Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Pop Idolizer

Summer 2002: several months had passed since I'd left the dating website. My Lonely Hearts advert had resulted in one excruciatingly fun-free date. I guess I was kind of concentrating on my job and friends, but kind of realising that this sounded like a cliché and really I wanted more. I needed to kickstart my dating life again - but how?

An opportunity arrived in my inbox. While on the dating website I had given one of my external email addresses out to a few women. One of them emailed me all those months later. She and I had chatted online for several hours one evening but nothing further had come of it. What had prompted her to email me at this point? She didn't really give any reason but I wasn't about to worry too much about that - to be honest I was pleased to have a dating prospect on my horizon again.

We both had email access at work and time available to use it, so before long we were having email conversations throughout our workdays. We shared a similar sense of humour and we found out all kinds of information about each other's lives. Her ambition was to be a singer on Pop Idol. My ambition was to go on a date with her.

When I asked her on a date she agreed at first but then cancelled and asked to reschedule two or three times. This was a warning sign but I persevered, figuring that I had nothing to lose by being patient. Eventually, after three weeks of email chatting and postponed plans, we had a date which didn't get cancelled.

We met in a bar and sat down with drinks to find out how we'd get on in real life. The fact that we'd already chatted so much via email was both helpful and unhelpful: we already had a connection which carried over somewhat into the real world, but at the same time it felt strange not to be communicating through our usual medium. We didn't run out of things to say but we were both more tentative than we had been in cyberspace.

The date ended without any clear indication of what our next step would be. We hadn't managed to be fully comfortable in each other's company. But the next day, back on the emails, our banter continued where it had left off. We chatted as if the date had been a success and both said that we wanted a second. In the mean time our emails became more racy and suggestive. We talked as if all of our online chemistry would translate into the real world soon. Our second date was agreed around two weeks after the first.

For some reason, I agreed to our second date being at the cinema. Why did I do that? I should have known better! As I approached the cinema I could see her waiting outside. Bad vibes. She looked uncomfortable and guarded. Our initial interaction was less comfortable than on our first date, not more. We went in to watch the film and it seemed that she shrank away from me any time I tried to put my arm around her or show affection. Things were not looking good. It didn't help that the film was pretty bad as well!

We went for a walk after that and talked a bit. She said that she wasn't sure what she wanted and wasn't sure how to be around me. We parted ways at the station soon after that. I had a feeling that our next cyber-contact would not be a bounce back to our previous highs. My fears were confirmed by text later that evening. I think those dreaded two words "Just Friends" were involved again. Real-world reality had won out over online-world fantasy.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Silent Night

After nearly three months on the dating site I was beginning to become disheartened with the venture. I had been on three first dates but no second dates. Each of my dates had been preceded by weeks of online contact. After things with Busy Student didn't work out, I realised that I hadn't started to click with anyone else online recently, which meant that it seemed unlikely that I would be going on another date any time soon. I was considering leaving the dating site and trying to find some other way to meet women. As chance would have it, my computer chose that time to catch a virus. I became unable to access the internet at home - I could still do so at my new job but I didn't think it was a good idea to be logging onto a dating site at work, so I left the site.

Instead I tried a different but similar medium: I put a personals advert in a magazine. I can't quite remember why I thought this would be a more successful avenue but I thought I would at least give it one try.

One advert, one try... one response.

I was disappointed to receive only one reply, but after a brief telephone chat I did at least have a date. We arranged to meet at a bar in the city. On the way there we texted each other a description of what we were wearing. As I neared the bar I could tell that I would be early and deliberately stalled a short distance away, at which point I saw someone matching her description. I couldn't be sure whether it was her and, in a portent of what was to come, I didn't say anything as she went past. I waited until I would be on time and then went to the bar. It had indeed been her before. I felt rather foolish and hoped that she hadn't spotted me earlier.

We got drinks and sat down together to chat. And we chatted. At first. We talked about our jobs and recent life events and interests. Pretty standard, really. And we started to run out of talk. The awkward pauses grew until there was more silence than speaking. I tried to tell myself that saying anything was probably better than saying nothing but I just wasn't managing to convince myself. The second half-hour of the date was just becoming one long awkward pause.

We left the bar and went for a bit of a walk, perhaps both hoping that a change of scenery would help somehow, but it didn't. More of the same. Neither one of us could break the silence for long. After not very long our walk took us to the station and we went our separate ways.

Reflecting on the date afterwards, I couldn't quite figure out how I'd managed to get so tongue-tied. I wanted to try a second date with her to see if we could click better - perhaps I partly wanted this because I didn't have any other potential dates on the horizon. I texted her the next day to ask if she would like to go out again. She replied in the negative. To be honest I think she probably did the right thing!

If I were to run into Silent Night again I would say... well, who am I kidding, I probably wouldn't think of anything to say, or I'd convince myself that I might not have correctly recognised her anyway!

Friday, 23 July 2010

Busy Student

Many of my early online dating experiences had started out the same way - awkwardly. I was usually the one writing the first email, trying to find something to comment on in the woman's profile, and then if she wrote back we might have a few email exchanges and then perhaps progress to online chat, but throughout the whole interchange I was often struggling to come up with interesting material. I'd gotten as far as going on a couple of dates but those had been somewhat awkward at times too. The common factor in all of these instances was me - was I just not very interesting?

Happily, my next experience was a change from this cycle. I had started chatting with another woman and somehow it was very different. I seemed very different. Chatting with her just seemed to flow so easily. I think it partly came about through my being less cautious when we were first in contact - I made some bold and confident comments and jokes and she seemed to really enjoy that side of me. It was almost like I was a different person when chatting with her - not that I was being dishonest in any way, but somehow was managing to display a different aspect of myself.

I hoped that our enjoyable online chatting would translate into an enjoyable meeting in the real world, so I asked her out on a date. Her response was a disappointment for me - she was going to be busy with university work for the following four weeks. After this our online chat became less frequent. Was all of this her way of gently rejecting me? Is anyone really too busy to squeeze one date into a four week timeframe?

As the end of the four week period arrived I had hardly been hearing from her at all and was thinking that she was no longer interested, so it was a very pleasant surprise to receive a text message from her asking if I still wanted to meet up! Wow, maybe she was actually just being straight with me and she really had been too busy to meet up or even chat much. I guess I'd been too quick to assume otherwise!

We arranged to meet at a bar for drinks after work one day (by this time I was working during the day rather than on night shifts, which was a big help!) On arrival we recognised each other easily from the photos which we'd exchanged - always a relief! I bought drinks for us at the bar and we had a bit of an awkward silence while waiting. I was briefly concerned that this didn't bode well, but then we sat down with our drinks and didn't stop talking for over three hours! I was managing to be in that same mode as in online chatting with her - funny, confident, maybe talking about myself a bit too much - and she seemed to be enjoying this version of me.

At the end of the evening we said our goodbyes at the station, with talk of meeting up again, but our goodbye kiss was on the cheeks and felt awkward. On my way home I got to thinking that despite my witty banter I hadn't managed to be confident and initiative-taking in terms of physical contact - maybe she had expected me to take the lead there too and I didn't.

The next day I sent a text saying again that I'd enjoyed the evening with her. She texted back but didn't mention the evening at all. Bad sign. She mentioned that she would be studying that day so I asked if I could distract her with some emails. She said yes and added "You can tell me what you thought of me!" I took this to be a better sign, so I did as she suggested. Unfortunately I think I might have come on too strong with it. Through the wonders of email accounts I still have that email eight years on - here's what I wrote:

"So... what did I think of you? Well, I thought you were pretty, fun, easy to talk with, inquisitive - but in a good way! The time flew by, I didn't realise we would stay until closing, but I was enjoying it more than enough to stay! And I'd like to see you again, which I think says a lot in itself!"

Again her response didn't mention any of this. After a few more emails I asked again about meeting up again and she wrote the two dreaded words: Just Friends. Ouch. I was left wondering whether I'd said or done things to put her off or whether there was actually nothing I could have done to change this outcome. I'll never know. We didn't meet up again - our emails and texts dwindled and then stopped.

If I were to meet this Busy Student again some day, I would say: Did I manage to put you off or was it just never meant to be? Either way, I hope that you went on to find the right guy for you.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Salsa Dancer

Back on the dating websites, I had been messaging and chatting with a young woman who had described herself in her profile as a waitress and a dancer. I must confess that I did briefly wonder if this combination was a euphemism for something akin to stripping, but it turned out that she was a student with a part-time job and a passion for salsa.

By this time I had learned a couple of things. The first thing: It seemed that some women preferred the man to ask them out on a date rather than vice versa. I'm pleased to report that this time I managed to ask her out before she asked me to ask her. We arranged to go to a salsa dancing night - it would be my first time and probably her thousandth, but I hoped that my positive give-anything-a-go attitude would make up for my likely lack of ability.

The second thing I had learned: before meeting up with someone from the internet, it is actually quite useful to have seen a photo! I had managed to use a scanner in a local library to scan a photo of myself to email upon request. She requested, so I emailed. We were chatting online again and she made agreeable comments about my photo and then emailed me a photo of her. It was a nice photo. Unfortunately, my computer picked that particular moment to crash as spectacularly as it could manage. It took me half an hour to coax it into logging back onto the site and by then she was long gone.

I was worried about how this might have come across to her. It must have looked as if I'd abruptly left the chat without comment as soon as I'd seen her photo. Not a reaction which anyone would hope for! So I sent her an email apologising and explaining and complimenting. I think she was touched by the email - I got the chance to show that I cared about her feelings. Perhaps my computer did me a favour in a strange way! Our chatting continued - she was really fun to spend time with online and I hoped that the same would be true offline.

The night of the salsa date arrived. Walking through a dark alley towards the bar I spotted her coming towards me and maintained eye contact as we neared each other. As we met I smiled and was just about to say hello when I suddenly realised: That's not her! Keep walking, just keep walking. I might have really scared that poor girl, eyeballing her down a dark alley. Sorry!

Once in the bar I managed to find my real Salsa Dancer date. She was somewhat quiet and shy in person (and so was I, which can make for a tricky combination) but once the salsa dancing started she was transformed into a confident, lithe, sensual woman. Wow, it's true what they say: confidence is attractive. If only I could keep up! I couldn't, of course. I had the co-ordination but not the grace - the structure but not the form. I think I managed not to step on her feet at least, but I did feel like I was holding her back. Still, I think she appreciated my effort, and on parting we talked about doing it again.

The next day we talked on the phone and she admitted something to me: she hadn't quite entered her correct age on her profile. Her profile had said 18 (I was 22) but she told me that she was actually 17 and still had over a year of high school ahead of her. She could tell that I was initially thrown by this and our phone conversation ended soon after.

I wasn't sure what to do next. I went back and forth with it in my head. I was really enjoying getting to know her. But 17 was too young - wasn't it? But it was only one year younger than I'd previously thought. But couldn't she have been more upfront about it? But the site had an 18+ rule so she couldn't have come clean on her profile. But she could have told me in one of our chats...

I saw her in the online chat section of the website a few hours later. By then I was 90 per cent sure that 17 was too young (but 10 per cent hoping that it somehow wasn't.) I wasn't sure how to break it to her, but she saved me the discomfort by bringing up our age difference first and talking as if we were just friends now. So I went with that.

We had some more fun chats and I even went to the salsa night with her again the following week. Our contact lessened over the following weeks. She invited me to salsa again but I was busy. She made a point of telling me when she turned 18 and I did actually think "Should I ask her out again now?" but then she didn't reply to a text of mine and I took that as a sign to let her slip away.

If I were to cross paths with Salsa Dancer again, I would say: I hope I didn't seem like too much of a jerk by pulling away when you made a difficult admission to me. I hope you went on to meet a great guy with dance moves I could only dream of!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Sexy Eyes

When I joined the dating website I told myself that, of course, this didn't mean that I would completely neglect the possibility of finding romance offline. I didn't intend to put all of my eggs in one basket (read: let myself not bother making any effort to meet women in any other way.) However, that is kind of what happened. At the time I was temporarily working as a croupier in a casino for a few weeks while waiting for my "proper graduate job" to start. This temporary job involved night shifts, mostly at weekends, which put me somewhat out of sync with most of the people in my city. I was also short on money. I wasn't really going out or meeting people or being very sociable.

Well, I was meeting one group of people: the other croupiers working at the casino. Some of whom were women. One of whom I've never forgotten since.

As croupiers we each ran a gaming table - roulette, blackjack, poker... surrounded by eager (or pessimistic but compulsive) gamblers but not interacting with other staff members. We would only meet our colleagues during our occasional 15-minute breaks. Therefore it took some time to meet other staff as a new employee, but I think it was on my second or third night that I met her. I was trying to be the most outgoing version of myself, introducing myself to new people and making new acquaintances. As she turned to respond to my greeting, our eyes met.

Oh My God. She had the most amazingly captivating eyes I had ever seen. I can't even recall what words I said next but I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't make much sense. I remember thinking to myself: "This woman's eyes are too beautiful for me to look into and think straight at the same time." But then thinking straight was over-rated compared with looking into her eyes and feeling my brain turn to mush.

For the rest of that night I made an effort to chat with her as much as possible whenever our 15-minute breaks happened to coincide. I thought we were getting on well so I was disappointed when fate dictated that she be away on holiday shortly after that, for a period of time which would take out half of my sentence in this stop-gap job.

When she returned from holiday I wasn't sure whether she would remember the new staff member she'd briefly met, but to my delight I received a "Hello" and a warm smile and another devastating flicker of electrifying eye contact. Our chatting continued when our breaks allowed - I worked out that I only had about a one-in-four chance of our breaks overlapping but luck seemed to be with me more times than not.

My time at the casino was fast coming to an end and I resolved to ask her out on a date during my last night working there. She was working that night too - I'd checked the rotas beforehand - but suddenly I wasn't getting the luck with our break schedules. The night wore on and I waited for my chance. We got a simultaneous break but she was busy chatting with other people and frustratingly I was lacking the courage to interrupt and try to grab a moment alone with her.

As the break ended people started filing out of the staff room, with her at the back of the group. I had a split-second opportunity to speak to her alone before she went out onto the casino floor. Say something, brain. Say "Can I speak with you a sec?" Say "Will you go out with me?" Say "It's not all work, work, work!" Say "Wait..." Just say something...

I bottled it. I saw my chance hovering in front of me requiring an instant reaction and I let it slip away.

In that last stint working on a gaming table I'm disappointed to say that I tried to talk myself out of the notion that asking her out had been a good plan. I still didn't know her all that well. I couldn't tell whether she was interested in me. Soon I would be working during weekday office hours and she'd presumably still be working weekend nights. None of these were good arguments against asking for a date, but I was trying to make myself feel better about the decision that my reluctant and shy side had taken in blatant disregard of the plan drawn up by my adventurous and enterprising side.

I walked away from the casino that night free from night shifts and the resulting alienation from the majority of the population, but with a heavy heart. I kept thinking about the biggest regrets being the things that one didn't do. As a former staff member I was banned from entering the casino as a customer. I didn't have any contact details for her. Possibly I could have tried phoning the casino to ask to speak with her, or even waiting outside before the start of the night shift to try to talk with her when she arrived for work, but I hadn't got to know her all that well and I didn't want to seem like a stalker. I didn't come up with a way to create a second chance to be brave, and as a result I never saw her again.

If I were to see Sexy Eyes again one day, I would say: I do still regret not asking you out, whatever your answer might have been. I'm not sure whether I can truthfully say "You have the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen" to anyone else since I met you. I hope that your dream which you shared with me on one of our 2am breaks has come true for you.

Learning Experience

I wasn't fully sure what to expect when joining a dating website. I knew that I would need to write a description of myself, and then I would go and read other people's descriptions of themselves, and then I would write to them or they would write to me... but how many people should I write to? How many would write to me? And how exactly would we progress to the point of interacting in the real world? I had a lot to learn.

So I joined and wrote my profile. Hi, my name is Matt, I look like blah-blah-blah (I didn't own anything capable of producing a digital photo - this was eight years ago and I wasn't yet in the minority in this regard), I'm a nice guy, I like seeing friends and travelling and nights in and going out and the same things as everyone else, get in touch if you'd like to hear more.

I posted my profile, then searched for women in my area around my age, read some profiles and wrote brief (but non-cut-and-pasted) messages to three of them. Was this enough effort for one day? After a few hours offline I logged back in and discovered that one of the three women had replied. And what a reply! A much longer message than mine had been, something about my sounding "sweet and special" and she even included her mobile number at the end!

At this point I came to the conclusion that online dating was pretty awesome. I had no way of knowing that this reply would turn out to be the most keen and forward first message I would ever receive in two years of on-and-off dating website use. On that day, my first day, it was my only frame of reference. Joining this site was the best idea ever!

Unfortunately I had no idea what to do next. I had a vague idea that I didn't want to seem too forward myself, lest I scare off this exciting prospect somehow. My mind didn't manage to connect the dots of she-gave-you-her-number-so-she-probably-wants-you-to-use-it... so I didn't. The next few moves were all made by her:

She invited me to the online chat facility on the site (I seem to remember my chatting being pretty safe and unexciting);

She initiated texting between us;

She suggested I phone her (so I did, but again I didn't come up with a huge amount to actually say);

Eventually (after nearly three weeks!) she suggested that I ask her out on a date. So I did. She replied "thought you would never ask... I would love to." Finally I started to see the clues that I'd been proceeding far too slowly. Perhaps I was beginning to learn.

Another lesson was soon to follow. After we had established that we would be meeting up (but hadn't yet established when or where this might take place - one agonisingly slow step at a time Matt!) the amount of contact from her began to drop away. Now, this might reasonably have been attributed to my distinct lack of ability to show any kind of initiative, but it turned out that she was actually suffering from a medical condition common to a significant proportion of daters.

I believe the Latin term is Not-Really-Over-My-Ex-Itis.

She was suffering from a particularly acute form called "The thing is, my boyfriend, well actually my ex-boyfriend, we're still good friends which is really great and we talk all the time, but he told me the other day that he's just started going out with that girl who was always hanging around him, even though she's not good enough for him and he could do so much better and I don't know why he can't see that, but it's not like it bothers me or anything, but I'm much better-looking than her and more fun to be with but now he spends more time with her than with me, and I'm not sure when he's going to come to his senses and realise that he'd rather be with me, I mean spend time with me, and not her..." Uh-oh.

At this point I should have taken a giant step back. In fact I did manage to take a bit of a step back (I guess I find that easier than taking steps forward!) and started to talk more as if she and I were friends rather than prospective daters. But I still went ahead with the plan of meeting up. It took another three weeks for this to actually take place and by this time it was more apparent that she was really struggling to cope with the situation with her ex - so much so that when I met up with her she was accompanied by two friends who were concerned enough about her to insist on coming along to make sure she'd be OK. I hadn't been informed of this in advance so it was a bit of a surprise but probably was for the best.

Our "date" involved going to the cinema, which in retrospect didn't seem like a good choice, as it involved sitting for two hours next to someone with whom I didn't yet have a proper face-to-face connection - first dates benefit from the opportunity to talk with each other! Then we went to get a bit of food and a drink, which gave us the chance to talk, but to be honest this didn't help all that much - we weren't finding that connection. I had a very inappropriate feeling that I got on better with her friends than with her. Drinks finished, hugs goodbye, off on our separate ways.

Later that evening I sent a text saying that I'd had a nice time and that I was happy to be friends. Her text back indicated that she would have liked more than that, which worried me at first - was I now another guy painfully rejecting her? Luckily for my conscience, it soon became clear that rejection by me was far less of a blow than the ongoing rejection by her ex-boyfriend with whom she still seemed smitten despite (or perhaps even partly because of?) his continued preference for a different girl. After a couple of days she stopped replying to my friendly-but-only-friendly texts and I never heard from her again.

Around a year later I saw a new profile on that same dating site, clearly in her distinctive style. It said that she was now very happy with a great guy whom she'd been dating for several months, and was only on the site to meet new friends. I didn't write to her, but I was very pleased to read that uplifting update to her story.

If I were to bump into my early Learning Experience again one day, I would say: Thank you for helping me to learn some early lessons about online dating, and I'm sorry if I hurt you during my learning process, however briefly and unintentionally. I hope that the happiness which you subsequently found continues to this day.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Prologue

I was a slow starter when it came to all things dating. At school I was one of the boys who only really knew how to be "one of the boys" - I went to a mixed school but rarely did much mixing. Just about all of my friends were boys and I only remember one girl whom I sat next to for any length of time - more about her another time maybe.

University is where interaction with the opposite sex really comes to life for many people... apparently... but somehow I didn't manage to get my act together there either. At school I felt like i must have been absent on the day when they told everyone "now's the time to start dating rather than shunning those not of your gender" and at university I must have missed the flyers saying "alcohol-fuelled sex parties tonight at this address."

Actually I did have a bit of a plan during the latter stages of university, but unfortunately it went something like this:

1) Men and women often meet and get together at nightclubs and bars;
2) If I meet a woman in a nightclub I won't know much about her - and I can hardly hear a word anyone's saying anyway - so I'll mainly be going on physical appearance;
3) No woman wants to be somebody's second/third/twentieth choice;
4) Therefore I should work out who I think is the best-looking woman in the whole nightclub, then try to work up the courage to talk/dance with her;
5) That's funny... she already seems to have quite a lot of guys around her. Well, maybe if I just wait a while she'll be more available;
6) Wait - she's on her own for a second - but no, here comes someone else? Never mind - I should probably grab another drink first anyway;
7) Can it really be closing time already?

I think that my biggest mistake was not realising how quickly a night was turning into a week, a month, a year... Not seeing the bigger picture of my plan's repeated lack of results. I probably should have sought more advice but I was self-conscious - what guy wants to admit to being this clueless? So the time went by and nothing changed.

After university I spent more time reflecting and realised something significant about my "absent on the day when they told everyone to start dating" thought. I didn't work well with grey areas. Things like flirting, interpreting cross-room glances, reading body language... not my strong points. I was far more adept at activities with clearly stated procedures and rules. Nightclubs worked well for those with a gift for subtle interactions and picking up signals. I would have found it easier if I could just go up to a woman and say "Hi, I'm here trying to meet someone - how about you?" That's when I started to hear more about online dating. Here was a medium in which it was OK to be up-front about your intentions because everyone else was there for the same reason (or so I naively thought at the start!) Rather than having to pretend that you had just wanted to dance and drink and just happened to meet someone, you could say "Yes, actually, I am doing this primarily to meet someone." No subtle nuances, no games.

Of course, my idea of online dating was heavily over-simplified compared with the reality, as I would discover. Still, it did no harm at all to have that new outlet and a new (and less feeble) plan...

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Beginning

I think I've been intrigued by the idea of online dating ever since I first heard of it. Several years ago, back when it still seemed to be regarded as unusual, I joined a couple of online dating sites and went a variety of dates as a result. Not all of them were roaring success stories (there wouldn't be so much variety in that!) but I came away with fond memories of the overall experience.

As it turned out, I met and got to know a wonderful woman in the real world during the latter part of that time. I left the dating sites and embarked upon a relationship with her - a relationship which lasted many years but unfortunately did not stay wonderful forever after. With great pain and sadness the relationship came to an end earlier this year.

I know that I won't be ready for a new relationship any time soon, but I want to believe that it will happen again at some point in the future. I'm warming to the idea of trying online dating again as part of that future. It seems to have evolved a great deal in my absence too! No longer is it the domain of the furtive few - now it is very much in the mainstream.

Hence one of my recent pasttimes has been reading about today's world of online dating. Last month, while wandering the internet immersing myself in such material, I stumbled across a blog of one woman's adventures in that world. I found it to be fascinating reading - her witty and engaging writing brought her tales to life and I read post after post. Then I started to read other blogs linked to hers - what a great way to find out what it's really like out there in 2010! I feel slightly addicted at the moment but in an enjoyable way.

As I started to realise that these bloggers have a great sense of community and friendship between them, I warmed to the idea of being more involved than just reading anonymously - giving back some stories of my own. I started to consider writing my own blog. However, I knew that I wasn't ready to write about anything too current just yet. Then reading another blog gave me an idea - why not start off writing about the past and go from there? Thus I decided that I would write about my online adventures back in the olden days - a little piece of history from an earlier era. One day I hope to be out there again to experience first-hand how much things have changed!