In mid-November, I made the decision to try out the online dating site OkCupid. This resulted in my first ever modern-North-American-style formal dating adventure. This post is something of a retrospective + lessons learned from my cross-cultural perspective. I have done some external research before, during, and after the adventure, but all of the information is highly anecdotal.
Before I say anything else, I will say that I think every TCK should experience their host culture’s most common dating practise sooner after re-entry. It’s a very eye-opening experience and can give you a whole new perspective on this decently-important aspect of the culture around you. If you, like me, find the structure of a formal dating experience crazy, you’re not very wrong, but you should try it anyway. You just can’t really understand anything you hear about it (probably including the contents of this post) until you try it.
The One Thing
If I have identified anything as the “most important” about the whole adventure, it’s that you have to really try. You can’t dabble, or hold back to protect yourself, or anything like that. You must be emotionally available, and willing to bend your normal system of existence in order to be in the other person’s world. This is basically the same as with any other cultural integration experience.
In my case, this involved things like more emotional availability than I normally afford to most friends, heavy Facebook usage, etc. While it was going on I felt like I was following this principle pretty well, though of course in hindsight there were tons of ways I could have done even better.
As I said, online dating was also a part of my particular adventure. If your biggest obstacle to this particular cultural experience is finding someone to try it with, then this may be a good option for you. I tried the site OkCupid, mostly because of their OkTrends blog (even though that has been defuct for ages, it’s still awesome) and because it’s free, so I could try it with no obligation. This is super useful if you’re not sure you want to try it out. The site does a very good job of being fun to use, and I found the various pseudo-gamified elements highly addicting. They do have some really crazy nonsense that’s part of the system (they come up with things to email you about all the time, just in case you weren’t planning to come back to the site. For example, everyone early on gets a “people on OkCupid want you so bad” email, and at some point I even got a “our system has determined that you’re hot” email, which may be the most hilarious email I’ve ever received), but in general that just adds to the amusement.
On the other hand, from talking to other online dating users, I cannot characterize my experience as normal. I played around with the site for only threeish days before someone awesome popped out of the woodwork with an expression of interest. I followed up, and things just sort of went well from there. I’m told this is the furthest from normal you can get, and I put it down to God’s purpose.
Being Creepy is Ok
The first super shocking thing I learned is that it’s considered totally acceptable to use all of your Google-fu, etc, to find out as much as you like about the other person, so long as you don’t use that information in an overly creepy way.
When making conversation, this can give you a tonne of fodder for what the right questions to ask are, so use it to your advantage.
Something you should do by the end of the first date is make sure you’re both on the same page as to what this is and where it is going. Ask your date what they’re looking for, and on what sort of timeframe they usually operate. First dates are culturally constructed to allow these sorts of awkward questions to be asked of complete strangers with fairly little fear, and I can tell you that not knowing is way more stressful than asking the question will be.
Don’t go into this with the expectation “I’m just trying this out as an experiment”, though. That violates the One Thing.
You have a wealth of life experiences, but it’s way more fun to learn about someone else than to talk about yourself. Don’t be secretive about your past, but try not to use it as a conversation starter. Use what you know to draw the other person into talking.
Telling Your Friends
I paired this adventure with an experiment in being much more open about my personal life with friends and co-workers. This may enhance your experience, or it may bias your results, or both, YMMV. One thing that I discovered is that your friends bring their own cultural baggage into the conversation. The mere fact that you find your date worth talking about led, in my case, to a whole different sort of conversation (as if about a budding relationship instead of a formal date with a stranger) with many people. As above, if you plan to involve your friends, set expectations. You can never communicate too clearly.
This is not the same as the age-old “be yourself” advice. Be anyone you want to be. This is actually the perfect opportunity to try out minor behaviour modifications on an unbiased judge, if you like that kind of thing. I mean, don’t lie, but you don’t have to be just like you are with your friends.
Make a Move
This one I’m the least sure about, and comes mostly from research. I did not do it at all, and while it may have gone better if I had, I don’t really have enough information to say. The idea is that by the end of even the first date, you should be flirting. Be interested. This seems pretty in line with the One Thing.
It is possible that your dating adventure will turn into a budding relationship. But let’s be realistic, you’re shoving yourself together with a stranger and then seeing what happens. This is most likely going to end before you get that far. However, you cannot operate as though this is the case, because that would violate the One Thing.
If you follow the One Thing at all, this is going to suck a bit. Unless you call it off, but why would you do that? That definitely violates the One Thing. Anyway, it’s not at all like a breakup, it’s not even as bad as every time you moved away from all your friends for the nth time, and being accustomed to people coming and going will certainly make it suck less. That said, you’ve invested some amount of your emotional existence in this, so when it stops you’ll probably have a few days of turmoil.
One thing I learned here, and I have confirmed this from many sources at this point, is that it’s not only acceptable, but totally normal to end a formal dating relationship by simply not replying to messages anymore. So if you’re texing or facebooking you just get dead air. If you’re calling they dodge your calls / send you to voicemail. If this happens to you, I’m not sure what to suggest. You can’t know right away that it’s over. I slowly escalated my attempts to contact the other person over several communications mediums until I did elicit a response. YMMV. Try to use other indicators to see if this is the case. For example, a few days after my date stopped messaging me, she changed her profile picture on OkCupid, which was a pretty dead giveaway that the adventure had come to a close. Use discretion, and if you’re anything like me and simply must know for sure, try to deal without hyperventilating.
Also, it may be your instict to say “no big deal, I never really expected this to end in a relationship” and file the other person as one of your extended contacts, or even move to try and pull them is as friends. That’s not a rediculous thing to want (you’ve found a person that it’s fun to hang out with, why wouldn’t you want to do more of that?), but there’s something about the nature of the adventure that means the other person is very likely not interested in that. Something to keep in mind.
So, that’s it. I had fun. I learned a lot. I met someone new. I have (I think) a better understanding of my host culture. I actually feel better about myself as a person, just because a stranger was interested enough to message me for weeks and hang out with me twice. I know that she dropped into my life at basically the perfect moment.
I wasn’t really intending to go on this adventure, so I don’t have a plan other than “back to business as usual”. Some people have asked me if I would use this mode again. As you can tell, I’ve never really been a fan, but I might consider it. It’s a terrible way to find a mate, but as long as expectations are clear it’s an ok way to spend some time, and you never know. So, not planning on it, but I still suggest you try it once.