The Hidden Gifts of Online Dating
I can fairly say I came to online dating kicking and screaming. I had survived the devastating endings of two long relationships. My faith in love was battered. I was scared, cynical, jaded about men and had zero desire to sign on to a bigger, better, faster heartbreak delivery system. But I found myself craving connection and having a difficult time meeting new people. And if I just created a username and password, I could respond to the question that I seemed to be asked at every cocktail party, “Have you thought about dating online?” by simply saying, “I am.” Thus allowing me to keep it moving to the cheese tray. Sign me up!
What I could not know then, curled up in my emotional clamshell for one, was how my online dating journey would not open the door to an avalanche of heartbreak, but to a wonderful transformation and expansion in my life as a whole.
Writing a dating profile about myself was one of the most confronting exercises I’ve been faced with as an adult. Having been through rejection and “failed” relationships, I could easily list all the things I don’t like about myself, but to define what I think is great about me, what I think I offer to the world and to a relationship, and then put it in writing? I realized this was the first time I’d ever done that! I had to trick myself into seeing myself through someone else’s eyes. Someone who isn’t as hard on me as I am on myself! It allowed me to redefine myself and showed me I could just as easily choose to do it from the sunny side of the street, as from anywhere else. It forced me to take a good hard look at what I like about myself. In retrospect, doing a positive accounting of myself turned out to be a transformative act of kindness. You cannot give what you don’t have. If I wanted to offer love, compassion and generosity to anyone, I had to start with myself. After devoting some attention to this, I started noticing this feel-good version of me was showing up more in my everyday life and my daily interactions were nicer.
It’s incredibly vulnerable to post publicly what you are looking for in a partner and relationship for all to see, and then invite people to react to it. Feeling that exposed was incredibly uncomfortable. What I wanted to do was to find connection with another person, but not feel any risk. I wanted someone to reach out to me and open his soul, without leaving the safety of my clamshell. And what I realized is this is not possible. I also realized that I was vulnerable, but I was also still alive and breathing.
Going out on dates with people I didn’t know was definitely out of my comfort zone at first. Every single date brought fear of rejection and disappointment. I felt powerless over who this person was and how I’d be received. All I could do was choose what kind of energy and intention I offered. I mean, if I’m showing up, why not choose to be open to delight instead of disappointment, right? I forced myself to choose optimism over and over. The more I did it, the more at ease I felt in these new social encounters, and the more fun I had. I had to admit that I didn’t know how things were going to go. I gave up being a Know-It-All. Allowing myself the freedom to “not know” has been one of the biggest gifts of my life. It creates an open space that, I’m finding, usually ends up being filled with something better than I would have put there myself.
I have to admit that every guy I met was different than I expected him to be from his profile. I’m not talking about the statistical stuff. I mean energetically. It was a huge lesson in releasing expectations and letting go of preconceived ideas about people. Those are the options, right? I could spend my evening struggling to align him with the guy I constructed in my mind or I could drop it all and let us both exist in the present moment. I started to be able to see that this poor guy sitting across the table was arguably more scared than I was. What could I do to make this better for both of us? It was a relief to take the focus off me and invest in what I could bring to make this a better experience. The question slowly changed from “Are you him?” or “Are you going to like me?” to “Hi! Who are you?” Offering that blank slate of acceptance felt so much better! I can honestly say that every guy I’ve met online brought something to my life – a deeper understanding of myself or what I want, a great conversation about an amazing life experience, vacation spot ideas or even just restaurant suggestions. One lovely gentleman shared a great app on his iPhone that I immediately downloaded. I never saw him again, but I use it all the time. I’m grateful for all of it.
When I first began this, I remember people saying I was brave. At the time, I thought it was an odd thing to say. But now I get it. It’s hard to put yourself out there. Everyone has a fundamental desire for connection. It’s not easy to reach out for it or be open to it. I had to literally pry myself open and force myself to look deeply inward while simultaneously reaching outward. These are muscles that have to be exercised. I know they get stronger if you use them. The best part of it all is that the ripple effect of this is at work in every part of my life. I approach my work with more presence. I’ve made tons of new friends. I was able to practice openness until newness meant excitement instead of fear. My relationships are richer because I was able to practice vulnerability until the rewards far outweighed the risk. My life is more fun because I was able to practice allowing instead of controlling.
I really believe online dating kicked off a paradigm shift for me when I couldn’t even see how much I needed one. It opened me up and got me engaged in a bigger world. It was a process, but I feel like I’m living life from a more free place in my being now. It brought me an awareness of how I’m showing up in the world, how I’m relating to people, and the intentions I set. My life is much more full. I have less fear, less expectation, more “Yes!” And more “Yay!”
Everyone wants to connect, love and be seen. Everyone struggles with the same hopes, fears, and disappointments on some level. My heart has softened because I know we have more similarities than differences, and even if this guy isn’t my soul mate, I honor his willingness to try. We’re all just trying to figure it out…and maybe share a nice dinner.