I used to think “wanting to meet someone” meant going to events and looking around, asking your friends to introduce you to single women, or participating in organizations that attract the kind of women you want to meet. Activities that let you actually see your target, note who her friends are, even talk with her.
Boy was I clueless. Modern dating is about getting on the computer. Cruising photos and profiles, chatting online, gradually gathering information until one of you feels safe and brave enough to suggest meeting in person.
Gathering actual information is good. It’s the fantasy that gets you in trouble. There’s a long Fantasy Road between connecting online and meeting in-the-flesh. You get a few droplets of information and develop an ocean of assumptions about what she’s like. Then you actually meet her.
One complaint online daters have is “There are a lot of crazies out there!” Frankly, that’s a little unfair. The vast majority of women online are not crazy. They’re just like you, and they worry that you’re crazy too. So let’s be kind here. Compassionate, and wise.
I think there are “screening criteria” that can illuminate potential problems before you get too invested in a doomed relationship. These aren’t direct questions to ask her—just ask yourself how she strikes you on these issues.
First, how is she with boundaries? Not enough, or too many? Does she give you too much information, too fast? Disclose sexual information before you’ve even met in person? Profess feelings for you too quickly? Write things online that seem too personal?
Beware of the words “I don’t know what it is about you, but I feel like I can really talk to you.” These words often mean “I have a lot of emotional problems and need a lot of your help.” Granted, we’ve all got problems, and need to talk with someone we trust—but we don’t assume that a complete stranger is that person. Unless you cherish a life of emotional care-taking, back away gently.
On the other end of the boundaries continuum, does she have too many? No personal information at all, no photos, no work history, no friends? This doesn’t usually happen as much—after all, she is online! But pay attention to her out-ness. Some women are extremely closeted, because they fear major losses: child custody, jobs, family, social networks. But even if her reasons are valid, given her circumstances, there are high costs for you. Being with someone who has to keep you a secret can make you feel invisible, unimportant, stigmatized. There’s a saying “Secrecy=Shame.” That’s the really negative consequence of too many boundaries.
And the second issue to screen for? How much responsibility does she take for her problems? We all have to deal with relationships that don’t work out, jobs, friends, families that let us down. That’s life. But people are really different in how they explain adversity.
Some people are called “externalizers,” because their problems are always caused by external forces. “My partner was controlling, my boss didn’t like me, my family rejected me, the women I’ve met are all crazy.” Any one of those could be true, but all of them? This pattern of blaming others is usually chronic, entrenched, and not going to change. When you hear someone casting aspersions on others in her past, heads up! You’re next.
Then there are the “internalizers,” who are really nice but give others way too much benefit of the doubt. Internalizers are easy to take advantage of, because they’re so vulnerable to irrational guilt. “I’m sorry I irritated you by saying you shouldn’t drive home after having 4 drinks. You probably drank so much because I made you nervous.”
Given the choice, I’d rather be with someone who takes too much responsibility, not too little. And too many boundaries are probably easier for me to deal with than too little. But, I feel the most respect for someone who hits a balance between extremes. And I think you can tell that fairly quickly, if you tune in to the boundaries-and-responsibility channel.
I want to help you avoid the Sunk Cost Fallacy. This is a shockingly common, irrational habit of thinking that because you’ve already sunk so much into an investment, you need to sink more in hopes of recouping your losses. Here’s how it works: We’ve already invested a million dollars in this software which doesn’t work. Maybe if we invest another million it will start working. So it winds up costing two million and the software still doesn’t work.
Sound familiar? You’ve already gone out with her 6 times, stopped communicating with a couple other potential dates, and introduced her to your friends. Plus you’ve started having sex. You can’t stop now! Maybe when she gets more comfortable with you she won’t drink so much…or be so negative …or act rude to the wait staff…
As Flip Wilson used to say, “What you see is what you get.”
Glenda Corwin, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who has been in private practice for more than twenty years. She provides gay-affirmative psychotherapy, and consults with professionals and the general public on sexual issues for women in same-sex relationships. Dr. Corwin leads weekend sexual intimacy workshops for women, and in 2007 conducted a research project investigating lesbian sexual patterns. The very positive responses to her workshops and research were the inspiration for the book Sexual Intimacy for Women: A Guide for Same Sex Couples. She is currently working on a book for single women, focused on dating and sex.
The daughter of missionaries, Dr. Corwin grew up in Colombia, South America. Her background gives her a deep appreciation for diversity of cultures, languages, and human connections. She also appreciates the lovely woman who shares her life in Atlanta.
For more information about Dr. Corwin and her work, visit her website at www.DrGlendaCorwin.com.