There’s something to be said for meeting someone for the first time—slowly learning about what makes that person special and letting the excitement and newness of the crush occupy your mind. But since online dating, which is now popular across all age demographics, gives us all the information up front, does it also take away our ability to crush like we used to? As courting rituals become increasingly virtual, are we turning into a crush-less society?
How the Game Is Played
Most people I’ve spoken with who belong to online dating Web sites approach the process somewhat analytically (and with a hefty sprinkling of cynicism). And really, online dating itself is set up that way. Profiles have word limits and prescreening questions that limit how much of yourself you can reveal. Some Web sites even give a percentage of how compatible you are with someone based on whether you answer yes or no to highly generalized questions like, “Exercise?” or “Drinker?”
I sat with a friend, Heather Glass, while she scrolled through different profiles on Match.com. On the side of each profile was a summary of such categories and, if you and the other person gave the same answer, the category was highlighted. This makes it so someone doesn’t have to waste his or her time reading a profile only to find out the other person isn’t a morning person or prefers cats to dogs. I would imagine it’s difficult to get excited about someone based on these kinds of facts, which only speak to compatibility on a superficial level. You can’t really fall in love with a profile. But this is what online dating is, at least in the beginning—a hunt to find people you can stand for at least one night and hope one of them creates a real-life spark.
Perfect on Paper, but What About in Person?
“This is my beef with online stuff,” Heather says as we look at a profile of a handsome man in his early forties who claims to enjoy rock climbing and French cuisine. “You have the opportunity to perfect what’s put out there, which doesn’t happen when you meet someone in person.” People often put what they consider the best of themselves in their profiles, which doesn’t always translate to real life. (Does anyone really spend his free time running marathons?) However, attractive attributes like quirkiness or an infectious laugh also get lost within the bland parameters of questionnaires. What might actually draw you into a crush in real life is impossible to show online; what is demonstrated is enough to generate interest, but it won’t put butterflies in your stomach or your head in the clouds.
“I feel like having a crush on someone is more of a ‘live’ thing,” explains Diego Gomez, an artist in his twenties living in San Francisco. (Incidentally, he wants you to know that he’s 6'1" and 165 pounds, with “eyes like pools of Fudgesicle juice.”) “You have to know of someone and see them in action, not just [see] a static picture online.” This is why it’s so important to schedule that first date and establish a physical meeting if you do find a notable profile. Neither Heather nor Diego spends much time emailing or talking with the people they’re interested in because they want to know whether it could be more in real life, which is vastly different than the online world. “You need to meet people. The longer you have to build this person up in your head, the more likely you’ll be disappointed when you do meet,” Heather advises.
The First Date Is the Second Date (If You Can Make It There)
First dates are already awkward enough, but they become even more so in the world of online dating. After all, those getting-to-know-you questions you’d ask on a blind date or an outing with someone you met at a bar have already been answered via the person’s profile. You know his likes and dislikes, whether he has kids or wants them, his occupation (and creepily enough, sometimes even his income level), and so forth. “You don’t have a first date that’s equivalent to the real world until the second date,” says Heather. “At that point, you’re at the level as if you’d met them at a party,” which is to say that the first encounter awkwardness has diminished somewhat and you’re free to stop putting on a presentation and be yourself. “I’ve gotten crushes on people after the second or third date,” she shares.
However, getting past that first date may be the hardest part of online dating. Many people go on first dates, but most online daters I know say that they rarely lead to second ones. This is because the proliferation of online dating Web sites and the decreasing stigmatization of Internet love means that there is an overwhelming amount of profiles to sift through—hence the aforementioned summaries on many profile pages. Match.com boasts that 20,000 people join every day. So if there isn’t an immediate spark on the first date, most people are quick to give up and move on because they know there are hundreds of other people to contact later.
I think this common first date syndrome explains why crushing often seems impossible if you participate in online dating. Too many options make people too fickle and quick to judge, so getting to the point where you start to really like someone and get excited about him as a person and not on paper is rare. So getting a crush is still possible in the virtual dating world, it’s just not as immediate as in real life. You can grow into a crush, but it requires getting over the blundering nervousness of the first date and giving someone the chance to open up and be more comfortable the next time around.
Online dating often reminds me of a compatibility questionnaire I filled out in high school (with a pencil and not with a keyboard, if you can believe it) as part of a fundraiser. It included questions like “How many pillows do you sleep with?” Sadly, the guy I was infatuated with didn’t make the list. One who did was a guy I shared a class with who chewed with his mouth open and made idiotic jokes in class. But maybe if I’d given him another chance, past the superficiality and posturing of the high school scene (not unlike a first date), it could’ve grown into a crush—or at least we could’ve banded together against those four-pillows-in-bed freaks.