5 Practical (and Unexpected) Lessons I Learned from Online Dating

The Internet world will astound you. Image from womenshealthmag.com via iStockPhoto/Thinkstock.

Online dating websites are not the best places to meet friends. This might seem obvious, but when moving to a new city where you don’t know a soul, online dating can easily seem like a convenient solution to finding company on a Friday night. You can try out some new restaurants while simultaneously avoiding the awkwardness of going out alone. But, as hard as you can try to be explicit about the fact that you’re searching for friends and not for lovers, your statement “just looking for friends” will be interpreted as “looking for a hookup.” (Which, if that’s your goal, is totally legit, but if it isn’t, will cause a whole string of miscommunication, chaos, and drama.)

Dating sites get a bad rap for numerous valid reasons, such as:

  • The awkward “I don’t know what you look like but I’m standing outside this bar trying not to look like a hooker” moment that comes with waiting for each first date;
  • The vast amount of creepsters who are significantly older than their profiles indicate;
  • Photoshopped pictures (of women and men);
  • Dates who talk the whole time, forget your name, or expect to go home with you.

However, amidst the inherent drama of the internet-based platform for lying, there are some underrated benefits to the online dating process.

Sometimes crazy online dating experiences can be just the experiences you need. Comic from www.sarahburrini.com.
Sometimes crazy online dating experiences can be just the experiences you need. Comic from www.sarahburrini.com.

Here are 5 completely unrelated (but very useful) things I learned from online dating:

1. How to wait confidently

Waiting is awkward. Waiting around when you don’t know the person for whom you’re waiting is even more awkward. But, really, no one else is noticing you. It’s the distracting nature of fidgeting and looking insecure that makes you more noticeable. Thank you, Online Dating Gods, for teaching me how to wait with confidence.

2. The difference between being forthright and being honest

Plenty of people consider themselves honest if they don’t outright lie, but the potential chaos of online dating (a hotbed of focused attention on attraction and deception) makes being forthright more important than being honest. It taught me how to be proactive about making sure I was on the same page as my date. (Well, actually, breakups taught me that, but online dating gave me the chance to practice.) And, if I wasn’t on the same page, it led to #3.

3. Learning how to walk away

Not every shoe fits, and learning how to say goodbye appropriately and respectfully is something only learned through many uncomfortable conversations. Online dating allows for goodbyes at all stages of the game and at all levels of discomfort. Think of this as making space in your life for what you really want.

4. How to figure out what you want

Of course, figuring out what you want is a lot easier when you know what you do not want. While you may not find your soul mate online, you will meet many different people who interest you in ways you wouldn’t have expected. The experience will help you explore your own interests and really understand what does and does not work for you.

5. That you REALLY can’t please everyone

The biggest lesson, though, has been how clear it is that you really cannot please everyone. See, I knew this in theory, but online dating erased any hope I had on the matter. Even in person, we each prefer different forms of communication, affection, and, often, rejection. Some people want you to tell them explicitly if you aren’t interested, and others expect you to save them the embarrassment of your admitting such. They’d rather you simply not respond or “let it fade” so that they can “save face” and pretend it “just didn’t lead to anything.” The hard part is knowing who prefers which. And you will most certainly guess incorrectly quite a few times.

As you might have guessed from Nos. 2 and 3, I have been working on being forthright in my goodbyes, but it’s a work in progress. I’ve been guilty of my share of text-based breakups in an effort to be straightforward and quick. The variety of responses proves both that I am still learning and that you really have no control over how another person is going to respond.

However, after a handful of goodbyes of which I am not proud, a couple of internet-based tiffs, of bunch of goodbyes that were anticlimactic, and one particular goodbye that surprised me by the gentleman calling back to say “Thank you,” I realize that online dating gave me a great assortment of experiences. You really can’t please everyone, but online dating can help you learn how you fit within a variety of contexts.

After this last move, though, I’m going to focus on building a network and accepting that a blind date isn’t always the best substitute for taking myself out on a Friday night.

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