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Online and Speed Dating

New trends in matchmaking, such as online dating and speed dating, are increasingly popular for singles. Online dating is a close cousin of the more old-fashioned newspaper personal ad, but it adds a bit of a twist: we can correspond with potential dates for days, weeks, or even months before meeting face-to-face. Because it allows us to develop a rapport with a person before committing to an actual date, online dating can be wonderfully liberating and exciting. And yet online dating also contains the possibility for deceit and misunderstanding, as email and the Internet can allow people to seriously misrepresent themselves.

Speed dating is a bit like a well-structured cocktail party: The goal is to meet as many new people as possible in a short amount of time (say, an hour or so) over lunch, cocktails, or dinner. The organizers hold a stopwatch, and after a certain amount of time elapses (three to ten minutes), attendees must end their conversations and move on to a new person. Each participant keeps a sort of score card, where they can make notes about people who intrigued them.

A 57-year-old professional woman who is the mother of two grown children has tried both online dating and speed dating. She reports:

Dave and I met on Match.com, so I'm positively predisposed to online dating. I tried two of the rich Ivy League services first—therightstuff.com and goodgenes.com—but they were pretty useless unless you happened to live on one of the two coasts. There were very few men in my part of the country, and I discovered too late that most of them had been members for many years. Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel!

I tried speed dating only once. The good thing about it is that it's highly efficient. You can meet 8 or 10 guys in little more than an hour, and you don't have to tell them to their faces whether or not you're interested in seeing them again (you just put a discreet check mark on a little card). The bad thing is that a lot of the men seemed like the same ones left on the bottom of that other barrel.

In general, I don't think there's much difference between meeting someone online and meeting someone at a bar or party. You have to be just as careful in both situations. You never give someone your last name or phone number before you've checked him out. And even after you've Googled him to verify some of the things he's told you about himself, you arrange to meet in a public place for a short time—say, a coffee shop after work. An online dating service actually affords you a little more protection than meeting in a bar, because the guy doesn't know where you hang out and you don't have to give him your email address (you can communicate through the service).

One of the drawbacks to online dating is that you can easily fall in love with someone before you've met him, only to have your balloon rudely burst when you finally get together and discover that he looks like a frog and weighs less than you do. That actually happened to me twice—once with an artist who had a voice you hear only in dreams, and the other time with a writer whose work showed signs of brilliance. I cultivated some serious fantasies—and traveled farther than I care to admit—before finding out there was "no chemistry" with either one (which is the gentlest thing you can say to someone you've encouraged with clever emails and breathy phone calls and now hope never to see again).

Other women say that online dating can be more frustrating than rewarding, because it may encourage us to have unrealistic expectations.

A 26-year-old lawyer writes:

I've met a few guys online. I got involved with one of them for a few months. Online dating has some really good features, but there are two massive downsides: lying and chemistry (actually, lack of it).

People lie when writing and responding to personal ads. There are certainly a large number of men trolling the Internet for easy sex, or opportunities to cheat on their wives/girlfriends. Extensive correspondence over email and the phone before meeting deters and frustrates the player/cheater because it becomes too much effort. However, boring people who lie about their interests and activities are often good at concealing it during this phase.

Maybe it's just me, but I met many desperate guys. They weren't losers (good jobs, normal-good-looking, considerate, socially competent…) but they really wanted to have a girlfriend. Within minutes of meeting them, they were smitten and I was uncomfortable. I think that a lot of men online haven't learned to read women's signals...

But there are some definite positives. The matching/searching capabilities of the online dating databases are great for connecting with the type of person you are interested in. Smokers, the hyper-religious, and men who aren't interested in having children are easily bypassed. This does require honesty, though, so it isn't perfect.

Additionally, women are a hot commodity in online dating. It can be a massive self-esteem boost to realize how many men respond to a woman's ad. If a woman hasn't dated in a while, either because of a dry spell or because she just got out of a relationship, this is a great way to get back into dating and feel confident again.

Other women say that even if we don’t find the perfect man online, we can still enjoy the socializing element of online dating—not to mention the excitement of continually meeting new people.
I'm a 44-year-old, never-married single woman, living in a fairly small city. While it's a great community, it's very difficult to meet single, straight men to date. My single girlfriends and I have all experimented with various online dating services, with varying results. I've found that the search process on sites like Match.com can be fun—it at least gives you hope that there ARE single men out there!—but the reality of meeting the men and trying to start a relationship from scratch has been quite challenging for me. I think the sites set up unrealistic expectations, as if you can order your ideal match as you would order an outfit from a catalog. I'm guilty of such expectations, and so are many of the men I meet, who have very specific specifications for who they consider "dating material." Also, since you have very little mutual foundation as friends first (even a blind date set up by mutual friends gives you SOME basis for this meeting), the dating can feel very serious too fast, and so get off to an awkward start. I get offended when someone I've known for only five minutes starts asking very personal questions, such as, "Why haven't you ever been married?" It can start feeling like a job interview. I've met a lot of nice men who might have been friends in different circumstances, but it all just got too weird for us to maintain any kind of friendship.

On the other hand, there are many, many success stories with the online dating scene, and it could be that I'm just not adept enough at getting through the awkward first stage of a "starting from scratch" relationship. I still search the match.com site, and I still consider emailing promising men. There are certain "red flags" I have: If a man's preferred age range for a woman stops at an age much younger than himself (i.e. a 45-year-old man who is seeking women between the ages of 18 and 35), if their profile seems to contain overt sexual innuendo, if they seem to already have a negative attitude toward the online dating system, then I pass them by. It's hard for me to disregard looks, but I'm afraid that does make a difference to me. So, I'll keep looking because it really couldn't hurt (I've had no dangerous encounters, just awkward ones). And it helps to keep me from becoming too much of a hermit!

Written by: Kristin Bloomer
Last revised: March 2005

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