Being a reserved Brit I don’t brag about much in life, but there is one exception — my wedding speech. Admittedly it took two attempts to nail it, for it was my second marriage, but still.
Aside from my hand shaking inexplicably and uncontrollably from the moment I stood up to speak, it went exactly as I’d hoped. The guests laughed when I intended and there were a few tears too.
My personal highlight was sharing how we met — I described the scene; spying each other for the first time across an open plan office. I approached her, drawn by her beauty and asked for a date. So it began.
As I delivered that part of the speech, various guests who knew our origin story began to shift awkwardly in their seats. I then retracted that version and shared the truth; we actually met via online dating.
I’m not the poster boy for much in life, but if a happy marriage isn’t the ultimate testament to the possibilities of online dating, then I don’t know what is.
If match.com wants to feature my story as part of their advertising, I’m open to offers.
As widespread as online dating has now become, I’ve yet to meet another couple who married after meeting online. Then again, it was my second marriage. It was in my thirties that I found myself divorced, mostly healed and ready to start dating again. By then, online dating seemed the norm rather than the exception.
As a divorcee with two young kids whose custody I shared with my ex-wife, I was as interested in efficiency as romance; it’s hard to find time to cruise bars looking for your soulmate when you’re a part-time single parent.
I was prompted to share my story having recently encountered an excellent piece by Sean Kernan. Sean shared his experiences of online dating as a man in a long-term relationship originating online, but also after masquerading as a woman to see what the experience is like from the female perspective. You can read it here:
Reading it brought back many memories from my past — some that made me smile and others that veritably made my skin crawl.
I want to share some of my experiences since I hope I have a little credibility having effectively ‘completed the game’ of online dating successfully. It didn’t happen without failing many times along the way.
Invest yourself fully
If you were to ask my wife she’d probably tell you she was drawn by what I’d written in my profile rather than my pictures. I decided long ago to take that as a compliment on my honesty and my writing rather than feeling insecure about a possible lack of physical attraction.
It’s unfortunately common that many view the wording of their profile as an optional extra. Maybe this is fuelled by modern sites like Tinder (which I feel eternally blessed to have avoided) that encourage users to select matches mainly via photos.
Once physical attraction is established we need to know more about a person before deciding if they’re a likely match for us. How could anyone determine that without at least some information in a profile?
When I wrote (and frequently revised) my profile it seemed a no-brainer that I should share my backstory openly, and describe who I was and what I was about. I was honest about my commitments and clear about what I wanted and didn’t want. I was drawn to others who did the same (or who had at least tried).
There’d have been little point in trying to lure matches by portraying myself as a millionaire playboy with nothing but time on his hands and a surplus of vintage champagne to drink with someone special. I was a single-father, with much of my time and resources devoted to servicing that role. I wanted to meet someone who considered those things a positive rather than a drawback.
And eventually, I did.
What are you hiding?
In most cases, attraction begins with how someone looks. An online profile is useless if it doesn’t include at least one picture. Maybe in these days of swiping left or right, pictures are mandatory? I hope so.
A profile without a picture speaks of someone trying to hide something. Maybe that sounds shallow but it’s how it came across to me.
I’d suggest that everyone includes at least one recent, accurate picture of themselves in their profile. Certainly, make some effort with it but portray the actual you, not the best you’ll ever look or the best you ever looked — not you from 10 years ago.
If you hope to ever have a relationship (or even just ‘hook up’ — can’t believe I just used that expression) you’re going to have to meet in person sooner or later. The truth will out.
You may as well be honest from the start, right?
Make the first move, don’t wait passively on the sidelines
Undoubtedly there are differences in the online dating experience for men and women, and Sean covered these comprehensively in his story.
It stunned me that so few men or women try to make contact with prospective matches and prefer instead to wait to be approached. To wait on the fringes hoping to be approached seems futile — like joining a gym, getting into your sportswear and then waiting around outside the door while hoping to get fitter.
Similarly useless is to send crude or suggestive one-liners to show your interest, or to test if a match is ‘up for it’ (as they say here in the UK). I’m conscious that this is mostly a male behaviour but it seems useless, bordering on offensive for the recipient. I can’t imagine that many long-term relationships have resulted from such a message?
Make moves to screen matches and where there seems to be a bit of attraction and a possible meeting of minds, send a message with at least one sentence that demonstrates you’ve read their profile and want to know more.
Expect 99% of messages to get ignored — online dating seemingly allows for basic manners to be abandoned at the door. Just because you’ve been proactive and shown interest, it doesn’t mean the recipient will react courteously or politely if they have no interest in you.
Don’t let your ego get bruised — accept it as a reality.
If there’s a spark, go on an actual date
Once you’re immersed in an exchange of messages, a rapport can quickly be built as the conversation flows — at such times, I was often drawn into a rabbit hole where reading and writing messages felt like a full-time job. That’s not really the point though, right? I wasn’t there to find a pen-pal after all.
It’s good to establish if there’s a spark and a few mutual interests between you, but there’s also a danger of burning through all the small talk before you ever meet. It’s also possible to convince yourself that there’s more of a spark than actually exists, when messages are carefully composed and additional photos curated and shared. On many occasions I built up my hopes on the basis of messages, only to find that in person there was no attraction or rapport.
Maybe don’t invest too much in it up front — see if there’s some mutual interest via messaging and then meet up to see if it exists in person?
Slow and steady wins the race
I often used to make mix-CD’s as a parting gift for first dates. I hoped it would stand me in good stead for a second date. The mix would usually feature a few standard tunes (often ‘Are you gonna be my girl’ by Jet — see what I did there?) and a few of her favourite songs if I’d figured those out in our messages.
It was usually well received, but a couple of dates were clearly freaked out (including my now-wife). Too much?
On a couple of occasions I turned up to first dates with bunches of flowers.
I would usually suggest meeting for drinks and dinner, obligating us to a full evening of awkwardness if it didn’t work out.
I usually offered to pick up the bill too, even though I could scarcely afford it at the time.
I learned over time that it’s better to take things slow — meet for an hour for coffee. Maybe go easy on the gifts. Don’t invest in a new wardrobe for the first date.
Take it slow — if it’s going to work out, it will.
Believe that it can work
I’m certain that everyone at our wedding already knew that my wife and I had met online — the reveal during my speech was a useful way of getting a laugh or two. Nonetheless, I recall my wife remarking during an early date that if things ever worked out, we’d have to come up with an alternative backstory to how we met.
Maybe there was a bit of a stigma about online dating back then — an innate cynicism about what drives people to seek love (or lust) online rather than in person? Maybe that still exists?
Sean mentioned in his story that many profiles he looked at suggested within them that they’d been created under duress from friends, or with a cynicism that it could ever lead to anything. I just don’t get that mind-set — why show up on the playing field if you have no intention of playing the game?
Our story is clear evidence (if any were needed) that online dating works, and we’re both perfectly (or at least, relatively) normal people with nothing much to hide!
Maybe I should’ve kept the mix CDs to myself though?