Friday, December 30, 2011

DrB's Profile

Originally published October, 2006.

Q: Dear Dr. B, When I have met someone thru an online site, how come it is acceptable to email/IM back and forth all day long and possibly even talk on the phone for an hour every night until the date happens, then after the face-to-face date they revert to a "game" and wait a few days to email or phone you after the date? If he seemed as interested during the date as before the date, why can't he just keep things going the way they were with that regular kind of contact?

A: Meeting people online has become so common that it's gotten boring. It's rare to come across someone that hasn't tried it at least once. From total losers and nerds to the coolest guys and the hottest chicks, anyone that's dated in the past 5 years has probably used this outlet. In fact, even the doctor recently put a profile up on Myspace (not intended for dating, but I have been known to connect with the fans in the past). The culture of online dating has really evolved since the days of trolling psychos and chat rooms with a 500 to one male-female ratio. Online dating etiquette on the other hand, seems to be lagging behind.

Before I get to my answer, I've got a confession to make. For a doctor, I hardly ever read. Now don't get me wrong, I read your questions and look for the occasional bit of knowledge that I don't already have crammed into my skull. I'm talking about reading for recreation or entertainment; I just don't do it. As an educated person, I feel like I should read more, and I have a huge collection of books that I had every intention of reading, but when it gets down to it, I feel like doing other things with my spare time. The doctor likes to stay busy (cellphone Tetris anyone?).

I'm sure most of my audience is way more literate than I, but some of you may relate to this. Because I am not someone that reads, I am never disappointed when I see movies that have been adapted from popular books, or if I am disappointed it has nothing to do with my reading. I watched Lestat, Harry Potter, and Jason Bourne rock out in stadium seating without once thinking about what, if anything, the filmmaker cut from the stories, did wrong, or how much better the books were. I'm a blank slate movie-goer when it comes to these pictures.

Unlike me, my friend Karen is an avid reader. I've seen her walk out pissed off and disappointed by more movies than you can shake a stick at. Although I'm not certain exactly why anyone would want to shake a stick at a movie. Seems kind of fruitless to me. Although Hollywood does occasionally butcher fine works of art, I've noticed that some of her disappointment stems from the disparity between the way she imagined the characters and events of the story and the way the filmmakers chose to display them. For Karen, Tom Cruise as Lestat was unthinkable. For me he was Lestat and that shit rocked.

When we read, we imagine and I'm sure that no two people imagine the same thing in the exact same way. Meeting people online is a lot like that. The parties involved may be as honest as they can, but words like "voluptuous", "athletic", "single", or "research-psychologist" can be defined differently in our heads, even if we all point to the same entry in the dictionary. Exchanging pictures and talking on the phone a few times can help people get a better mental image of what you're all about but until you interact in person they're still largely working from imagination. Although I'd say that kind of communication is a necessary part of Internet dating, if you carry that on for too long before the face-to-face, you could end up spoiling the movie as the real you will be less likely to match the version in their head. Body language, facial expressions, and weird quirks are hard to convey over email or phone, yet this is all valuable information. When we use our imagination to fill in the blanks, we rarely imagine that the people we are hoping to meet face-to-face may eat like pigs, have no sense for sarcasm, or tell inappropriate jokes at our expense to total strangers as they step into a cab (thank you, J). I'm sure if you've had even a few online dating experiences you'll know what I'm talking about.

So one possible reason that these guys are reducing their communication down from daily IMs and email exchanges to, say, a Facebook comment every couple of weeks, is that they may not have imagined Cruise as Lestat (or Damon as Bourne, or Karen as sweetmilf36). I know it seems weird to go from heavy IMing to nada, but sometimes we get to the end of the book. And sometimes the movie doesn't do the book justice.

Of course, I have no way of explaining every instance of this behavior. I do think that some of what I've suggested is at play any time you meet someone online. But, like most things, it depends on the people involved and the situations. Another possibility is that daily communication may feel like too serious of a relationship to some of your online dates once the in-person barrier is removed. Talking everyday may seem safe with someone that you only know online, but most people reserve that level of frequency for very intimate relationships. Hell, most people don't even have that much to talk about anyway (especially those of us that never read). I know I haven't been up to much in the hour since I was last IMed.

Either way, to go from regular communication to nothing isn't a game, it's rude. It sucks, believe me I know, but I hope that this behavior doesn't discourage you from moving on and meeting someone else in life, online or not.

PS. Like I mentioned earlier, the doctor recently put up his own Facebook profile. Go ahead and add me, and if you're cool enough maybe I'll add you back.