According to Nielsen, the average American Internet user spends more time on Facebook than on YouTube, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Amazon, and Google combined. Social networking is our norm. It fits snuggly into how the younger generations live. Yet, strangely, while we all destroy our workdays photo-stalking friends and random acquaintances, there is somehow still a pronounced stigma when it comes to on-line dating. Most statistics place the number of single Americans who have visited a dating website at about 30%, and the number grows every year. Like masturbation back in junior high, everyone is doing it, but no one wants to admit it. I’ll admit it. I’ve made two solid tours on the web dating circuit. Like traditional courting, there are copious foibles and embarrassing pitfalls to be found in on-line dating, but none are more psychologically revealing in their inherent irony than this one… Bumping into someone you know from the “real world” on the dating site. Surely this has happened to many of you. You’re scrolling down the list of mostly discouraging options that some computer algorithm has decided are potential matches for you. You spot an intriguing thumbnail. You click. You read. Then you slowly realize something…

Holy shit, I know this person! You are now presented with two options. Say “hi” or cut and run. Cutting and running is the worst thing you can do, because most of these sites show users who has visited their profile. Obviously you have to say “hi” right? Maybe not. A girl that I know through various work related activities never responded to my friendly “Hello.” I thought that was a bit weird, given that we’re friends. Then when I saw her next in daily life, she pulled me aside and made me promise “never to tell anyone.” That’s the kind of reaction I’d expect from bumping into a supposedly straight neighbor at a gay bar in the 1950’s. But like I said, there is still a stigma. So what exactly is so awkward here? I freely admit to people that I’ve used on-line dating, yet I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cringe a little when stumbling upon a friend (or worse, friend-of-a-friend) while cruising for webmance. There is no embarrassment when you run into a friend at a bar or club. But obviously this is different. This is a bit like sitting down at a speed dating table, jumping into your pitch, then having the other person turn around and reveal themselves to be the guy/girl who sits one cubicle over from you at work. I have a male friend who closed down his OKCupid account after running into two girls he knew in one week.

When pressed for “why,” he stated flatly that: “I don’t want these people to know what I’m really like.” That’s a bit more neurotic than most of us probably think about it, but there’s something relatable to that too. It is kind of discomfiting to have someone you aren’t trying to engage romantically viewing your “game,” as it were. These people are suddenly getting a detailed glimpse of how you present yourself to a prospective mate. I’ve certainly poked fun at some of the factoids I’ve seen female friends put on their profile. Which I suppose is not helping alleviate this issue. I think people want to feel free to describe themselves as “Fit” when they’re not. Post only those four pictures of themselves where they are so good-looking they’re essentially unrecognizable as themselves. Add a couple inches to their height and a couple zeroes to their income. And subtracted more than a couple years from their age. This of course defeats what should be the best part of on-line dating – cutting through the bullshit. So with that in mind, I think bumping into friends and acquaintances serves us all well. Whether we like it or not. It keeps us honest. Good hunting.

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