He covers his mouth apologetically, frowning and making a show of chewing the food in his mouth slowly. He glances to his right for approval and meets urgent eye contact; she stares expectantly at him. The question hangs weightless on the air, shattering the conversation into pregnant silence.
So, how did you two meet?
The first rule of online dating is: you do not talk about online dating.
How many of my peers have — at some point — turned to online dating? I have no clue. Some days it feels like all of them. How many of those peers are ashamed to admit to dating online? Some days it feels like all of them.
As if first dates between those who met offline do not ever suck. As if those relationships never fail.
Why? Perhaps the answer may be found in the question itself: “turned” to online dating. In some ways, online dating feels like a last resort after “regular” dating has failed, an act of desperation. And yet what are the alternatives?
There’s the HR nightmare of work relationships, fraught with power dynamics and awkward post-argument work meetings. There’s the ever-dramatic friend-group dating that makes your friends feel like they have joint custody after a breakup.
Then of course, there’s the tried and true bar.
What is a bar? For many, it is the age-old place to meet people. Show up, have a drink, chat with the cutest person you can find, and hope for magic. Well I don’t hope for magic; I make magic.
Online dating is nothing more than a bar with less randomness, with signs saying “geek” or “jock”, “feminist” or “racist”, “liberal” or “conservative”. Online dating puts the power in my hands as to whom I meet, when I meet them, and on what terms.
And yet nothing is fundamentally any different. If you’re dressed to the nines at an old-timey bar sipping your bourbon neat, I’m swiping right in my head. If you tell me you wish somebody had brought Twilight Imperium to our board game night, I’m adding you to my mental favorites until I find the right context to ask you out. There may no be fancy UI offline, but it’s the same process in real life as it is online.
And yet offline, I don’t know anything about you. Online I’ve got your interests, a slice of your personality, a smattering of your philosophical beliefs, and that way when I see “likes Nickelback”, I can run for the hills long before we’re face-to-face across a dinner table with candle lighting rippling across our faces and bourbon clouding our judgement.
So, how did we meet?
Well here’s the story I want to tell. I don’t want or need to tell a story of a random happenstance meeting, as if founded in superstition. I want to tell a story of intentionality: of seeking out something intrinsic and meaningful, of common interests and shared values.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy states: “There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. Its knack lies in learning to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”
I don’t want to fall in love, to trip and have no control of where I’m headed. I want to fly.