SINGAPORE: In the early days of the Internet, web anonymity and the sketchy nature of chatrooms gave rise to the conventional wisdom that you shouldn’t meet in person anyone you’ve met only online.
Not only should you be wary about meeting someone you barely know, but chances are, the person isn’t the handsome, brooding 20-year-old in university with nice abs but a single, male predator in his 40s or 50s, and that will be the last anyone will ever see of you.
Times have changed. The opposite is now not only true but pervasive.
In the US, online dating has increased massively over the last five years, tripling among millennials aged 18 to 25 since 2013, while approval of online dating increased by 15 percentage points in that same time frame, according to a Pew Research Centre survey.
Where online dating in Asia have lagged by a year or two, and wariness of starting a relationship through a dating app is on the wane, we expect these attitudes to shift in tandem.
WIDENING YOUR CIRCLE
That is not to say that a dating app will find you your one true love on the first swipe.
The native population on such platforms can admittedly be diverse, and the swipe-left-swipe-right feature may seem to encourage matching based on physical attractiveness.
But for those seeking a long-term relationship, I hope you take heart in the feedback I’ve received that the casual nature of these apps sometimes provide safe cover for those who seek out something more serious but are too afraid to say so.
If anything else, consider such apps a larger net you can cast on a wider ocean of fish – for your options are no longer limited to whoever your bestie thinks is another hot single or that nice young man at the factory that your mother works at.
Chatting with someone new who you find vaguely attractive can be exhilarating but also a useful opportunity to gather information about the other person and assess compatibility.
For those who want to connect with another, it’s easier to sound witty and humourous if you’re behind a screen. For the shy and less wordy, gifs and emoticons can be helpful.
But if you find yourself chatting over a long period without any plans to meet materialising, won’t this lead to frustration, especially if you’re looking for something more?
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
Most people on our dating app do exchange numbers and eventually meet up, some 90 per cent do so within seven days, though there is some small variance across countries.
A small number are interested in only chatting to pass the time and there may be those who strike up a conversation only to find that common interests or chemistry are lacking.
Many users I’ve met say it can be nerve-racking to ask someone out on a date.
Will I look as good as my photoshopped profile picture, when I’m not emerging from the ocean in a tightly fitted diving suit? Will I chew my food awkwardly that make my well-postured selfies, which required five or six shots, seem like a fraud?
Or worse, will the conversation go quiet? What if I don’t meet the items on their checklist?
Meeting up in person after you meet through a dating app is not for everyone but it is for most.
It is a much less awkward way of meeting someone, at least because most of us will have the right amount of information – not quite the blind date you’ve been set up on where you get the entire lowdown of the other person’s life, work and dating history, or the head rushing but admittedly shallow feels from meeting someone in the thralls of a club blaring the latest Chainsmokers’ hit at 2am.
But the struggle is real; and the conversion from online to meeting someone does indeed require putting yourself out there.
Many of us put our best foot forward and paint the best versions of ourselves online with highly curated profiles, to the point where we might get a little worried that we will never live up to our online personas in real life.
This happens to everyone at some point.
The reverse is also true. If you’ve been spending a lot of time texting, chatting and building up this perfect image of the other person, you may feel very invested and have extremely high hopes for your date. Why put that kind of pressure on yourself and him or her?
Deeply ironic is that while traditional advice on online dating is not to give too much information about yourself away to maintain some degree of mystique, you probably stalk the online profiles of the person you’re chatting with to get as much information as you possibly can.
MEET BUT PLAN FIRST
The best advice is to just take the plunge and arrange to meet, but the more useful tip is to plan your meeting. Be safe and choose well-lit, public places. Plan options that you’re comfortable with.
People also sometimes tell me that they factor in an exit strategy – whether arranging a weekday lunch where there is a natural end, or coffee before your other dinner plans. These, coupled with a phone call before to get to know the other person, can take the edge off the date.
It’s okay if it didn’t work out as you’ve planned in your head. The key is in parting amicably, knowing that you and this person once had a mutual interest in each other.
Even if there isn’t that romantic spark or deep chemistry, you no doubt will meet with interesting people you’d otherwise never meet – that globe-trotting steward or that well-connected venture capitalist or even that guy from school who you always thought was cute.
Tons of people keep in touch and become good friends.
Some say what remains the most challenging part of modern dating isn’t the meeting up but what happens after the first date. It’s still up to you to put in effort to get to know someone, see if there’s compatibility and work on building a strong relationship if you’re lucky enough to meet someone special.
Compromise, negotiation and conflict resolution in relationships are things all of us are still grappling with to some extent, even for those in long marriages so don’t expect it to be easy.
For those who didn’t find that connection, being able to plunge back into the swiping may offer some relief. But hopefully the ease of doing so doesn’t discourage you to work on a relationship when you do find someone.
Notorious serial dater and womaniser Barney Stinson was hitting on a woman in this one episode of How I Met Your Mother after he got into a fight with his girlfriend and broke up with her.
In a turning point in the series that changed Barney’s life, the woman turned around and asked: “Do you want to keep playing, or do you want to win?”
Maybe this will serve a bout of inspiration for those afraid to ask that someone you’ve been chatting on a dating app out.
Ng Jing Shen is founder and CEO of Paktor.