Monday 5 December 2016

Online dating takes time and energy but it can work - here's one couple's story

Like a trawl through the rails at TK Maxx, if you give internet dating time and energy there are gems to be found

Published 17/01/2016 | 02:30

Aoife Kelly with partner Glenn.
Aoife Kelly with partner Glenn.
Glenn dragged Aoife Kelly out of her Dublin-centric comfort zone.
Aoife Kelly and Glenn
Aoife Kelly and Glenn
Friends were suprised that Aoife Kelly was not longer a commitment-phobe.
Making life easier to negotiate: Aoife Kelly and Glenn.

In the four years since I met my partner online, the attitude towards online dating has flipped 180 degrees. Back in 2011 the dating website was still considered the last bastion of the sorry singleton, the modern equivalent of the 1980s personal ad, populated by wide-eyed Miss Havishams clutching tattered wedding scrapbooks, and 40-year-old virgins.

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Since the advent of Tinder, the dating app of the Millennial, with all its immediacy, accessibility, and sheer ubiquity, however, online dating is no longer a dirty concept. Sure everyone's doing it and that makes it OK.

In a world where we spend as much time online as IRL (in real life) it's hardly surprising dating has become something we're as likely to conduct via a screen as socialising, networking, flirting, or working. After eight years of hedonistic, rollicking singledom, I signed up to two dating websites - one free, one with subscription - and met my partner Glenn after just two months.

Before that, I had dabbled with internet dating on and off for several years, mainly out of curiosity. I had met guys from all walks of life - teacher, actor, IT manager, journalist, music PR, and countless others. Despite the fact I made all the mistakes early on - from failing to add filters to block unwanted penis shots to falling for photos in which tans, shades and baseball caps hid their actual appearance - it was fun. Even the dud dates resulted in funny anecdotes my friends relished.

Friends were suprised that Aoife Kelly was not longer a commitment-phobe.
Friends were suprised that Aoife Kelly was not longer a commitment-phobe.

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Of course, like dating in real life, it's not without its pitfalls - the main one being the inability to test chemistry. One date had been the Banter King over email but remained resolutely mute during our coffee, forcing me to fill the silence with inane chatter which bored myself, never mind him. As I thanked him and made to leave he begged me (hands in prayer) to stay for another coffee. I asked him if he would join the conversation and he said we'd start with a clean slate. His first inscription on our slate? "So, what would you like to talk about?"

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The point is, it's terrifyingly easy to build a rapport with someone online, particularly if you have shared interests, but there's no substitute for real world chemistry. Approach online dating like the rest of social media - it should supplement, serve and enhance real life as opposed to replace it. Dating websites provide fertile hunting ground, but if you think someone has potential, don't dally, sound them out over a couple of emails or text messages and then meet as soon as possible, just for coffee. You'll know within seconds if it's a runner.

Aoife Kelly and Glenn
Aoife Kelly and Glenn

Something I learned fairly quickly is that it's not always a good idea to date people with exactly the same interests. Colin Farrell deemed it narcissistic and he has a point. He told The Guardian newspaper: "If you meet someone who has different interests, they can open your eyes to something different and something you've not experienced before." That's certainly what worked for me.

On paper my partner and I have very little in common which, rather than causing issues, makes for a much more interesting life. A week after our first email we went for coffee, which turned into brunch, which turned into drinks and five months later we were living together - something which shocked my friends who had long consigned me to the commitment-phobe bin.

He has led a completely different life to me, travelling the world, and drags me out of my cosy Dublin-centric comfort zone. Best of all, though, he makes me laugh, mostly at myself, which is a welcome relief when life throws difficulties at you. As a couple we've had our fair share of those in our relatively short time together but he's still here, making me laugh, sharing the burdens and making life easier to negotiate. Had I not waded my way through all those other dates I may never have clicked on his profile.

The type of people who use dating websites, they're exactly the same people you find in real life - including the undesirables. There are people who just want sex (great, if that's what you want too, but a tad depressing if you were under the impression they wanted more). And people who will try to troll you if you don't provide the response they deem appropriate. It requires a thick skin, open mind and it's not for everyone.

Aoife Kelly and Glenn
Aoife Kelly and Glenn

Equally, however, it's full of well-adjusted, intelligent, witty, fun, interesting people. Give it a little time and energy and - like an afternoon spent trawling the rails at TK Maxx - you might just emerge clutching a gem.

For those who value their privacy, the notion of putting themselves out there online may well hold all the appeal of strolling down Grafton Street naked. However, you don't have to make yourself vulnerable. Be honest with what you reveal, but save a little something for your orchestrated meet cute. Keep your Facebook profile private and resist the urge to Google your date.

Of course there are those (often people who have met their partners - or are still seeking them - in the hugely romantic surroundings of Copper Face Jacks or some similar establishment at 5am) who trot out that tired old notion that online dating takes the romance out of meeting a partner. That is, quite frankly, rubbish. If you meet someone online and then meet them in person and sparks fly, then sparks fly. You still have to make that first, slightly awkward yet electric eye contact, whether it's over a crowded bar or a table at Starbucks.

How you meet really is insignificant. Coppers or OKCupid, four years later you may find yourself happily shacked up with that person, plotting a life together of Lotto wins and exotic travel or, failing that, you may agree that maybe a semi-d in Dublin will do.

Glenn dragged Aoife Kelly out of her Dublin-centric comfort zone.
Glenn dragged Aoife Kelly out of her Dublin-centric comfort zone.
Making life easier to negotiate: Aoife Kelly and Glenn.
Making life easier to negotiate: Aoife Kelly and Glenn.

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