimacy is what you want, then you need to expedite the online portion of the dating process and get offline as quickly as you can. Allow me to explain…
When you form a connection with a person in only an electronic capacity, it begins to skew your idea of the person, and you enter into an illusion of fantasy intimacy. I’m telling you from experience, I did this so many times, and I finally learned that it just doesn’t work.
I once connected with a man for months via email. We bonded on all levels of things and I used to drool over his pictures, convinced we would be married someday. We shared incredibly personal stories with one another, and the actual meeting part of our relationship just seemed like one last final detail. However, when I finally met him, it just wasn’t the same. He was perfectly attractive and very nice and respectful. But the real version of this man did not line up with the hero I had built up in my mind, and I was kind of horrified and traumatized by that unexpected gap. I couldn’t overcome it, and because we had made such a “strong” virtual connection, I couldn’t even explain to myself why I just wasn’t feeling it. But I really wasn’t.
Actually, I can sort of explain it. For one thing, on our second date (the first date was kind of nice), he showed up about an hour late in his beat-up car that he borrowed from his mom, and his excuse for being late had to do with his son. I was super turned off on so many levels, but because he had shared so much about his son via email before we met, I felt this weird obligation to remain loyal to our fake bond. He was also super broke, and at the restaurant, he was totally awkward and uncomfortable with the waiter because the place felt too fancy for him (it wasn’t that fancy, trust me).
It was just all wrong, but I just felt so determined to make it work, because in the weeks and months leading up to meeting him, I was convinced our match lined up. But men don’t show you their beat up cars when you’re chatting with them online. They don’t reveal their awkwardness with waiters when it’s just the two of you FaceTiming in your bedroom.
I get that you think you are actually doing the right thing by taking your time, building trust with someone in a “safe” and virtual way, before you decide to actually meet in person. But that’s all backwards when it comes to dating. You have to take the risk and build a bond from the beginning, face to face, in real life. Dating is risky and love is even riskier. If you approach dating hiding behind the safety of your screen, that is the kind of watered-down crap you will get back, because you’re not putting forth an authentic effort. You must take the risk in order to get the reward.
If I would have met this original fellow in person after a week or so of basic chatting, I am 100% certain those dates would have gone differently. I’m not saying he was the one that got away, but I was really traumatized by that experience, and put dating on hold for a good three years after that.
DON’T PLAN LONG OR ELABORATE ACTIVITIES FOR A FIRST DATE
Another understandable, but tragic mistake, is making elaborate plans with someone you have never even met in person before. I understand you can begin to think that you really know a person after you have been “chatting” with them “fact to face” for days or weeks (please not months!). However, it’s all different in person, and that transition from safe, comfortable, virtual intimacy to real life, raw, awkward, imperfect, in-person meeting, is too far for most human beings to jump.
I’m not saying anyone deserves to be ghosted, but I am saying, unfortunately, that I understand why Sabrina’s date ghosted her. He probably cracked under the pressure. It was too built up by that point, and it’s scary to try to live up to the fantasies we create for ourselves and for others online.
When setting plans for a first date, anticipate to meet for one hour, and that is all. If the date runs longer because you are both really connecting, that’s great! But plans should be super casual, and a little more on the formal (not fancy, just more guarded and reserved) side. Remember, you don’t ACTUALLY know this person at all, and it’s healthy to have your guards up a bit. Take time to get know each other, and enforce some realistic boundaries. Spending the day together is not realistic and it’s too much of an investment to plan for more than an hour of shared time. I need space after spending the day together with my twin sister, and I love spending time with her!
Sabrina made plans with her ghost to go for a long bike ride and then grab lunch, or something like that. NO! No bikes. No long day spent together. That’s too much pressure and it’s too long of a time window if you actually end up not liking each other. There needs to be an obvious exit. You both deserve that, and neither of you are wrong if you want to bail early. Have that set in place so everyone feels comfortable.
Bike riding in particular is a DOUBLE-NO for two reasons: 1. As mentioned above, it’s too open-ended. 2. It’s not very intimate, and the whole point of a date is to get to know someone on a more intimate level. You need to be able to look into the person’s eyes, not stare at their back and their butt all day (or have them stare at yours). If that’s what you think a first date should be, you’re doing it wrong, trust me.
[Just a note that first dates should not necessarily be “fun.” Dating is actually serious business and anyone who says it should be “fun,” and that biking with a stranger all day is a good idea, is just wrong. Dating is about gathering information. It’s about stepping through a window of opportunity to see if you are interested in taking the next step with another person. If both parties are interested, you can walk through the next door (not window, you’ve now upgraded to door) of opportunity, together, and hopefully find love on the other side of it. Take dating seriously and don’t go for a bike ride on a first date. You have plenty of time to find out whether or not you two can have fun together. That part’s easy when two people really like each other. Use the first date to make sure he’s not a mass murderer, that he looks as good if not better in person, that he respects you and the other people around him, that he lets you talk, and that you feel comfortable being yourself around him. Fun will come later, once you’ve built that foundation of respect and trust, starting on date one.]
Coffee. Drinks. Maybe dinner. One hour. Sit face to face. Talk like human beings. Look into each other’s eyes. Decide if you want to see them again. Listen to what they say and how they say it. Try to present yourself as authentically as possible. You will be nervous. Your date will be nervous. This is doing it the right way.
GET OFFLINE AND IN PERSON AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
This is such a key point, and I give credit to most dating sites that really advocate for getting offline and making a date. However, I understand why people do not at first heed this advice, and for years, I totally ignored this same advice and did the whole extended fantasy chat thing. Take this advice and listen to it. If there is something in you that doesn’t want to take this advice, ask yourself what is stopping you from expediting the in-person meeting plans.
I’ll tell you what it is, if you are stumped…
It’s super awkward and super terrifying to meet someone in person, when you are both under the pressure of implied romance.
The truth is, the attraction and/or connection that you are trying to make with a person on a first date, just might not happen. It might just be the wrong fit, and that’s fine. But the build up and the forced romance that many people feel they have to bring to a date, just makes things more painful and confusing.
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One of the most horrifying first dates I ever went on was when I was living and single in NYC. I met this guy online and didn’t even really like him at all, but decided to meet up with him anyway (I was doing it WAY wrong back then). When we met, he turned out to be really overweight, talked with a lisp (I know, he couldn’t help it, I just wasn’t expecting that), and was awkwardly waiting for me outside of the restaurant, slumped over and holding a long stem rose. Talk about forced romantic pressure! It was rough, for both of us, and I was polite, and then got out of there as quickly as I could.
He should have known better than to bring a rose on a first date. And I should have known better, going on a first date with a guy I wasn’t even remotely interested in. We were both doing it wrong. And by the way, we had chatted on the phone for weeks before we finally met (his lisp was undetectable over the phone).
From 2007 to 2018 (my single years), I went on a total of 22 dates. This is an average of 2 dates a year. It wasn’t exactly spread out like that and towards the later years I did much more actual dating. Still, some may wonder why I was single for so long. I wondered myself when I was in it. Now I know. I was doing it wrong!
I’m making this point in order to show that of all the dates I went on, only 1 out of 22 guys was the winner. This just shows that it takes time to find the right guy, and it takes even longer if you are wasting time dating the wrong way. Dating doesn’t count until you meet. And even once you do meet, there is a strong chance that you might be on a date with a dud, and that you have 21 more dates to go until you find Mr. Fabulous. So get moving and get offline!
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>>> DON’T FACETIME BEFORE YOU MEET YOUR DATE
I know this might be difficult, but it’s really better if you don’t FaceTime before you meet your date in person. Again, it’s all about building that false impression of someone that can really throw everything off. Taking the risk with a semi-blind date is part of online dating, and that’s why you keep smart boundaries in place when setting a first date with someone. Only plan for an hour, meet in a public place, keep it casual and have healthy guards in place. Be open, but just maintain healthy boundaries. It’s a delicate balance, but you can do it!
>>> AVOID SWIPING APPS
Avoid swiping apps and only go on apps that are relationship focused. If you’re just messing around, “having fun,” and aren’t really looking to find a good guy, by all means, go on a swiping app where people judge other people based on looks alone. However, if you are looking for true love, avoid those apps. I found my love on Coffee Meets Bagel, which I highly recommend to everyone!
>>> KEEP FIRST DATE EXPECTATIONS LOW
If you have followed all of my advice from above, and have not FaceTimed (FaceTiming is sort of like cheating on a test rather than taking the risk, doing your best, and accepting whatever grade you get) beforehand, and have made casual, grown-up, short-term plans to meet, then you are already in the right mindset to maintain realistic expectations. It might be great, or it might suck, but it’s just something that you’re doing tonight. You’re going on a date. That’s all.
>>> CONSIDER GOING TO THERAPY
I went to therapy for several years before I met my love, and I learned over those years that there is also a right way and wrong way to do therapy. Read more about this in my article THE TRUTH ABOUT THERAPY, where I discuss the benefits of allowing your therapist to just sit across from you and love you unconditionally. If you are constantly drawn to dating not nice people who don’t respect you, you may have some underlying wounds that need some loving. We all need love and we all need healing. Therapy can teach you how to make better and more loving choices for yourself, which will ultimately lead to attracting people who love and treat you with care and kindness.
If you are open to therapy, are already in therapy, or have never gone to therapy, consider reading this article that explains what I’m talking about.
“According to Rogers, problematic behaviors like overeating, drinking too much, and procrastinating aren’t altered with confrontation, judgment, or punishment; they are remedied with compassion, understanding, and acceptance.
In his view, people are wired for self-actualization, or the need to fulfill our potential. However, painful experiences like being bullied, shamed, or judged thwart our growth.
Unconditional positive regard restores hope by showing us we are loved and accepted. From Roger’s lens, when people feel safe, honesty follows. And being honest with ourselves and others is crucial for change.”
>>> DON’T GIVE UP
I was way past my prime when I met my love. But I always wanted love, and wasn’t really interested in the alternative of being single for the rest of my life. So, even though I was doubtful, fearful, hopeless, sad, lonely, and depressed during many of my single years, I just kept going. Terrible dates make you want to never date again. Getting rejected by someone you really like makes you never want to open yourself again. But you must. Love is so worth it. And it really starts with you, what you believe you deserve, making healthy choices, and staying the path. You can do this! You got this!
A NOTE ABOUT DATING DURING A PANDEMIC
I’m so sorry to all of you out there now, who have found yourselves single during this terrible pandemic. And I know that the concept of meeting and connecting with people virtually makes perfect sense when you are wanting to keep a safe distance from strangers, for the health and well-being of both you and your loved ones. I wish these times were different for you.
I often try to imagine myself single during this time, and I would like to think that I would continue to make the effort to meet in person. When I was single, I really, really, wanted to be in a relationship, so I did what I had to do. And I imagine if I was single during this time, I would probably continue my online dating search, with caution.
First dates during a pandemic can consist of meeting outside, 6 feet apart, without a mask, so you can see the person’s face. Of course, it’s winter now in the United States (more unfortunate timing), but I would honestly bundle up and get on out there for no more than an hour, if I had made a nice connection with someone online. All the rules above apply. No long virtual chats. Keep safe boundaries and meet in a public place, outside, with masks off. Keep it casual and formal (not fancy), and just spend your time getting to know one another. At a certain point, if you are feeling like you are interested in more, suggest you both get COVID tests and then proceed with optimistic caution!
If you are finding that your dating life is really on hold during this time, and you don’t feel comfortable venturing out, I totally respect your desire for caution. And in all honesty, if I were single during this time, I might also just put my dating life on hold. Save this article for when the coast is clear and you can really get back out there in the real world. And in the meantime, cultivate as much love as you can for yourself. There is always room to heal and always room to grow. Use this valuable time to work on yourself, enjoy yourself, love yourself, and reflect on past experiences. The time will come for love. Love is everyone’s right, and the timing isn’t always what we prefer. Love has it’s own clock, but it’s wiser than we are. Trust it and just hang in there, Goddess. Love is coming to you…
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I hope you have found this article helpful. I enjoyed writing it, and it’s a healing process for me as well. Even though I have finally found love, I still feel the scars from all my years of online dating, and I am truly cheering for each and every one of you. I hope my love lasts forever, but you never know in this life. Any one of us could be out there again someday, and we must all support one another in our journeys. Love is worth it and you are definitely worth it!
Until next time, xo…