As soon as I see that I’ve just received a picture through text, the smile on my face vanishes and I know exactly what I’m about to find.
And there it is. The image loads and I end up staring at a rather stiff part of the male anatomy. I’m not talking about an arm or a leg. I mean that.
“Okay, nope. Just nope. You crossed a line,” I text back to the guy I’ve been talking to for almost a week now. “That’s not something I want to see. Nope.”
I’m furious with this guy. I’ve only recently started dating again after an almost 11 year marriage that ended in divorce. I’ve been divorced for almost four years now.
The last time I went on a date, I was in high school. Smartphones and iPhones didn’t even exist yet and high speed internet was a dream. If anyone picked up the phone while you were trying to download something, you could kiss that download goodbye and start over.
And now, after some very light flirting, I’m being sent a picture of a man’s penis. I’m starting to wonder if maybe I should just give up on the online dating sites and go to a bar.
Which would mean I need to get dressed, fancy myself up and find a bar in my area—which isn’t the best, to be honest—and hopefully not get puked on. So I suck it up and start fishing again.
Having the convenience of surfing an online dating site from the safety of my own home is far more appealing than the alternative.
But what happened here? This is not the kind of dating I used to do.
“The game has changed,” says Cath Kenney, who teaches “Switching on your Right Brain,” a course in inter/intra-personal skills as well as creative thinking and problem solving techniques. “There used to be strict rules for social conduct and in an online dating environment, they don’t exist.”
Jay Kennedy*(name changed for privacy), a student at Algonquin College, has had her own experiences where men on online dating sites seem to blur the lines on appropriate social behavior to the point of stalking her offline.
“(They would show up) at my house, light tiki torches on my lawn. I don’t even know how they found out where I live,” she says about one incident.
“One figured out where I worked and followed my work truck around. Again, I don’t know how he figured that out.”
During her time on the dating website Plenty of Fish, Jay also encountered a different breed of wannabe suitor.
She was contacted by someone who left her the following message: “…it’s 2014 so I’ll be straightforward. Well, I’m on here to find a girl I can hang out with once a week or whenever I’m free, $1500 cash for four hours. I have very little time to date or anything else for that matter.”
Jay seems rather amused by it now.
“I asked him if he was serious. Then indicated by Canadian law he is essentially asking for sexual favors for money. Which is illegal. He didn’t like that,” she says.
Back in the days when I used to date, it was more common to meet people face to face or get paired up through friends. Coming from a small town, where there were English school kids and French school kids, it was difficult to find long degrees of separation. If your friend knew someone who thought would be a perfect match for you but it all went wrong, at least there was a third party involved to mediate or oversee the situation.
“There’s no one to answer to now,” Kenney explains. “The ability to type out/express yourself without any sanctioning allows for more freedom.”
And it’s not just typing anymore. Chat rooms were starting to be the big thing back when I was in high school, around 1998. With today’s technology, texting has replaced the chat room and a picture takes less than a minute to go from one phone to the other compared to the days of dial-up when you could go fetch a snack, use the bathroom and even have dinner before the file reached you.
The rules of the game might have changed but online dating sites still follow strict rules and allow their users a modicum of protection, allowing them to block or report unruly members if necessary.
But what happens after you feel safe enough to share your cellphone number?
Once I’d received that picture, I deleted the text thread and wouldn’t answer to the guy’s messages anymore. I realized I was lucky, though. The guy never tried calling me.
Kenney explains that back in the days of the Dick Van Dyke Show, a scene involving a couple in bed would usually be depicted as them having separate beds or one person keeping one foot visible by touching the floor to assure the audience there was no nudity.
“If you take that premise, fast-forward 60 years in movies, people are naked in bed,” she says.
With the rise of technology at our fingertips, the necessity to have everything available instantly and easily has even replaced human interaction to the point that there’s no more shy, face-to-face meetings where what a person says will affect the impressions made during a first date.
When I mentioned this article to Mike King, a friend I recently made through OkCupid, he agreed and offered me his own view on it.
“Dating is becoming like ordering a pizza. You can pick it up during the day or have it delivered to your house at 2 a.m.,” he teased.
Mike and I met late one night. Turns out he lived right down the street from me and, since neither of us could sleep, we decided to hang out. It was around 2 a.m. at the time.
We’ve kept in touch since then. Which is more than I can say for some people I’ve met on there.
Pro tip, guys: don’t say you’re going to text a girl and not follow through. Give some closure at least, would you?
All in all, despite the requests for phone sex, nude pictures and strangers wanting my number, I can’t deny that online dating is a better alternative for me than going out and meeting strangers who would otherwise feel too shy or awkward to be approached by a random girl looking to date.
I’d probably get weird looks anyway. Going out and talking to people?
No one does that anymore, apparently.