There are millions of you doing it right now as we speak – online, tapping away. Many are men. That doesn’t mean they’re fat, lonely Star Trek devotees with silly haircuts, anoraks and body odour.
Her name’s Anna and she’s from Reykjavik. You’ve been chatting online for two weeks now and are getting along well. You’re grappling with the idea of setting up a meeting, knowing that it’s going to require a number of things, including money and guts.
Think you’re alone? You’re not. There are millions of women online looking for relationships with men and millions of men like you replying to them. At any one time, a good percentage of them will be lying to each other to some degree. There’s an unspoken understanding of being online that you take what people say with a pinch of salt.
Online dating safer for women
That doesn’t make online dating a bad thing; men and women have wooed each other by the written word for centuries – computers and modems just speeded things up a bit. And because of it you can communicate with women a world away and she with you. A benefit for women is that it’s safe. We live in a brutal, predatory world where creeps abound. Online, women are reasonably secure from that, although there are people who will try anyway.
But most men who are online aren’t violent sex fiends. Many are looking for love, a soul mate, or simply that old feeling of being wanted. Many are eligible. They’re just supplementing all their other efforts to meet women with someone online. Or maybe they’ve lost faith in their local pub, club, beach, church, library, gym, line-dancing class or Mensa meeting as a place to meet someone special. Or maybe the wife and kids are asleep while they pretend to be 20 years younger and someone less boring.
The great thing about online dating is that you can be an adventurous teenager again without the risk of your pimply friends laughing at you.
So what's the truth?
The pinch of salt mentioned earlier may mean that you’re wasting your time with Anna from Reykjavik. She may turn out to be Magriet from Brakpan, or Anna may indeed be Anna, but the picture she sends you is of her cousin who now lives in Pittsburgh.
Many people dating online are ready to take these risks. Many people have limited expectations anyway, expecting little more than a few hours of dalliance with no risk of picking up a nasty virus.
But there are a few things to remember:
- Falling for someone online is not the same as falling in love with them. People meet online, click, meet and become a couple. But it’s unusual.
- Take care when people express an immediate interest in someone they’ve never met, let alone communicated with online. If she tells you that you have a great sense of humour after two short messages it could mean that you should seek a career in stand-up comedy, or that she’s a lonely but resourceful 77-year-old named Mavis or a precocious 11-year-old named Cindy.
- A lot of people online have no intention of actually meeting someone. They’re flattered by the attention and might do some risqué chatting-up and lying about their bodies, but that’s all. So if you’re serious about looking for a relationship, get yourself a short list and try to meet them. Once you do meet, you watch the body language signs that show whether she’s interested or not - touching hair, touching you and so on. She might just be nervous, so be careful about reading too much into these gestures.
Finally, if you do get a one-to-one meeting and are looking for signs of your new friend’s true personality, here’s a test. Yawn. You may have to quickly say. “Please excuse me, it’s not the company. I’m just a bit jet-lagged after flying all the way from Bryanston to Reykjavik. ”
But watch her reaction. A study at the Drexel University in Philadelphia has found that people who are generally empathetic, kind or self-aware are likely to “catch” your yawn. It seems that people who can relate to the social situations of others are more likely to yawn in response to someone else’s yawn.