The question seems innocent enough. “How do you like online dating?” your date asks. But beware! It’s a sneaky conversational trap that will wreck a good date before you’ve even had a chance to compare high school prom stories.
There is only one correct answer. “My online dating experience has been great,” you will say confidently. “I’ve met some really interesting people I wouldn’t have had a chance to meet.” If he’s a good example, you might add, “I’m not sure our paths would have crossed otherwise, considering that I work from home and you live 50 miles away and go to bed by 8 p.m.”
Here’s why it’s so dangerous:
1) It brings out his insecurities.
My guy friend once proudly told me he asks the question on every first meeting to gauge his date’s popularity. His reasoning: “If I learn she’s going out on lots of dates, then I’ll know she’s not serious about me.” Never mind that it’s a first date! The fact that she set aside an entire evening to drink a glass of wine and hear about your summer plans means she’s interested on some level.
The problem is that her answer reveals nothing. If she gushes, “It’s exhausting being me. I’m so overwhelmed with dates that I’ve gained 10 pounds this month eating all those cheese plates,” she could be feeling pressured to play into the popular stereotype that desirable women are deluged with emails. She won’t want to admit that she received only two emails all month. Perhaps she thinks she’s stoking his competitive spirit, when she might unknowingly be discouraging him.
Perhaps he wants to hear, “I haven’t been on many dates because I’m really picky. But then you showed up in my inbox.” But then you risk appearing too eager. You can’t win!
His other intention might be to see if you’re dating someone. But again, you’re not going to admit that you’ve been on five dates with someone else and are about to become exclusive or that you’re thinking about getting back together with your ex-boyfriend.
2) It makes you feel obliged to ask it back.
And listen to the answer. These types are just waiting for the chance to impress you with their online dating stories. “Oh, it’s been awful,” he might respond. “I once had a date who … A) Meowed when I asked her if she wanted another drink; B) Showed up wearing a Pippi Longstocking costume; or C) Wouldn’t stop talking about her bad dates.”
You don’t want to hear whether he thinks all women are psychotic or whether he’s gone on so many dates this week that he’s barely had time to fit in his aqua aerobics classes. You just want to drink your drink and try to have a reasonable conversation to see if you might hit it off.
3) It tempts you to share your horror stories.
You’re only human, and occasionally you appreciate an audience. But you risk coming across as indignant, burned out or bitter – in short, all things unattractive. Or worse, he’ll think that you’ll tell some other poor soul about the date you’re having with him.
That’s why it’s best to answer quickly and re-direct his attention to say, the interesting light fixture. You’ll help keep the date positive and give it the best chance to go well. You’ll have plenty of time to tell your juicy tales when you’re an item.
Have you encountered this question? How did you handle it?
About the Author:
Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate and Salon.