Sunday, November 08, 2009

On Dating

In the decade since I was last single (I've been in two long-term relationships, pretty much back-to-back, since I was 16), the dating scene seems to have changed somewhat. No longer is it enough just to be places, to go out and meet people. No--for a lot of people, that's too relaxed, too casual, too scary. Getting rejected in person (or getting up the courage to talk to someone new) is too much of a risk to take, unless you're too schnockered to care. Dating people at work also seems to be off-the-table for a lot of people. For me, it could get kinda' hairy, as everyone knows everyone, everyone gossips about everyone, and if things go bad, there's no way out (which isn't to say that it isn't done, because it is, but discretion is the key phrase here). That and pretty much everyone is either living with someone, married, gay, or the mysterious upper-year who no one has ever actually met, which leaves a grand total of about one person I'd be interested in. Singles cooking class/pottery class/birdhouse-construction class is a whole 'nother issue, and I don't go to church. In a world where we no longer have traditional small-town community events and culture to bring people together, we have to do it ourselves, and the options are endless. And as so many things have, dating (by which I mean meeting people) has moved online. I don't know how I feel about that.

Being the good little grad student postmodernist that I am, I'm highly skeptical of the ability to convey a sense of my all-too-fragmentary self in 1000 characters and three photos. And how am I able to trust that others have any ability to do it either? When I get to the point of reading other people's profiles, which is better: the person who writes as much as possible to try to compensate for the inability to effectively introduce themselves over a data connection? Or the person who doesn't even try, either because they realize the futility, or because they can't be bothered? And all of this is not even accounting for the fact that people lie, which compounds issues of self-representation. It takes a fair bit of trust, and a fair dampening down of the judgmental aspects of oneself, to make online dating work.

A nice thing about bars is that they only hold so many people. A dating site could ostensibly hold every single person on the plant. It is incredibly overwhelming! At any given moment, there are thousands of men online (thank goodness I'm limited to one gender, or this would be doubly overwhelming) who fit the most basic of my criteria. I thought that online dating would be a time-efficient way to meet people, which is why I'm trying it despite my skepticism--and it is, as long as I don't actually do anything, by which I mean sit back, relax, and let people come to me. If I were to actively browse through all of the people who meet my criteria (and the issue of setting criteria is another contentious one), it could turn into a full-time job.

Yes, online dating is slightly weird, and fraught with complication, but then, what aspect of dating isn't? And it seems to work on some level. I met someone a couple of weeks ago who not only seems smart and thoughtful (we've only been out once), but who grew up not only in my neighbourhood, but on my childhood street. And we probably would never have met if not for the online factor. Signing up for a dating site also gets rid of some issues that go along with conventional dating, like the always tricky question of when an outing with a single person of your preferred gender is just an outing, and when it's a date. Everyone has at least that card--I'm not here just to make friends--on the table. And being the visual/verbal person that I am, it's nice to be able to easily weed out people who can't string together a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight.

Despite the endless list of things that I could be making a big deal about, mostly it's just fun to be doing this again. What am I saying--for the first time. I've never done the "dating" thing (i.e. just trying out a bunch of different people), and I like that I get another chance now, when I'm so much better at meeting new people and trying new things than I was when I was really young. I'm also much better at being relaxed about things than I was when I was younger: I meet someone, I meet someone. I don't, I don't--I'm perfectly happy on my own. And I'm not looking for Prince Charming, 'cause he doesn't exist. So I'm just going to have some fun, and who knows what will happen when I'm not paying attention?