5 Ways To Maintain Your Dignity (And Sanity) While Online Dating

Emily Heist Moss has gone on lots of Internet dates. She shares some tips she’s learned along the way.

I go on a lot of dates, so many, in fact, that I’ve forgotten most of them. Months afterwards, I see these gentlemen around the city and I can’t place them, wondering if we were in a class together in college, or if they go to my yoga studio. Only hours later do I realize that we had shared a plate of sweet potato fries and an hour of stilted conversation.

I’m an online dater, and unlike the hoards who are compelled to create a profile at the urging of well-meaning relatives and friends, or those who reluctantly browse the meager pool of potentials, or those who feel the Internet is a last resort for the weak and desperate, I actually enjoy myself.

I’m not alone in my optimism, but I’ve compared notes with enough other online daters to know that folks can get pretty riled up about meeting Internet dates in “real” life without the protection of an alias and a glowing screen. So with no further ado, a few tips and tricks on maintaining your dignity (and sanity) when taking your digital flirting into the scary world of face-to-face dating:

Note: For the purposes of simplicity, I’m writing as a woman dating men and pronouns will reflect that. For the record, this advice stands for same sex dating.

1. This Person is Not Your Soulmate

How do I know? I just do, OK? Even if the date across the table from you is your soulmate (whatever that term means), acting if that’s likely leads nowhere except back to your couch, disappointed, and clutching a pint of ice cream. The point of online dating is to cast a wider net than your existing social life enables you to cast. You will meet more people and different people, but not necessarily better people. No matter how great your messages were, people are different on paper than in person.

I head into each date hoping for a pleasant conversation with a friendly, interesting person; that is exactly as high as I’m willing to set the bar. Those of you who have been around the block know that your dates will miss that mark more often than you’d think.

Setting reasonable expectations lets you get the most out of bad dates and makes the good ones seem like a pleasant surprise. Removing the soulmate expectation also takes the pressure off of date preparation and post-date communication (See below).

2. Comfort is King

Once you rid yourself of the idea that this mystery date is your soulmate (he is not), the pressure to be your most perfect, pristine self is off. The high heels in which you can’t do more than wobble uncertainly? Ditch ‘em. The top that makes your cleavage look great but will have you tugging it up or down all evening? Toss it. More makeup than you’re comfortable in? More hair gel, new perfume, too-stiff jeans, or the itchy sweater that someone once told you flattered your shoulders? Get rid of it all.

Being comfortable in your own skin is attractive. Itching, squirming, tugging, twisting, sucking in, pushing out, these actions scream, “I am uncomfortable and I am trying to impress you!” Wouldn’t you rather wear the comfy jeans and the cute flats and your normal amount of mascara and feel like yourself?

After all, the you that you present is the one you want this new person to like, right? How would you feel down the line if they went for the you that was squeezed into uncomfortable contraptions, painted three layers deep, and wearing the shoes that make you walk like a newborn giraffe? You both are in for a rude awakening.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to look nice (I would say deodorant is probably a wise baseline), but don’t pull out the big guns. When you aren’t distracted by your body rebelling against your tough fashion choices, you’ll be at your most charming and interesting.

3. It’s a Two-Way Street

I have friends who get preposterously bent out of shape if an online date doesn’t call for a second date. “I thought you didn’t really like that guy?” I say, confused. “I didn’t,” they say, “but it would still be nice if he called.” Face palm.

Set aside for a moment the sexist notion that men are “supposed” to do the calling and focus for a minute on the inanity of this line of thought. Online dating is hard enough without you using it as a personal ego-boost. Give your dates a little credit and don’t waste each other’s time.

If you start racking up double digits like me, you’re going to encounter exactly four scenarios: A) you like each other, B) you like him, he doesn’t like you, C) he likes you, you don’t like him, and D) you don’t like each other. Situation A is obviously the optimal scenario, but situation D is the next best by a mile. Situation D lets you both say a polite, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and move on with your lives. You should be thrilled when the one you don’t like doesn’t like you either because it means fewer uncomfortable texts sent and received.

Situations B and C can be tricky, no doubt about it, but they are not the end of the world. All you’ve invested is an hour or two of your time and the cost of a glass of wine or coffee (see #4). Send a polite “I’m flattered but I’m not feeling it, best of luck” text and be on your merry way. When you get that text yourself, let that roll right off. You don’t like everyone, everyone isn’t going to like you; it’s called being human.

4. Keep the Cost Down

This is a first date. It will mostly likely not lead to anything, that’s just statistics. You are both taking a little leap of faith here, so financial equality is the way to go. Start small with a drink or coffee date, and leave a little room if you want to follow it with a walk, another drink, a meal, etc. Split the tab because you’re both adults and there’s no good reason you shouldn’t share both the perks and burdens of this little social experiment.

5. Honesty is the Best Policy

End of the date etiquette is tough, but being dishonest does you both a disservice. If you don’t want to see him again, for the love of online daters everywhere, don’t say you’d like to see him again! Did you have a nice time? Are you glad you met up? Was it nice to meet him? Did you enjoy dinner? These are all fine, polite, true phrases.

The flip is even more essential. If you would like to see this person again, say so! Be a grown-up and say the words, “I had a good time and I’d like to see you again.” There, was that so hard? If your date is a stand-up human being, they will give you an honest response. And if it’s not what you want to hear, just remember that you can’t win them all, and you’ve likely inflicted the same disappointment on a date in the past. We’re all in this together.

Is this a foolproof plan for avoiding first-date awkwardness? Of course not. Dating is awkward because people are awkward and this is an unavoidable fact. But does it have to be soul-crushingly embarrassing, fraught with disappointment, dashed expectations, and uncomfortable underwear? Absolutely not.

Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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