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How to get over your fear of online dating

Posted by Karyn Polewaczyk  November 5, 2013 09:15 AM

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This past weekend, I took one step into a Halloween party, and one giant leap for skeptical women everywhere: I joined an online dating site.

It wasn’t an easy decision. I spent about a month hemming and hawing over whether I should or not (“How can you write about all things dating and not seriously include dating online?” one friend asked), badgering my clique for their own experiences with places like Match.com and OkCupid. The responses were more or less the same: just give it a try—and if you hate it, stop.

But as I've mentioned in previous posts, I’ve got this not-so-secret chip on my shoulder about the merits of meeting a mate within the confines of a URL—even though I’m fully aware that cruising the Web for romance has become about as socially acceptable as ordering a coffee at Starbucks. That fear was laced with curiosity, though; and there are only so many times you can ask someone what they’d think if you, too, tried online dating before their eye rolls turn to a death stare.

You get my point—and, if you’re anything like me and have been straddling a fence between giving it a go and idling at yellow, you might appreciate my tips below on how to make the signup process less painful. (Plus, window shopping for men at your leisure. That’s pretty awesome, no?)

1. Expect some initial discomfort

I was 4, maybe 5, when my mother enrolled me in swimming lessons. When it came time for my first test—swimming the length of an Olympic-sized pool sans floatation device—I was fine, even great, until I reached halfway and realized my toes no longer touched the bottom of the pool. “I can’t make it!” I yelled out, expecting my instructor to toss a lifebuoy for me to grab onto. Instead, I was told that I could make it, and that I had to keep going. So, I did what any logical child would do: I yelled that I was drowning. Which, you know, I wasn’t.

My point is that it’s going to feel strange at first—you could also think of it in terms of yoga, and having to work with your body to ease into difficult poses—and you might feel tempted to throw it in the bag when the “What the hell am I doing with my life?” feeling lingers a few days after creating a profile and oh my God, it's public. But you’re going to be okay. (And for the record, I did reach the deep end of the pool—and wanted to swim the lap again as soon as I hit my mark.)

2. Announce from on high that you’re dating online

Imagine you wanted to quit smoking. First of all—good for you. Second, some argue that it’s easier to be held accountable to goals when you share them with your inner tribe. Which is why when I created my account, I told the very girlfriends who’d encouraged me to sign up for it in the first place. One friend offered to guide me through creating my profile; another sat with me over brunch and helped me pick out photos to upload. Most have checked in to ensure I’m enjoying myself, and that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be, like replying to messages from men who pique my interest and, um, not shutting down my account. Let your friends support you, people. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a lot of hand-holding to convince an adult woman to stop being a wuss.

3. Expect, also, the “ex” factor

You know that feeling when you see someone you used to date while you’re out and your stomach drops, and you run and hide behind a wall instead of saying hi because you’re mature for your age? I obviously never do that, but yes, it can happen online, too. I came across several men from my not-so-distant past (one of whom knocked three years off of his age—ahem!—and added two inches to his height, and another who boasted a rather voracious, er, appetite) on one of the sites I was considering joining. I mentioned these findings to a friend, who sympathized, and acknowledged that the best way to approach the situation is to not acknowledge it at all.

Moving along.

4. The subway manifesto

Admittedly, one of my fears upfront was the thought of having someone from a dating website recognize me in real life while doing everyday things, like grocery shopping and riding the T. Which seems rather ridiculous, since wouldn’t one, in theory, want to recognize their prospective date (lest he or she be of the type who shares outdated and/or Photoshopped images that don’t represent his or her true self)? You’ve got me there.

But, hey: we’re living in a social media world. Strangers have recognized me IRL based on my photos here and on Twitter; though their motives are usually flattering, it is kind of strange. Much like my swimming pool anecdote, you’ll just have to get over it. You’re not drowning.

5. Have fun with it

Just try, okay?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Karyn Polewaczyk lives and writes in Boston, and believes that heading out into that good night, like any adventure, begins with the first step. Let's Go Out is a conversation about dating and nightlife in our notoriously chilly city, with first-hand tips from the trenches. Karyn's writing, which focuses largely on women's lifestyle topics, has appeared in the Weekly Dig, Jezebel, xoJane, Northshore Magazine and More.com, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @KarynPolewaczyk.

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