“Don’t take things personally,” a good friend said years ago, back when I started internet dating. “He doesn’t know you.”
I was younger then, and more stubborn.
“How can I not take it personally? We went out and he didn’t call. It’s personal.” My voice was operatic. “He’s rejecting me. Me.”
In those days, I didn’t have a clue.
My friends, who are new to online dating, don’t get it either. It’s as if they have expectations of polite, drawing room behavior, and this isn’t a salon world. They are frustrated and want to cancel their dating site memberships.
I remind them it’s not so easy when you’re older, meeting a man in real life. “IRL,” I say. “See? It’s got its own acronym, so it must be a phenomenon.” This attempt at humor doesn’t make any of my friends laugh.
“Online dating should be a supplement to meeting IRL,” I say, hoping to appease.
Online dating takes time. You’ve got to keep track of who’s out there, who emails you back, and who doesn’t. You don’t want to waste time contacting someone who’s ignored you. You have a little spiral notebook, or you employ a lot of sticky notes. Whatever works.
When you’re standing in line at the supermarket, you’ll take a peek at your phone. You’ve got the dating site app on there anyway, so you might as well check, in case someone’s emailed.
In other words, it’s work. And getting back to the not taking it personally part, that’s why my friends are so frustrated.
My friend Margaret went bicycle riding with a forensic lawyer who had an excellent opinion of himself. Margaret describes him as so overweight, “He looked like a pimple atop his bicycle. We roared with laughter for two hours,” she says.
At the end of their date, he asked if she wanted the good news or the bad news first. “The bad news,” she said, taken aback by the question.
“The bad news is, your temperament doesn’t suit mine,” he said. “The good news is, I really want to go to bed with you.”
Margaret took this rejection personally, even though she wasn’t interested in seeing him again. “I wasn’t good enough for him to get to know me. It was denigrating. Daters need to know how to be nice when they’re rejecting you,” she says.
Several of my friends agree, and they are baffled by the inertia many of the candidates display on dating sites. “Why would people in our age group mess around?” says Margaret. “We’re there to meet.”
My friend Nancy says she’d like to meet a man, and she regularly goes on her favorite online dating site. Sometimes with a glass of wine for a little added courage.
Her opinion? This online dating thing is getting to be a second job. She’s writing four or five guys, sometimes more. But there’s one guy who pops up often.
We’ll call him Mr. Nice.
He’s nice because he pops up just when you need him. After all, scrolling page after page of photos, reading profiles, and thinking up clever ice breakers is exhausting.
That’s why Nancy thanks the online dating gods for sending Mr. Nice. Most men fade in and out, sort of a hit and run approach.
But with Mr. Nice, every day brings a new and chatty story, how his daughter aced her law boards and his grandson made the basketball team. She tells him about her grandkids.
It’s as if they know each other.
And it’s been three, four, five, six days. Nancy is sure he’ll ask for her phone number. Soon.
She’s thinking she’ll concentrate her efforts on this one man. Rate of return is an important concept.
Then, one evening he doesn’t email. Nothing the next day, or the next. Is he sick? She writes, asking if he has the virus that’s going around.
His lack of response reverberates, and even her dog feels it. The sound of silence, email-wise. She never hears from him again.
Here’s where Don’t take it personally comes in. You didn’t know each other. He’s not your friend.
She moves on because… what choice does she have? And guess what? She gets an email from a guy with curly grayish-brown hair, his curly-gray poodle in his lap. She emails back, and he asks for her phone number, just like that.
They talk for 45 minutes. She tells him about her grandkids and her pickle ball group. He tells her about his penchant for old black and white movies. She likes his warmth, his laugh.
“Yes,” she breathes into the phone. She’s already calling him Mr. Nicer in her head. He doesn’t suggest meeting, but he texts the following evening, a long and chatty text.
He sends her a couple of photos as he goes about his errands, a grill at Home Depot, a new iPhone at Walmart. I’m researching these items, he texts. He even sends a picture of his salad; he’s stopped for lunch at Panera, not far from where she lives.
He texts several times a day, every day. He doesn’t call, but there are plenty of texts. It’s been three, four, five, six days. They’re getting to know one another. Through text, something Nancy never imagined.
Then one day he doesn’t text. Nothing the next day, or the next. Nancy knows that virus isn’t going around much anymore, and anyway he doesn’t have a virus.
This time Nancy is angry and frustrated.
This is the nature of the online dating beast. Crappy behavior has landed in Nancy’s lap.
Even so, the online dating gods are sending Nancy a message. The message? Don’t take it personally.
Taking online dating personally hobbles your energy and enthusiasm, and you need all your umpf because, even if you have a helmet, online dating is tough.
Getting your feelings hurt over a stranger’s behavior keeps you from moving forward. I have friends who’ve given up. It’s fine to stop, of course, everyone needs a break. Make it your choice, though.
Still frustrated and confused? Well, there is something you can do.
You can’t prevent ghosting or back burnering (he’s not asking to meet) or plain crummy behavior, but you can minimize the damage to your too-tender psyche.
Online dating rules are different from the dating etiquette most of us grew up with and practiced. Accept this as fact.
Armed with your new (metaphorical) helmet, go online, date, and give yourself credit for it. You’ll have stories, and your friends will want to hear all about your adventures.
How do you handle online rejection knowing it’s a part of online dating? How do you handle someone who wants to email forever, never mentioning meeting? “Online dating is tough, get a helmet,” do you agree? Please share your ideas and experiences right here.
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