Guide to Online Dating for the Rest of Us
I have been trying out online dating using apps for more than ten years now. At this point, It is something that I take for granted. For me, using an app whenever I find myself single has been a default course of action. However, this hasn't always been the case. I remember feeling awkward and almost shameful when I first considered using these apps more than a decade ago. What was true for me back then is still a reality for a lot of people. I know many people who have a lot of hesitations about using a dating app to seek a romantic relationship. I think this is unfortunate. Using a dating app can be a great way to find that person you would like to spend the rest of your days with. I will share everything I know about online dating and why you should consider doing it in this post.
I am a straight male in his mid-30s who was born and raised in Turkey. I moved to Toronto, Canada, in my 20s. I have lived there for 12 years and currently living in Berlin for the last two years. I am writing this as someone who can be both reasonably progressive and traditional at the same time. Providing that context here to say that my experience with romantic relationships could be very different from someone much younger or older, queer, or has non-mainstream preferences like polyamory.
I was not necessarily a stranger to online dating. I grew up with the rapid rise of the internet, and I have used online platforms such as ICQ, MIRC, or MSN Messenger to seek romantic connections. But I had never considered using online dating apps till I moved to Canada. I think a couple of factors were at play at that point. I was out of school, which used to be my primary dating pool. I found myself at a place where I didn't have a lot of social connections. This meant that I was away from friends who could have connected me with their single friends. I was also not the kind of person that could make advances to strangers in settings like bars or clubs. After spending a year in Canada, I came to desire a relationship in my life, but my options for finding one were severely reduced.
Things didn't remain all that bad after moving to Canada. My social network was slowly expanding. I was starting to get invited to house parties. I enjoyed making new connections. Having said that, I definitely would have liked it better if I had a girlfriend. That started to become an issue. I was so focused on dating that I wasn't making space for any interaction that didn't seem like it would lead me there. I remember connecting with really cool people but feeling anxious at the same time that I wasn't using my time to socialize with people who seemed like prospects. I was feeling FOMO (fear of missing out).
At around the same time, I randomly came across an article on The Economist about the rise of online dating and how it was becoming commonplace among young professionals who moved away from their social circles and are now primarily occupied with establishing their careers. That coverage from a reputable organization suddenly normalized the idea of online dating for me. It was also that I needed a separation of concerns. I didn't want my desire to meet someone to ruin the pleasure I could get from socializing to make friends. At that point, signing up for online dating wasn't an embarrassing thing to do; it was a sensible choice.
My First Experience with Online Dating
The first platform that I have tried was OkCupid. OkCupid lets you share a description and pictures of yourself. You can optionally answer some questions to help the platform curate more suitable matches. It then shows you the profiles of all the users of desired sex and orientation with a percentage of compatibility assigned by the algorithm. The results can be sorted for physical distance, last online date, compatibility, etc.
I didn't know what I was doing when I first signed up to OkCupid. I didn't write a full-blown description but just listed a bunch of my interests and shared a couple of pictures. There wasn't a way of telling how I stacked up against other users competing for the same mates. You could either indicate interest in people by liking them or sending them a message. It was immediately apparent that sending a "like" to a woman to grab their attention wasn't the best strategy. OkCupid used to charge extra fees to show who liked you, but from what I know, women generally don't pay for those features. They are already getting so much attention that it isn't necessary for them. To be successful in online dating as a man, you should either be able to attract their attention with your profile or make connections by sending a message.
I don't clearly remember the details of my first foray into online dating, except that I remember it to be liberating. I was suddenly so much more relaxed in my other interactions as I didn't feel the need to seek a relationship all the time anymore. There was now a dedicated time and a place (platform) for it.
Shortly after signing up to OkCupid, a girl sent me a message commenting about my outlandish eyebrows. We started to chat and met in real life shortly after. We ended up dating for five years. It was my longest-running relationship to date.
After that relationship, I went back to online dating. I have used it on and off up until a year ago. Apart from OkCupid, I have used Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, Bumble, Match, eHarmony, Baddoo, Happn, and Inner Circle. I have met my fiancé on one of these platforms. Suffices to say that I have some experience in this domain.
Online Dating Today
According to an article published in Economist in 2018, Online Dating accounts for 1/6th of all relationships that lead to marriage. It is trending up, so that number is likely much higher today with accelerating factors like the lockdowns and the pandemic. Attitudes towards online dating vary a lot with countries and cultures. I couldn't even imagine meeting anyone in real life when living in Canada, whereas most of my friends living in Turkey are incredibly suspicious and uninformed about online dating.
Online Dating Things to Know
Dating Dynamics for Man and Woman are Very Different
Online dating for men and women can be very different. Women get insane amounts of attention on these apps. Even a profile for a woman without an image or a description would get a lot of advances which seems insane. That is not to say men are stupid to act this blindly, but they likely find themselves in a situation where they need to cast the widest net possible to increase their exposure to chance.
The problem for an average man in a dating platform is to attract anyone's attention in the first place. The problem for women is to filter out all the attention that they are getting all the time. Men get desperate because it seems impossible to make a meaningful connection to anyone on the platform; women get weary because of all the useless noise they are drowning in.
It is a Time Sink
Online dating can feel like a part-time job. It requires you to initiate connections with new people, craft personalized messages, keep up with established connections, make plans, go to dates, etc. And not everything goes smoothly. You might not receive a reply for days. That person you exchanged all those messages with can suddenly disappear. You might get ghosted even on the day of an arranged date, or you can build up all kinds of expectations for days leading up to a date only to be disappointed when you meet in person.
It would be best if you realized that online dating is not an easy way to get dates. It is an easy way to get exposed to a lot of people. It will still likely require a lot of effort to establish and build a connection with those people. Some people find this offending. After all, why should you have to work for something that should come naturally? Love should happen effortlessly, right? I don't subscribe to that point of view. I believe you need to be deliberate to attract luck into your life.
Online dating is not an easy way to get dates. It is an easy way to get exposed to a lot of people
There Are Scammers
That connection you made that looks too good to be true? There is a chance that it isn't true. You need to do some due diligence to understand if the person you have connected with is legit. You can do a reverse image search on their pictures to see if they are stock photos, be watchful about red flags such as overly generic or empty descriptions and suspicious messages. Unfortunately, some of this awareness only comes with experience.
Luckily, I was only scammed once. I was already suspicious that something was up with the person, so I gave them a burner phone number when exchanging contacts. I ended up receiving a spammy link texted to that number. I avoided giving my actual number to this person, but it was still shitty since I had already revealed some personally identifiable information at that point. It made me feel more vulnerable than I would have liked.
You need to be mindful that you are essentially connecting with a stranger over the internet and ensure your safety accordingly.
Don't Force It
You will meet people that you think are perfect for you. Most of the time, your connection with them won't lead anywhere. Just don't force it at that point. A relationship might not work for many good reasons, and it is easy, or even tempting, to overlook them initially. If a seemingly great connection doesn't take off for reasons that you don't understand, it is probably because there are fundamental incompatibilities that would have only become evident to you at a later stage. Be thankful that the other person had the self-awareness to know that this was not going to work out and saved both of you a bunch of time.
Rejection exists for a reason — it's a means to keep people apart who are not good for each other. - Mark Manson
It is a Good Thing That It Didn't Happen
You shouldn't take things personally if the other person doesn't want a relationship with you. There can be so many reasons why people might not want to be with you. They might not even be on the market for a healthy relationship! Your traits that are deal-breakers for one person could be desirable to another person. Just because you are incompatible with someone doesn't mean that you are unlovable.
Don't Be Negative
One of the biggest red flags in online dating profiles is people overemphasizing the negative things they would like to avoid in relationships. In my opinion, profiles that describe things like "I don’t like liars" indicate a type of person who keeps attracting a certain kind of character to their lives due to a lack of their own awareness. Guess what, no one likes liars, but you won't be able to weed them out by telling them to stay away.
A Relationship Goes Both Ways
It takes at least two people to have a relationship. If the other person isn't engaged, present, and committed, you can't have a relationship with that person by definition. I have had so many friends that despair over a potential connection thinking everything would be perfect if the other person were just interested in them a bit more. That makes no sense. The fact that they are not interested tells you everything you need about the prospects of that relationship.
If my grandmother had wheels, she would have been a bike. - Italian expression
There is Locality to Online Dating
People's approaches to online dating would be much different based on where they live. In my experience, in Canada, many people were boosting the number of countries that they have visited. That is not just to tell people that you like traveling, but it is also a way of status signaling. Canada is pretty removed from most other countries, so traveling to other countries is time-consuming and expensive. In Europe, no one gives a shit if you have traveled to 5+ countries. You could do that in a day over here. It is essential to understand what traits and aspects of you are valuable in where you live to position yourself accordingly.
There is Seasonality to Online Dating
The temporal dimension also has implications for online dating. There are some days or months that you could potentially connect with more people. To me, the end of the week always seemed busier as it seemed like people wanted to make connections to potentially meet over the weekend. Likewise, Spring or Fall seems like a great time to meet with people, too, so you can have someone to enjoy the summer or escape the winter with. Of course, this seasonality is also influenced by the locality.
Clarity is the Key
If you are clear on what you are seeking on these platforms, I think it would save you (and others) a bunch of time if you were to be forthcoming about those intentions. If you know what you are looking for, have indications of it on your profile, and look for ways to assess people to see where they are when you start to connect. It is also OK to not have clarity and be on the exploration for it. That might just mean that you are clear that you are not yet clear. But it would be a shame if you spent three months building a connection with a person only to find out you both have a fundamental incompatibility that could have been cleared with a simple question.
Arriving at clarity is not an easy process. Some people get there via negativa, by first understanding what they don't want through exploration before getting to know what they want.
Also, I have mentioned having only indications of your intentions in your profile. Being too straightforward about those intentions is something that I personally find off-putting since it destroys an element of mystery and play from dating. But that might just be me. I am sure there are also people out there that would be attracted to it.
Online dating can be exhausting. It is an entirely unnatural way of building human connections. You judge and be judged purely by some static information on the screen. It is also a continuous exercise in vulnerability. You open up, engage and build connections only to be heartbroken for the most part. It is hard not to get emotionally invested and burn out through the process. My suggestion would be to be mindful of the adverse effects of online dating on your psychology and take breaks whenever you need them.
It is Not the Only Way
It is important to realize online dating is only one way of meeting new people. It certainly isn't the only way. I think you should try whatever means possible if you are serious about finding that one person that you want to spend the rest of your life with. I have gone to blind dates set up by friends and family, signed up for workshops, and picked up new hobbies to be able to meet new people. I tend to prefer online dating since people's intentions are more transparent when compared to meeting people offline, but that is not to say it is the only way.
In a similar vein, I don't think you should constrain yourself to use a single dating app either. I have frequently had multiple paid memberships for various apps whenever I would be dating. You never know when and how things might evolve for you.
Online Dating is Dating
At the end of the day, online dating is simply dating. If you want to get better at it, then you need to get better at relationships. There is a book called Models by Mark Manson (affiliate link) that I like. The premise of the book is that the best relationship advice is self-improvement. You could get better at relationships by essentially becoming a better version of yourself. The book elaborates on this much better than I can, so here it is:
"The only real dating advice is self-improvement. Work on yourself. Conquer your anxieties. Resolve your shame. Take care of yourself and those who are important to you. Love yourself. Otherwise no, one else will."
If you would like to increase your emotional intelligence and get a better handle on relationship dynamics, I would also recommend the works of Esther Perel. Her podcast "Where Should We Begin" should be a mandatory listen for anyone interested in relationships.
One final thing that I would like to mention is to take any dating advice with a grain of salt. Every piece of advice comes from a particular life experience, and that context could be vastly different than yours. Relationships are one of the most complex things we have to deal with, and there is no simple formula for it. It is hard to get better at this on your own but grow through your interactions with other people.