I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, a widow in her early forties. She said she’d tried online dating but found it a complete sewer, and the men either looked as though they ought to be on Crimewatch, or they looked half-normal but sent her photos of their dicks. She said the biggest problem was she had no idea who the people were she was chatting to, and when she met one or two of them they turned out to be completely different.
I could sympathise. I’ve met at least two women online who for the first month or so offered up Version 1: pleasant, mature, intelligent, and serious about a relationship. Suddenly Version 1 was replaced with Version 2: unpleasant, immature, dumb, and showing no sign they were even capable of having a proper relationship. I was left wondering what the hell happened to Version 1.
When I was in Florida having my recent bout of troubles, my sister made a good point. She said when she was single she wanted to see potential partners in the context of their everyday lives, i.e. with friends, family, and colleagues. For instance, if a man says he’s divorced, does he say the same thing in front of his friends? Then you’ll see who they really are. The problem with online dating is it allows people to play-act, detached from the realities of their everyday life (which is a problem with the internet and social media in general). This doesn’t mean everyone on there is play-acting, but if they are it’s hard to figure out.
It also means the medium attracts those who play-act in real life, and there are reasons people do this. For example, if a foreign woman in her twenties marries a westerner in his forties for the chance of a nice life abroad, and then later becomes self-sufficient, I can imagine the knowledge that she sold her body for a passport weighs heavily upon her. In ten or fifteen years she might have learned English, earned a degree, and got a half-decent job but she won’t ever be able to forget how all this was made possible – especially when she meets other women who didn’t take that shortcut. I can imagine it’s a bit like an athlete who’s used steroids or someone who cheated on an exam: they’ll be living with that decision their whole lives. So they make up a story: I did it for love, despite knowing him for a week and only being able to communicate using an electronic translator. He was very handsome and didn’t look his age, only please don’t make that face when I show you the photos. He was very charming, at least up until the wedding day. I never wanted to leave my country, but somehow my profile ended up on a dating site aimed at foreigners. I’ve heard them all.
If you tell the lie often enough you’ll start to believe it, and eventually you’ll forget it was ever a lie. The problem is, you’ll then use this technique to deal with all the inconvenient facts of your life and before you know it your default setting is to play-act. And if that’s who you are, then online dating sites hold an obvious attraction. You can enjoy being the person you pretend to be until you get found out, then you block the person and move on to the next. My guess is the online dating sites are absolutely chock-full of people like this, both men and women, who don’t know truth from fiction, who the hell they really are, or what they want. I suspect a lot of these also don’t have a whole lot of friends in real life, and if they do they keep their online partners well away from them.
Ultimately, only time will tell you who someone really is. That might take months or years, but the chancers on the internet seem to get found out in a matter of weeks, generating an enormous churn (which is good for the site owners). Given online dating is the way most people meet each other these days, it makes the whole process of finding someone absolutely exhausting. I expect people are already starting to regret the MeToo movement banned people chatting each other up at work. They might even regret that they stopped going to church.