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...