“I really don’t want to go,” I said to my friend Bonnie.
“You’ve got to go,” she said. “You need support from other online daters. I can listen to you and advise you up the wazoo but I’m not dating anymore.” (I swear she quietly muttered Thank God.) “I think it would help you to share your experiences with other people who are going through the same stuff.”
“Okay,” I sighed. Since Bonnie, a long-time friend and fellow retiree, had remarried 6 months ago, she’d been trying to nudge me into attending this support group. I knew she was right. The stress of online dating was warping my perspective on romance—at least that’s what I told my jaded self.
Two days later I found myself in a small meeting room at the local library. Enjoy some oven steamed mussels while I share what happened.
There were six women and four men of various ages and ethnicities already sitting in a circle in the simple but functional room. It was 7 pm and some of my fellow daters looked liked they had come straight from work.
“Welcome,” said a striking blond woman who motioned me to an empty chair. “We’re just about to do introductions. I’m Janet. I’m a social worker. I started this meet-up group in hopes of creating an ongoing system of support for those who are starting over after divorce and struggling with online dating. I’ve been divorced 4 years and started dating 3 years ago.”
Janet went on to explain that she wanted each meeting to focus on a particular question related to dating. Every person was to answer the question, followed by an open discussion. The question for this first meeting was “what have you learned about the process of online dating?” Janet asked us to go around the room, say our name and a few basic facts and then try to answer the question.
The first person to speak was Rob, a 50-something man who said he’d been divorced 5 years. “I’ve learned that women who are online don’t seem to want to meet. They’re stuck emailing and they keep asking me questions. I feel like I’m being interrogated.”
There was general nodding of heads and smiling. “I feel that men are the same way,” said Irma, a 40ish woman. “But they don’t ask good questions. It’s ‘how’d you get so beautiful?’ and ‘how long have you been on this site?’ No one seems to read my profile. I could say I was a mass murderer and the men wouldn’t notice.”
“My problem is when we meet,” said Rachel, a woman who could have been anywhere from 55 to 65. “I’ve learned that no matter how well you connect on the phone or in email, it’s what happens in person that matters. I don’t get too excited in advance any more because most of the time, the guys look much worse and much older than their pictures.”
A 30ish man who introduced himself as Hank said, “I’ve learned that I don’t like online dating. I actually came here to see if I could meet women,” he said with a grin. “I don’t have time for the dating sites but I use Tinder and just started using Bumble because there’s less work. Sometimes I hook up with someone but I think a lot of the profiles are fake.”
Helen, a woman in her 70s (go Helen), laughed. “I almost don’t believe it when someone is not a fake. I’ve never had anyone ask me for money but stolen pictures are everywhere. They must think women are idiots. Google image search is my friend.”
Then Janet turned to me. “Nadia, what have you learned?” She asked.
I sipped my water and took a few seconds to gather my thoughts. After listening to the mostly negative comments, I realized I might be jaded but I still have hope. I explained that I had learned to expect the unexpected. To suffer through long dry spells followed by an out-of-the-blue increase in romantic possibilities…only to have them fall apart right away or over the course of a few weeks. Rinse and repeat. I told the group that, just as all types of problems have suddenly appeared in my life, I hold on to the hope that good things will also spontaneously occur. It just seems to be the way things work. The law of nothing is static.
Janet thanked me for my comment and we continued around the room. My attention drifted away as a text from a first date appeared on my phone. It looks like this latest dry spell might be over.
Until next week, happy dating or not dating.