on online dating, “meet cutes” & magic

Last week, one of my favorite writers Hannah Brencher published a wonderful blog post about online dating titled “Why It Doesn’t Matter If You Met (Or Meet) Online.” I loved her words against the stigma some still feel about meeting online. My heart especially felt drawn to this final graph:

It doesn’t matter where we meet. We are silly and insane if we get caught up in the “how we met” story that we forget the rest of the details. What will matter in 5 years from now is how we thought to build one another. How we thought to lay our hearts on the line. How we showed up. How we emboldened each other.

Hannah’s words got me thinking about my own dating experiences, both in person and online. To be honest, I was a bit nervous about online dating before I ended up taking the plunge and signing up for an account. It was a few weeks into 2014 and I was feeling ready for new beginnings. On a walk with a friend, we started talking about dating and how hard it was to meet a romantic partner “out in the real world.” My friend was a middle-school teacher at the time and I was living with my grandparents, writing for most of the day and teaching in the afternoons. The grocery-store “meet cutes” I had envisioned were not coming to fruition. I had met some new people at church, but no one close to my age.

“Here’s an idea,” my friend proposed. “We both sign up for online dating accounts. Best case, we meet awesome guys. Worst case, we go on some horrible dates and we get to laugh about them together.”

“It’s a deal!” I agreed. It was the extra little push I needed.

That night, I went home and created a profile on OkCupid. A couple days later, I was browsing the site and saw the photo of a cute guy with a nice smile… and a parrot on his shoulder? Curious, I clicked on his profile to read more. Through the way he described himself and his life, I felt like I got a good sense of him. He seemed like a genuine, kind and funny guy. Someone I wanted to know better. So I sent him a message.

In our first weeks and months of dating, when Allyn and I would introduce each other to various people in our lives and they would ask how we met, I was always impressed with the matter-of-fact way he would say, “We met online.” He wouldn’t beat around the bush. He wouldn’t evade the question. There was no shame in his voice. No hint of the questioning inflection I sometimes heard in my own voice – “We met online?” – as if asking for approval from the listener. Allyn was proud that we met online. It was part of our story, so that meant it was something to embrace, not hide.

It wasn’t that I was ashamed of meeting online. I think it was more that it seemed somehow less romantic, less special, to meet online than to meet in some other way, going about our daily lives. In the movies and in books and TV shows, people tend to meet not online, but in line — at the post office, at the drugstore, at the bank. They meet sitting next to each other on public transportation and running in the park. And in bars. But I didn’t want to meet a guy in a bar. {And I would never have met Allyn in a bar, because he doesn’t drink.}

I once asked Allyn if, had our carts bumped into each other in a grocery store, would he have started up a conversation. This was after we had been together a while, after we had said, “I love you” and after I had learned that parrot-on-his-shoulder photo was from a trip he took with his mom to Honduras. I knew that the very first time Allyn saw me, he thought I was beautiful. I felt sure that his answer would be, “Yes, Dallas Woodburn. If I had seen you pushing your cart through the produce section at the grocery store, I would have deliberately made my way over to those organic carrots and thought of some way to strike up a conversation with you.”

But no. Allyn was certain he would NOT have asked me out in a grocery store aisle. Even if he thought I was beautiful. Even if he wanted to go on a date with me. “That’s not my style,” he explained. “I would have been too shy to just walk up to a complete stranger and ask her out.”

Even if that stranger was me?

Yes. Even if that stranger was me, his future wife, in her tennis shoes and loose-fitting jeans, casually browsing the organic vegetable display. Me, a contender for least-intimidating woman on the planet.

To be fair, if our carts had bumped against each other at the grocery store, I probably would have been too nervous to ask for Allyn’s number. I would have assumed he had a girlfriend, or I would have made some other excuse to myself and then I would have kept on daydreaming about some other meet-cute straight out of the movies.

In the past, before going online, I did date guys who I met in cute or unusual ways. I met a guy on a plane once, when I was flying to Indianapolis from LAX to return to grad school after spending the holidays at home. We talked for a little while and he asked for my number as everyone stood up around us, jostling for their luggage from the overhead bins. We went on one date, but it was awkward and not a good match. Sometimes you can just tell these things right away.

I met my first serious boyfriend, a college student from the Bay Area, when we were both studying abroad in England. {And through him, I would later meet my dear friend Dana — something I will eternally be grateful to him for!} The night we met, I remember looking across the table at his goofy smile, and there was something familiar about him — it felt to me like a moment out of a movie, like we were somehow guaranteed to meet and fall in love. And perhaps that idea obscured a lot of things that were wrong about us, and all the ways we were not the right fit for each other, until eventually — like some couples in some movies do — we reached an ending that also felt inevitable in its truth.

The thing about online dating is, I know you aren’t meeting someone in front of a painting at an art gallery or in line for a sandwich during the lunch rush, but I still think there’s a component of magic — of, dare I say, fate? — at play in your meeting each other. Because there are a lot of people on online dating sites. And there are a lot of online dating sites out there. What if I had signed up for OkCupid in February or March instead of January, and Allyn wasn’t on the site anymore? What if he had met someone else or given up and decided to take a break from dating? What if I hadn’t decided to browse profiles that night, and I had never come across his cute smile?

Even though we met online, there are still a million ways we could have missed each other. We could have — as far as statistics go, we should have — but we didn’t. We found each other. I think there is magic in that.

Plus, a first date will always be a first date, whether you met online or at the dog park or through mutual friends. There will always be those first-date butterflies and nervousness, the tentative hug hello, the polite questions and the relief when you share that first genuine laugh together. I vividly remember walking down the street towards Allyn on our first date. It was evening, drizzling rain, and the streetlights and shop lights were reflecting on the sidewalk in a lovely way. Allyn and I were meeting at an ice cream shop, and halfway down the block I glimpsed a man standing on the sidewalk, waiting for someone. I was pretty sure it was the ice cream shop, and I was pretty sure the man was Allyn. I remember staring at him for a few moments, wondering who he would turn out to be. Then I looked away before he noticed me, glancing in the storefronts and shop windows for the rest of the block until I reached him. I remember the buzzing of my nerves, and the warmth of his smile when we said hello for the first time in person. There was no lightning bolt. There were no fireworks blazing through the sky. There was just him, and me, and the rain, and our smiles, and the magic of two open hearts getting to know each other, a little at a time.

If our “meet-cute” story was written in a book or a movie or a TV show, here’s how it would go:

One night in late January 2014, sunflowergirl87 was browsing OkCupid when she came across a photo of a handsome guy with a bird on his shoulder, OaktownA’sFan, who the dating-site algorithim declared was a 92% match. She decided to reach out with a message.

Hi! I was really drawn to your profile — you seem like such a genuine, adventurous, glass-half-full person, and I just wanted to reach out and say hello….

OaktownA’sFan read this sincere, heart-on-her-sleeve message and immediately knew this girl had not been online dating for long, because she sounded way too optimistic and friendly. “I better swoop her up fast,” he thought.

Hi there! Thank you for such a sweet and thoughtful message. I would love to meet up for coffee or tea sometime!

They messaged back and forth a little bit — about Dallas’s writing, Allyn’s sustainable business MBA program, dogs, random acts of kindness — before OaktownA’sFan {my name is Allyn, pronounced Alan} asked sunflowergirl87 {my name is Dallas, like the city} out for ice cream at Lottie’s Ice Cream Parlor in Walnut Creek.

Their first date, on February 1, was a rainy evening — not the best weather for ice cream, but neither of them minded. Allyn ordered the adventurous flavor with cayenne pepper in it. Dallas ordered something chocolate. Allyn was so attentive asking Dallas questions that she talked and talked and talked and her ice cream all melted. They walked down the street to Starbucks to talk longer because neither felt ready to say goodbye yet. The next day, Allyn asked Dallas out on a second date.

Soon after that, they both disabled their OkCupid accounts.

One final reason I’m grateful that Allyn and I met online is that we were ready to meet each other. Both of us signed up for online dating because we were at places in our lives where we knew what we were looking for. We knew what we wanted; we knew what was important to us and what was not. We were happy with ourselves and happy in our lives. Yes, both of us wanted a partner to share things with — but our happiness wasn’t dependent on each other. I think that was really important, and I think it’s a big reason why our relationship has felt so effortless and right from the very beginning. We were both ready for the big love that we created together — and that we are still creating, each day.

Your turn {if you want}:

  • Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and freewrite about dating. What are some of your dating experiences? What have been your best dates? What about your worst dates?
  • Have you ever been hindered by ideas of how you “should” meet someone? Have you ever held onto a relationship that wasn’t right for too long?
  • If you are currently dating: what are you looking for in a partner? What is important to you?
  • If you are with someone: what is your “how we met” story and where do you feel the magic in it?

2 thoughts on “on online dating, “meet cutes” & magic

  1. “Me, a contender for least-intimidating woman on the planet. ” (I love this line. It made me giggle out loud with its truth.) There was no online dating in 1976, dear Dallas. I would have tried it though. I had to ask Ron out. He never, ever would have asked me. Freshman year in the dorms at UC Davis was our sweet beginning. xoxo

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