First You Need to Get Into the Game: Why Online Dating Is So Great [27]

In Love, Sex, and Relationships by Dr. Keith Witt

iStock_000004398866XSmall-300x225I love online dating. I think online dating services like Chemistry.com, Eharmony, Jdate, plentyoffish, and Match.com are among the most wonderful outcomes of the linked-in information age. Computer dating has revolutionized meeting potential lovers and life partners the way viagra revolutionized treating erectile dysfunction. Yes, it’s that wonderful. For example, fifteen years ago Janine—a college professor—came to me depressed, thirty pounds overweight, and the adult survivor of crazy sexual and emotional abuse. She entered therapy lonely, suicidal, and despairing on ever finding love again. As we worked through her issues, her strengths began to shine more brightly. She was intelligent, disciplined, dedicated to her students, and—in her rare love affairs—enthusiastic and creative sexually. Like many women in their early fifties, she thought that finding a lover, much less a life partner was about as likely as winning the lottery. Enter computer dating. Janine, with the encouragement her friends and me went on-line and eventually met Frank. Today they are in the eleventh year of the best relationship either has ever had. Sure, there were problems, and the three of us had couples’ sessions to move through blocks, resentments, and horrible relationship patterns. But Janine and Frank courageously progressed, and now live in wedded bliss in a beautiful house in the Santa Barbara foothills. Jacob was fifty-five when we started therapy. I helped him through a train wreck divorce (he was devastated at the loss of his wife, even though she was an immature, stingy partner who got progressively more abusive the longer they were married), and he swore he’d never go on line to find women. Jacob grew up seeing lascivious sex adds in risqué magazines featured in newsstands and sleazy tabloids—you know, “Single white mail looking for Asian sex goddess into bondage and water sports”—and thought computer dating was the bottom of the barrel when it came to meeting women. Finally, after recovering from his divorce and fully embracing the reality that he was a good man who deserved a good woman, Jacob went on line and today—ten years later—is happily married to Carolyn. He wakes each day next to a woman who loves him and a life that includes a grateful and satisfied life partner. Back in the sixties and seventies, people found partners primarily at school (fine for the 18 to 25 age group, pretty impossible for the rest of us), at work, or at church. Therapists were taught to encourage lonely single adults of all ages to “be more social,” “take classes,” and “join groups.” This seemed fine to me, except a little duplicitous and hypocritical for those people who specifically yearned for a lover/life partner. I always wondered, “Why can’t people just say, ‘I’m single and want a lover who might turn into a life partner?’” In those days there were heavy societal taboos against publicly announcing you were lonely, looking for love, or wanted a specific kind of partner. Tellingly, the most popular album of all time—Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band—featured John Lennon lamenting, “Oh…look at all the lonely people.” Thirty-something people took classes (dance classes were particularly popular), went to bars, and occasional attended singles groups, sometimes finding people they resonated with, and sometimes landing into creepy situations. You can’t really exchange much relevant information in a noisy bar or a singles’ mixer. It seemed especially difficulty in relatively small towns like Santa Barbara, which had limited social choices compared to big urban areas. The personal computer changed everything. I loved it when the dating services started, and knew immediately they would eventually blossom into huge, multimillion-dollar enterprises. Like all human social connection inventions (like the printing press, the letter, and the telephone), they were bound to grow and become progressively more refined. It’s now culturally acceptable to find partners online. People of all ages—especially boomers and those in their forties and fifties—normalize the online dating process, and can find help everywhere to guide them through. There is even a new professional nitch of “love coach,”—a person who helps you with your photo and profile, and works with you throughout the process of meeting potential partners, evaluating their suitability, and dealing with the inevitable distress of having to reject and be rejected. If you can’t afford or find a love coach, a good friend is wonderful, especially a woman friend (sorry guys, but women seem to be much more relaxed and helpful with this). I’ve helped shepherd many of my clients through the online dating dance, and—even though it’s not easy—it tends to be honest and effective. Meanwhile, the dating services have gotten progressively more sophisticated. Chemistry.com gave anthropologist Helen Fisher millions to research male and female arousal/mate selection systems and how to figure out what kind of person you are and whom you might hit it off with. Check out her book, Why Him? Why Her? Finding real love by understanding your personality type, for some mind blowing, cutting edge knowledge on how we bond. For instance, she found that most of us are more Explorers, Builders, Directors, or Negotiators, and that Explorers like other Explorers, Builders like other Builders, but that Directors and Negotiators do better with each other than with their own types. Helen Fisher’s research is just the tip of the iceberg of all the information that’s science has given us on love, sexuality, and healthy intimacy. If you watch my talk on TEDxAmericanRiviera, you’ll get more details of the potential for educated love in the twenty-first century—love that is made much more possible for people everywhere through computer dating. We are genetically wired to be social and sexual. These are drives, like hunger and thirst. If we deny them we suffer horribly. That’s why most prison wardens agree that solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment. It drives criminals crazy, and crazier criminals are exactly what prison wardens want less of. We need to embrace our drives to bond with others and to create intimate partnerships where sex is part of the deal. Sure, there are thousands of problems that arise. Most of these problems involve suffering from misunderstanding, immaturity, bad habits, ignorance, and emotional violence. Many issues can be resolved with education and therapy if people have the courage to love and receive influence from caring others, but first you need to get into the game. You need a relationship to work on your relationship. That’s why I love computer dating. That’s why online dating is so great.