One of the questions people ask me most about online dating is how to get over the nagging feeling of guilt when you must ignore someone’s enthusiastic message.
Most of the time, it’s easy. The guy has a 50 percent enemy match against your profile. The guy’s profile picture is his headless bare chest. But now and again, you find it’s not as clear cut, and you sit there, struggling, staring at the screen, trying to think of an excuse, or a more polite way out. “Thanks! But also no thanks” doesn’t cut it. This is the internet. Everything nice you mean to say winds up sounding rude and you know it. So does the person who is about to get rejected. Sometimes they react bitterly, and the only upside of that is you know you made a good decision. (If you’re easily offended on the whole, boys and girls, you’re asking for a daily kick in the #&@! from life).
The misnomer “online dating” is the culprit, when it is not so easy. Perusing the profiles of strangers is not dating, it’s online shopping. You’re shopping online for guys and gals to date at some future-possible point. That is what you’re doing. And you feel bad, because you’re not accustomed to treating people the way you treated your last Amazon.com purchase — not like objects. But the thing is, you also kinda are.
Think of the last time you were at a bar, and a stranger expressed interest. Every cell of your judgment machine was in full swing, you just don’t realize it. Some of it is deep evolutionary stuff somewhat beyond your control or awareness. Some of it is registered on the forefront, perhaps manifesting as a solid thought or passing feeling. “I don’t like the way that guy makes me feel,” for example. Every sense is there to guide you. That your sensors can be brutally incorrect isn’t the point. The point is: This is all you have to go on, Mr. Magoo of The Heart. In mate-finding, what matters in that bar, on that night, is that you have been put on this earth to judge that book by that cover. This is a nature show, and some of the birds build unimpressive nests on Tuesday night, then come back and win on Wednesday long after you left with the wrong (or right) bird. I’m talking about whether he comes off as undereducated, well educated, or pompous. Or whether he has dirt underneath his fingernails, or whether he has a dialect that reflects certain cultural associations that you find pleasant, or whether he seems twitchy and insecure, or simply nervous, or which of your body parts he seems to be attempting to converse with.
You will be wrong, wrong, wrong, by using this method. So, knowing that the system of your senses is meant to be the navigator, not the driver, is essential. This process of judging is different from how you then utilize that information. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on the grunt with the heart and mind of gold. I wouldn’t want you to be hurt by Slimy Mr. Pleasant. I wouldn’t want you to think your sensors are broken when you experience the terror and the thrill of being wrong. Don’t lose heart though; over time, life experiences slowly but surely inform the navigator. Are you better at filtering out people than you were in your 20s? Of course you are.
So when you’re sitting in front of that computer screen, and you’re not interested, what you’re feeling isn’t guilt. You’re feeling distance from your trusty senses because you aren’t using them. You’re using your vision to view 2D images that may or may not have been photoshopped, and you’re reading a few paragraphs of his idea of who he thinks he is. Online dating ditches the sensors you’re so used to relying upon, you don’t seek permission to make judgments when you have access to your full arsenal. In person, you simply trust them and make decisions from them, almost on autopilot. Knowing that can give you the gumption to go forth and click delete. It may seem harsh, but until Internet Culture together invents a language for communicating better online (or, arguably, until we collectively learn to use language as it was intended…) you’re not responsible for the first impression gone awry.
The thing is, this is chiefly a practicality issue. If dating is your full time job, you can busy yourself with the process of meeting every single frog like the sweet little martyr you are, and given enough time you’ll probably find yourself a prince that way if you don’t get swallowed whole by a toad first. But a lot of girls, by virtue of being female, simply receive a high enough volume of interest that a filtering system must be deployed. Same for a lot of guys. It’s up to you. If you want to attempt to explain why you’re rejecting his interest, you might be helping him out, but be prepared for the average knee-jerk, caustic response like the one I got recently: “Well aren’t you the uppity little…”
I find ignoring to be the more elegant solution. It is literally the unspoken language of the internet, and most guys know what it means. The ones who are confident in who they are, and who understand not every person they like is going to like them back, are smart enough not to ask what it means. I have been ignored by some lovely men in my time and I’ve chosen not to be offended by any of them. It doesn’t make them any less lovely. Don’t focus on the destination; focus on the journey, etc. Go forth, delete, and be deleted with abandon.
It isn’t often that I would endorse a systematized form of rudeness. Every week, there seems to be some new article suggesting that various forms of social media like Facebook or OKcupid are responsible for making us less tender with each other, which to me is the user shooting the instant messenger. How you behave on the internet is a choice like everything else. I have known people who look down on social media, but who ended up being just plain terrible friends in the flesh. Ironically, those are often the shallow ones — the people who wind up ending 10-year friendships over electronic means.
Ignoring or deleting someone who has just expressed interest in you is simply the internet version of being at a bar, catching a stranger’s smile, and continuing onward, unfazed and unimpressed. Have a good strong filter in the beginning – so that you have the energy to treat those whom you let in — with the utmost love and respect.
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