Emma S, 33, started online dating at the beginning of 2016 after having been single for three and a half years. Over the course of this year she’s lived a real-life bad rom-com – including learning a lot along the way…
You get better at dating with practice - This wasn’t obvious to me, but thinking back to my first few dates, I was pretty tense. If I didn’t get a text back from someone, it would bother me for days. Now that I’ve encountered a fairly broad spectrum of dating behaviour, it’s harder for something to surprise me. I’m not deeply invested in every date, or on tenterhooks waiting for every message. I’m more relaxed, and that makes me a better date.
Other people don’t know your ‘dating rules’ - I’ve got my ideas about what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to online dating (don’t ‘ghost’; don’t continue chatting to someone if you know you don’t want to meet up), but very quickly I realised that other people are following their own rules about what is and isn’t OK. Just realising this makes it easier for me to accept and move on from behaviour that I don’t agree with.
Some dates are going to be weird or bad from the very first moment - At that point, it just becomes about seeing what you can learn from this fellow human being over the course of an hour or two, and exiting gracefully.
If I don’t fancy them in their photos, I’m not going to fancy them in real life - For the first few months I resisted believing this. I kept thinking, ‘He might be better-looking in person,’ ‘Maybe he’s just not photogenic’ and ‘He sounds really interesting – maybe his personality will win me over.’ I tried again and again, but I never fancied those people. Eventually I admitted to myself that looks are important to me. I’m not looking for Chris Pratt, but I am looking for a face that I’d want to stare into deeply after sex. And, for me, either that desire is there or it’s not.
It’s useful to have a ‘benchmark’ guy or girl - For me this is a guy I saw for a few weeks this year. In the end we called it a day because I didn’t feel strongly enough about him, but initially I fancied him enough to get physical. Now if I’m on a first date and I think, ‘I don’t like him as much as so-and-so’ then I know I shouldn’t bother with a second date. If I think, ‘I like him more than I liked so-and-so’, then it’s a good indication I should see if he wants to meet up again.
I can trust myself - If someone is ‘objectively’ good-looking but I don’t fancy them, or if I don’t find them interesting even though another part of me thinks I ‘should’ – I don’t need to listen to that part of me. I can trust my gut.
Finding friends who are also dating makes the process much less painful - For the first five months, I had no one to share it with when I went on a bad date. No one to whine to if I didn’t hear back. No one to tell about the guy who cried three times over dinner. Then I agreed to go along to a stand-up comedy course that a friend didn’t want to do on her own. The class was full of single people, and we had a blast sharing dating stories. We kept in touch, and we meet up occasionally or email each other with news, usually full of exclamation marks. It eases the pain.
For me, being friends doesn’t work - I agreed to be friends with one guy, and four months later he admitted he wanted a relationship. I (naively) had no idea, and felt terrible for hurting him. One guy agreed to be friends, then we met up once more, and never again, the thing fizzling out because we both suspected it was really still a ‘date’ situation. One guy said we should be friends, but I realised I liked him too much and that it would hurt to see him. One guy became my email buddy for months, until his explosions of self-hatred crossed a line and I stopped replying. I envy people who can be friends with those of the gender they’re attracted to. I can’t, and I’m OK with that.
Sometimes rejecting someone in person is easier - By date #16 I’d grown to absolutely dread texting the guy after the date. Either I was in pieces wondering if he liked me back, or, more often, I was dreading having to tell him I didn’t ‘feel that spark.’ So I decided to start saying it in person, at the end of the date. ‘So listen, I’ve had a lovely evening and it’s been great meeting you, but I don’t think I see this as a romantic thing. What do you think?’ If you’re giving someone bad news, it’s more merciful to give it quickly rather than leave the person hanging on for hours or days. At times I’ve also said, ‘So I really enjoyed this. I’d love to meet up again.’ And yes, I have said that to people who, it turned out, didn’t like me back. And it’s really not that bad!
The world is full of lovely people - I started on Tinder, then jumped to the other extreme and went to Guardian Soulmates, and ended up happily in the middle on OK Cupid. With all the filtering options these sites give you, I now feel pretty confident that I’ll have plenty to talk about with the men I meet. I’ve met so many witty, interesting, kind people. Sure, I haven’t fancied many of them, but it’s heartening that such great people are also out there, looking for love.