I had an epiphany today.
It was an epiphany brought on by the fraught state of affairs that is online dating.
I started dating using the usual sites quite soon after splitting up with my ex. We had spent such a long time distanced (emotionally and physically) from each other that, while I still had all the emotional and financial crap that comes with a divorce to deal with, I felt like I wanted to go out and kick up my heels a little. Plus I was horny as hell.
So I dated a little bit. Then I met this guy that I dated for a couple of years (off and on – we broke up 3 times, finally for good late last year). So I got back on the dating hobby horse. Uploaded my photos, wrote myself a quirky, just-amusing-enough profile. I got heaps of hits, lots of messages. It’s good for the ego to know that X number of guys want to meet you and several of them have messaged. So I went on a few dates, chatted with some.
But the dating experiences left me feeling bereft. Less than. Judged. Unvalued. Dirty. And I always wondered why that was, could not quite put my finger on it. I open an account somewhere, chat to a few guys, maybe go on a date, then get into the state where I’m feeling judged, unvalued, dirty, horrible, and then delete my account. Then a couple of weeks later repeat the whole process.
My most recent dating experience was a guy who, for all intents and purposes, was perfectly nice. We met for a drink which extended to dinner, then an after-dinner drink and conversation, then a quiet stroll and a bit of a pash. We had heaps in common; same age, similar values, similar goals, similar life plans, kids at same stage, liked a lot of the same stuff, etc. I felt really good about it. We texted back and forth, he said a lot of sweet stuff.
Then we had sex, and it all … petered out. His texts tapered right off. He didn’t call. I told myself that he just needed space – we’d had a really intense time leading up to our sexual encounter and he just needed the headspace. The last time we saw each other we talked about a date this weekend, and I made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t push it, I would just give him the time and space to follow up with the arrangements (I was meant to be coming to him) and that would be my sign that all was good.
But he didn’t. By yesterday evening (the date was meant to be this evening) I realised he wasn’t going to follow through with date. And I logged on to the dating app we use and there he was online. All evening.
This was the point I decided I was done with online dating. Not out of a hissy fit, but because it turns me into an insecure, neurotic bundle, and I don’t know why. So I decided to delete my profile, but thought I would message the very few guys I had actual conversations, just to explain that I wasn’t being rude, I was just going offline. There were probably messages from 50 or so guys there to wade through, and probably only 3 or 4 that weren’t a comment on my appearance or sexual in nature.
Now, since I don’t think ghosting is very polite, I sent the guy a text this morning to say that I got the impression that he wasn’t interested in seeing me again and that it was fine, I wished him all the best in his search. He responded that he felt like I was a totally different person this week, negative, expecting things to end.
And he had a point. I totally did. Because once we had had sex, I knew he would back off. Which he did; in his communication and then being back online for hours yesterday, presumably chatting and still looking, even after all the stuff he had said to me about having a connection, about wanting to know all of me, about felling so close to me. Yet once he had achieved his goal (ie, sex) he was ready to move on.
But I took onboard his feedback. Later today I took a bushwalk – being out in the bush is where I do most of my heavy thinking. I rolled things around in my head as I sploshed through the rain and I realised something.
There is a reason why online dating makes me feel so bereft, unlovable, judged, unvalued and dirty. As a survivor of child sexual abuse, I spent years feeling that my only value was what I could offer sexually. No-one could possibly like me, let alone love me. I would have sex early on and desperately hope it would lead to someone somehow loving me. But the whole time I was doing it I felt vile and slutty and did not truly believe I was lovable.
The thing about online dating is that it’s primarily a visual activity. You are looking at a bunch of profiles, someone looks appealing, you click on their profile, maybe read a bit, and that is the basis of them being of interest to you or not. If some guy sends you a message and you don’t respond, they will quickly move on, or they’re already chatting to several people at the same time as you, and vice versa.
So you put up your nicest photos, where you look pretty and fun and exciting. And? You get judged for your sexual value. You know that when you date a guy, if you don’t put out soon enough, he’s got plenty of others who will. And when you do put out and they lose interest … you have just had it proved that your value is in what you have to offer sexually.
It’s been a long, slow realisation. And I know that not every guy is like this, but I think even the nice ones (like the most recent guy I dated, who was really pretty nice) have a tendency to push for sex early on, simply because they can. And I know that I could always have said no, but I didn’t. And when you’ve had sex early on, there is no chance for you to have made a genuine connection. So what does it matter if you never see them again, when there’s plenty of others online just waiting for you?
And so you move on. And the guy (or it might be the girl, I don’t know) goes back online to find his next conquest, and the girl (or guy) sits at home and feels like shit, bereft, alone, unloved, judged, unvalued and dirty and wonders why she does, and beats herself up for not being tougher and getting too invested in a guy.
And she does because she does not realise that it is because that is how the sexual abuse made her feel. That your only value is in what you have to offer, sexually. And no-one is looking out for you, so you feel bereft, alone, unloved, judged, unvalued and dirty.
Until today. Today I realised, and acknowledge that online dating is not for me. The chances of me meeting someone who wants to actually get to know me before diving into a sexual relationship are slim to none.