Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Online dating reverses the usual order of things
Washington: I'm interested in your thoughts about online dating. I was considering giving it a try. Is there still a social stigma attached to it?
Carolyn: Nah. But there are still the problems it always had, which are: forced circumstances, unrealistic expectations, more opportunities than usual for deception, suppressed consequences for bad behavior.
Not that any of these is unique to online dating, just that online dating seems to bring them all together in one place — a place that also happens to attract people who are particularly awkward or vulnerable. Proceed with eyes open.
Anonymous: I agree with all the caveats, but I think it's really important to distinguish the types of interactions one can have in that environment. My understanding is that the best strategy is to exchange two or three e-mails with a person before meeting for coffee or something else informal, which fairly closely approximates more traditional methods of meeting. The caveats you listed seem to be most relevant to people who engage in extended communications prior to meeting in person and starting a "normal" dating cycle.
Carolyn: I agree with the suggestion to meet early on in the process, but that doesn't really mitigate the problems I pointed out.
When you're online, you're meeting someone outside the societal vetting process, so your histories are obscured, and you're meeting with your motives out in the open. Under older-fashioned conditions, it's the opposite: Your histories are wide open but your motives are obscured. I haven't seen anything to budge me from my belief that this stark reversal needs to be accompanied by a just-as-stark adjustment in participants' expectations.
Anonymous: Online dating has some vetting built in. It requires steady Internet access and usually a credit card. Some of the questions you answer about yourself are verifiable to others. And you can Google just about anyone these days and learn at least something about them. That is, if they haven't already posted info voluntarily on social networking sites.
What spectacular, trustworthy "societal vetting process" is going on at bars and the gym? Even accepting a blind date from a friend doesn't mean your friend vetted the person very well for you. There's a reason "blind date" has a lot of negative associations.
Carolyn: Internet access and a credit card? Not exactly high bars for potential mates to clear.
I'm glad you brought up "bars and the gym" and blind dates. These represent the outer edge of "old-fashioned conditions." I meant meeting people through friends, at work or school, through common interests, daily life. That gives you an idea of someone's track record. Hardly foolproof, but useful.
But even, say, at the gym, you can pick up signs of preening or leering, rudeness to staff, bad situational manners, along with animal-level information your senses pick up. Also not foolproof, but there's no denying its value. Not having these tools when you select someone is a dramatic departure from old-school dating and demands just as dramatic a departure in expectations.