5 Things I Didn't Expect From Online Dating

You assume that when you start online dating, you’re doing it to find a romantic partner. That’s the goal, that’s the reason for forking over the membership money, agonizing over a profile and staring at a bunch of smiling faces, wondering which ones you should message. What you don’t realize is what you might find out about yourself, and that even if you don’t meet “the one,” how you can end up growing as a person. You may even find out that you actually don’t want a new partner—you might just want some new friends, the occasional date or you might even decide that a pet will do quite nicely for companionship.

I got to know myself better: answering all those questions—especially if you try OK Cupid – wow! Values questions, sexual habits questions, political, spiritual, lifestyle questions. This site just doesn’t quit. The more you answer, the more there are. Not just that, but writing a profile about yourself, if you do it properly, makes you become more introspective. Who am I anyway? What am I about? How am I different from other people? How do I express that? It makes you think!

I became more comfortable with new situations: There’s nothing like striking up a conversation with a total stranger online, then talking to them on the phone and arranging a date and then actually going on that date knowing you’re being checked out the entire time, plus you have to come up with interesting conversation but not say too much while also checking them out to see if you’re feeling anything to make you better at handling the unknown. So if you get that far, you’re already way ahead of the amount of “new” most people have in their life on a daily basis.

I became a better conversationalist: see above. But seriously, the first time a guy called me I nearly lost my lunch, I was so nervous. I normally think of myself as outgoing, so this was a shock. But eventually, I became more comfortable with what I wanted to say and ask in a conversation with a complete stranger.

I learned to let go of expectations (sort of): Buddhists are into this one, but who can really do it? Yet if expectations are driving you too much (approaching every date with the question, “Is this the one?”), dates become more like interviews. I discovered that my own nervousness about first dates was in large part due to my expectations. The key for me was changing my perceptions from one of high stakes to thinking about dates as just meeting a person for drinks or whatever, and not to focus so much on whether it was romantic, or what I looked like or sounded like to him. Basically, just remembering to be myself and let go of expectations of it ‘working out.’

I became clearer about what makes a first date have “potential:”

Okay, this one is going to go a little deeper, because, well, it’s about being introspective.

When you go on a series of first dates in a relatively short period of time, you start to recognize quickly what makes for a good connection and the little spark on that first date that more often leads to a second date. Of course, some of it is unconscious; we are drawn to some people and not others for reasons we may not understand, but which psychologists say has something to do with how we learned about love from our parents (for better or worse!)

Beyond that, I started to realize how attractive it was to me if I sensed my date letting down his guard and talking about himself and what really mattered to him, topics that made him seem vulnerable and less than perfect. Might be different for someone else, but that became a big one to me in deciding if I was interested. I had plenty of dates with men with whom the conversation flowed, but ultimately the subjects were impersonal and surface-y, and I left feeling “blah.”

I also found that I appreciated dates who asked questions of me that prompted openness and vulnerability. You can always decide how much to reveal (and I’m not recommending revealing your innermost goblins on a first date!), but the conversation becomes much more engaging when the topics go a little deeper than “what’s the last movie you saw?”

Topics related to things like family, relationships, struggles and challenges, beliefs will take you deeper than talking about hobbies, travel and your favorite thing to do on a Friday night.