Cultivating Relationships Online

By Kelly Ann

It is hard for me to imagine a world without the internet.  Emails, instant messaging, blogging, online searches, Facebook, and Twitter have become such a ubiquitous part of reality.  I love the access to information and to people.  For example, I treasure the friendships I have made online with some of the members of the Exponent community.  And so I find myself thinking about the many types of relationships I cultivate online, including dating …

LDS online dating sites were actually my first introduction to getting to know people online.  When I was first joined LDSsingles.com almost ten years ago, I was incredibly cautious given the negative associations with online dating in general at the time.  I chatted with a few individuals but it took corresponding with a particular individual for months, with whom I had felt safe because he lived across the country, before I was willing to go on a date while he was nearby on vacation.  Meeting at a restaurant, I was pleased to discover that we both had portrayed ourselves accurately.  It was like meeting an old friend.  As we continued to go out for about six weeks, I was teased lightly by my roommates for finding the relationship online but I would still argue that online dating has been accepted longer in the LDS community given the importance placed on marrying a member.  But despite this fairly positive experience, I quickly became frustrated with the wasted time searching, sending “flirts,” maybe chatting once with other individuals, finding those who did not accurately portray themselves, etc – not to mention the cost of subscribing.  So I quit.  And I didn’t date much as consequence (as my BYU experience involved lots of friendships but not a lot of dating).

Shortly after I moved back to the Bay Area in 2005, Elder Oaks gave his famous CES fireside at the Inter-stake Center in Oakland entitled Dating vs. Hanging Out.  Making a point to be more social anyhow post grad-school, I decided that I could benefit from one-on-one interactions and would follow his counsel to date more, even if that meant I had to do the asking.  So I made a list of the guys in my singles ward that I wanted to get to know better whether friends with them already or not.  I probably asked out on average one every month, not always successfully, which unfortunately garnered me a bit of a reputation and perhaps extinguished some possibilities of guys asking me out (which I always found an annoying double standard as the guys who did the same did not suffer the same consequence).  So I then made a point to go to regional activities, mid-singles activities when I hit 27, and rejoined a couple online lds dating sites, including ldslinkup which was hugely popular at the time, in an effort to get to know more people.  While  I have plenty of other good stories from these years (including awkward exchanges at dances with guys approaching me saying they recognized my profile), I never really got past the hanging out phase.  So I eventually even prayed to help me date more which brought me to the realization that I should be open to dating non-members which I had not been.

Shortly thereafter, I met my ex-boyfriend at my aunt’s Halloween party.  We dated on and off for two years and it was nice to go out (and maybe sometimes just hang out) with a true friend.  We cared about each other, had fun with each other, and helped each other.  The fact that it encompassed my faith transition added a measure of difficulty, but he was not concerned with how active or inactive I was as long as I was happy. And honestly, having an unbiased person listen to me ramble at times with my frustrations with the church, while respecting me and where I was at, was what I needed.  Despite the things which led to breaking up (which I won’t go into here), I found a relationship that really helped me become a better person and imagine wanting to be married, something I had never imagined previously.

When we finally ended our relationship, it was interesting.  Given the on/off nature, one of the first things I did was subscribe to an online dating service to make it clear that I was putting myself out there (although not really rushing into it given the time I needed to process the previous).  I browsed match, okcupid, eharmony, and the variety of other sites, curious to see new features and online dating more accepted (although still deserving caution).  It has been nice to be able to chat, go out to dinner, maybe on a couple dates, and get to know people although it has not resulted in anything longer than a couple months.

I also recently decided to give the LDS dating websites another chance.  I browsed LDSplanet, LDSsingles, and LDSmingle before subscribing to one of them.  However, I clearly reference LDS blogs and my liberalness (although not the focus of my profile) so I don’t let the more traditional facts about myself attract me to someone bothered by who I actually am.  I do this although I do not like the need to “sell” one’s faith on these sites, in addition to “selling” yourself as you find on other sites.  Anyhow, I have had some responses but they are all unfortunately from 50 year old men …  (who also contacted me and I ignored 10 years ago).

So while I also actively try to date through more traditional channels, I am left wondering if I am wasting my time (although it has all been good experience for screening roommates on Craigslist and making friends with bloggernacle folks).  Don’t get me wrong, I am happy being single, and don’t think about all this most of the time, but there are days when I really want a long-lasting relationship.

In terms of discussion, I would be interested in hearing about how other people cultivate relationships online.  How do (or do) your interactions differ from real life? What do you think of online dating?  Have you had good or bad experiences?  In general, what are your experiences with dating in general? How do you think they can be improved? More broadly, if not in terms of dating, how do you turn your online interactions into better friendships?  Do you think it possible to be successful?  I would love to hear about other people’s experiences with online dating and in general.  And finally do you think it would be useful to have a bloggernacle profile site (not just for dating)?

And since we are opening the can to a relationship discussion, for those not familiar with Seraphine’s series at Zelophehad’s Daughters about “Being a 30-something Single in the Church” (written last year before she got engaged), I highly recommend looking at them as they cover a range of applicable topics including Part VIII, My Experiences with On-line Dating Sites; Part VII, Attempts at Comfort; Part VI, Divorce; Part V, the Law of Chastity; Part IV, Family Wards; Part III, Marriage; Part II, No Sex; and Part I, Dating.  Also a search of the Exponent and a search with the keyword dating on LDSblogs.org yield some interesting articles including: LDS Dating Sites (BCC); Worthless Dating Advice (T&S) (written by a guy); Economics and the Vicious Dating Scene (T&S); and Dating the Single Mormon Momma (MMW)

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12 Responses

  1. Fei says:

    I’ve been in 3 relationships that started over the internet. All three were serious. I ended one, one dumped me, and the last one led to my marriage.

    I think that you can have genuine and intimate interactions over the www, but you really do fill in the blanks of the things you don’t know and don’t see about them with the things you wish they were. Like any relationship, there’s a perception vs. reality adjustment that needs to happen, but perhaps more so.

    In my experience, the only way for these online relationships to work is if one or both parties are willing to make huge sacrifices. Not just to meet each other early on in the relationship to “feel it out” but to uproot yourself and your life. Most of the time, they involve people from two far away places. Somebody’s got to be willing to move, otherwise the relationship just doesn’t progress. It’s risky, though, and you have to be ok with that. I’ve moved halfway across the world for a relationship that failed after just one month. I stayed on and established a great life there and then had to give it up again for my marriage.

    Online relationships are so commonplace now, there’s nothing to it. The real tricky part is transitioning from an internet relationship to a viable, and long-lasting real-life one.

  2. Corktree says:

    I met my husband through match.com, but it was so long ago (relatively) that the nature of online relationships feels very different to me now. Also, it was in the early stages of the site and women didn’t have to pay – just the men? In any case, it was a useful way to meet people in a big city (I was in Boston) aside from bars, but I found more often than not that people weren’t as I imagined they’d be once we moved on to a first date. In fact, my husband is the only one I gave a second date to, so I don’t know if I was just really picky or if it just went how it was supposed to ( I kinda feel somedays that meeting him was the reason I was where I was in the first place).

    So I don’t know. I think it’s a much better solution than singles wards and dances if you want to date someone that understands where you’re coming from and are willing to risk distances. But I’m all for looking outside the church, so that changes my perspective a bit.

    As for turning online relationships into real friendships, I think it is imperative to meet people and experience that personal connection. The few people I’ve had the joy to meet so far from the Exponent have really helped me not to stress so much about any misconceptions and hang-ups I’ve developed over online interactions – which can by nature be very hard to see accurately and not place too much weight on. Talking in person is just so different, but I think both have value.

  3. Katrina says:

    I met my husband online in 2006. I felt a bit sheepish about doing the online dating thing but I ended up having a lot of fun with it. At first I only talked to guys who lived close to me because I wasn’t interested in a long distance relationship. Then I got an email from the man who would become my husband and he lived across the country! Plus he was divorced with 3 kids, whereas I was only 23. It seemed pretty crazy, but we just ended up being very well suited to each other. We are both super communicative so the long distance thing worked for us. We were lucky that we were able to spend a lot of time together in real life during our dating which is VITAL. You really can’t know if its real until you meet in real life. Once we got engaged, I moved to where he lived and then we were married about 2 1/2 months later. Its been four years and two kids later and we are SO happy.

    As for non romantic online relationships… I’ve met some of my now very best friends through blogging. I think that as a young mom, these online relationships (and those that have transitioned to real life friendships) have kept me from going crazy. I love the internet. 🙂

  4. Caroline says:

    Kelly Ann,
    I loved reading about your experiences with online dating. I realize that there are difficulties involved with it, but I am 100% sure that if I were single and interested in meeting people, one of the first things I would do is get online and try to find people through these dating sites. It seems to me like this is the way a lot of people are finding one another now a days. My cousin — who is 48 and has 4 kids — found her new husband online, and it’s working out great.

  5. Kelly Ann says:

    Thank you everybody for your comments.

  6. aerin says:

    It’s a very different world than the one when I was dating (fourteen years ago!).

    I would definitely try online dating if I were looking for a relationship. I think it would need to be in conjunction with other ways of developing friendships. I do think everything online needs to be cautious, i.e., could be read by my boss or parents or both. Fifteen years ago, that wasn’t such a big deal or concern.

    I recently finished the book_Blink_ by Malcolm Gladwell. One of the things he mentioned was about speed dating, that people could tell within a few minutes if they might hit it off. And, that sometimes they would think they were looking for certain characteristics, but in reality they might be attracted to very different people.

  7. Stella says:

    This is a timely post (and what’s up with only 7 comments! I thought people would be all over this post!) I broke up with my last boyfriend (met via friends) almost two years ago. I’ve been dating another man (also met via friends) for the last year and a half, but it’s getting pretty clear that it’s time to start dating a few others. Before these two relationship, my three previous ones had been people I had met online. One lived across the country, the others lived in my city. I am still close friends with all of them and found them to be some of the best relationships of my life.

    Here is my concern about getting online again. I’m a school teacher and I heard a horror story (and witnessed it) where a student at the school had found a dating profile of one on the teachers, printed it off, and hung it up ALL OVER THE SCHOOL. This has TERRIFIED me into staying offline lately. The other thing was when Match.com paired me up with the Biology teacher who taught in the room next to me (who all the students wanted us to get together anyway). He came into my classroom and made a loud declaration that apparently we were a “match”. There were a few students in the room and I was embarrassed and it was awkward as I keep my private life as private as possible. Ugh.

    In any case, I promised myself come April, I’d sign up for one again. I’ve got one more week, then I’m going to give it another go.

  8. EmilyCC says:

    I like the idea of a bloggernacle profile site, and I’m not looking to date anyone 🙂

    In the late 1990’s, I had a friend in college who met her husband online. It worked out really well (though I was nervous for her until I had a few interactions with him IRL). In fact, I think the majority of my friends’ online dating relationships have been happy with really only one exception.

  9. amelia says:

    I started doing the online dating thing in early 2004. I wanted to be dating but wasn’t really meeting people IRL, especially not at church, so I decided I needed to be proactive and online dating gave me a way to be proactive. I joined match.com and ldssingles.com then. I dated several men from match.com (including one for several months) and none from ldssingles.com. I haven’t even looked at ldssingles.com since 2004 because I found it such an utter waste of money. But I have since rejoined match.com, joined okcupid.com (free! yay!), and tried eharmony. I’ve gone on dates with people from all of them. Most of those dates have not led to long term dating, but they have been fun and I at least felt like I was out there meeting people, which is a hell of a lot better than sitting in my apartment not meeting people.

    I have a few friends I met online, whether on one of the dating sites or just on a social networking site like ldslinkup.com (which I never really intended to use for dating, though I did go out on dates with a few people I met there). I don’t know why it is that some of the people I’ve met online are people I can be friends with IRL. It just sometimes works. And I can usually tell when it will work either before we meet or very shortly after we meet.

    The very best part about meeting people online, whether simply friends or potential dates, is that it involves words and reading. Maybe it’s just cause I’m a student of language and the written word, but I can tell a whole lot about a person based on not only what they write but how they write it. For instance, I’m dating a man right now I met on okcupid. I’m not sure I would have emailed him had I stumbled across his profile first and only considered the “what” of what he had to say. His list of books and movies and music was fairly sparse, not a lot of description of what he’s doing, almost nothing in the “about me” section, etc. In other words, I didn’t know a whole lot about him based on what he said, beyond some basics. But the way he said what he said was funny in a good natured, slightly self-deprecating, and a bit offbeat way. And it was direct and honest. And I could tell based on how he said what he said that he was most likely my kind of people, which was enough for me to say yes to his invitation for a date (for which he also got kudos; we live in the same city so he just asked me out right up front rather than wanting to spend ages emailing and etc.; I’m not a big fan of using online dating for prolonged preliminaries when actually getting together is possible–there’s just too much potential for misperception). Maybe the fact that we went out within 24 hours of meeting online means that this doesn’t count as online dating, but ultimately dating online is only helpful if it leads to a real life relationship, so I figure it counts. Of course, I’m one of those people who simply will have nothing to do with online dating someone who lives more than an hour’s drive from me. I’ll also add that I’m also one of those people who refuses to limit my pool of potential dates to Mormons. Bleh. I’d be screwed (figuratively, not at all literally) if I did that because Mormon men are, for the most part, not interested in outspoken, opinionated, feminist, liberal, slightly socialist, very tall women. Yes, I did just stereotype; sue me.

    Anyway. I’m all for online dating. I say go for it, but use it as just another means of asking people out rather than a way to really get to know people before meeting them IRL.

  10. sla421 says:

    I’m an early adoptor :-). My husband and I just celebrated our sixth anniversary. We met on penpalworld.com in 2002. We wrote emails back and forth for 18 months with a little chatting and phoning mixed in. When we finally met, we already knew how to communicate with each other because our whole relationship had been based on nothing but communication. It took a year to work out the logistics, but once we’d met in person there was no doubt that we were supposed to be together.

    The chances of us meeting any other way were minimal (he immigrated from the UK to marry me). I cherish our courtship because it set the pattern for our marriage, we’re able to talk about all the hard stuff we’ve encountered thus far and deal with it as a team.

    Another key to our relationship is that we were both willing to sacrifice to make it work. When someone leaves his entire life, all of his possesions, his family and friends to marry you, well you can never really take that person or that relationship for granted.

    When people ask my advise about online dating, I always say to take it slowly. There’s such an instant gratification rush from getting a lot of hits and attention, so much so that it can be easy to make poor choices based only on online personas.

  11. george says:

    I used to think that having a relationship with someone online is just a game. It’s just something you do to kill time and have fun. I even thought there’s no feeling involved in it… just plain fun. But this post made me realize that love really moves in different ways. And one way is through the internet. Meeting people online is surely fun and interactive. This is the time when you become open to more opportunities of meeting the one you love. Some might end up as friends while some might end up as lovers. Either way it’s still a good thing because you can explore and be more flexible to other people.

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