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Dating Maze #260 - Warm-up Exercise

May 8, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

She's serious about finding a husband, and using the Internet to test the waters.

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

At 33, I find myself happy in my life, my friends, and my career. However, I am still single and childless, due in part to past health and family issues. Now, my health is good, and I am eager to find my partner in life. I've recently started dating again, via the Internet.

About a month ago, I started communicating with a man on the West Coast, and as a very settled East Coast girl, I originally responded more as a warm-up exercise than with any real intentions of pursuing this seriously. I had a long-distance courtship once before, and it is decidedly not my preference. Also, I continued because he is a very interesting, intelligent individual and seems to have the same goals in mind -- i.e. marriage, children, and a loving and Jewish home.

While I am continuing to be open to meeting new people closer to me geographically, I am also continuing to correspond with this West Coast man. The problem is that I am only interested in someone who has the potential to be the right person for me in the long run. Most of my friends think I shouldn't continue to speak with this man, partly because I have my doubts about whether I will find him physically attractive, and partly because of the long distance issue. My closest friend (who is married) is a bit of a romantic, and thinks that I should continue because he has some really wonderful qualities, and there are no red flags so far.

As I continue to meet other local men, and get to know this West Coast man better, I find him to be very intriguing and want to continue getting to know him without closing off the chance of meeting Mr. Right locally. There is also the chance that if we continue to connect and like each other after meeting, that he would be willing to move to my side of the country. What do you think about my continuing to pursue this long distance connection, and what advice do you have for a woman who is new to online dating and looking for a husband?


Dear Danielle,

Internet dating sites are one of many venues for marriage-minded daters to look for potential partners, but they come with some risks. Some of those risks include individuals who "embellish" their profiles, misrepresent themselves, or make up an alternate identity. But risks also include individuals who begin using a site as a way to "test the dating waters," but begin an on-line correspondence with someone who appeals to them, and then cannot make up their minds about what they want out of the relationship.

A virtual relationship doesn't create the instinctive "feel" of what each other is really about.

This risk is also present with real-time dating, but it's intensified by the fact that parties to a virtual relationship don't develop the "chemistry" and instinctive "feel" for each other that can help them get a sense of what each other is really about. That makes virtual relationships a safe hiding place for people who don't want to reveal their doubts, insecurities, or perceived inadequacies. So, for example, it is probably easier for you to continue your correspondence with Mr. West Coast without letting him know that you have no interest in relocating should the two of you consider marriage, or that even though you are cultivating this on-line courtship you are also actively pursuing some real-time interests.

That puts both of you in a difficult place. What if he becomes emotionally invested in your e-relationship, only to find out that you were just using it as a testing ground? What if you decide you like each other well enough to make expensive travel arrangements so that you could meet for the first time, only to learn that neither of you wants to relocate? And what if your connection to him grows stronger and you later find out that he doesn't want to get married in the foreseeable future -- and only really wants a virtual relationship?

There's always a risk that virtual daters won't be attracted to each other or "click" once they meet in "real time." But this risk is also present in real-time dating -- the big date that took hours of planning may fizzle because the parties have incompatible personalities, don't develop a connection, or can't become attracted to each other. The difference is that an online courtship can last for months before the parties decide to meet, and during that time one or both of them may become heavily invested emotionally. And they may be shattered by the reality of their first face-to-face meeting.

So, what should you do about these risks? Minimize them. One of the first things to do is to clarify with this man that each of you wants to find the right marriage partner and is using the Internet as one venue to hopefully find that person. If he isn't interested in marriage as an immediate goal, this is not a correspondence you should continue.

If he isn't interested in marriage as an immediate goal, then you should discontinue.

Now, do some checking about each other. Ask for references and actually contact them. Found out if this man is whom he says he is, and if people in his community (as well as individuals who have known him a long time) can vouch for his honesty and emotional stability. He should be doing the same checking about you.

Next, you need to determine whether either of you is prepared to relocate to the other's area for the sake of marriage. If the answer is "yes," how would you envision long-distance dating? How often can you fly back and forth, and who will pay the transportation costs? If the long-distance dating seems feasible, then discuss what a marriage would entail -- relocating means changing jobs, friends and community, and potential family conflicts. Is this something one or both of you are open to doing?

If your research and your discussions yield positive results, we recommend arranging to meet as soon as practicable. We suggest a few days where you have two or three "dates," that includes plenty of time apart as well. This is important to help process one's thoughts and feelings. The visitor can arrange to tour and visit friends, so that if the meetings don't go well you're not committed to seeing each other too often, and you have the flexibility to spend more time together if you hit it off.

What is the time frame for all of this? Ideally, it should take place over the next several weeks. By then, you and Mr. West Coast should be able to decide if there is a future despite the geographic distance between you. Something that begins on the Internet shouldn't drag on in cyberspace. You should quickly move to discovering if there is a potential to actually date for marriage. If so, this is where you should be devoting your energies, and there shouldn't be a concurrent "second dating interest" that will only distract you from the issue at hand.

And most importantly, with any dating experience -- and even more so with Internet dating -- you must be careful not to mislead the other person. For even before Google's famous adage, "Do no evil," the Talmudic sage Hillel said millennia ago: "Don't do to another person what is disdainful to you."

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze,

Rosie & Sherry

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