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.