The Trouble with Online Dating



Months after my former husband moved out I booked a retreat at the beautiful Omega Institute in New York, bought a new slippery black dress, and declared I was ready to move on. One of the first nights there I went slinking down the paved pathway with an extra sway in my hips. A woman old enough to be my mother stopped to tell me that I was beautiful and asked where I was going. It wasn’t exactly the attention I’d hoped for.

I spent the night alone and reading curled up in the corner seat of the lotus-petal shaped library. Somewhere in the week long Off the Mat and Into the World workshop, I realized that even though I kept telling myself I was better off without him, I didn’t yet believe the words. Lucky for me no one tried to enter my life then.

Three years and much introspection and growth later I had a handful of first dates in my history and nothing that even remotely resembled a relationship. For months my friends tried to steer me toward online dating. I was not, however, willing to give in to the world of internet compatibility without an all out effort to find love some more magical way.

After informal questioning and observation I’ve determined that there are four main ways that significant others meet each other: 1) mutual friends 2) school (this can be either high school or college or the random class you signed up for with hopes of finding a date) 3) work 4) regularly crossing paths [neighbors, fellow coffee-shop frequenter, commuter on the same packed train car (reading a book on a train, by the way, is the best way to attract attention and conversation. There’s something about looking occupied and uninterested that opens up conversation with strangers. I imagine “What are you reading?” is used to much the same extent as “What are you drinking?” in a bar.)] No mention anywhere of meeting a life-mate online. Either people are too ashamed to admit it or the wedding photos that hail success on dating sites are just staged.

Option one was out of the question for me– my friends knew of my plight more than anyone and had generously accounted for two of my one-date-wonders. After a year of classes in swimming, piano, Sign Language, Buddhist studies, meditation, writing, poetry, yoga, Reiki, and a slew of inter-district professional development courses for teachers, the closest I came to a connection was the 50 something year old man who told me I had the beauty of an Italian Renaissance painting and left me on the last day of our weekend retreat with a piece of freshly chopped wood, his email, and promises to drive the 100 + miles from his home to mine. (I decided it best not to email him and to just fade away into post-retreat haziness.)

Work has yet to produce anything promising, even with the dozens of new hires every year and the outcropping of couples around me to prove the possibility of workplace romance. Neighborhood meetings yield a group of couples young and old, happily married with children and dogs. My morning commute involves a solo car ride from one city to another.

Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock, Sedona, Arizona

My dream-ending to the road trip I took last summer involves meditating on the rocks in Sedona and opening my eyes to find dream man smiling above me. That didn’t happen either.

As summer transitioned into fall I decided I was ready for the method that was sure to find me a significant other– no not walking into a bar alone– mantra recitation. I’d hesitated before knowing the power of mantra and not feeling myself truly ready for what it might manifest.

It is recommended that one recite a mantra 108 time a day for 40 days. I must have recited the mantra for attracting love 1008 times a day. I’d fill every silent breath, every quiet hour watching my niece play on the playground in the waning heat of summer repeating the ancient Sanskrit and clutching the rose quartz stone I’d picked up at a gift shop in Sedona.

Exactly one week after I began the mantra, wearing the same dress I’d bought years earlier, I went walking around Cambridge smiling at every man who passed by. I’d just about given up when 8 out of 10 guys didn’t make eye contact and the other two looked at me with an expression of silent critique (even the college kids know you don’t smile at strangers in Boston) when I was approached by a man while browsing books in front of the Harvard Book store. “I want to be your friend,” he said. I smiled, hoping the rose quartz I’d slipped into my bra by my heart just before his arrival didn’t fall onto the sidewalk.

We had tea at a nearby coffee shop. He bought a carton of milk and crushed the container into his lips, sucking every drop from the hole meant for the little yellow bendy straw. I decided I’d consider it a funny quirk. My four year old niece could have strung together more grammatically correct sentences. “Me no drink!” he offered fervently when I told him I’d quit alcohol months prior. After leading me toward the dark corner of a park and asking me to put on some sort of yoga pose show (to which I declined) he lied about his age and tried to pass for ten years younger. I might have thought myself being too picky with the other points, but being a liar did him in. He called and left me indiscernible voicemails for days after. He was convinced that he had been sent from God to make me happy. I called him back, cut him loose, and thanked the mantra gods for answering my prayers and hoped they wouldn’t see my denial of milk man as being ungrateful.


Shortly after returning to my mantra fervor, someone recommended the book Calling in the One to me. I ordered it that night hoping Amazon would see that this relationship self-help saga was a one-time only thing and not bother me with ridiculous, “If you like this, you’ll also like…” ads for the rest of my shopping career.

The book is a 49 day practice that includes journaling, meditation, and activities that are supposed to lead you toward “the one” in seven weeks. Seven weeks didn’t seem so long compared to the three years I’d spent single. I worked my way through the book with skepticism, disdain, and resignation. I hoped that the love letter to myself, pages of journal questions, and arts and crafts dream-man boards would lead somewhere. The silliness of and mistrust in the activities was further fueled by the discovery that the author had since divorced the husband she had manifested with the program and so lovingly written about throughout the book (she’s now writing a book called Conscious Uncoupling.) Still, I stuck with it.

One of the last days of journaling, well past the 40 day mantra mark, I quickly scrawled “online dating” as an answer to a question about what I was preventing myself from doing that could potentially attract a mate. Where was the harm in trying I thought. I’d exhausted all my other possibilities.

When I first signed up I told my friends I was merely conducting research for a blog article. Someone had asked me to write about online dating and I thought I should experience it before writing about it. If you’ve read this far though, you realize that there was perhaps an ulterior motive to my research.

The first few minutes of profile creation left a bitter taste in my mouth and a sinking feeling in my heart. After responding to the list of questions that were supposed to somehow encapsulate what it is to be me, I was asked to tell the program more about my “type” so that they could help me find a match. Maybe this is where all my trouble began– I don’t have a type, at least not one that I can figure out, and ticking off pictures of men with either green check marks or red Xs felt fake and wrong on all levels. Still, I went forward.

I tried two sites in the end– one was free, the other paid (I was suckered into paying after assuming it was a free site and going through the effort of creating a profile. Though I closed the site when I reached the payment screen I’d done enough to allow the company to post my information and send me emails that promised new messages, likes, and winks from men who were interested. Marketing ploy, I thought, and an effective one at that. Who doesn’t want to shell over a the cost of dinner and drinks to read the message sent from potential soul-mate?).

If you’re still among the many who haven’t yet tried online dating and aren’t dissuaded by the remainder of this article, don’t bother joining a paid site. I found that the paid site didn’t offer anything more impressive than the free one. If anything, I’d say you have less chances of meeting someone on a paid site because you are forced to commit to a several month period and cannot deactivate your profile even after you’ve lost interest, given up, or found someone else. This results in hundreds of people whose profiles exist, but have no intentions of dating or responding to your messages.

Sculpture at Tlaquepaque, an shopping area for arts and crafts

It’s been almost two months now since I began online dating. Several weeks ago I made the decision to cancel my free account and am counting down the days until the paid one runs out. Though no where near expert on these matters of modern-day-courtship, I feel I have suffered enough to write the following five troubles with online dating:

1. Online Dating is Concurrent Dating

I made it a point to respond to every message that I received, even if it meant a kind note about there not being a connection to the men twice my age who had thought I was “cute” enough to say hello. And I agreed to meet (safely in public) anyone who seemed remotely interesting even if I was reasonably certain it wasn’t going to turn into the long-term relationship I desired. 73% of matches aren’t initially attracted to each other, claimed one statistic that flashed across my screen between profiles of eligible bachelors. That was enough in itself for me to entertain all the possibilities.

I scheduled dates on weekends– one man after another, one day after another. I had the opportunity once for two dates in a day, but decided at the last minute that it might be better to postpone one of them. I didn’t know who online dating had morphed me into over-night, I was simultaneously excited about the possibilities and disappointed in myself for violating my own integrity.

I realized soon enough, however, that I wasn’t the only one who fell prey to abundance. I’d say you have to be pretty desperate to agree to something like online dating. On the same token, it’s easy to be eager about every person who messages you.

At any given time there were about 175,000 people using the free website that I joined. Of those there might be a thousand within a 50 mile radius of my home. From those there might be a dozen with whom I’d exchange a message, hoping for a response (for which none came– tell me that’s not a blow to your ego). I imagine others who enjoy “normal” twenty or thirty-something year old activities like going to a bar or watching sports games over sipping tea and reading books have many more possibilities to choose from. Hundreds of potential dates also leads to fine tuning every detail about what your significant other should look like, do, and say. If she doesn’t fit the bill it’s easy enough to find someone else eager and waiting.

The sheer number of people looking for a date lends itself to concurrent dating, as does the invisibility factor. Chances are the people you meet online would never cross your path in day-to-day life (otherwise you would have already met and fallen in love, right?) Simultaneously dating two, three, or five people in any non-online scenario would lead to a label of looseness and being ostracized by friends and co-workers and yet it’s the norm online.

When I told one second date that I was hoping for a commitment, he looked like it took his entire being to keep from running away. The first line of his profile had said that he was ready for a long-term relationship. I know date two is hardly enough time to really know someone, but I couldn’t overlook the fact that he was having second and third dates with half a dozen other women because it was “fun” to flit from one date to another without serious intentions.

Sculpture in City Park

Sculpture in City Park, New Orleans

2. Lies

The invisibility of online dating leads itself to the other phenomenon from the internet-ready world. It’s all too easy to create a profile about who you wish you were and not who you actually are. The guy who is looking for a long-term relationship runs from commitment, “loves to travel” means that years ago he immigrated to the United States and has been stationary since, age 35 really means 53, artist means he took a class once in college and has only held charcoal to barbeque pit since.

On day six of online dating, already dispirited by my efforts, I threw myself full-force into a one-week romance with a man who bore an uncanny resemblance to Johnny Depp. By date three his true personality began to shine through. I started to wonder whether his appearance was the result of carefully studying photos of the famous actor to replicate his style of clothes, facial hair, glasses, and mannerisms. “Have you always had facial hair like that?” I asked innocently, trying to glean an answer. “Yes!” he said with alarming force, “Since I was 17 I’ve been shaving like this. This is my style!” Really, I thought to myself, then how does that account for the photos you just showed me where you have a full-beard? I wanted to yell, “You’re a fugazi!” in my best Donnie Brasco accent.

3. Appearance is Everything

Day three of online dating yielded a conversation from a seemingly-normal someone with shared interests. Hours into the conversation he asked with surprise, “You were married?!” Yes, I admitted. Hadn’t he read it in my profile initially? Shouldn’t that fact have dissuaded him from the start if it was an issue? He admitted that he hadn’t really read my profile and had messaged me on appearance alone. I had painstakingly crafted and edited answers to questions that I hoped would shine a small sliver of light onto my awesomeness and here was this guy who could spend hours talking to me, but couldn’t be bothered spending five minutes reading my profile. How many others were there like him?

I got a message one afternoon from a man who wrote that he thought he’d seen me before, that my picture had appeared in the dictionary next to “Kablam!” The ridiculousness of this pick up line would have been bad enough if I didn’t find out later that he sent the same message to my close friend. I wonder if he used the command keys to control-v his way through online dating bliss.

4. Everyone is a Match

In defense of people, the online system lends itself to appearance-only judgement with their hit or miss like or dislike button system designed to find you the perfect match. I gritted my teeth and X-ed my way through my daily “connections” hoping that the data gathered would lead me closer to “the one.”

I made the novice mistake of listing weight-lifting and running as two of my activities. This alone was enough to make thousands of men a 97% match for me. Experience will tell you that an interest in weight-lifting might mean that they visited the gym once last year and did a few bicep curls in the mirror for good measure.

5. Being Single is Far Less Sufferable than Online Dating

This blog entry has turned into my longest to date and I’ve only begun to touch the surface of the hilarious interactions online dating has allowed me over the past few months. I feel like I’d be doing some sort of editorial injustice not to mention the guy who pulled at his hair, leaned in across the dinner table, and said with sheer horror, “Why would you do that?!” when I told him I was vegan (he apparently did not read my profile either.) Or the man who asked me if I wanted to procreate (cordial way of getting to the point I suppose) then sent text messages for weeks that read only “Hi” and “How are you?”

Although I could keep my profile up and fill a book with stories of failed dates and meaningless messages, I have already experienced all that I need to write this article. The research is done, one profile already deleted, the other will expire next month. I’ve decided instead to go back to riding the train with a book in my hands and hoping that someday when the time is right I will find love again.





2 thoughts on “The Trouble with Online Dating

  1. Jay

    Bitterly and beautifully poignant. That was a sermon I needed to hear. I wish I could say that I haven’t ever been pulled into the treachery of online dating in my weakest moments. I wish I could say that I wasn’t drawn to the primal appeal of gleaning a mate through fundamental but superficial criteria. I would wish I wasn’t enchanted by the feeling of a “wink” my direction. If only that was all that mattered to people like you and me. I contest that online dating is a lost cause only to those that have the depth of a dynamic personality…the kind of person I hope to find, by virtue of who she is, unfortunately won’t be found in any of the places that a person commonly goes to meet someone and she won’t be found online. :-(

    1. Carmela Caruso Post author

      I had a photo from Zion enlarged and it is now hanging on my wall. It reminds me of serendipity and hope and that we are given that which we need. Someday soon we shall each find our match. Thank you for reading and sharing my woes.

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