Trust Your Gut When Dating Online

When Angela “met” Tim online—that is, when he first responded to her profile—she got a fluttery feeling in her stomach that she wasn’t sure was excitement or warning. He liked her photo—could they go out that night? No? Why not? She was beautiful for her age, he said, and what’s more, he was handsome and fit–so hey, if she wasn’t free, why was she online? So Angela, who felt uncomfortable already, at the same time read his pushiness as healthy male interest, so she overrode her gut feeling and proceeded to the next step.

Not a good idea. If ever there were a form of introduction that required a woman to trust her gut about a guy, it’s meeting in cyberspace. Trusting your (online) gut requires a self-knowledge, though, that wasn’t expected before first impressions came to you with no real person attached. You have to really be aware of your history (have you always been excited by aggressive guys—only to wind up feeling intimidated by them? Have you always rejected less assertive men?) and clear about your wishes (Do you want a mate or a casual date?): Otherwise, in your search for Mr. Right you can end up chatting endlessly with Mr. Wrong. Here are a few tips culled from women who have been there, done that….I pass them on in the hope that they spare you the exhaustion that can come from too many hours online with too many men who aren’t truly available, men who will only sap your strength, men who are looking for something, someone, other than you.

Don’t be bullied. Tim, for example, was subtly accusing Angela—already, before he’d met her yet —of doing something wrong by not following his sexual timetable. “Save me from beautiful women who think they’re God’s Gift,” he replied curtly when she said she wasn’t ready for a date yet, throwing Angela on the defensive before she entered the starting gate. God’s gift? Where did THAT come from? It came from Tim, of courses. Another woman tells of a guy who kept claiming she was being “rude” to him by not answering his letters within an hour or two. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you it’s bad manners not to reply? Kindly respond at once.” They had exchanged messages for the first time that day. His ostensible etiquette couldn’t hide his obvious hostility. Subtle bullying is still bullying.

We know that, of course, but we feel caught between wanting to give the guy a chance; wanting, too, to feel good about the guy. We comply—still! Strong women though we are!– thinking we can calm him down; that once he knows who we are, he won’t be so aggressive; that he’ll trust us; that he’ll ….back off.

No, he won’t. A bully keeps bullying until he’s stopped. Angela said goodbye at that second online interaction. “I’ve finally learned to resist my urge to tame beasts by proving what a great gal I am. I’m no longer applying for the job of zookeeper.”

The man who bares his soul to you—tells you too much about his ex-wife, his past (or, worse, present) girlfriends, the intricacies of his libido….is being inappropriate. Again, you know that in your gut, but you think, well, this is a different medium, so, well, it’s okay. No, it’s not. Why is he telling you all this? Who asked? What’s it got to do with you? Baring his soul to someone he hasn’t met (and who hasn’t asked) is telling you something: He’s not interested in whether you want to hear it or not.

Be careful of anyone who tries to sweep you off your feet. “Do you like to spend Christmas Eve overlooking the Seine? Do you long for skiing at Gstaad? Is Nobu the kind of restaurant you’d most like to dine at? Does a massage for two at the Golden Door sound like your kind of thing? Well, sure. One woman tells me she was so entranced by a man’s romantic references that she barely noticed that, in the middle of their climactic dinner (at Nobu), her poetic date didn’t have a credit card–or, for that matter, an apartment. The internet was a great place for him to create a set; to feign a social life; to pretend knowledge of the world and its luxuries. He was a social climber. He was also a homeless person.

I hardly have to say that anyone who whispers endearments into your cyber ear before you’ve met him is out of the question. No cozy innuendos and sexy asides. No promises of ecstasy—and, listen carefully for this one, or of pain. If you see the word “pain” in a message, even if accompanied somewhere by “pleasure”?—DELETE. Other red flags—like unmentionable desires that manage to get mentioned? DELETE.

And while we’re on it, keep those boundaries clear in your own replies. Keep your responses brief. Don’t confide. Don’t respond emotionally, no matter how provocative he is. Don’t let someone who irks you take even a moment of your time (DELETE!). Nobody can take too much emotion at this point—it’s just too new. YOU DON’T KNOW EACH OTHER YET.

Okay, just two more: Bad grammar—I mean, really bad grammar, particularly in his profile (where, presumably, he’s less likely to hurry through) is a turn-off. Don’t generously ignore his schooling. This is a prospective husband. He doesn’t have to have a law degree from Columbia, but you are after all, looking for an equal.

This next one is tricky. This is the guy who sends you lots of pictures of himself with friends. There he is, with all those women whose faces have been cut out of the photos, in ten or eleven fun-filled scenes. What’s he telling you? What’s he asking you? And if all these shots are on yachts and schooners, ask yourself—is this where you want to be? Emily hates boats, but kept hearing about fun at sea in Sam’s e-mails, so finally went out with him—on a boat, of course–and was seasick the whole time. If a man is showing you a life he loves and you’re pretty sure you won’t love it, let him find someone who will.

Finally, beware the man who doesn’t notice what you said in your profile. Oddly enough, many men don’t pay attention. They look at your picture, or they like something you said, but from that moment on, your clearly expressed, carefully articulated wishes are subsumed into his lengthy discussion of….himself. He may seem endearing, attempting to turn you into a soulmate, but like anyone who is clearly more interested in snowing than in knowing you, remember: A soulmate is interested in connecting; in creating a relationship. Nonstop talk suggests an interest in, well, I don’t know what, but I don’t think you went online for a pen pal.

There are several signs that the man you’re corresponding with online is a Drama King—a solo act, a man who will eat up most of your time and energy and leave you not with a new boyfriend, but alone and with a bad headache. Are you exhausted just dealing with him? Then imagine what it will be like once you meet! Never read your own exhaustion as some deficiency in yourself—something you should learn to overcome. It’s the surest sign of all possible signs that the man you’re exchanging mail with is not interested connecting. A connection moves; it goes somewhere; it feels hopeful; it feels good; like it’s heading somewhere, maybe toward a relationship. If it feels like something other than this, something more lonely, something more tiring, DELETE.

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