Dick Pics & Unicorns: The Reality of Online Dating

(Originally posted on Divorcedmoms.com)

After the dissolution of my twelve-year marriage, getting back out there seemed intimidating. But hearing so many stories of how so-and-so met their new partner online, I was hopeful – at least for the first few months. Luckily, I took some notes to help others as we find our way into this new reality for us of online dating.

THE REALITY OF ONLINE DATING

YOU MUST UNDERSTAND THE MEDIUM IS (PART) OF THE MESSAGE

When dick pics and people wearing unicorn heads started showing up in my direct messages, I knew the dating world had changed. When I was dating in my 20’s, AOL instant messenger was popular. The reality is images and explicit openers are widely used now – quick hookups are a part of the online dating culture.

You have to be ready to accept you are using a medium that encourages fast and easy adult encounters. However, there are people looking for long-term relationships as well, and you should state this in your profile if that is your intention. Look for people who have declared the same.  If you are not open to seeing this aspect and being asked constantly “what are you looking for on here,” you are not ready.

YOU MUST NOT TAKE ANYTHING PERSONAL

You will be ghosted. You will be matched and then suddenly unmatched. You will be told things like, “You are pretty, but I’m not interested in being with someone with kids,”  or “You are older, so I think we would just be good as fuck friends.” They will start a conversation and then disappear. You will be treated as a shiny object until another, hotter, shiny object comes along, then you will be dismissed.

The thing is you will most of the times have no clue why they unmatched you, and your inner critic will be right there telling you a million reasons why. And, sometimes you will do the same. You will have to acknowledge there are people who you are simply just not interested in, and you will have to tell them that. If you are not strong enough to handle rejection without notice, you are not ready.

YOU MUST BE OPEN TO THE GROWTH OPPORTUNITY HERE

If you are living in a dream world of undisciplined hope, meaning (like me at the beginning) you believe this is going to be easy and someone will rescue you from doing the work of dating and learning about yourself, you will be utterly disappointed. There are people who instantly connect and get married three months later by meeting on a dating site. However, this is not the norm. You already know this.

If you are open enough and have some basic solid boundaries, you can use dating as a time to get to know yourself better and learn what you actually want from your next relationship. No one is going to save you from doing the work. Dating is a process. It can either be an adventure or a nightmare, depending on your attitude. If you are already complaining about how much you hate dating, or all the good ones are taken, or how much time it takes to date these days, you aren’t ready.

The world matches your energy. What you look for, is what you will find. If I tell you to only look for BMW’s every time you go for a drive, guess what you will always find? There is such an opportunity to become aware of your overall mindset and what exact effort you are willing to put into here.

There is no quick certainty with online dating, no exact formula to follow to find the perfect partner for you. People want the dreamy relationship immediately. If you aren’t willing to figure somethings out as you go or put the time in to learn about yourself in the process, you aren’t ready.

YOU ARE A POWERFUL PART OF THE EQUATION

You must remember – you are in control here too. You have the power of choice in how you use these apps and who you let into your life. Don’t throw your hands up in the air and give up. I’ve heard so many women grumble and complain about the negatives of online dating (and yes there are a lot of negatives!) but they have yet to recognize women aren’t exempt from the range of connections we want from people here.

Not every woman is looking for a long-term relationship. We may want just a hookup or friends-with-benefits situation. You have choice in what you are looking for. This is what online apps provide for us. If you are not willing to exercise your power, then you are not ready. Your power lies in declaring your expectations, being honest with yourself, and removing people who don’t toe the line. You have to be willing to be an active participant in the process – this requires personal integrity. You have to know what you willing and not willing to discuss during chats or who you are willing to meet.

You have to be able to assertively tell people things like,  “No, not open to sexting on the first convo,” or “I would like to meet you but at a public place first.”  You set your own rules, but here’s the deal – you must have a powerful and clear voice to enforce those rules. If you can’t speak up, you aren’t ready.

YOU WILL HAVE TO DISTINGUISH YOUR HOPES FROM REALITY

And the apps will definitely help you to do that. People are not always what they seem to be promoting from their online presence. They won’t always look the same in real life. They won’t be what you thought they were. I suggest you video chat before meeting for the first time so you get a sense of who they are before moving forward.

You must also reel in your imagination. If everything on their profile matches what you are looking for, and you’ve chatted and feel good energy, your mind might start telling your a heart a beautiful love story before you have actually started dating. “Oh, he takes his kids to a park – this must mean he’s a good dad.” You don’t know this yet. But your heart longs so deeply for a relationship, your brain is connecting dots that haven’t appeared yet. Be conscious of the story you are playing in the future with this person.

Stay in the reality of now. It’s fine to be hopeful, but again this needs to be disciplined hope, which is the kind that doesn’t move too fast ahead. Likewise, you have to recognize when you are just looking to fill a void in your life by looking for some quick validation. You have to understand there are real people on both sides that have real feelings. If you can’t be honest with your own shifting intentions as well as others, you aren’t ready.

Overall, dating apps provide a space for us to meet other people. We can either come prepared or be fumbling our way down the rabbit hole. We all have longings for connection. Being honest with yourself about where you are in your life and what you are looking for helps you stay in control of how you use these apps.

Some people say it’s a numbers game online – you have to keep meeting people to be one person closer to your person. Some people say, “Just go play and see what happens!” There is no one distinct way to meet your next partner. If you are willing to accept this, and put in the time, and stay true to yourself, I say go for it. But there is no shame in knowing you are not ready to get back in game either.

I love seeing women take the initiative toward creating the life they want and being true to themselves. I think this freedom comes with age. So here’s to the lovers and the realists, bumbling their way forward. I am right there with you.

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