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Your significant relationship has ended and you finally feel ready to re-enter the world of dating.  What are your options for meeting a potential date?

Bars? Work? Introduction by friends?  Or…..Online dating!

I’ve heard lots and lots of stories from my clients in Santa Rosa and North Bay Area about the excitement of sending their carefully crafted profile out into the world of or Eharmony, ( or HelloCupid if they are in the under 30 crowd)  and the thrill of seeing the immediate responses or the disappointment of not seeing the immediate responses. And then comes the beginning of an online relationship of sorts…..they have begun to email, to text and to call. And eventually, to meet.

Because an online relationship is so easy to begin, it is also possible to assume it will be easy to conduct.  After all, you didn’t have to go anywhere. You didn’t have to get up the courage to speak to a stranger in a crowded room, you could learn  about them via the internet, and then decide whether you were even interested in seeing them face to face. You were even able to see a picture!

My clients often describe online relationships as moving quite quickly, progressing from email, to calls, to texting multiple times per day. They also don’t describe much in the way of face to face interaction. Usually there is a coffee or drinks date, and maybe one more meeting.  And then the communication ends as suddenly as it began. One person just stops communicating, with no explanation. Very sad and disappointing.

Don’t misunderstand; I’ve known quite a number of couples who met online and ultimately formed solid partnerships, including marriages. But I hear a lot about  the the other aspects. The sadness and confusion about why the relationship ended. The self criticism and feelings of rejection, of not being good enough.

Let’s go back to how easy it was to enter an online relationship. So little personal investment was required.  You didn’t have to get dressed up, plan a date, go anywhere, do more than type some words!  And they didn’t either. There is no way to really know what the other person intends or wants.  You can’t see them, can’t learn how genuine they seem.  After all, if you meet a person face to face, you have a sense of how interested they are. Do they make eye contact? How do they look at you? Are you feeling interested in them? Do they tell you about themselves? Do they ask about your life? Is there any pull to continue meeting? If you had to get up, take a shower, get dressed, get yourself to the coffee shop, pay your way, postpone other activities while you are on the date, look the person in the eye – in other words, make an effort, and they did it too, there is an investment in the meeting that is already way beyond typing some words on a keyboard and hitting the “send” button.

Additionally, online relationships are often more about what what we project onto the other person than they are about who that person actually is!  If your profile states you are looking for a “real relationship”, or marriage and children, and someone responds – well, it’s safe to make the assumption that they want what you want, right? Wrong!  There is no way of knowing their intentions without spending time together.  It’s easy to say  “I want a meaningful long term relationship”.  Entering that relationship in real time involves the investment of resources, not least of which is time and energy.

All relationships involve at least 2 people.  Because those people are individuals, they move at individual and different speeds. Only by spending time together will you know whether that pace feels like a comfortable match. It is reasonable to expect that a new online connection will progress from email, to phone call, to actual meetings.  That shows an increase in the investment of time and energy by both people.

It can be a useful exercise to consider what you are willing to invest and what investment you want from someone with whom you are communicating. For example: Once the initial email exchange occurs, how long are you willing to wait for a reply? How long before a phone call? How long before a meeting?  Next, if contact is progressing, is there reciprocity or is one person making all the contacts while the other is merely responding? Understanding your own emotional responses to these issues can be a step down the path of seeing the red flags early on and saving yourself a lot of grief, plus successfully directing your resources in the best way.  A few visits with a qualified counselor can help you sort through your own expectations and understand whether those expectations serve you well.

And lastly, what if your online relationship crashes after the first meeting or two? Remember, you do not know this person and they do not know you.  They could be simultaneously seeing 5 people and just chose another one. They could get their thrills out of first meetings and never move forward. They could have just lost their job or been diagnosed with a serious illness. Or any of 100 other reasons. No matter how excited you were about them, you have no way of knowing why they dropped out unless they tell you (and are honest!).

You don’t have to stop looking for a match. You can set a reasonable a pace.  After all, you literally “meet” thousands of people online, and that number is far higher than the number of people you’d ever actually meet in real life.  So, it makes sense that a very high percentage will not work out. Have fun with it! Just use common sense.

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