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A few people have wondered what I did during the time I was off from blogging.  For one thing, I started a new job and felt I needed to concentrate on that.  Another thing was, I experimented with online dating.  Admittedly, a month’s time is too short for one to become an expert, but I thought I would share my experience nonetheless.  I am sure somebody (especially guys) out there will find this useful.  I am going to post them in a series of posts, starting with this one.

From my observation, people who participate in online dating view the experience differently than offline dating.  In offline dating, you meet somebody, you befriend them so that you can get to know them, and then you decide if there’s any chemistry for more than just friendship.  In other words, friendship plays a big role in offline dating.  I think it’s because one cannot know from meeting the person in an offline setting whether the person is interested in a relationship.  That does not seem to be the case with online dating.  I think there’s an unspoken rule that if you participate in online dating that you are there to find a life mate.  For that reason, a lot of strange behaviors come out of that assumption.

For example, I’ve received ample of emails from people who declared (after only reading my profile and seeing my photos) that I am a perfect mate for them.  REALLY NOW?  In my years of meeting people offline, nobody has ever said that to me, and these people probably got to know me better than those online folks.  Truth is, when you email somebody you’ve just “met” online with that kind of opening line, the email is most likely deleted before it even has a chance to be read in its entirety.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  I will write more about email correspondence in a later post.

What I wanted to write about in this post is expectation (and to some extent, attitude).  There’s no doubt that online and offline dating are two different beasts, but the differences lie in the vehicle and efficiencies, NOT in the methods of dating.  In other words, people should view online dating as another avenue to meet and get to know people, not as a license to change the way they would approach dating.  Let me explain.

During my month of online dating experience, I’ve met doctors, lawyers, school administrators, consultants, you name it.  These are people I probably won’t have met otherwise because of how I spend my time offline.  At work, I meet MBAs and engineers, and at industry functions, I meet people who are in the same line of work as me.  It’s true that on weekends, I may meet friends of friends who may be doctors, lawyers, bankers, etc., or I occasionally run into interesting people on my bookstore and photography outings, but those encounters are sporadic at best.  By putting myself online, however, I inserted myself into a vehicle that allows me to meet people that I won’t have met otherwise.  In other words, online dating sites directly expanded the kinds and numbers of people that I would encounter.  It is no doubt much more efficient than meeting people offline, but that’s where the differences end.

I may be the exception rather than the rule, but behaviors that would creep me out in the offline world are equally repulsive in the online world.  Similarly, behaviors that are charming and welcoming offline are equally effective online.  For example, when I meet people offline, I am much more open to getting to know them if they start with friendship.  When I meet people online, I am also much more receptive to people who want to get to know me first.  On the same note, cheesy pick-up lines that don’t work offline won’t work online either.  And just as a guy won’t ask a gal to marry him during the first meeting, a guy shouldn’t declare to a gal on the first email he sent that she’s the perfect one for him.

To summarize, online dating is no different than offline dating except for the ways to meet people.  Just as the best kinds of relationship develop out of friendship first in the offline world, its true for online as well.  Given all that, I believe the most successful uses of online dating is to find friends first, relationship second.  In other words, before you sign up for an account on an online dating site, it will serve you well to adjust your expectation from “I am going to find the man/woman of my dream” to “I am going to meet more people and develop more friendships”. [Update: per the comment below, I am updating this to read, “I am going to meet more people and develop more friendships with hopes of finding that special someone.” — I hope that clarifies things]

What do you think?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Part II – Online Dating 101: Your Profile
Part III – Online Dating 101: Your Opening Email
Part IV – Online Dating 101: Your First Meeting

January 2009