Dating Between The Lines: How The Internet May Not Be Your Best Bet

“I am totally over OKCupid and the whole online scene, time to move back into the real world and hang out with cute guys in real life,” my friend Courtney texted me just recently. I have heard this before. Like Courtney, many of the women I know, myself included, have ventured online for romance.

Courtney has been on seven dates in less than two months with men she’s met online. Out of 400 messages, she’s responded to 11. She follows a strict protocol when qualifying men: if they don’t ask her out within ten messages, she stops responding and moves on. Despite many dates, she’s had chemistry with one guy, which ended when she discovered he was a pathological liar. It comes as no surprise Courtney is now a non-believer in the power of the internet to spark relationships.

When I first signed up for OKCupid I received over 100 messages in two days. Initially the attention was flattering, but then became unnerving. The volume of online suitors baffled me. Why had I been looking to dark bars, coffee shops and classrooms to pick up men when I could have just powered up my Mac?

It appeared that I had underestimated the internet... could it be that hundreds of eligible men had been only a click away all along? Originally skeptical, but now curious, I began sifting my way through the many messages in hopes of striking man gold.

Within a few days of creating a profile I started talking to Alan. I quickly learned that Alan was an engineer for the Navy who was interested in trail running and stationed a few hours away in Monterey Bay. Finally, after many messages exchanged, we arranged to meet for drinks at a bar in San Francisco.

The man I met that night was underwhelming, literally. Alan was five inches shorter than his online profile claimed. Our brief date left me emotionally stunted; height aside, what else was his profile over-compensating for? The next morning I deactivated my OKCupid account.

Most Millennials would agree that establishing credibility through web profiles is necessary to succeed in professional, personal and social circles. This makes sense considering that Gen-Y came of age online. We added buddies on AIM, survived puberty with Xanga, discovered ourselves on MySpace, went to college with Facebook, joined the workforce with LinkedIn, got political on Twitter and gained exposure through YouTube. Undoubtedly, twenty-somethings have spent more time growing up online than any other generation.

Now, as young adults, many of us are looking to pair up and have turned to our old friend, the internet, for guidance. While instinct may take us online, I can’t help but wonder if the internet is really the best place to search for a partner? In looking online for love, have we overreached the boundaries of the web -- it took us a decade to find ourselves, do we really expect to find our match in much less time?

Not all online romances come up short. My best friend from college, Molly, frequents the casual encounters ads on Craigslists. For her, the online medium has proven very sexccessful. After a year of CL dating, and a few awkward missteps, she has learned how to weed out the weirdos.

One night Molly was woken up by a frantic phone call from a woman who claimed to be the wife of a man that responded to her CL personal ad. The woman hysterically explained her husband was a sex addict. She pleaded with Molly not to sleep with her husband, and cautioned her against meeting men on CL. The reality of what Molly had gotten herself into became glaringly obvious. If she wanted to keep her exposure offline she needed to be more careful about screening her online connections.

Since then Molly has developed an intuition for spotting married men, “If the guy cannot host, or had some sketch story about their house being remodeled and they need to meet in a hotel, or if they’re only willing to meet at really specific times of the day or week... usually a girlfriend or wife is in the picture.” Even as a software engineer, I’m not sure I have what it takes to decode the nuances of dating online.

Despite having to read between the lines, Molly still prefers online dating because “everything is out in the open.” The trend toward everything being more open is one I find slightly concerning. I can’t help but think of the potential ramifications of broadcasting from our bedrooms. The internet has become a powerful tool to turn people on, but have we gone so far into the web that we no longer have an off switch?

Recently I had Molly walk me through her screening process when searching for men on CL. She picked up on the many subtleties that give cues into motives and intentions behind posts. Molly is an expert at online dating, she knows when and how much to disclose online. After a few hours of playing co-pilot I realized that the power of a profile lies in the fingertips of its creator and while I still don’t feel comfortable driving solo yet, I’m now well on my way to getting a learner’s license.

For years, bars and clubs have been the default locations for single people to make a connection. Girls dress to impress and men work up the courage to get a number, and if someone gets lucky, they might share a cab home. This mating ritual of “picking-up” is so inundated in western culture that it’s hard to imagine a world without it. However, since going online is second nature to Millennials, the cyber dating scene has increasingly become a top destination for singles. Which brings up the question, are we entering a post pick-up era?

One of the benefits to meeting a man out is that you have the option to bring him home. At times, online dating feels a bit like opening the front door without checking the peephole first. In a bar, a sideways glance would hardly be detectable, online you can’t miss the glaring notification that someone has viewed you.

Molly’s sexcess is a testament to the web’s ability to convey understated gestures, but for less experienced users like Courtney and myself, there is a level of intrigue and flirtation missing from online impressions. When dating online, it’s important to remember that profiles are written to impress, but sometimes the things not said are what we should be reading.

As a Gen-Y girl who grew up online with my peers, I can’t deny that the web is tightly woven throughout many of my life’s most significant and defining moments. However, for the time being, I will be venturing out my front door for romance. Like us, the web will continue to mature and take shape as time goes on, until then, it falls flat when attempting to mimic the many levels of attraction that exist in real life. For a Millennial, I may be old-fashioned, but until the internet grows up, I’ll remain cautious about taking my private life online.

Wanderlex | Elite.