Dear Captain Awkward,
I’m in my late twenties. I have extremely minimal experience in forging or seeking relationships, partly because although I am not asexual, I am not comfortable with the idea of sex, and do not…ascribe to the gender binary…, but at the same time would like to have a romantic relationship.
Additionally I have A LOT on my plate (I work six days a week, am buying a house, have a dissertation project coming up, a lot of family stuff etc) at the moment, I worry I wouldn’t be very attentive all the time, but I saw a guy on an online dating site and his profile made him sound like we’d really get on, we have a lot of shared interests and I think even if he didn’t like me romantically, we could be friends at the very least but I just don’t know what to do or whether to contact him?
I keep chickening out and have no idea what to say even if I did pluck up the nerve to make an account and send him a message. Please, help?
So Very Socially Awkward
Dear Socially Awkward:
Contacting an interesting person on a dating site does not mean OMG NOW YOU ARE IN A RELATIONSHIP, BETTER FORGET ABOUT ALL YOUR OTHER PLANS.
You get to decide every step of what you want. To make it even more interesting, there is another human at the other end of the interaction who has their own shit going on and they also get to decide things. Sometimes people exchange a few messages and decide, nope, let’s not get together or be friends. Sometimes people have vastly different expectations about what they want and they find that out, too.
Writing to this person (or not) is not a massive statement on THE FUTURE OF EVERYTHING YOU WANT, EVER, AND YOU MUST DECIDE NOW.
Some basic stuff to help you keep your feet when online dating:
If you think dating or meeting new people would be fun, then try it.
If it comes to feel like work – it’s too scary, too draining, too time-consuming, etc., then take a break.
You do not have to meet up with or even respond to anyone who writes you. And they do not have to respond to you. Keep expectations WAY low about the level & frequency of communication that will happen and don’t act entitled to anyone’s time or attention or put up with anyone who abuses yours.
Post multiple, accurate pictures of yourself, including full body shots, how you dress, etc. I realize this can be anxiety-making for my fellow fats & people who play around with gender presentation but think of it this way: People who write to you and who respond enthusiastically to your messages enthusiastically like & approve what you look like. People who aren’t into your thing will scroll on by. This is WAY better than Catfishing folks with a single weirdly lit glamour shot closeup of your face, getting into some hot & heavy correspondence, and then freaking out before you actually meet them because you are worried about rejection.
When you write to someone for the first time, follow the alliterative trinity of:
Initial greeting script: “Hi, I really like your profile, especially (where you said x cool thing)(the fact that you like x piece of media that I also like)(the photo of you where you are doing or wearing awesome stuff). Where did you find your (cosplay element)(unique bookcase)(jazz record collection)(fancy shoes)?”
Hopefully they’ll reply and you’ll message back and forth a few times. If that is enjoyable, generally it is better to meet sooner rather than after a very long, deep correspondence, because the clock totally restarts on getting to know someone once you meet them in person and it’s weird to be too invested and then find out you don’t actually click in person. Script for arranging a meet: “I’ve really enjoyed writing back and forth. Would you be interested in meeting for (coffee)(breakfast)(a drink)(ice cream)(hanging out in the park)(a study date at the library)(a free concert) sometime?“
Pick something that you would like doing anyway in the normal course of your life. Pick something inexpensive and easy.
Safety stuff: Google the heck out of the person – real name, username, email address. Find their social media profiles, though do not “follow” or “friend” anywhere outside the dating site until you know you get along and want this person in your life in some fashion. (They’re Googling you. It’s not weird, it’s just a way to get a larger sense of the person – are they connected to other people or will you be stepping into the Only Friend role? – Danger! Do they say racist/sexist/ableist/homophobic/transphobic stuff on their feeds? – Danger!)
Meet somewhere public that you can get to and from without giving or needing a ride to the other person. Tell a friend where you are going and who you are meeting (with links to photo, name, etc.) and make arrangements to call or text & check in once you’ve met them and again when you get home to let them know you’re safe. It’s generally better to schedule something short and sweet; you can always go from coffee to a movie or dinner, etc. if you are enjoying yourself, but if you don’t click you don’t want to be committed to watching the entire Ring Cycle followed by a showing of Berlin Alexanderplatz.
If you are not enjoying yourself, they seem very different from their picture, or if ANYTHING feels off to you, you are allowed to bail. IT IS OKAY TO NOT LIKE SOMEONE AND TO BAIL, EVEN IF IT SEEMED LIKE YOU WOULD LIKE THEM/YOU EXCHANGED A LOT OF MESSAGES/THEY MIGHT BE SAD.
I know I was yelling.
IT IS OKAY TO BAIL THIS IS A NO-PRESSURE SITUATION.
And whatever happens with the person is okay as long as it is okay with you and okay with them and you feel safe and comfortable and happy. If you are a fuck-on-the-first-date kind of person and they are also this kind of person and you are all about the safer sex and communication, that is okay. If you are a “Hey, I need a long time to get to know someone before I touch them” person that is okay. If you are a “I am not feeling any romantic or sexual pull here, but I’d like to hang out more and get to know each other as friends,” that is okay. If you are a “I need to get to know someone as a friend before romance or touching is even on the table” person, that is also okay, as is “I want to make it really clear that this is a potential friend-date, not a date-date. Is that okay?”
However you roll is okay, as long as you are honest about your needs & expectations and give the other person room to express their needs & expectations safely. Finding out how your needs & expectations mesh is part of the good part of getting to know someone, and if they don’t mesh, a 20-minute coffee date isn’t going to bankrupt anyone or be the end of the world. There is absolutely no benefit into convincing someone to date an insincere version of yourself who is only going through the motions of what they think people act like on dates.
See what happens.
The other person is just a human.
Be yourself. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s the only way to go.
It’s okay to be nervous.
If things go well you will have lots of chances to shape & figure out how you want things to work in the future.
You & the other person can decide that slowly on a case-by-case basis.
If it’s too hard or too weird, stop.
Unofficial Queen of Online Dating, Terrifyingly Amazing Division, 1998-2012