Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dating, The Internet, and the Transformation of Rituals

A short while ago, David Rogers (one of the coolest guys I know, and co-founder of the BRITE conferences), in a post on his blog, brought my attention to something I'd been thinking about for a very long time: how the Internet has changed things not for the worse, but perhaps for the better....

To me, the Internet has had the most profound change on the ways in which we relate to and interact with one another. Since the early days of newsgroups, there have been a myriad of ways to passive-aggressively (or downright aggressively = flaming) interact with one another because our identities were concealed most of the time. Yet even among the kinds of nasties that went on when groups hide behind identities, I got to observe a subtle shift in the whole ritual of dating and mating....

Believe it or not, back in those days, there were tons and tons of young, single geek types who were having a hard time getting dates. And it wasn't because they all had Asperger's Syndrome or were otherwise socially awkward. That's a myth. More often than not, these young folks were working really long hours doing really obscure things with an embryonic Internet, developing things like, oh, Instant Messaging, and other stuff we now just take for granted....

They didn't have the time to go out and hang out doing the stuff that the folks who weren't in the computer industry were doing. When they did, they either couldn't talk about their work, or if they did, nobody at the bar understood a word of what they were saying. So, lots of them started to meet one another "on line", and then, sure enough, in time, some of them actually got married!

And, yeah, some of us said, "oh, it'll never last..."

oh ye who laugh first....

There were other big changes going on in the whole dating and mating thing that would impact a whole lot of us and cause us to re-evaluate how we date and mate at different periods of our lives. Divorce, for one thing. Lots of us didn't stay in marriages for one reason or another, and then managed to find ourselves "on the market" again at a time in life when most people would, in the past, would be celebrating their 25th anniversaries.

The biggest conundrum to being single and over 40 is: where do you meet someone your own age?

One thing I noticed is that socializing patterns change as we get older. What used to be "boys and girls together"--that time in your 20's when everybody just "hangs out" and you can meet people anywhere from a bar to a concert to a hockey game to an ultimate Frisbee match--is no longer there. The boys and girls have children of their own, and even ourselves don't quite have the same energy that we had in those days.

I have observed some other interesting dynamics of us over 40's. Men (single/divorced and w/o small children) tend to spend weekends on their own, often pursuing hobbies like boating (one of the "going out" hobbies) or woodworking in their own workshops. It seems that for a lot of men, their weekends are resting and recharging from their work responsibilities, which often involve supervising of others.

And they are certainly not hanging out with buddies at bars looking for chicks. That's the disgruntled married guys ;-)

Now, the advice given to over 40 women up to now has been to get out and do "guy things" in order to meet men. That means taking up boating or joining Habitat for Humanity (woodworking outside of the home) or some other "manly" hobby. However, this generation of over 40 women--lots like me--don't feel the need to follow men in their hobbies just to meet them.

We also know that if we go out with girlfriends, depending on where we live, we might be taken for a lesbian couple. Not good if you want to meet guys.

Now, there's much more I could write about this--about the changes over the generations of modes of dancing from partner to mosh pit, or how bowling is kind of like going to a bar and you're more than likely to meet someone married there too--but that would turn all of this into a huge article of some sort. Suffice to say that the rituals of folks of other generations that might have got them together just aren't there any more (see Putnam's "Bowling Alone" to get more of that theory.)

Enter the world of Internet dating!

I've heard tons of people my age who scoff at the idea of Internet dating--and most of them haven't looked at an Internet dating site since Love @AoL. When I finally decided that I wanted to start dating again, I was totally shocked by the variety of dating sites that are out there. You can have anything from the "hookup" (sites like to the FWB (friends with benefits--like on You can create cute profiles and chat on sites like and OKCupid, or you can go straight for the passive-aggressive-passing-notes-to-determine-your-soulmate style of

My, how things have changed-- Even the way we Internet-date--and in the course of maybe 10 or so years. That is, depending on how long it's been since the first official online dating site appeared.

To me, this is a total boon to both women and men. My experience in talking with a lot of women about Internet dating is that, well, they don't approach it in quite the way that might help them. First they should be thinking of what they might really want from a relationship. And be totally honest. Brutally and totally honest.

And men...well, they tend to go the other way and embellish just a bit--even in what they are looking for. I've caught a couple of guys with profiles on a number of different sites (mostly by comparing sites with other friends doing the online dating thing too) asking for vastly different kinds of relationships...

I guess they feel like it's the lottery: the more chances you have, the better you will be at winning *something*....

Aside from these quirks of women/men's natures, overall, women no longer need to become interested in things they simply aren't interested in, and men don't have to give up their spare-time recharge rituals to find a date.

And nobody has to go hand out in bars--where there's nobody anyway.

Suffice to say, then, that Internet dating, since its inception, has changed the ritual of meeting by changing the place we meet. With the Internet, we have a much better chance of finding that "community of affinity" and thus the person within that community who might be worth spending time with. We may also need to be more honest with ourselves--not just with what we want from a relationship, but also what our lives are like and what are our interests. For women, it no more having to get a dog because you might meet a nice guy walking one, and for men it's no longer taking that cooking class when you'd rather be home having a beer.

Think about it...

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