It happens to the best of us: we open a browser or slide into an app and everyone’s pictures start to look the same. Suddenly, they seem even more two dimensional, even if you’re trying to be diligent about reading through profiles and giving people a chance.
It’s easy to forget, in certain moments, that behind every other computer and phone there’s a real person with hopes, dreams, and fears. Many of them are looking for exactly what you are: a person to share their life with. Maybe they’re looking for you.
But that hasn’t always been my first thought when I’m looking at yet another picture of a man holding a freshly-caught fish (I think about this genre of picture a lot—what is the idea behind this? Is he trying to show that he is capable of catching his own food? Is he sending the message that he’s looking for a “catch”?), instead I’m not seeing a person at all, my eyes start to glaze over. That’s when I know it’s time to take a break.
In those moments, I step away from the computer, or put down my phone and take a breath. I think about what my therapist has told me about grounding myself—breath slowly, look around me and really notice where I am, and feel the ground under my feet, maybe notice the clothes I’m wearing, or the chair I’m sitting in. I return to my body instead of living in the world of “online dating.”
It’s funny, usually I find that I have the hardest time focusing on others as people when I’m not fully present in my own humanity. When I take just a second to refocus, I often have an easier time looking past the pictures, trying to puzzle out a bit of the life that might lie behind them. I begin to see possibilities.
If you’re having a hard time with pictures and profiles that blur together, start with yourself. Make sure you’re treating yourself like a person. Dating might be a priority for you, it might be something you’re anxious about, but it shouldn’t be a reason you’re stressed out of your mind. Be sure to take care of your own health, mental and physical. If you start to feel anxious, walk away for a while. It’ll all be there when you get back.
When it comes to other people—why not slow down? Take your time with a profile the way you would if you were having coffee with someone (or maybe speed dating?). Read through who they are. Remind yourself that no matter how different they might seem, they have one major thing in common with you: they are dating online. You might not be the one for them, but they’re hoping to find the one who is, just like you are. At the very least, they deserve your consideration and respect, even if you don’t choose to communicate with them.
I’ve gotten into the habit of taking a long moment with a profile. On the ones that I choose to rule out, I say something I’ve borrowed from Brene Brown, often out loud: “You are worthy of love and belonging.” Sometimes I add: “I hope you find what you’re looking for.” And I do.
Cara Strickland writes about food and drink, mental health, faith and being single from her home in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys hot tea, good wine, and deep conversations. She will always want to play with your dog. Connect with her on Twitter @anxiouscook.