Sunday, February 21, 2010

Online Dating's Fatal Flaw: A Real Life Example

I had a date the other night with a really great woman who agreed with me, both upfront in a few emails we exchanged, then again on the date as we discussed some of the funnier experiences we'd had, that the biggest risk of online dating is the 'set up for failure' nature of the high expectations we have in meeting for the first time.  We both agreed that, offline in the past, we'd fallen for people we'd only really come to be attracted to after many meetings through work or elsewhere.
The point being that if each of us can't find a way to get around the way we 'set up for failure' by having unrealistically high expectations of our first meeting, if we can't open up to meeting people a few times over some weeks (as we do in real life) before saying 'he/she wasn't THE ONE', then the nature of online dating will lead us to 'click delete' on most of the potentially great life partners we come across.
I'm attracted to confident, easy-going girls who don't have to be super attractive as long as they are relatively slim and have something uniquely flirty and "je ne sais pas quoi" about them that I find sexy (the confidence and "knowing what they want" thing).  Ignoring the fact that this very attractive woman had gained a few pounds since the two-year old profile pictures had been taken (a "little white lie" that can really throw off prospective partners, girls!).  In the first hour of our date she was quite nervous and the tension showed in her face and body language, so she wasn't coming across as confident and easy-going, although she had (if it's possible to read between the line accurately) via our email exchange.

In fact, her facial muscles were sufficiently taught to make her look, quite literally, distinctly different than she did in her photos and than she did once she relaxed later on (she also was developing strong shoulder pain sitting on the bar stool -- yet another of those unpredictable things that can completely throw off a first meeting).  When I pointed this phenomenon out to her later, she insisted she hadn't changed, she was the same girl she was during hour one, only more relaxed and opened up (what she called becoming "switched on") -- exactly my point!

I encouraged her to come with me to a nearby bar where she could meet a couple of single male friends I was meeting afterwards and, once there (and following my admission that it didn't feel like we'd be a good fit -- evidence of my own failure to get around the exaggeratedly high 'first date expectation bar'!) she relaxed, became more animated and really seemed like a different person -- like the kind of girl I'm very attracted to.  

[Now you can take me to task for making a snap judgment, but (in my mind) if she was nervous in meeting me for the first time, I thought that spoke to a fundamental confidence issue that she'd have anywhere with anyone...  Was I off-base?  Hm.]

After some casual contact sitting next to her we ended up holding hands.  Sensing that we'd reached a new level of comfort, I asked if she wanted to drive me home.  She did, then came in for tea and turned out to be a really great kisser.   No, nothing very racy happened!  She left, demurely, and I sent her a mail in the morning to say I'd really enjoyed meeting her, especially the more relaxed version of her.  Her response? 
"I can tell right away if a guy is into me, and you weren't at first, so I don't think it would work between us." (That plus a few other unfair assumptions, tainted by some insecurities, I'd surmise.) 
So much for being open to attraction developing over time versus demanding the Disney-fed, "chemistry at first sight" fantasy!  I was really quite flabbergasted, given the compatibility I'd experienced with her after the initial 'misalignment'.  

Even a few calm, rational and heart-felt discussions up-front to try to pry open Pandora's box and allow reality to have a chance to win out over that tightly-clung-to fantasy cannot shake it!
That little thing comes back, in online dating, to shoot down opportunities that, if they'd been untainted by the expectations that online builds up, would have very possibly led to something beautiful.  It's that simple little thing that is responsible, irrationally, for the fatal flaw in online dating.  And yes, I'm as guilty of it as she was, so very likely it was me and my big mouth that ruined what could have gone on to dates two, three and beyond.

Did I learn a lesson?  Yeah, I should have followed my own advice in the previous post below and insisted on a video chat upfront!  If nothing else, as I learned in trying it with another girl, later, chatting via video take SOOO much of the pressure off that initial first face-to-face date (although I should have insisted that she get up and do a little pirouette to see her full figure...).

[Full Disclosure:  Serendipity might have doomed things from the start.  Upon coming into the restaurant there was an attractive waitress who I mistook for my date.  As I walked in she stood up and said hi, smiling.  I walked up, smiling broadly as well, saying 'hi' back, then took one shoulder in hand and kissed her on both cheeks.  She blushed and stammered, said "Wow!  You certainly make a strong first impression!" then corrected my error by telling me her name wasn't what I thought it was.  Oops!  My turn to blush.

She brought me my drink, touching my shoulder and making lots of eye contact, smiling a lot, then asked me to come sit at the bar so we could chat.  Once my date arrived I had to lock onto her eyes to avoid the waitress's who hovered around for the rest of our time there, brushing past behind me several times and continuing to beam at me throughout.  Likely it was all tip-inducing, professional flirtation -- I owned a bar and did a lot of the same in the past -- but the initial 'connection' seemed genuine.

Yes, I returned shortly after my date and I left to "retrieve my hat" and the waitress asked what was up with the date girl, then, as I steered the conversation back to the two of us, looked guiltily over my shoulder at the bartender (who'd since arrived after I came in the first time) and mentioned her husband.  I exited stage left, disappointed, but with a freshly clear focus.  

Could my date's nerves been somehow related?  Certainly, but my core point here remains the same!  Regardless of how the unrealistically high expectations get built up, on both people's parts, it is all about trying to get past them to see whether the other person has a side to them you'd really click with, if given some time and more meetings.]

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