Online Dating: Do's, Don'ts, and Maybes
Getting "back out there" is never easy. Many of us marrieds become so thankful we don't have to be immersed in the dating scene. It's one thing when you're 20 and the world is wide open to you, but it's a completely different ballgame when you're 40-something, have children, jobs, lives, and any suitable dating candidate has to fit into to all that, not the other way around. Whatever your previous dating or marital experiences, chances are you're a bit jaded at this point. After all, if you're getting "back out there", there is a reason you weren't out there already; you were in a relationship or too scared or cynical to dive back in.
When I considered starting to date again it was at the urging of my children, oddly enough. I was really quite content being me and being a family of three as we were. I didn't really have feelings about dating one way or the other. If it happened, it did. If it didn't, it didn't. I felt really peaceful in the place where I was and didn't feel like I needed anyone. I scoffed at the thought of online dating. Being a hopeful romantic, I insisted that when I met my Prince Charming it would be an undeniably remarkable encounter. There would be strange and unique circumstances that bruoght us together, running into each other in the street (while walking, not driving!) and our eyes would lock and things would just click. Or we'd be reaching for the same book at a great little bookstore and our hands would accidentally touch and sparks would fly, and the rest would be deliciously romantic history.
But then I started to think of the friends I knew who'd met some great guys through online dating sites and had long-term successful relationships, even some marriages. I changed my thinking a bit; instead of being turned off by the concept of online dating and viewing it as wholly unromantic, I thought of it as a new way to meet people across the miles that we otherwise might not ever have the opportunity. Maybe this newfangled online dating technology could be useful. If nothing else, it was worth a look. I cautiously signed up for a couple of sites (one Christian and one mainstream). I was honest about what I was and what I wanted; widowed, Christian mom of two, open to more children, nonsmoker, nondrinker, and so on. I posted a careful picture, one where I looked nice but actually looked like myself. I wasn't interested in posting a glamour shot when that's not what I look like on a daily basis nor do I want to. Then I posted and walked away from my computer.
Later, I perused some profiles and a few seemed interesting, many were suspect. Note to the potential online dater: If the picture looks like it's of a model from a magazine, that's because it is. And if their profile or the message they send you is way too chatty and informative, it's a huge red flag. I got a few of those emails where the man laid out his life story and it was usually laced with a bit of sadness; he was widowed taking care of his children on his own, his mother needed an operation (seriously), something that evoked sympathy but didn't make him look quite pathetic. I never fell for this but some women have and it's a scam. Too much information was a turn-off to me. Why do you want to tell everything right out of the gate? It smacks of desperation...and weirdness.
There were a few interesting messages like the fella who wanted me to meet him (for the first time no less) at his family's cabin in the woods! (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, anyone?!) Some men were just plain pushy and wanted to meet for dinner pretty much immediately. No, thank you. Beware the aggressive individual pursuing you. Set the tone and be clear about what you want and what you expect. There's no real reason not to be kind, but be firm. No, thank you means exactly that and don't feel bad saying it. Share information sparingly, especially in regards to your location. In the online dating world, I believe women need to take charge and feel no obligation. If something doesn't feel right, it's not. Protect yourself. This goes for men too. Women can be just as shady.
At that point in my life I felt that actually going on a date was a huge deal. It would take effort, a babysitter, and risk, even if the only risk was opening myself up to the possibility. So based on those feelings, I knew if I was going to consider even one date with a prospective man, he was going to have to be worth it (and he was and still is). When you actually do meet, be careful. Above all else, be safe. Tell friends where you will be and when and let them know if you change locations. Keep in close contact so they know you're alright. Meet the date in a very public place and don't deviate from that, no matter how fabulous they may be or how well you may click. The first date is still the first time you meet this person and no matter what, you just don't have enough information yet to fully trust that person. If things get uncomfortable, don't be afraid to excuse yourself and leave early. Trust your instincts. Be prepared (and offer) to pay your own way, but don't pay his. Have fun with this experience too. I made a couple of good friendships solely online through this process. There are some really great guys out there, even if they're meant only to be your friends. Keep an open mind but keep your wits about you.