When the person doesn’t match the profile: the reality of taking online dating offline

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Talk, dark and handsome — his profile pictures could somewhat fit that definition. After several friendly messages and texts, I was pretty excited when Rob asked to go out for some coffee.

“I’ll be the one wearing the green jacket,” he said.

Grabbing coffee with Rob was my first date with someone I had met online. A few of my friends had tried online dating before, and despite my reservations about it, curiosity got the better of me — so I decided to give it a shot. After all, I hadn’t been on a date for a while and was craving that feeling of excitement that occurs when one is meeting a possible lover.

“Who knows?” I thought to myself. “Perhaps this is the way to meet ‘the one.’”

I arrived at Babette cafe, where Rob and I had agreed to meet. “Green jacket, green jacket,” I thought to myself — then, “No. No way. No, no, no.”

Rob was staring at me. The man in the profile picture had gained 20 pounds and apparently wiped off his face and drew another one on.

Now that he had already seen me, I didn’t want to be rude. I went up to Rob and introduced myself, which was a strange experience because I had talked to him so much before. He smiled, crooked yellow teeth and all. We went into the cafe, ordered our coffee and talked.

Rob was a nice guy. We had similar interests, similar tastes in music (classic rock and alternative). But other than listing off our likes and dislikes — which we already had a sense of from each other’s profile information — our conversations lacked substance.

Unfortunately, I agreed to a second date. Unable to say no to Rob’s face, I  chose to send him a message later, telling him that I was “missing that spark” — typical protocol for rejecting someone online.

The dating world can be a scary one. Who knows if that girl in your Math 1A discussion is single in the first place or if that cute athlete at the gym is looking for a lover just as you are? It’s difficult to know what people are looking for, if they are even looking in the first place.

Online dating is easier. First, there is no anxiety about defining the relationship or receiving mixed messages; you know that everyone is looking, and you know what they are looking for. Then there’s the safety net that comes with the comfort of talking to people through a computer screen. Rejection is scary. Rejection hurts. But pixelated rejection doesn’t seem that bad.

Furthermore,  not everyone has a bad experience like I did. My friend Jordan first turned to online dating to find someone who shared her obsession with music. She met that person, and one Radiohead concert later, the two are now engaged.

Jordan’s story is also part of a larger trend. According to a study published by the National Academy of Sciences, a third of Americans now meet their spouses online. Sites like eHarmony, OkCupid and Match.com are becoming more and more prevalent in our culture. There are even websites created specifically for college, such as DateMySchool.com, where students — many who grew up with the warning that the Internet is a lurking-ground for sexual predators — get the security of knowing that all other members are fellow students.

In my experience with online dating, I find that scoring an authentic connection — not the date — is the hard part.

The artificial barriers that come with online dating are usually what make finding a connection difficult. Take the profile, for one. I can’t speak for the men, but for many women, the perfect profile picture means 100 selfies in a row until you find the perfect shot — and then another half-hour of changing your mind about whether or not it really is.

Then there’s the “About Me” section. Click on any profile, and you’re bound to see the words “bubbly,” “fun,” “laid-back” and other oh-so-original and insightful adjectives that singles use to describe themselves.

In the frenzy to seem attractive, people don’t realize that at one point, they’re going to have to leave that comfort of their computer and meet the person face to face. It can be scary or disappointing — like my experience with Rob. The person you’re talking to and going out with is no longer a stationary face on the screen but a potential lover in the flesh. Online dating can be as unpredictable as in-person dating.

And just like in-person dating, you might have to keep trying before you find a relationship worth getting into. Rob might not have given me the best first impression of online dating, but I’ve been on plenty other dates that have been enjoyable. Even if some dates didn’t work out, I gained  a few extra friends along the way. Who knows whom you’ll end up meeting? Maybe it will be a date better forgotten. Maybe you’ll find the best hook-up of your life or meet your future boyfriend or wife. It may not be Cupid’s arrow, but online dating is worth a shot.

Contact Irene Chen at [email protected]