my bumble experience

Why Is Online Dating So Hard?

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It’s obvious we cannot tell who someone is from their online dating profile.

Am I being 100% honest on my dating profile? Does the fact that I darken my hair color from my dad’s gray mean I’m doing anything other than what most women do for a good portion of their adult lives? Am I being authentic? Should I lie a bit to raise my attractiveness? Should I be less selective rather than hyper-selective to open up the field for the random meeting that becomes something wonderful?

There is no chemistry information. And often I am swiping right on a whim, a cute hit, or a smile.  I don’t know what they do for a living, where they live (within 45 miles of me), or if their eyes might sparkle in-person which doesn’t translate into photos. I will often swipe right (Tinder and Bumble) without looking at more than the first photo. In bumble that usually has their profession. And again, the right-swipe is an ever-elusive beast these days, but I’m simply letting my attractiveness reflex take over. And that’s okay.

In online dating, swiping has become a bit of a learning experience. I am primarily attracted to the joy I see in the very first photograph. Not the “laughing” photo, the radiant joy that comes from someone’s inner contentment. I think you can see it, feel it, and get a gut reaction about it, all from a single photo in a few seconds. RIGHT or LEFT. It’s a binary decision. I am learning if I have a hair color preference, how much of a weight range is within my window of attractiveness, (I think I’m pretty flexible) and do their profile descriptions carry much weight.

When the initial hit is neither an immediate right nor left, I will dig a bit further into their profile and other pictures. A few indicators of my match preference might be:

  • YES – she plays tennis or rides bikes
  • YES – she likes dancing and music
  • YES – she’s obviously physically active and attuned to her body
  • YES – her career seems interesting
  • NO – she’s unhappy or serious in all of her photos
  • NO – she’s holding a glass of alcohol in most of her photos
  • NO – she’s always in pictures with cuter people
  • NO – she smokes, lists herself as conservative, or lives further away than the nearest outlying town

My maybe-twitch is often settled quickly with one of the NOs. Occasionally there is “the photo” that shows what someone really looks like. Face it, we can all find great photos. Cameras lie. Photoshop and filters can lie even further. When digging deeper into a maybe I look for that telling photo on the NO side of things.

And now we must talk about age. Yes, it’s a relative thing. And in the course of 50+ years, people have either taken good care of their physical health, or they have not. It’s clear when they have not. And I’m sorry the attractiveness standards are different for men than they are for women. I get that the entire “looking young” thing is a scam. It’s a lie. It’s a harsh light that should not be the measure of someone’s beauty. But, if you give into the lie and lead with your cleavage or your bathing suit shot, well… What are you telling me about you?

If your dating profile is your advertisement, what do you want to say about yourself?


Well, it is important. It’s vitally important to a relationship. But we haven’t even met and you’re putting yourself out there as if you’re a product. I don’t want a product. I don’t need a yoga instructor body. I’m not excited by your photos from exotic places. I want to know what you look like when you wake up beside me (In my mind). I want to see the real woman who’s still into fitness, but not entirely into fitness. The gym might be a part of your life, but if it’s a passion… Again, I only have my own experiences from which to make decisions. And the one uber-fit woman I met had very little to talk about other than her job, a reality TV show she was into, and working out. It was a short first date.

Back to sex. 

If there’s chemistry when we meet, and things progress along normal lines, repeated outings, good vibes, and possibilities of the future, well, we’ve got to talk about sex at some point. Sites like OK Cupid make “sex” a huge topic of conversation. And that’s pretty alluring. If only I could find a new connection on OK Cupid these days. And back to sex, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right. Let’s not do it if things aren’t connecting. Sex is sacred, in my universe. Casual sex is non-existent. It’s not how I roll. When we get to sex, in my best-case scenario we are both saying YES to being together, YES to being exclusive, and YES to the possibility that this is a relationship I’d like to explore long-term.

It has to start with a first date.  

No matter how much we rail against dating, it’s a necessary step towards being back in a loving relationship. Kissing frogs (metaphorically) is part of the process. And there are a few things we can do to make the experience easier for both of us.

  • Be honest
  • If there’s no chemistry, don’t act like you’re excited to see me again
  • Cut the date short, sure, but don’t be rude about it

And perhaps, the real lesson I am learning, is that online dating may be more of a distraction than a path towards a relationship. It’s more like a game. Swipe, swipe, swipe, BINGO, you have a connection. Perhaps I need to be more observant in the real world, and more outgoing in my daily activities. Certainly, the woman I’m interested in is shopping at an organic food store, at least some of the time. She probably has a physical and spiritual practice. Where would she be on a Saturday morning?

Perhaps imagining the right person is facilitated by online dating because we get to see how flexible and adaptive our sense of attraction is. But in reality, the real connections are walking right in front of us, we’ve just got to be better at saying “hello.”


John McElhenney
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Dating 2.0

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