The media is awash with guides about how to date online – dos and don’ts like always meet in a public place and flirting tips are helpful for sure, but what about the deeper and more emotional challenges that online dating throws up?
Many clients come to me devastated by having spent months in a fantasy digital relationship with someone who they’ve never actually met, and then feel betrayed and rejected when the person moves on to someone else without so much as a goodbye. Coaching and therapy can really help to address and solve this, by helping people to set clear goals around the reality of what they want, and in busting that fantasy bubble that is often the inevitable side effect of building tension with someone on the other side of a screen.
It’s good to be aware that while the majority of people dating online are actually looking for more than a ping in their inbox, for some it’s just a safe place to gather a mass audience, and to become a minor celebrity without ever having to leave the comfort of their living room. It is also a way to avoid intimacy and the messy realities of another human being, or the struggles of a real relationship.
Dating sites are hopefully doing more to address this. Pushing people to meet offline as soon as possible should be a priority. Apps like Tinder that show you people in your physical vicinity are great as they actively encourage people to meet in person there and then. Sites with a very long process of matching through a strict interviewing process such as eHarmony are good in theory, but I think that all the questions in the world become totally irrelevant in the face of bad chemistry, and a match on paper is no guarantee of a match made in heaven in reality.
Before you begin dating make sure that you are in a good space, feeling confident and secure in yourself. If not, it is likely that you will be hung out to dry by one of these avoidant types who sees online dating as a fun-filled fantasy game. This can take its toll on your mental and emotional health, not to mention wasting your time. My advice is to make sure that you take all online communication with a pinch of salt — the intrigue and sexual tension of romantic promise can be overwhelmingly powerful, and you can go from being swept off your feet to being swept away very easily.
Try to keep several potential dates going at once and don’t settle down too quickly, work with a coach or therapist on your goals and try not to get too attached to people without really knowing them. If you have been single for a long time, the longing for companionship can supersede your natural discernment, resulting in a bad match or being dropped from a great emotional height. See online dating as an opportunity to practise your dating skills, and if you happen to stumble across your soul mate in the process then that’s great, but if your expectations are too high from the beginning you will likely be disappointed.
We all have a propensity for fantasy and this is good — life would be unbearably dull without it, but make sure that it doesn’t rule your dating life. Arrange to meet people that you feel a connection with as soon as possible, there are dating sites now which have a video feature or use Skype to at least see the person. Make sure that you have someone sane to check in with and listen to them if they tell you that you are falling in love with a fantasy and not a real person — it’s probably true!