With the upsurge in online dating over the last decade, culminating into a normal and shame-free way of finding a love relationship, there has also been an increase in the disparity between truth and absolute bulls**t.
The number of occasions whereupon our date bears not even the passing semblance to the tall, dark, handsome stranger smiling with beaming delight from their profile page, have resulted in echoes of despondent sighed whispers from across the land. Usually by the time we have arranged a physical meet-up, a date proper old-school style, it is fair to say we have probably scrutinised their pixelated profile pictures to the nth degree, and have imagined ourselves delighting in said attractive company on this very day.
Cue double takes, deflation, and trying to mask acute disappointment with your best smile as you shake their hand, wondering how long is just polite enough to stick around for before you have to go and deal with some sudden immediate emergency that your creative mind has pulled out to deal with such calamitous situations!
Yes, it’s a bummer. No, it’s not ok to pretend to look like someone else. Stop it. Act your age! Your real age, not the one you put down on your dating profile.
But darlings, this is a mere chip, nay splinter, in this whole matter of honest online dating. The real issue here is one that runs much, much deeper.
It is fair to say that the medium of the web, with its anonymity and cool exterior, has given us far more space to hone our personality when responding to someone who excites our heart. We want to feed that potential spark, of course we do, and all of a sudden we can become whomsoever we desire to be whilst scribing our jaunty, clever, and witty conversational banter. No awkward silences, no nervous unease, none of that feeling flushed by the way the other looks in the flesh! Oh no. Online we are the most shiniest, polished and, this is where it gets interesting, the most TOGETHER person you will ever meet (let alone date, fall in love with, get married, have kids and live in a castle happily ever after).
Online dating gives an opportunity to hide behind black and white text. We can camouflage our foibles and weirdness. We can be someone we would like to be seen as, that is, a ridiculously unattainably and impossibly perfect specimen of a human being.
We give the other the colour brochure. The high gloss, printed on the most exquisite quality paper, where the photographs have been photoshopped (damn you!), and where the light, angles, perspective and whole general image has been tampered with by some kind of bewitching trickery magic! Abracadabra! What a grand illusion we have created.
No wonder we arrive to our first date armed with a lorry load of anticipation, high on the expectation of what we have been fed. Sorry sweetheart, the spell has been cast, the show must go on, but for how long? Keeping up appearances can be exhausting, and surely all that extra energy might be better used elsewhere (depending on how well the date goes for one thing!).
You see for me, and I speak from that wise knowing place of having been on the receiving end of such a grand spectacular illusion, there is something missing when we present the extremely edited version of ourselves. No, this is not simply about honesty, we want to show the best of ourselves of course we do, but this is about being human. A real, strange, unique, lived in, beautiful human being.
This is also, in my opinion, about that one aspect that no photograph nor A* biography can ever show us, and that is our soul. Who we are when we are just fully showing up in the moment. Yes that’s terrifying. Yes people are scary. (I’m sure it’s not just me that thinks that?!). And yes, we are all scared. And in no greater situation than one in which our blessed wondrous hearts are involved.
Vulnerability? Blimey! It’s enough to make you turn off the computer, put on your fleece pyjamas, and dive back under the duvet with a nice safe hot chocolate and a romantic comedy on Netflix. Well, actually no, it’s not. Because when it comes down to it being able to be seen as who you are, in all your craziness, sweetness and you-ness, and to meet someone who gets you, and whom you also get, and see, is the most extraordinary thing in the world.
That’s where the true magic is.
And it is a balance, I must be clear here. I recall watching a movie many years ago, whose name I can’t find in the memory banks of my mind, but what stayed with me was a scene in which the two main characters went out on a date. Both of them tired from the weary weight of life, lonely, and raw. I remember how as they began to share who they were she started a monologue telling him all about her flaws and weaknesses, her woundings and broken places. She finished by stating that she needed him to know them now, before their hearts got involved. It was a very moving moment.
We do not have to bear all, strip emotionally naked on the first date. At a festival a couple of years ago, I attended an event with the maverick musician turned facilitator of workshops on all manner of spiritual shenanigans, Jamie Catto. We had to pretend we were on a first date, and feeling the possibility of sailing out somewhere on that adventurous ship of relations, we had to tell our ‘date’ something seemingly aghast about our possible future behaviour. The icky confessions of possible jealousy and sulkiness, of a habitual boredom after a certain number of months down the line, of our ‘I have abandonment issues’ echoed around the room. And though we were just playing here, and there was laughter aplenty, the truths showed our vulnerability, and the tenderness of a well-worn heart. What was genuinely beautiful though was that there was one phrase that began to be heard as a repeated murmur around the room: ‘me too’.
Online dating requires our integrity, the grit of who we are. Yeah sure we probably hardly even know the fullness that each of us contains, the beauty, the mystery, the real truth about ourselves. We owe it not just to this other heart beating human, but to our own self. And if those first fanciful fluttering dates are the foundation stones for a fuller relationship, then doesn’t it make sense for them to be firm, solid, a rock to build upon? Do we not wish to start how we wish to go on?
That workshop made me reflect on not just the first date experience, but on the whole relationship carousel. I do think we need to bring a balance of both. Have a playful time, unfold shyly and with curiosity, take coy glances at each other, enjoy the adventure. But be honest with each other, and know that when we can share our human vulnerability we connect at such a deep level. We relate from the preciousness of our soul.
We all carry the most incredible stories within us. Engraved on our bones, pulsing through our bloodstream, fragrancing each fragile breath we offer out into life. Bring those stories, and let them weave together the fabric of whatever you and this not so strange stranger are creating. Bring your not knowing and innocence, hang out with another human being, another storyteller, and just allow each moment to unfold without the brochured, controlled, and manicured script.
Let yourself be seen, and see the one in front of you, as truthfully as you have the courage to be. You never know, you might just be imperfectly perfect for each other. This might be the most honestly fitting, magical relationship you have ever danced in.
Here’s to the truth in love. I dare you.