Confession: I have an extreme, possibly irrational, hatred of online dating.
I Didn’t Try Online Dating Until 2009 After I Had My First Polyamorous Relationships
I started my very first serious long-term monogamous relationship in the spring of 2001. Back then, online dating certainly existed, but not many people were using it. Online dating was a lot more niche — akin to the newspaper personals folks used to do. A last resort for people who had exhausted all other options. Not the first place you looked.
I’d met my partner through friends, who had set us up on a blind date. We hit it off. Were exclusive within a month. Moved in together before the year was out. After four years of dating, we married.
Altogether we were monogamous for eight years until 2009, when a close friend of mine came out as polyamorous. I’d never heard the word polyamory before then. My only mental models for non-monogamy up until that point had been drawn from partying culture, which didn’t square up with this particular friend at all, who was really funny and great to talk to but as far as sexual matters went had frankly struck me as a bit of a prude.
The news that she and her husband were polyamorous was shocking enough — but even more shocking was the fact that I’d later go on to date this friend myself after my own marriage opened up.
As it turned out, that initial relationship didn’t work out. And soon I was faced with an entirely new activity: Figuring out online dating.
Eight years had changed a lot. Online dating was indeed a lot more mainstream in 2009 than it had been in 2001. Fewer and fewer people seemed to be meeting through other means.
And I felt in my case, I needed extra help. Because in those days in rural Maine, there weren’t very many people who knew what the word polyamorous meant, let alone ones who were open to dating a polyamorous woman.
So online I went. I created a profile and tirelessly searched for other people I felt I had something in common with.
It was rough going at first, but I did eventually meet a polycurious woman who lived an hour away. And in many ways, I lucked out. She was beautiful, smart. A geeky doctor who had moved to Maine from Ohio, where she’d grown up and gone to medical school. She still had close friends back home in Cleveland who were polyamorous — including one that she occasionally went to bed with.
We became good friends quickly and eventually lovers. I fell in love with her, but she always held back emotionally as her own marriage never became quite polyamorous (or emotionally open) and was instead more just open sexually. After a while, I did meet those friends of hers from Cleveland, the ones who were actually polyamorous, and ended up dating one of them. Visiting Cleveland.
And I eventually moved here, to Cleveland, where there is a thriving kink scene and active polyamorous community. A world of difference from the woods surrounding Bangor, Maine.
Suddenly, I discovered that I didn’t need to online date to meet people. It was easier to meet people at events or through existing polyamorous or kinky friends.
I’m Easily Satisfied and Don’t Feel a Need to Actively Seek New Partners Very Often
Part of why I’m not big on online dating is that I prefer not to actively seek new partners at all. I’m a person with very low partner hunger, so to speak. And by that, I mean that I tend to be pretty easily satisfied in regards to my romantic relationships. I usually start new relationships with people I stumble onto naturally and feel connected with, rather than seeking out new people to date just because I have spare time or because it’s been a while since I started dating anyone new.
This has meant that I’ve spent long stretches of my polyamorous life functionally monogamous, only dating one person at a time and not at all unhappy about it (one of the reasons that I identify as ambiamorous, I can absolutely be happy with only one person in the picture at a time).
It’s rare that I actively seek out partners. Especially via online dating.
My Brief Stint in 2015 With Online Dating
That said, I did reattempt online dating in 2015 for about two weeks. But it was a pretty awful experience. Way too intense.
At the time, my partner Justin was actively online dating and seemed to be engaged in ongoing chats with about five different people. It seemed like it was going well. And while I was happy for him, I started to think that he’d be gone a lot more on dates and the like and maybe I should reactivate my old profile and at least start the ball rolling just in case. So that I had something social of my own to do and didn’t end up sitting alone while only seeing him in passing (something that had happened in ancient history with a different former partner of mine, who basically went MIA for about a month when he caught NRE for someone). Especially since at the time I was just seeing him and wasn’t nearly as busy with work then as I am these days.
Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. I logged in, and after reactivating my old profile, I had ONE HUNDRED messages come into my inbox in the first 24 hours.
This sounds great in theory, but in practice it was a bit overwhelming. But I sorted through them. And in doing so, of the hundred prospects, I discovered one person I really, really liked. Pretty much instantly. I typically find it much more difficult to connect with men than women, but this guy was 100% my physical type. Freakishly. Our match percentage was also very high, the way we’d answered questions about various issues. And the message he’d written me was beautiful and oddly perfect.
I’m not entirely convinced that you aren’t a clone of me sent from a parallel dimension, it began. After that opening, he managed to quickly summarize everything we seemed to have in common from our profiles, in a way that didn’t seem contrived but rang true. When I went and read his profile, I couldn’t help but agree.
I didn’t know it then, but it turns out that he was also a writer. Which explained a lot.
I wrote something back that was my best effort, and he did so in return. Over five days, we exchanged over 10,000 words back and forth (I ran it through a word counter out of curiosity) and then made plans to have coffee.
Meanwhile, all five of the people my partner Justin had been talking to basically ghosted on him at once.
I met the guy I’d been writing to for coffee. It went great. I saw him again the next week. And before I knew it, I was dating CC.
It Happened So Fast and Seemed Incredibly Hypocritical
To Justin especially, it happened really fast. Especially because I had told him I didn’t like online dating (which is true). That I didn’t like to move fast (which is also true). To Justin, it seemed like this relationship with CC had come out of nowhere, especially as Justin had been talking to many other people for about a month and hadn’t managed to go on a date with anyone yet.
Now here I was in the course of a few weeks, with a boyfriend, one I’d met online.
I looked utterly hypocritical. Out of touch with myself. Like I’d misled my partner about how I was. Like I’d said one thing and did another. And that I’d moved very fast, from his perspective.
From my perspective, it hadn’t moved fast at all. We’d exchanged a lot of words before meeting up. I met him for the first time in a very a low-pressure public way: A quick afternoon chat at the coffee shop.
Prior to going out with CC, I’d done a background check on him, once I’d discovered through talking to him that he’d attended a few events on the local kink scene — and that actually two of my friends had consensually beaten the snot out of him at a party in the past.
“Didn’t raise any red flags to me,” said one friend.
“He’s really cute. A sweetie. Exactly your type, you’ll love him,” said the other.
I was trying to move slowly. To be cautious. I set up a safety text. Kept the conversation light.
And when leaving that first date, I’d apparently given CC the impression that it hadn’t gone well. That I didn’t like him. Since when he hugged me goodbye and leaned in for a kiss, I turned my entire face and body away. To me, it made sense, particularly as someone who normally dated friends or people I knew well first — I’d only just met him. I wasn’t about to kiss someone who was still practically a stranger.
But from Justin’s perspective, it seemed like I was moving fast. So fast.
After meeting up with CC, I did go on dates with some others that I talked to during that brief experiment with online dating, including some meetups with a couple who Justin and I ever so briefly started to form a square with (before it turned out not to be a good fit).
But I tired pretty quickly of online dating. Meeting strangers, trying to get to know them, always fighting pressure from them to jump into bed before I could figure out whether our lives were compatible.
CC and I dated for a few months, before I broke things off. I will say I’m really glad I met him, so I can’t call any of that a mistake. He’s one of my favorite people still. We actually went on to redate a few years later, after some time and distance, but it still didn’t work out. I really like him as a person (and he’s a hell of a writer), but we shouldn’t date.
Someone in My Polyamorous Web Is Pretty Much Always Dating Online
If I were monogamous, my hatred of online dating would likely be far less of an issue. Because all I’d have to do to avoid thinking about online dating or being confronted with its attendant stress is to not do it. To not date online.
However, it’s not so simple for me as a polyamorous person.
Even though I rarely date online myself, online dating is pretty much atmospherically always in my life, somewhere in my polyamorous web.
When I dated CC, online dating was a constant presence, as he was someone who dated online actively, always seemed to be seeking out new partners even when in the throes of NRE.
Justin dates less actively, but every now and then, he’ll dabble in it, and so it’ll show up again.
I dated a woman for a bit who was also really active with it, liked to post screenshots of her disappointing private exchanges with would-be suitors to forums that exist to ridicule such things.
Even when it’s not the case, when I’m not dating a partner who is actively online dating, there’s typically someone a few degrees out, a metamour or somebody, who is online dating and talking to me about it.
It always seems like a big ball of stress, even vicariously. Sending out the messages, meeting up, attempting to get to know strangers.
It’s hard for me to watch, even a few steps removed from it.
I Mostly Meet Partners Offline These Days
My last few new partners were people I met offline. Ro and I have been friends for ages. I liked her for years, not thinking I ever had a chance with her (because looking at her dating history, I’d assumed she’d only be into guys or butches, never a femme like me). But over time, something developed between us.
I also briefly dated another woman I’d initially met at a polyamory conference; she went on to be my metamour after she started dating Justin, only to completely shock me by later telling me she was interested in me, too.
Just these natural connections have kept me pretty busy as far as my love life goes.
Other than that, I have some friends I make out with at parties, stuff that would get people in exclusive relationships in trouble but which is no big deal in the life I lead, with the partners I have.
I’m open to another serious connection in my life, but I’m not actively looking.
Working Through My Hatred of Online Dating
Whenever one of my partners is diving into online dating, I typically find myself cringing involuntarily, projecting my own experiences and beliefs about it onto the situation. I have to silently remind myself that they likely feel differently about it than I do. That they view it as something that’s possibly beneficial, the way that they’d like to engage with people. An important tool for connecting with others and discovering people that they might not otherwise ever get to know.
And I remind myself that men in general seem to have this societal expectation that they’re to be initiators when it comes to dating.
I do all of this instead of bracing myself for potential drama as someone far removed from everyone I know enters my social circle. A new person brought in by someone I deeply care about. A situation where my partner could very well get badly hurt by it.
I have to leave that fear where it is. And remind myself that it isn’t up to me how my partners meet the other people who ultimately get close to them. Whether that’s an active or passive process. Whether it plays out online or offline.
For some reason, my brain always estimates the risk of things going badly as higher in situations involving online dating than ones where people meet offline — whether or not this is actually the case.
But online dating isn’t going away. It’s here to stay.
And I get this involuntary “ugh” response to it. It’s really inconvenient; I wish I didn’t react that way, even if it’s normally something I keep to myself, or try to.
Part of it might be that when my partner is actively (rather than passively) seeking, I end up fighting fears that they’re unhappy with me somehow. Like I’m not doing enough as a partner. Sometimes people will assume that people open up their relationships because they’re unhappy with their existing partners. But that’s never been the case for me. Instead, I’ve more just remained open to what other exciting possibilities life presents me.
To use another analogy, I’m not hungry and have plenty of good food in my house, so I don’t go actively shopping or order out very often. But if a friend comes over with an amazing casserole or something they brought in, yeah, I’ll be excited to try.
Okay, whatever. People aren’t food. All analogies have their limits.
But when my partners are shopping — especially if they’re shopping hard — I start worrying I’m not feeding them properly. That all the detractors of polyamory were right, that my partners only see other people because I’m a deficient partner.
It’s totally irrational. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that was playing a role.
The good news is that it gets a little easier to work through in my head every time. I’ve never asked my partners to do anything different because of it (because my hatred of online dating is totally silly and irrational, and I recognize that). And I’ve been able to have excellent conversations about it with my partners in the past.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get to a point where I really want to online date or look forward to doing so, but I’m hoping one day soon it doesn’t even phase me that it’s the way that most people seem to meet these days.
Books by Page Turner: