In so many ways, I am the perfect candidate for online dating. The first and most convincing piece of evidence is the obsession I had with online dating before it really existed. I watched You’ve Got Mail religiously and, similar to how Meg Ryan’s character describes the anticipation that came with logging in and seeing if her virtual admirer had left another message (on AOL’s chat rooms, hilariously enough), I experienced the same heart palpitations and goofy smile on my face as I watched Kathleen Kelly (Ryan) and Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) fall in love with the help of an amazing soundtrack and impeccable ’90s wardrobe. I was smitten with the idea of finding my true love online.
4 Reasons I Quit Online Dating
Fifteen years later the dream of living my life filled with witty banter and pop-culture references is within my reach through the grand universe of online dating. Over the course of three months I dove in, using three different dating sites and communicating with a variety of guys. After all these years, did I finally find my Joe Fox? No. Absolutely not. In fact, I hated nearly every minute of online dating and I can tell you four reasons why.
1. Online dating turned into a part-time job. I’m a person who highly values my time. Whether I decided to engage in a full conversation or I just received a message or smiley face from someone, it interrupted whatever I was doing. I sometimes chose to ignore those messages, but even just the thought of logging back on and sifting through a number of notifications was tiring. Once I moved from messaging boys online to exchanging numbers with them, I really felt pressure to communicate back to them in a timely manner. I had trouble finding the balance between being committed to the process but also living my real life as I normally did. Initially, it was exciting to receive notifications and get to know someone new, but soon afterward I found myself feeling pressured to talk to someone who, frankly, I just didn’t care that much about. It seems the older I get, the more I desire to invest my time and emotion into people who truly matter to me.
2. Online dating doesn’t take away pre-existing dating and relationship issues. I thought I went into the online dating game with a realistic idea of what to expect, especially after hearing from several friends about their experiences with the pitfalls of online dating. Fear of rejection? Confusion about what the other person’s thinking? Wondering if this person has a hidden past? Online dating and traditional dating both involve these elements. But the online dating industry presents this irresistible hook that the only reason you haven’t found true love is because you haven’t met the right person yet. I think almost every single online dating commercial I have seen includes some version of this message. And I fell for it.
I watched the ads, saw how online dating is portrayed in the media, listened to some of my friends’ stories, and started to believe the only reason I hadn’t found the one was because I simply had no way of meeting him; I just needed the right online dating site. It didn’t take long, however, before I realized this wasn’t the case. It wasn’t just about meeting the right match. I may have a successful job and a place of my own, I look decent on paper—or in this case, an online profile—but I bring a lot of issues into a dating relationship . . . and so does everyone else. As the initial excitement of talking to someone new wore off, my relationship issues were very present and even heightened in ways I had never seen before.
3. Online dating fed insecurities I didn’t know existed. Not only did I experience a heightened awareness of my negative relationship issues, I also experienced insecurities I believe are unique to online dating. For example, that feature where you can see who viewed your profile? I hated it. I started having conversations with myself and my friends that went something like: I can see he viewed my profile, but he didn’t wink at me, smile at me, or like any of my pictures. Maybe he didn’t see my wink, which is why he didn’t wink back? Don’t I have a winky face? Isn’t it just common courtesy? What does a wink even mean?! These questions would echo in my mind, then I’d go home and drown my sorrows in episodes of Downton Abbey.
Even if you’re interested in someone in real life, you can experience the same type of insecure thoughts and stress—to a degree. Yet, in real life, I can turn it off if I want to. I can tell myself that maybe the guy in the coffee shop didn’t return my smile because he didn’t see me, and I could actually be right. In real life I usually just don’t care if someone I’m attracted to isn’t attracted to me. That’s certainly his right. And yet, there’s something so demeaning to me about knowing a man took the time to check out my online profile and then decided to keep moving on, his indifference mockingly communicated by the absence of a smile icon or winky face.
4. An online dating profile is a persona—not the real you. This is at the heart of my aversion to online dating, and it stems from my belief that all the profiles we create on social media outlets are mere shadows. Very few people I know are crazy enough to create on online profile that is utterly and completely false (though I did start talking to a couple of guys who did just that). Creating a completely false profile would defeat the original purpose of online dating. Yet, with the anonymity the Internet provides comes a thrill from being able to present yourself however you want.
I was as honest as I could possibly be in creating my profile, but in small ways, I still created a persona. That persona wasn’t very different from who I really am—but it was just a small part of who I am. Once I took a step back from the whole process, I could see my online dating profile wasn’t quite true—from the pictures I chose to my interests and even to my beliefs.
There seemed to be answers I knew portrayed who I am, and then there were answers I felt would make the match-making machine yield the kind of men I wanted. For example, at one point on a particular site I realized if I checked the box saying I needed to be matched with a “Christian,” I was often matched with men who seemed to be unyielding about their ultra-conservative beliefs—some of which I agreed with, most of which I didn’t. But I discovered that if I checked the box simply stating “Spiritual,” I would be matched with men who seemed a lot closer to my beliefs and personality. Yet despite what my profile said, I did want a Christian guy, not just a “spiritual” one. Of course, you can experience this same confusion and frustration when you start dating someone in real life, but in online dating I started to feel like the concept of who I was had become too fluid for my liking, and it started to feel inauthentic.
Living True to Yourself
I have seen online dating result in happy marriages, and I truly believe it works for some people. A few of my friends were able to overcome all of my misgivings, and some didn’t experience my challenges at all. But as certain as I am of their success, I am equally certain online dating just isn’t for me. More than anything else, my experience with online dating has encouraged me to live true to myself. For all of my negative experiences with online dating, the biggest benefit was learning about what I truly value and what I’m willing to compromise on to find love. For that, I don’t regret trying online dating. The old cliché rings true that you have to know yourself before truly loving someone else—no matter what those winky faces may say.
Ashly Stage is a freelance writer and accreditation specialist out of Indianapolis, Indiana.