#500: Online Dating for Scaredy-Cats, or, Why The “Overthinking It” Tag Was Created

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?

Many thanks

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:

  • Short
  • Simple
  • Specific

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.


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.

Go slow.

Baby steps.

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.

Be safe.

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.


Captain Awkward

Unofficial Queen of Online Dating, Terrifyingly Amazing Division, 1998-2012

109 thoughts on “#500: Online Dating for Scaredy-Cats, or, Why The “Overthinking It” Tag Was Created

  1. Yep, although I love connecting with someone and talking the hours away I think that the first few dates should be kept short. The idea is to get a quick sense of someone. If the first meet up goes well then gradually increase the time spent together and the depth of conversation. Another reason I like short first dates is that you only have to be ”on” and focused on that person for so long.

    I SO agree on the importance of letting the other person know if you’re not into casual touching. Only because I know people who felt like they’ve been put in icky situations and couldn’t say anything about it right there in public. There are so many situations where touching is expected and that might cross your line without your date thinking twice about it before hand. A friend had a blind date that turned out to be salsa dancing and let’s say she wasn’t feeling the rhytm.

  2. I love this!

    Can I second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventy-fifth the no-pressure side of things?And that online friend-dating is not only excellent, but was how I met my super-awesome-amazing-ladybro-BFF who I am totally planning having a bro-mmitment party with someday? (It’s like a wedding, only with less kissing and more high-fives)

    Having dabbled in online dating a ton over the years, the most important thing I’ve ever learned is that it isn’t just about meeting sexy people for romantic times and pantsfeels. It’s just a place where people are, where they’re cool with meeting new people. That’s all. And that even if someone has an intimidatingly amazing profile, chances are it’s that way ’cause they are an amazing person who is definitely up for meeting new people. They’re not there ’cause their dance card is already full. They’re there ’cause they’re up for having new interesting people in their life, same as you.

    Good luck! Say hi to people! Have fun!

    1. I love the idea of a bro-mmitment party SO MUCH. And I totally second everything you said about online dating.

      When I joined a dating site to make friends, I started off feeling really awkward about it (and didn’t want to tell my current friends how I’d met all these new people in my life!), but once I settled down it was a really, really good experience. And then when I decided I wanted to look for romantic relationships after all, it was really easy because I’d already learned a lot of online dating skills – basically the only difference now is that I ask people out on a date, rather than a friend-date.

  3. My situation is not precisely the same as yours, but you and others may find it encouraging.

    A while back, I was in a similar place of OMG ALL THE THINGS TO DO, with an added side of ‘job stuff may take me to a different part of the country’. I was a few years out of a long term relationship and had gone through the spectrum from totally devastated by breakup > happily single > able to conceive of one day wanting to be in another relationship. I figured this third stage was a good time to start dating again (or at all – I’d been in the previous relationship age 16-28 so was not exactly experienced in the dating scene). I signed up for a dating site and got into the habit of idly looking at profiles, with a vague idea that when the most intense part of my work died down, I’d contact a bunch of people and go on a few dates. I had slight reservations about this because of the ‘job may force me to move’ scenario, but figured that the chances of meeting anyone this would matter with were slim.

    During my idle browsing, I – like you – spotted one dude who seemed like a good fit. We had a ton of shared interests and when I looked at his photos I could see he liked to hang out in the same kinds of places as me. I was still busy at work but figured I didn’t want to miss out on making his acquaintance so sent a message on the lines of ‘I saw you like x and y which I like; I haven’t heard of z but it sounds interesting, tell me more’. We had a few messages back and forth and then agreed to meet for an afternoon drink in a very low key bar.

    5 hours after meeting, we reluctantly decided we should probably go home.

    1 year and a half later, we are living together and talking about the big life decisiony type things. (BONUS – I got an awesome job which does not in fact require me to move.)

    I was super nervous about dating at all having had zero experience and a Big Serious Relationship That Ended in Tears. But it was awesome, and he was awesome. (When some of my weird conflicted feelings about how fast was too fast in the bedroom department bubbled up, he was the one to identify that I was not comfortable and shut things down till we could talk it out. *starry eyes*)

    I was AMAZINGLY lucky and most people do not go on one date and find the person who works for them. BUT the whole thing was nowhere near as terrifying as it seemed before I tried it, and I am living proof that sometimes, the stars really do align!

    Good luck, Socially Awkward. And have fun!

    1. 5 hour first dates! Yay!

      *DISCLAIMER IN GIANT SHOUTY TEXT: My five hour first date was set up so that I could have bailed in a half hour if I needed to(a previous first date with someone else was the longest hour of my life, barring doctor and dental visits.) We met for a beer. We ended up staying for five hours. He is fabulous. Flexibility is key. You can always extend the date or meet again!

      1. I don’t think I quite had a 5 hour first date, but my (from OKC) success date was on a Sunday and we made plans for the following Friday — but we both decided we wanted to see each other even sooner, so next date was that Thursday…and I ended up spending the Thursday through to the entire weekend with him. And we’ve been together ever since. ❤

        I love chemistry stories!

      2. Yeah, I had fully expected to have an awkward half and hour and then bail, and had picked the date spot with that in mind (with backup friend on phone standby to get me out if need be). But then it was NOT awkward *g*. Knowing I didn’t have to be stuck there was important for my comfort going in, definitely.

      3. Yay, it’s awesome when that happens. It’s also awesome when the first few meetings are just sort of nice (even a bit awkward, truth to tell), but you keep hanging out, and at some point you realize you really click and then you fall in love. That’s what happened to me. I love my partner, but damn, those first few lunches were awkward, in large part because he was so much better looking than it expected. Yup, I was the awkward one.

    2. I love this story! Mine is quite similar… decided to give online dating a try, messaged a few dudes, set up a date with one of them. Ten months later I am still with him, and we are pretty damn sure we want to spend the rest of our lives together. It’s definitely rare that the first online date you go on will be AMAZING, but sometimes it does happen, ha!

      As for advice for the OP, I totally second the Captain’s advice about being honest about how you look in your pictures. I am a fat fat lady and my picture was totally honest and my profile said I was overweight. It may seem scary to be that vulnerable, but what you’re really doing is weeding out the “ugh no fat chicks!” assholes. You want to date someone who loves and is into your real body, how it is right now, and you get that by being honest. Good luck and have fun! You’ll do fine, and remember that a little awkwardness won’t ruin a really good thing. If someone really likes you and you really like them, all that chemistry and attraction isn’t going to go away if you spill a little wine on your shirt or say something silly. Sending love!

  4. Huzzah! for socially awkward online communication and friend-dating and all those things. I second, third, fourth, and etc. the no pressure thing. Heck, I leave my online dating account for months without checking on it and so do the people I’m in contact with on there and it’s kinda cool and sometimes we never talk again and that’s also cool and sometimes we meet up and it’s rad and sometimes we meet up and it’s awkward as fuck and all of that is awesome and okay because people are people and that’s wonderful and weird and gorgeous.

    You are awesome for doing all the things that are on your plate and you can take romance/friendship/dating/sex as slowly as you want!

    Also high five from a fellow non-binary person. I put that straight up top on my online dating profile and specified a) what I want people to do in response to that and b) boundaries I have regarding my gender identity. People who don’t like that can STFU forever and SCROLL ON BY; people who are cool with respecting me and my identity are a-okay in my book. I highly recommend being hella open about gender identity and sexual/romantic identity from the get go.

  5. It took me a while to truly relax about online dating, but it was worth going through the anxiety of meeting those first few people, because I was able to get used to the awkwardness to the point where dating doesn’t stress me out anymore. The first time I had to reject someone, I felt so nervous, I was physically sick. I also didn’t deal well with the first rejection — I was very upset. But getting used to both of those things has been tremendously helpful — now I have a comfort level with the rituals of dating, so I can meet people, reject them, or get rejected, and it’s not the end of the world.

    One thing to remember is that it doesn’t work out most of the time, and that’s both normal and good. The odds that the first person you meet will fall in love with you, and that you will fall in love with him/her, are very slim. Instead, it’s likely to end with one of you saying, “Sorry, I’m not interested.” But that’s what you want to happen. Because if someone isn’t enthusiastic about seeing you again, you don’t want to waste your time with that person, because nothing good will come of it.

    Also, keep repeating the Captain’s advice “it’s okay to bail” to yourself, because this is really important — there is nothing wrong with ending things if you’re not excited about another date. You don’t owe anybody anything. Even if you gave positive signals, even if you slept with the person, you can stop at any time. Some people will get angry at you for this — that’s just another sign that you made the right decision!

  6. Oh god, online dating is SCARY. I haven’t even gotten to the “dating” part, because I barely manage to reply to messages, even if I initiated communication! My problem is that I’m immediately suspicious of any guy who might possibly be interested in me. Even though I’m on these sites literally to find guys who might be interested in me! I just can’t bring myself to trust them enough even to communicate online. How sad is that? I’m a little better with women (yay for being bi) but of course I don’t get many messages from them. I want to date, but the whole thing is really hard.

    1. WORD, I have the same problem. Add to that that in spite of the fact that my profile is pretty clear about “yo I’ve never dated before and am new to this” I keep getting messages from guys who are like “Hey let’s be sex partners who maybe do activities sometimes” which basically the opposite of what I am interested in, and I am really struggling to respond to anyone.

      So, no advice, just, y’know. You’re not alone!

      1. Ugh people who don’t listen to your stated needs and preferences on OKCupid are THE WORST. For me, when I was dating, it was often the opposite preferences-trampling of what you got– it was never clear whether they were truly concern trolling or just trying (and failing) to be cute (and really the line between these two things is pretty fine, a lot of the time), but I would get a lot of messages saying things like “What’s a nice girl like you doing with ‘casual sex’ checked on her profile?” or “I see you have ‘casual sex’ listed as a ‘looking for’. That must be a mistake, right? You look too innocent for that!”. Which, ugh STFU I am not innocent and also that is the worst.

        tl;dr: I’m sorry for your shitty online dating and the dudes who don’t read your profile before messaging. Keep at it if you feel like it, but try not to feel pressure and anxiety about the whole thing, and remember that if you don’t respond to things it really, really, truly is completely OK. (And for assholes who clearly didn’t read your profile, do not pass go, block, feel no guilt!)

        1. I also get this A LOT on OKC! Guys and women ignoring my age limits, overly sexual and downright offensive first messages, etc, etc, ad nauseum. It doesn’t matter what you have written on your profile; (I mention kink and also have casual sex checked) the block button is your friend!

  7. Also, LW– remember that you are in a much better bargaining position than you think you are. You know the difference between job-hunting when you are broke and unemployed and just need a job, any job, to pay for rent and cat food, and job-hunting when you have a perfectly adequate job and want to upgrade to an awesome job? Dating is like the second one, not like the first. You get to be as picky as you want; you get to reject offers for any reason or no reason; you get to entertain offers that might not be what you thought you were looking for; and you can take a break from actively looking and just quietly network, put your dating-resume out there and wait for people to come to you. You can be as lazy and half-assed about it as you want.

    My own lazy and half-assed dating success story: I got discouraged with online dating and decided I was going to stop shopping– leave my profile up and keep reading messages i got, but stop actively looking for potential dates. I also decided that (for me) most of the information I was going to get about someone through pixels, I could get from their profile and initial message, and so if someone sounded interesting to me I would just meet them, instead of doing a long email dance– just use OKCupid to decide whether I wanted to get to know someone, instead of to start getting to know them.

    For a few months, this system successfully lowered my dating stress, and got me one meh first date and a lot of messages from dudes I didn’t have to meet in person in order to reject. Then I got a message from a guy who followed the Captain’s script of mentioning one neat thing in my profile, but the one neat thing he mentioned was James Tiptree. I decided that any straight man who (a) has read Tiptree and (b) considers liking Tiptree a reason to want to date me had to either be a fantastic feminist ally or a Nice Guy devil’s advocate dudebro douche and fifteen minutes of conversation would probably settle the matter, so my first message back to him, after reading his profile and thinking he sounded pretty nifty, was to ask him out to dinner.

    Long story short, that was eight months ago and we continue to be very happy together :).

  8. This is great advice, but I have one question. Are there people out there who genuinely enjoy the dating process, or is it more than people’s interest or desire to find a partner outweighs the negatives of the dating experience for them? I ask because the Captain (very wisely) advises that “If it comes to feel like work – it’s too scary, too draining, too time-consuming, etc., then take a break.” Well, I have felt like that about dating pretty much the entire time since the end of my last relationship, a few years ago, and I generally use that as an excuse to not do it – because my single life really is great, and I have many, many ways that I would rather spend my time than dating the 99 people out of 100 that I am not going to click with romantically. But I worry that by not doing this, I am missing out on the chance to meet that 1 person out of 100 that I WILL click with. But THEN I think fvckit, there is no guarantee that I would EVER meet that person, so why put myself through an experience that I find scary and uncomfortable and time-consuming when actually I am super-happy as I am (although maybe I would be super-happy +1 if I were to meet My Kind Of Person). I’d be really interested to hear about how other people have negotiated this kind of internal debate, because I really don’t think I am going to become comfortable with the idea of dating anytime soon, but at the same time I would quite like to up the odds of meeting someone (although, as said, I have a very happy and fulfilling life as a single person).

    Does any of that make sense?

    1. I have genuinely enjoyed online dating at times in short bursts.

      -Novelty of seeing new hot nice interesting people!
      -Novelty of connecting with new hot nice interesting people!
      -A reason to put on lipstick and go to a bar I’ve never been to before! Especially when I first moved here, it was a good way to explore the city and find out about neat things I might not have known about. Try new restaurants or cafes! Find new theater groups or performances!
      -Even if I don’t necessarily click with someone, it’s neat to have conversations with people I might not have otherwise met.
      -Dating practice. Practice reaching out. Practice having adult conversations with strangers. Practice getting rejected. Practice saying “You seem nifty, but I know you aren’t for me. Thanks so much for coming out, though.” Practice realizing rejection is not the end of the world. Practice taking this fat body out in the world and presenting myself as a sexual person worthy of love & desire. Practice makeouts! And setting boundaries, re: makeouts!

      There are terrible/boring/awkward times, too, but generally, I can get along with someone for 30 minutes and learn a little bit about them and about myself – what I like, what I don’t like, who gets me excited – without having it be totally stressful or annoying.

      When it gets exhausting for me is when I’ve over-scheduled myself, or I’m trying to talk myself into going on a date with someone where I am pretty sure it’s going to be a no but am pressuring myself to give them a chance.

      If it’s not for you, it’s not for you. There is probably no shortcut to finding a partner – you’re going to be putting some effort in somewhere, whether it’s being more social in general or replying to internet ads. Online dating offered me a real low-stakes way to get to know a lot of people and practice this whole “dating” thing starting with the written word, where I feel very comfortable expressing myself.

      1. Thank you for responding! This all makes a lot of sense – and actually in the abstract I can see the appeal of online dating. But the thought of actually doing it fills me with a kind of existential weariness. (I do think a big part of it is difficulty in dealing with rejection / rejecting – so, therapy!)

        I am pretty social and meet a LOT of new people – this was what always led me into relationships in my twenties, but now that I’m in my mid-thirties, while I do occasionally meet someone I’m attracted to in a social setting, they are almost never single, which is why online dating would make so much sense. But I don’t really feel any good will come out of it for me while it still feels like a chore. Maybe it’s just a question of waiting until my desire to Meet Someone trumps the awkwardness? (Or, therapy!)

        1. Maybe online dating is a little bit more stressful for you because of how overwhelming it is? Personally I find online dating a little stressful because once you rule out the people who don’t use correct grammar and spelling in their profiles (which is very important to me), I personally get the sense that everyone seems nice enough. So I feel no excitement whatsover when receiving or sending messages, because everyone seems…fine.

          I’ve realized I much prefer meeting people first and making my decisions to reconnect based on how I feel in their presence. You say you’re more social, so maybe that’s it. If online dating is a chore for you, maybe it’s not the effort you want to make. Try just meeting more people in general — going to events by yourself, having nice conversations with people in random places in the grocery store or something (I trust that since you are social, you feel comfortable doing this and knowing when the other person feels comfortable talking to you), and just generally being yourself and doing what you do.

          Also: just because you seem to reconnect a lot with people who aren’t single doesn’t mean those are the ONLY people you’ll reconnect with, in real life, ever. It just means expanding your circle.

          1. Lt. Right, I think your first paragraph is VERY insightful, thank you! I do identify as an introvert, as I need a lot of alone time, but I am an introvert who really, really likes most people; I have a pretty wide network of friends and friendly acquaintances, and my default assumption when meeting someone for the first time is “they seem nice and interesting” – so yeah, it makes PERFECT sense that online dating is pretty overwhelming for me. Meanwhile pantsfeelings are MUCH more elusive, and pretty much entirely contingent on meeting someone in person. My last relationship – which lasted three and a half years, was generally very positive and healthy and happy, and ended due to life incompatibility rather than personality compatibility – was with someone I almost certainly never would have messaged (or vice versa) through online dating, because he had some things I would have thought of as dealbreakers but when it came down to it, they didn’t matter in the slightest. So yeah, I have no idea how to be discerning when it comes to online dating, and, like you say, it doesn’t inspire any excitement in me, which I think of as an essential precursor to pantsfeelings.

            I generally do pretty well on the Meet More People front, but I am very, very bad at moving from friendship or friendly acquaintanceship to maybe-dating, and I think that’s partly why I WISH I could be better at or happier with online dating, because at least there your intentions are up-front. But I think that if I am going to up the odds of meeting someone, I have to take a chance somewhere, and if it’s not going to be online dating, it will have to be being more forward with trying to turn IRL meetings into possible-date scenarios. And conveniently, I am about to move to a new city for a few months, so this could be a perfect time to put this into effect, given that I am – perforce – expanding / establishing a new circle of friends.

            Thanks so much for this comment, it has really reframed things for me!

        2. Oh my gosh, Jess
          you sound just like me !
          Towards the end of my thirties, I eventually began to hate online dating (the messages I’d send which were never answered, the dates I went out on where either there was no chemistry or the men who just wanted a shag. I also HATED the feeling of marketing myself) but felt like you, I might be missing out on that special one. Also, like you, I got a bit of a shock in my thirties where in social situations all the men I was attracted to were never single or were highly ambivalent about relationships ( unlike my twenties) when it was just raining interesting single men!).
          So I had an online dating account which I dipped in o monthly with no great optimism and I continued to go out and about having a good time with also the hope of meeting a wonderful man. Didnt happen for more than three years until a year and a half ago when I got talking to a lovely man at a fundraiser and we’re in love and in a great relationship.Like you I loved being single and this relationship has made me feel that I’m not giving up or losing out on anything.
          It’s all luck and I would encourage you to put your energy into where you feel more comfortable.. those social occasions or perhaps friends of friends who might turn up a lovely man who’s single. Or maybe look for a niche dating site. Mainstream sites ( like Match. com didn’t work for me at all).
          All the best

    2. I think there are people who truly enjoy dating…I am not one of them. I ended up doing the online dating thing and it worked for me, but that was my first foray into actively looking for someone. I hear you on the wanting to up the chances of meeting someone awesome without doing the big scary dating thing. I have a lot of friends who have met their partners simply by happening to meet at shared activities. They were just going about their lives, involved in things they enjoyed doing (which it sounds like you are), and happened to bump into someone else who also enjoyed doing those same things. I don’t think avoiding actively looking for a partner necessarily means you will never find one.

      1. Yeah, I know exactly what you mean – I grew up in the UK and Australia, neither of which have a ‘dating culture’ per se, so the whole thing feels very alien to me – but it’s generally presented as the only way to meet someone when you’re my age (mid-thirties), which makes sense, as I so rarely meet single people any more, and at least dating would dramatically up the odds of that!

    3. Sometimes I enjoy the dating process. Sometimes I don’t, and that is a good time to not do it.

      I spent most of my life doing the serially monogamous thing, ending up dating whatever guy asked me out.
      I finally decided that I really needed to date around a bit and see what was out there. Online dating on OKCupid was where I started on that(mostly. There was one guy before that, but, I decided I needed a better filter). OKCupid lets me put my deal breakers out front, so that theoretically, if they read my profile(one should never assume this…), they would know that I am undergoing cancer treatment, and that I am poly. Already having this out there makes the first date less fraught with fraughtiness than it could be. We can talk about fun things, or deep things, or whatever, but, I don’t have to explain the poly or lack of hair.

      My standards have gone up, and I am more ok with saying, “This was fun! But, I don’t see you as an ongoing relationship.” It isn’t easy to say, but, I can do it now.

      I will never again get stuck in a default relationship due to one guy asking me out repeatedly and I guess we are dating now….

      1. Yeah, the ability to put your dealbreakers out front is one REALLY appealing thing about online dating! It’s weird; on paper, I can absolutely see the appeal of it. In practice…it fills me with mild horror. Oh dear.

    4. My thoughts are that the person I’m dating has to be worth giving up everything I like about being single. I think it’s fair to include the process of getting to that person in the first place. Who wants to kiss a lot of frogs on the off chance they might find a prince?

      1. This! My rubric was always “I have X amount of time and N social spoons this week. I can spend them doing things I know I enjoy with people I know I like, or I can spend [some of] them on getting to know this unknown quantity. Does he sound worth it?”

        …and when you put it that way, it’s amazing how few people are worth dating. (Which, for me, was a plus; a dating rubric that led to more dates would probably not have led to any more enjoyable dates. People who enjoy dating in general should probably not adopt this strategy.

        1. This is the rubric that I have tended to use in my occasional forays into online dating, and I have generally come up with 0 people at the end of its application! Oh dear. Which is what leads me to fret that perhaps I am not giving enough people a chaaaaaaance.

      2. Man, yes, that is EXACTLY how I feel about it too, and there is SO MUCH I love about being single. So much! And while I would love to meet someone who would take my already great life and amplify the greatness, it just seems like…so much work, you know?

        1. Thank you for saying it out loud! I also second the ‘feels like so much work’ thing. And being filled with dread at the idea of a combination of a Broadway audition+dental appt+job interview. Ugh. I am also a hearing-impaired introvert over the age of 40 who is only just now getting over my divorce 2 1/2 years ago. Am I pretty? Yes, to those who like my sort of thing. Am I smart? I do okay most days. Am I a gainfully employed homeowner with no children, grown or otherwise? You betcha! So, on paper, I should be sale-able, but the idea….just the idea, makes me flinch. But godspeed and good luck to those of you young and brave enough to give it a go.

    5. I’m fairly introverted, and prior to online dating, I’d had a 2 and a half year relationship a few years back. I was happy and satisfied being single (okay, kind of depressed after grad school, but that had nothing to do with dating status) and didn’t particularly feel the need to look for a partner. At the time, I think one or two friends mentioned meeting their SOs on OKCupid, and I was taking a break between grad school and job hunting, so I didn’t have much to do, and I guess I just decided I’d give the thing a try, with no expectations, and see where it went. Also, it was a way of getting myself out of the house.

      So… I wasn’t really looking forward to messaging people and meeting up, but I decided to think of it as a social experiment. If it worked, cool! If not, I would probably have a lot of very entertaining stories for my blog! Win-win! I probably messaged at least 5 people a day (see above re: lack of job) if not more, and I decided to cut down on social anxiety by not keeping track of who I messaged and messaging so many people that I couldn’t completely remember who’d gotten back to me and who hadn’t. Some friends also had the advice of treating it like a job.

      I went on about 8 dates in two weeks with 5 different people (possibly I took the treating it as a job thing too seriously!), some of which were painfully awkward! But one or two ended up in three-hour conversations, and one of those ended up with current partner of nearly two and a half years.

      Things that helped me a lot: thinking of it as a social experiment or a weird temporary hobby, thinking of it as a generator for amusing blog posts (locked!), thinking of it as a way for me to figure out what I was looking for in someone (I had originally thought I just needed someone who got social justice or at least was willing to learn, but realized that being geeky or understanding geekiness was pretty important to me too), and thinking of it as an attempt to level up social skills and get out of the house. It was really good for me to have goals/expectations that did not depend on actually finding someone I wanted to date, because then the entire thing was a win, as opposed to only being satisfied with a result that I couldn’t control anyway.

      1. I do think the only way it would work for me would be to approach it in the same way as you did – treating it like a game or a job! I’m very glad it worked out so well for you. 😀

      2. Yep, I thought of it as social practice of sorts– I have lots of anxiety around one on one conversations, and I used to especially (as a straight woman) have tons of anxiety around one on one conversations with men, especially men I found attractive. And that’s exactly what dating is. And I really do think it helped with my anxiety and my social skills (along with zoloft and therapy, that is– that wasn’t my only anxiety treatment!), and was a good low-stakes lab for practicing social skills, and plus I got to meet some cool people (and some not-so-cool people, but that was good practice in other ways), and explore cool bars and restaurants and whatnot in a city that I was at the time very new to.

        And my current boyfriend is someone I met online, although our online dating to relationship path was a bit curvier than the standard one– he lived in my hometown, we met online when I was spending a summer at home, and we were long-distance fuckbuddies for a few years before we both realized we really wanted to be long-distance girlfriend and boyfriend and then that we wanted to be short-distance girlfriend and boyfriend and now he’s in the next room of our shared apartment playing Starcraft as I type this.

    6. I far prefer dating to being in a relationship, because I’ve got a lot going on, and I like my alone time, and for getting together to have a time limit that’s pretty fixed. So dating is great for me, because dates are planned in advance, to do a thing for an amount of time and then stop and I can go home and cuddle my cats. Not because I don’t like being on the date, but because I can only do people for so long. relationship having in my experience, is less structured, and people get upset by the whole ‘alone time’ thing (and also the, sorry, I’m not especially interested in sex thing!).

      Plus, I like the flirting and the hand holding and the kissing and the does-she-like-me, what’s going to happen next, can we snuggle stuff that comes with dating 🙂

      1. Ha, I’d never thought of it like that but you’re right, dating is much less of a time commitment than being in a relationship! Which makes it sound more appealing… 🙂

    7. There are times when I enjoy dating, and times when it feels draining to me. I’ve gone through periods when it felt like every person I met was either not into me, or I wasn’t into them. Lately I’ve met a couple of blokes who seem nice and who I’d like to hang out with more. I’m poly so I’m always theoretically available for dating, and I find that as I am poly and fat, the internet is probably the best place for me to find the intersection of that Venn diagram of men who are into poly, fat women.

      I’ve only in the past few years been able to let go of that thought: “Is this the date where I will meet my soul mate?” I don’t believe in soul mates any more, but also, I’ve really amended my hopes for a first date. These days when I meet someone for the first time, I hope that we will like each other enough to hang out more, and that neither of us will behave like douchebags.

  9. LW, I am SO feeling you on this because this was me about a year and a half ago. I, too, had a lot on my plate: full-time job, grad school, etc. but still wanted a relationship. The odds are that there is someone else out there who may be in a similar situation or may be willing to take a relationship pretty slowly to start, which would work with your availability constraints. I ended up in a fantastic relationship with a woman with who respected my time and to whom I ended up getting engaged.

    I believe that one of the things that helped me to find a someone good was to be very clear and open in my profile. I stated that I was very busy with work and school and that I wanted to take things slowly (I was also uncomfortable with sexual relationships at that time). Because I am also fat, I stated my pants size in my profile and gave explicit instructions that anyone having a problem with the size of my body could simply move on without contacting me. I don’t know how helpful this would be with the gender thing or how comfortable you are disclosing it to random strangers on the internet, but it could be something to think about…I think it’s a good way to weed out the ones you wouldn’t want to waste your time with anyway.

    I also wanted to say WORD to the Captain’s point on not putting up with people who act entitled to your time. This is a red flag and a signal of disrespect. This is your life and you get to decide how and with whom to spend your time.

  10. One of the things I found helpful in my own adventures in online dating (OKCupid style) was being very open and honest in my profile. Like you, LW, I had a lot going on between full-time work and graduate school, but I still wanted a relationship. I also wanted to take things very slowly due to also being uncomfortable with sexual relationships. I stated right out in my profile that I am a busy person and I wanted to take things slowly. Because I am fat, I also stated my pant size in my profile with explicit instructions that anyone having a problem with the size of my body could simply navigate away from my profile without contacting me. I’m not sure how effective it would be with the gender thing or how comfortable you are disclosing that to random strangers on the internet with your picture attached, but I found it was at least a good way to weed out the people I didn’t want to waste my time with (Got a few messages accusing me of being defensive about my size and then attempting to engage me in flirting…no time for those shenanigans and no use interacting further with those individuals).

    Also, WORD to the Captain’s point on not putting up with people who act entitled to your time. If your availability doesn’t work for someone, they need to find a way to deal if they want to be with you or simply acknowledge that it isn’t going to work and bow out. If they act whiny and entitled and demand that you give up important things for them, this is a huge red flag. This is your life and you get to spend your time how and with whom you choose.

    1. I put my fatness in my profile in both words and pictures. Words: “I am fat. Google “Beth Ditto naked” and subtract the tattoos for a fairly accurate representation of what I have going on. If you’re not into that, cool! Be picky! I am not that into smokers*, dudes with ponytails, or people who say “liberry.””

      *There are always exceptions, as my dude is a smoker. But I’m not INTO them or that aspect.

        1. Valentime’s Day, ekspecially, excape, expresso, fidollers.
          All of these are things I am not into.

    2. Ugh, sorry about the double post…I thought the internet ate my first one. Feel free to delete (I can’t figure out how?)!

  11. a) Everything everyone has said! I agree with all of it.

    b) But, note of caution: there are going to be people who suck. Trolls and haters abound in every area of life, even (though I won’t say especially) in the online dating. People whose best way of communicating that they don’t want to see or talk to you anymore is going silent are bad enough, but people who are charming and conversational and *arrange a meetup* and then block you before you’ve had a chance to meet up are worse, and people who arrange a meetup and then say hurtful things and *then* block you are worse yet. But listen: it doesn’t mean the format is flawed. It means that there is literally nowhere on earth, physical or virtual, that is guaranteed to be free of assholes. IT’S NOT YOU. IT’S THEM.

    My own success story involves blah blah various unsuccesses and then two scheduled dates in one week. The second scheduled one was the one who, having initiated communication and been witty and pleasant for a couple of days, suggested we meet and scheduled it and then came back on the day of the first scheduled date of the week with some really obnoxious responses involving some of my answers to the OKC multiple-choice questions and set his account not to accept my reply (which was “Fuck you too, then”, so it didn’t really matter if it got through or not). So I went to what was now the only scheduled date of the week in a rotten mood, and the dude I was meeting misjudged his travel time and arrived about thirty seconds before my personal window of fuck it if I’m getting stood up I’m going home.

    And a shade less than two years later we’re living together and the big life-decisiony things, as Zooey called them upthread, are a matter of when rather than if.

    Moral of the story: there will, as I said, always be jerks. I urge you not to let an online jerk affect your opinion of the whole online population any more than an analog jerk would affect your opinion of the whole out-here population. There’s also gold.

    1. Could not agree more. If someone is rude or a troll or contacts you too much or makes you uncomfortable in any way, skip directly to the BLOCK button without a second thought.

      1. And if they block you, even when you weren’t rude or trolly or contacting them too much or whatever, then anh – you’re not the one for them and they’re not worth any more of your time or brain cells.

    2. Yeah you’re gonna get people who contact you for no reason other than to be assholes. Just remember, it doesn’t actually matter what you look like, what your hobbies are, etc. They just wanted something to pick on you for.

      1. Oooooh boy, yes! Keep in mind this happens to EVERYONE who dates online, and it really is not about you (even if it feels personal). I once had a guy contact me specifically to say “Well, I would never date anyone who is [my religion].” He then proceeded to attempt to engage me in a discussion of why all of my religious beliefs are horrible and wrong! Of course, I got sucked in and wasted a couple hours arguing with him…try hard not to do this…just delete and block. (Easier said than done!)

        1. A dude once messaged me on OKC demanding that I prove to him that feminism was not a CIA plot. That was the entire message. It was his first message to me.

          Then there was the dude who was old enough to be my father who listed Triumph of the Will as his favorite movie. “Elderly Nazi sympathizer” was not on my list of desirable qualities.

          All true stories.

          1. I only did online dating briefly, but:
            1. I wrote on my profile that I am a progressive and a hippie. A guy asked me why. I told him a bunch of my beliefs, including that I believe all people are beautiful even if they don’t fit into society’s standards. He messaged me back to tell me that fat people are “unnatural, unhealthy, and gross.” Note: I didn’t even MENTION fat people. They were included, obviously, in “all people,” but they didn’t have to be the focus. Block.
            2. A guy who I talked with for a week or so was pretty incessant when it came to texting me, to the point that I felt I had to let him know when I’d be away from my phone for a while. I told him I was meeting with my therapist, and his response was “can I come?”…and then he got offended when I said no. Uh dude, we haven’t even met in person yet. And I didn’t let my long-term college boyfriend visit my therapist with me. Oy. I never went out with him.

          2. I hope you messaged the first dude back saying ‘You have 5 minutes to pack your bags and leave the house before the masked hitwomen arrive.’ *g*

          3. @Cactus

            Why would anyone ask to come to your therapist with you? This is thousand miles over the boundary, not simply crossing it. What the fucking hell.

          4. What made me think of it in the first place, was this dude who messaged me on a site where I’d specifically listed that I was married, new in the area, and looking to meet some activity friends. He messaged me just to tell me “all the poly people are going to hit on you.” Which… hadn’t happened, but he looked like a neat person on his profile so I messaged him back cheerfully.

            He got madder and madder at my replies saying he seemed like a neat guy and really smart! and ended up blocking ME. He really really wanted to pick that fight.

    3. It can be fun to get a chance to practice your kick-the-troll-to-the-curb moves. I got an OKCupid message once from a guy who must have read “The Game” one too many times — he, significantly younger, told me, “Your clock has you on lots of activities,” and I assume by “clock” he meant biological clock (ah yes, of course, I’m the desperate single lady who only pursues hobbies to try to meet dudes). He then criticized my taste in movies.

      I replied by pointing out his three most egregious grammar mistakes, and then hit block.

      1. Yes! One of the most fun parts of online dating was getting and laughing hysterically at the ridiculous asshole troll messages from douchebags. In fact, that’s the primary reason I have not deleted my account despite being in a happy long-term relationship, and I still check it every once in a while just for the LOLs. (Best OKC troll-bait: Talking about feminism in your profile. Bonus is that it’s also good for filtering the good guys– if you’re into guys– out from the douchebags).

  12. One of the really spectacular things about the Internets is that it takes the pressure off, both for you and for them. It’s very difficult to fall into the Last Person on Earth trap when you can see very, very clearly that they are not.

  13. I can’t emphasize enough: Meet people quickly in a safe setting. I know a lot of people are all about the get to know each other business, but I had a whole lot of people who wanted to chatchatchat but did not actually want to meet in person (although they said they did, they would not make a date). What was their problem? No idea. Whatever it was, it stopped being my problem.

    I was looking for a person in the offline universe, and if a gentleman could not meet me there, we were not meant to be.

    1. It’s a lot like the job-search process, in a way, isn’t it. If you can’t ever get an interview on the calendar, there are a lot of ways that’s not going to be the job for you.

    2. OK here’s the thing: I need weeks to months to feel ready to meet someone in person.

      I’m uncomfortable with the pressure being exerted in the post and the comments that you HAVE to meet in person and do it OMG RIGHT AWAY or you’re doing it wrong. No. For some of us that’s not an option. If that’s what you want, that’s cool, but please stop making it out like everyone has to do this.

      1. The post also says “do whatever you want at whatever pace you want to feel comfortable.”

        If that works for you and is what you need, then do it! The right person will get it and want to be invested in emailing a lot before meeting. Someone who gets bored or frustrated because you won’t meet up isn’t going to be your jam.

        For me, personally, emailing for weeks/months before meeting turned out to be a terrible idea whenever it happened. That’s how I got involved with Darth Vader & other situations where the e-flirting was amazing and there were long emails and phone calls and so much promise but the attraction or promise did not hold up once we met in person. It is my opinion that meeting sooner rather than later is a good idea, because in my opinion the clock restarts once you are actually in the same place at the same time, especially on that first meeting. My opinion isn’t based on judging you or trying to make you feel like crap, it’s based on some bad experiences the way your opinion of what you should do is based on your own expertise on your own life.

        Present an alternate picture of why this is important to you and why maybe the LW shouldn’t agree! But don’t get mad at us for having strong opinions that conflict with your strong opinion.

        1. “don’t get mad at us for having strong opinions that conflict with your strong opinion”.

          Work context is off topic, but this mantra is really useful from me at the moment.
          Thank you ! And apologies for going off topic.

      2. I hear you, but there’s no reason that can’t be said. You’re uncomfortable meeting in person right away and you want someone who can respect that: cool. I think a lot of the people who want to meet soon (and I am one of those people) are reacting that way because we have experienced the phenomenon of the person who emails and emails and emails and never wants to meet after months, but never addresses the situation explicitly so we’re just kind of left going “huh?” If someone said after the first email or two “hey, I like to take my time before meeting in person; here’s what I expect” that would be really helpful and I would likely be cool with it if the other things were working. It’s the vague silence around the topic that’s so frustrating.

      3. I’m sorry if my phrasing made it seem like I was prescribing a way you should feel, drst. That wasn’t my intention at all. I could have been clearer: I don’t think there’s anything wrong at all with needing time before feeling comfortable about meeting someone in person. What I object to is when, once both parties have agreed they’d like to meet, one of them dicks around and never actually commits to a time and place to do this ostensible meeting. That’s the phantom-job-interview situation that would have me saying Okay, then, I guess we’re not right for each other after all.

        1. Yes, this, 1000 times this!

          Need what you need. Do what’s comfortable. Be up front about it.

          1. Aaand the Captain for a WIN with a motto to be stitched upon pillows everywhere, for all time! Excellent, excellent way to put it.

  14. I think this is awesome advice! The one thing I would REALLY emphasize is to keep your expectations low at the messaging and first date stage. I think more than “got introduced by friends” or “met through a club” type dating, most people view online dating as pretty low-stakes and as such often drop off the map/stop responding to messages/etc. Because you don’t know this person in real life, you have no idea if it’s because they lost interest, or because they lost their job or got sick and therefore don’t have the energy to follow up on a dating website, or because they met the love of their life last night! So, keep your investment low until you’ve had a date or two and have really formed a true connection.

    I would quibble with one piece of information here. When I did online dating, I NEVER gave out my full real name, real email address or phone number – I always communicated through the dating site only until meeting in person. I simply didn’t feel safe giving out this type of info (which would allow someone to stalk me if so inclined) without making sure that the person really was who they appeared to be in the pictures and making sure I didn’t get a creepy vibe from them in person. I feel pretty good about this decision because I did run into a weird dude at one point who got creepy after we agreed to meet up – I was really glad I could simply cancel the date and block him rather than knowing he had all my personal info and would be able to Google me.

    Since I was not willing to give out this info, I did not ask it of anyone else. My feeling was that as long as we met in a public place, I was no more in danger than I would be from a random person on the street deciding to kill me – i.e. yes, this person could theoretically shoot me in a Starbucks or attempt to kidnap me from an In-n-Out burger, but so could anyone else, and I don’t spend my time freaking out about that. I would definitely have a friend know where I was going and would text them at an appointed time after the date.

    Obviously your mileage may vary on all this, but just another view on safety in online relationships (and a thought about why those you contact might be looking out for their own safety if they don’t want to share this info before meeting you and figuring out that YOU are really who you say you are).

    1. Thank you, Sarah, for eloquently expressing a point of view I share.
      Like Aunt Vixen, I use a separate e-mail.

    2. Seconded (or Third-ed) on the separate email addy! (Especially since my primary one is my full name.) I even go as far as to have a Google Voice # that I give out instead of my cell #.

  15. I always feel, well, awkward commenting on these dating threads because I’m 36 and married to a woman I met when I was eighteen years old. I’ve really never been in the “dating world” so I don’t know what it’s like. At all.

    However, there is one relevant thing I can tell you which is that if you have chemistry with someone, it will shine through no matter whether you are too busy or focused on your studies or, just hypothetically, both married to someone else and completely uninterested in starting a romantic relationship

    So go out and meet people as you are and if you meet someone you want to fit into your life, you figure it out together when you get to that point. Our brains have a lot of shortcomings but one thing they are pretty effective at (for good and for ill) is grabbing the wheel and saying “THAT ONE!!! THAT ONE!!!”

    1. I am 37 and dating someone seriously for the first time in my life, and this is also my experience. I spent a lot of time second-guessing my I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it approach to chemistry, wondering if I might not be the sort of person who needs to know someone for a long time to develop a romantic interest, wondering if I needed to give people a chance to grow on me instead of one date to impress me–

      And it turns out, No. I did, in fact, know it when I saw it, and the chemistry was pretty hard to miss. It wasn’t that I was being overly picky, it was that the sort of person I like romantically and pantswise is just kind of rare.

  16. I’ve JUST started to dip my toe in the OkCupid waters, and I don’t know maybe I’m being a dick, but if someone I’m chatting with hasn’t proposed a meetup after five or six messages and I’m not really feeling it, I just drop off and stop contacting them. I mean, it feels presumptuous to say ‘no, thanks’ before anything has been asked, you know? Is that terrible? I don’t want to just shoot the shit forever, I got things to do.

    I agree with sarah above too. Someone asked me to text prior to suggesting a meetup and I said no. Not only did I not want him to have my number, it felt pretty pointless to me. If it doesn’t work in person, no amount of texting is going to create chemistry. So I suggested the meetup and we did it and we both kind of went ‘meh’ I think. I wrote him a couple days later and was all ‘thanks, that was fun’ and he basically replied with ‘same here’ and that was that. So far I’ve stuck with first names too. Someone I went on a friend date with gave me his full name so I could Google if I wanted to, but I didn’t give out my last name. Gotta stick with my comfort level.

    The whole thing is SO WEIRD, right LW? I totally feel you on that. I think keeping it VERY low expectations is totally the way. I got a first message from someone almost 15 years my junior the other day that was just a coffee invitation. He seemed sweet & his pictures were cute so I wrote back and didn’t straight up say yes, but indicated that I would consider it. No response back from him. Oh, well! On to the next, lol.

    I do find myself wanting to talk about it all the time, but I know it annoys my friends and there are fully one million online dating blogs out there so I don’t quite know where to put all my FEELINGS about it. So here are some for you guys! You’re welcome. 🙂

    (ETA: Third try’s the charm?)

  17. I went on one date via OKCupid. I thought it went okay. There was no chemistry to speak of, but we had some reasonably nice conversations, and I thought she was somebody I wouldn’t mind having as a friend if friendship was on offer. (And if it wasn’t, at least I had gotten the experience of trying a new thing. And it was a good Ethiopian restaurant, so there was that.) Except at the end she wanted to know why I was so uncomfortable and disliked her so much. Which was totally not the case, but apparently that’s what people think when you don’t make eye contact at all. And seeing that I could be so wrong about how a date was going really hit me like a gut punch. So I’ve mostly given up on online dating, although I still keep my profile around, and message somebody once in a blue moon. I may have qualities that would make me a reasonably good partner for someone, (or I may not — the evidence is mixed) but someone who doesn’t already know me is going to see the eye contact problem first and not get to the rest of it. (There is the option of just saying, “Hi, I’m an Aspie! Here’s what to expect!” and I have in fact edited my profile to basically do so. It’s not much of a selling point though.)

    1. I realize you didn’t ask for any advice, so I apologize if I’m sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong. As someone who makes very little eye contact, though, I’ve found that it helps when going out with someone I don’t know to pick an activity where we’re not sitting right across the table from each other, which can emphasize the fact that I’m not looking right at them. Picking the counter seats at a restaurant, for instance.

    2. Personally, I’m appreciative when people tell me about those sorts of things. It’s not a selling point; you’re not a product. It just *is*.

      I am a atheist feminist kinky poly disabled introvert and it is in my interest to put that up-front so I don’t waste the time of monogamous vanilla Catholic extroverts who don’t want the same sorts of things I do (but rock on, monogamous vanilla Catholic extroverts).

  18. Yes, yes, yes to not feeling obligated to message everyone back for any reason or no reason or just because you don’t want to. When I first started online dating — back in the days when I was dealing with some GAY IN A SMALL TOWN FOREVER ALONE — I responded to everyone, even the people who I knew I wasn’t going to click with and the people who gave me ooky vibes that I couldn’t really explain.

    It led to some seriously awkward reply threads and me feeling even more terrible, because clearly if I couldn’t make connections with any of these people, then I was destined for relationship failure and was better off quitting all people forever. Once I started giving myself permission to not be nice and available to everyone who contacted me, I started meeting way more people that I clicked with and liked and the whole experience became much more positive.

  19. Thanks for this, especially the encouragement to take a break if burnt out (I think I am right now) and that it’s doable even if you’re a “no sex until much later” person. I mean, I know those things really but it’s nice to see it backed up. It’s not that long ago that I tried to be a sex-on-the-third date person because I thought I had to be …and that caused me to ignore a lot of things my instincts were screaming at me… and add into the bargain that the man I was seeing was actually very invested in ignoring what I wanted too… bad things happened. ANYWAY. It’s also nice to read stories of online dating success and that perhaps finding someone terrifyingly amazing isn’t just an energy-wasting lost cause

  20. Congrats on #500 of awesomeness!

    I dip into online dating every now and then bit it’s thin pickings in my semi-rural area. Got a message the other day: “Hey there,wow, a woman who knows who she is and what she wants out of life… I didn’t know they had those on the Internet…it’s nice to meet a kindred spirit. So how is your day so far?”

    Huh, and when in my profile it says feminist right up front, you somehow translate that into thinking that dissing all the wonderful intelligent independent women on the internet … is going to get into my pants. No sirree.

  21. LW, I have so many of your same issues. Busy life. Really scared and very inexperienced. I get frightened off at the drop of a hat by the OMG this will take over my LIFE thought. I don’t know if this would help you, but it helped me: I approached online dating with a primary and a secondary goal. The primary was to meet people while requiring myself to be honest and explicit when I did not want to do something. If I didn’t want to hug someone, I had to take a step back and say “I’d rather not hug,” rather than allow it when they went in for it. You get the idea. This rule was obviously cast aside if there was safety issues. I was awkward, I was sometimes rude, and sometimes feelings got hurt.

    But by making that my primary goal, to learn the skills, and giving myself permission to fumble my way through hurt feelings and enforcing my boundaries so that I could learn the ways to do it better, rather than BUILD RELATIONSHIPS and MAKE THE OTHER PERSON FEEL COMFORTABLE, I was able to get around a lot of my blocks and learn a lot of better skills. I met nice people. I became a person who is much more ready and capable of being in a relationship. I’m still awkward and inexperienced, and single but….I’m less scared. I know more of how to handle things when the right person comes, and I know more of what is right and wrong for me and how to communicate that. And somehow, I become a much more enjoyable person to go on a date with when I wasn’t spending the whole time worrying about potential things they might try that I wouldn’t like (he might try to hold my hand while walking, quick find pockets! I don’t have pockets! Take off coat and carry it over your hands! But it’s COLD!) and become the person who enjoyed the walk, talks freely and said “No thanks, it throws off my stride” if someone picks up my hand.

    1. Wow, I really like this idea! I think this may be helpful for me. Viewing a date as a rehearsal/studying/practice session would totally take the pressure off, while building dating (and also General Human Social Creature) skills.

    2. This is how I approach dating now, especially once it starts to feel good and I start TOTALLY overthinking it (person likes me! must do whatever it takes to not lose person!).

      My secret mantra is, “I care more about being myself than about this person liking me.” Now I say the thing I actually think when I would have normally give a noncommittal answer, or say, “Let’s take a break from [sexy activity] and watch an episode of anime,” “I’m tired and want to stay home and read tonight, let’s hang out tomorrow night,” so on and so forth.

      The funny thing is that now I end up dating people who REALLY like the nerdychubbyqueerpunk who I actually am, and I find out really quickly who’s not right for me. Whereas before my relationships used to sort of balance on this precipice of “I have made myself so charmingly banal that I’m impossible to object to, so people are neither able to dislike or fully like me and we never actually connect on any meaningful level.” Which mean I dated a lot of dicks to whom I was “good enough” and missed my chance with a lot of really cool people who wanted to date the person I was but was never willing to show them.

      1. “I have made myself so charmingly banal that I’m impossible to object to, so people are neither able to dislike or fully like me and we never actually connect on any meaningful level.”

        OMG this is me. The banal person is my work persona (where it serves me very well) but I’ve done it for so long now I can’t switch it off. Eeep! I must try your mantra. Maybe I can break the habit.

  22. Oh LW I feel your anxieties. I’ve avoided the whole online dating thing myself, mostly because I’m extremely sensitive to how people smell, and resent that you can’t filter potential dates online by it. I’ve been known to bail on otherwise very lovely nerdy wonderful people because they haven’t ‘smelled right’ (as in, let’s be friends, but no getting in my bloodhound zone.)
    But AnonymousGuy and Ellen Fremedon are right! When the chemistry (and/or frendistry) is there, it’s like slipping over on the banana peel of awesome. You don’t miss it. If you start reaching out even in a very minimal way, the chances of finding someone who is your banana peel of awesome increase. And the Captain has pretty much all the advice on how to do it as safely as possible. I wish you many awesome banana peels, and people who smell lovely.

    1. Omigosh, the smell thing. I always thought it was just in my mind or something. I remember trying to overcome my better judgement (and sense of smell) to try and date my best friend. (It wasn’t like he smelled bad or something, just…wrong in a romantic situation.) It did not work out, romantically. Still my bff though.

      It’s good to know that it happens to other people too. And yeah, seems like another good reason to meet in person sooner rather than later if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing. Physical chemistry is important.

  23. A bit of advice* I’ve been given: it is okay if you meet someone who is nice, respectful, looks like what you want to look at, shares your interests, has , and even etc, but…. you don’t like them. Or you hate them. Or you liked them during the date, but once it was over lost all interest (this is my dating MO… frustrating! When did I become so untrustworthy?!). But it’s okay! There are more people on the dating site that I haven’t met yet! I will not shrivel up and die if I don’t find a partner today (or ever)! There is no timer counting down on a bomb that I can only stop once I’ve gone on a second date!

    I’ve been taking a break from online dating, and as I started to read this blog post, I started to feel anxious and sweaty. But as I continued reading the advice, and all these lovely comments, I’m feeling encouraged and I think I will get back on the horse 🙂 You’ve all given this introvert a socializing spoon to spend on dating. Thank you!

    *DISCLAIMER: although my brain believes this advice, and knows it’s logical, my feelings don’t seem to be getting the message, and want me to have a Reason for not continuing to see someone, so then I feel guilty. But my brain knowing is still helpful, so I wanted to share in case it helps someone else!

  24. Woah with the timing, Captain! 😀 I just finally got around to creating an account at a dating website, though I’ve had a busy week and cold… tepid feet? So I haven’t actually added a description or photos yet. But I will, and I’m sure I’ll come back and read this post and the comments many many times when I do.

    (Having a slightly hard time taking seriously any of the dudes who’ve written letters to my empty profile, though. Really, you’re interested in someone you know nothing about besides asl?)

  25. I feel like I may’ve sleep-posted that.

    Just the other day, after my account was dormant for awhile, I got an OKCupid message. Honestly, I’m usually too shy (or uninterested) to even respond. And this guy lives across the country from me. But he’s cute and his message was interesting, so I thought, “yeah, I’ll respond to that later.” And then I decided to take that baby step and just sat down and wrote back and fired it off before I could think about it.

    We’ve had a little back-and-forth. I don’t think there’s really anything there (he’s not much of a geek+distance), but–and maybe this’ll sound shallow–I gave myself permission to “practice” on him. He’s far away and the messages have been more of the “getting to know you” than anything romantic, and it’s nice and non-nerve-wracking (or less nerve-wracking than usual).

    And even if he didn’t work out, it got me back to the site and looking up people.

    Take the baby step. And if it helps, think of it as “practice”–you don’t lose at practice.

    (Also, LW, I feel you. I’m not ace, but I’m not comfortable with sex, especially as early as many people seem to be, and while I identify as cis, I tend to take a more masculine role in most relationships, and that’s…hard to express on a dating site.)

    Best of luck to you! Baby steps!

  26. Have to say, reading CA really caused a lot of things to click for me in this realm, and caused some things to gel that I kind of knew but didn’t know were okay to think. I no longer feel like I have to respond to every guy who seems nice. I no longer feel like I need to make myself feel attracted to someone who’s attracted to me because hey, who else will, I’m a weird-looking lady after all. I understand that if I’m really interested in someone, it’s better to NOT let email trails go on and on and then find that I don’t have any interest in them in person (YES, this has happened more than once). Most importantly, I have learned that a) both people have to be into it, and b) I’m not a failure with something wrong if I have a number of dates that go “meh.” It’s NORMAL to not really click. That was huge for me to realize. I used to beat myself up for not feeling chemistry, even though I went on very few dates!

  27. “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. ”


    I’ve done a lot of online dating myself, and I always encourage an early meet up. I’ve had way too many issues of waiting too long and then finding out in person they are completely different than they are online. It’s too difficult to figure out completely when words-on-a-screening it.

    Met two long term partners online (one two-year and one five-year next week). I’ve also met some awesome friends online as well. I’ve also met some crazy people online. (Some dude who decided to shave his head in my bathroom and told me to save the hair for “DNA purposes”. And that’s just the beginning. Granted he seemed normal at first, the craziness came out a little bit later.)

    Sometimes it involves getting out of your comfort zone. However, you do have to be safe and not put yourself any any situation that makes you too uncomfortable or unsafe.

    Good luck out there!

  28. I met my boyfriend on OkCupid and we’ve been together for 2 years. He is the most amazing person. Quite a few of my friends have met online and I really recommend it – I had some good dates (that went nowhere but were still fun).

    If nothing else I miss answering the questions on OkCupid. It’s fun answering and explaining choices sometimes!

    1. I saw there was a question on that site “which is bigger, the earth or the sun?” And I was like wtf why is that even a question.

      Then I saw how many people answered it wrong and I was like oh. That’s why.

  29. Thanks, this was quite illuminating.

    I tried online dating and went on one date (that was pleasant enough though I don’t think it would have gone any further), but I was going through other issues at the time and still recovering from an awful prior relationship, and the sheer NUMBER of messages I got from prospective dates really put the wind up me. I’m not just talking about the weird fat fetishists either (though there were a few haha). I wound up doing a Smash Cut to Black rather than a slow fade because I was so sick of the constant messaging and pressure to return correspondence and 😦 emoticons when I took longer than three hours to reply. I work, people! Not to mention the ones who clearly didn’t read my profile, oy…

    I was going to submit a question about it to be honest, cos I felt like I must have been doing something horribly wrong if Captain Awkward and co are so positive about online dating… but I’ve already realised it may just be the way I approached the situation and my personal preferences. I’m so comfortable on the internet and using internet personas, I might’ve put forward a more confident come-get-me attitude than I felt in reality. Not to put the blame on myself entirely, but if I meet people in person, an About Me that I have to relate off the top of my head verbally will give a them more accurate idea of what I’m looking for! And clearer directions on not asking me my bra size first off. 😡

    I’m looking for new activities to meet people in-person for now and if I happen to find a date during these, super. But if I try OKC again, I’ll keep this advice in mind.

    1. Being female on an internet dating site is enough to get you more messages than the guys get.
      Waaaaay more messages. No kidding here.
      I got tired of all the messages too, and many(sooooo very many…) were “hi how r u lik ur pix” in way too many spelling configurations. I dealt with it in a few ways.
      One, I put a message in the first paragraph of my profile that said that “hi how r u lik ur pix” in ANY spelling configuration was my least favorite pick up line, ever. Then I decided that anyone who couldn’t even read that far, I could just delete the message and not reply. I was obviously not compatable and there was no need to reply just to be nice. I don’t need them to like me, and it is better if they don’t!
      Two, I discovered that many guys take a shotgun approach to messaging. That is, they write one message, and then copy and paste it to EVERY girl they are messaging. Often, they don’t even look past the picture before they send it. So….I felt better about deleting any message that didn’t directly mention something in my profile. Again. I don’t need everyone and every stranger on the site to like me. I just need to meet a few, really compatable folk.
      Three, when I am really NOT in the mood for messages, but, don’t feel like taking the profile down completely, then I make the first picture that shows up (the one that most people see if they don’t go to the profile itself and click through all the pictures) the most unattractive but real one that I have: hair not showing, no makeup, very straightforward and not flirty at all.
      I still get messages. I still respond to the people who I think actually read my profile AND give me some conversational hook to play with. The formula that the Captain gives is a winner. I am still amazed that people think that “Hi, how are you?” is enough to start a conversation with. That is a rote hello ritual, not a conversation*.

      *(Hi, how are you? Fine, thanks, and you?= rote, boring, pass someone in the halls ritual. )

      1. Yes, this. Although I’d also like to add that you should not feel guilty about deleting or ignoring any message on an online dating site, for any reason whatsoever, or for no reason at all. Respond when you feel like it. Ignore when you don’t. People (read: dudes. I haven’t dated ladies but I’m pretty sure they do this a lot less) who give you shit about not replying to them are not worth your time anyway.

  30. My totally unsolicited online dating advice: Board games. And ice cream. (Or frozen yogurt. Or cupcakes or coffee or hot chocolate.)

    Seriously, a deck of cards or an easy-to-learn board game (or a more complex one, if you’re both gamers) makes for a wonderful first in-person-from-online date.

    For one, it takes nearly all the pressure off. The pressure to CLICK IMMEDIATELY, to make perfect small talk, to never let there be silence (which is natural in conversation but somehow ALL THE AWKWARD on early dates), to immediately decide if you’re interested in romance or friendship… it’s especially nice if either/both of you are the reserved/awkward type who are slow to come out of your shells. Second, it gives you something tangible to do, together, that still provides opportunity for chat, that can last as long or short as you like. Finally, even if the date doesn’t go great, you just spent an hour chilling over a board game rather than an hour feeling uncomfortable on a wasted date.

    This was my strategy for success (combined with a lot of the other advice mentioned above), and it gave me an overall positive experience with online dating. I had a good number of dates that ever went beyond one, of varying degrees of enjoyment but none really terrible. A couple turned into friends I gamed with occasionally. And a couple I clicked with and ended up dating for a while. And I got to side-step a lot of awkward small talk!

    1. This is great advice. I have been thinking about giving up on the whole dating business just because I don’t enjoy small talk and the whole pressure thing at all. I have a miserable time even if there is intense physical chemistry (and now I’m not even talking about online dating, but a date I once went on with a guy I had been flirting with for quite a while, who, while dreamy looking, was just a chore to converse with for me).

      What I have been pondering is if there is any way to do something that is cooperative instead of competitive. I went on one date where we brought marbles to play with and that was kind of fun (because I won and the marbles were pretty in the sunlight) and it took the pressure off a bit, but I’m quite competitive which isn’t really the best thing to start off with when meeting new people. Cooperation, however, I find is an excellent way to examine if we could make a good match, while also taking the pressure off. This works sooo well in non-date situations, but how can it be incorporated in dating? Can it? Any suggestions?

      1. I’d suggest a collaborative game, such as Forbidden Island or Pandemic, where you have to work together to win against the board/game, which is evil and trying to beat you (everyone wins or everyone loses). You could also try games that are competitive but without direct interaction (Race for the Galaxy, Dominion without the attack cards?) or games that have a winner, but are mostly random and really more of a background thing to fidget with (Kittens in a Blender, Fluxx?).

        Alternatively, you could try competitive games with heavy interaction, as a filter. Most of these games have strategies that are douchebag-competitive or strategies that are more collaborative (maximize your own good while maximizing others) but still focused on each trying to win (Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne… both are medium-heavy, so I’d only suggest if you are both into gaming… I can’t think of a super light game like this.) This is a bit more sink or swim, but if someone who is more collaborative and less competitive is what you’re looking for, this might make a good filtering tool. =) (For me, it was a filtering tool of “Do they seem to “go easy” and “let me win” or do they seem to be actually playing competitively even if it’s in a collaborative way? I see “letting me win” as a red flag for disrespect/not taking me seriously, so it was a good filter for me.)

        There are a lot more games in each of these categories. Board Game Geek is a good place to explore further–you can look by category or look up the ones I suggested and use the functionality that find similar ones.

        Good luck!

  31. It’s been a long time since I did online dating, but here are my takeaways.

    1. It was enjoyable for me because I kept my expectations low. Here was an interesting opportunity to meet some people I wouldn’t have otherwise met, and to see how good people are at representing themselves on paper. I only ended up dating one guy I met through Match.com, and that was fine. Zero would’ve been okay too.

    2. In my experience, meeting somebody after corresponding in e-mail was a little awkward even if we hadn’t been corresponding very long. My brain interpreted Guy Online and Guy Sitting Across From Me as entirely separate people, and I had trouble convincing it otherwise. The trick to getting through that was to just let it be awkward, and not feel awkward about it being awkward.

    3. If there’s no chemistry, it’s not necessary to say so unless the other person asks you or expresses interest in you.

  32. Oof, this comment is way too late, but does anyone have any advice for how to avoid/what to do with Only Friend types? I’ve been meeting pretty much exclusively really, really lonely people on OKC, and the amount of pressure they’re putting on dating as their main social outlet is just – bumming me way out. This culminated recently in dating a girl for a couple of weeks who I really, really liked on a casual-dating level, but I wound up feeling guilty and terrible all the time because I felt like she was glomming onto me like a life preserver. I really want dating to be a thing that I do, but is internet dating pretty much dooming me to only meeting people whose IRL social networks have broken down?

  33. This thread came just at the right time for me (even though I’m coming to it kind of late). It helped me get together the courage to send a message to the person I went on a date with last night and say that I’m not interested in dating. I hate telling someone that, especially when they are actually really cool, which this guy is. It’s almost impossible to do in person, and then once I’ve failed to do it in person I feel like it’s wrong to say so over an e-mail (my most comfortable way to communicate), so I end up putting that off, too. But I talked myself out of “you can’t text-message break up!” (after all, it’s not a break-up and it’s using the same medium all our previous contact had been through), determined that I really would prefer to let the person know even though in some cases I think it’s more appropriate just to let the radio go silent, wrote a draft message to make sure I said exactly what I wanted to say, edited out unnecessary apologies and explanations, included the true statement that I would like to keep knowing the person if he’s into that and indicated what kind of interactions I would want that to be, then copied and pasted and hit send. What a relief!

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