The Cliff’s Notes version is I met him in a bar. He walked in. We talked. We clicked a little. We kissed. We clicked a lot. He spent the night. I saved his number. We saw one another off and on, then more on than off. (And now not at all–but that detail is not germane.) At least not to my cause here, which is to explain the inexplicable attraction of sexual attraction as it pertains to online vs offline dating.
The abstract, indefinable phenomenon of instant visual attraction and emotional appeal is often called THE SPARK by some and CHEMISTRY by others. Romance writers and readers thrive on its creation on paper. In life and in person it happens–or not–within seconds of meeting someone in the flesh. The feeling varies with the individual. It can be a very real sensation of actual heat, a pleasant flickering in the belly (the proverbial “butterflies”) or it can be a mere realization, conscious or not. To bastardize a famous quote about pornography by US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart . . . I can’t define it. But I know when I feel it.
Melanie Schilling, an Australian psychologist and dating coach, claims there are actually two types of sparks: the Wow and the Ahhh. The Wow, which tends to burn hard and fast, “creates amazing casual encounters,” says Ms. Schilling. The Ahhh, on the other hand, is a slower burning, less intense, more comfortable and sustaining spark. The type you probably want “as the basis of a long term relationship.” Ms Schilling contends that even if initially absent, the Ahhh “can develop over time.”
Thanks, but I think I’ll pass, Mel. The only degrees I’ve got hanging on my wall are in German and Life, but trial and error have taught me when I don’t feel it initially, it’s “square peg in a round hole” time. It doesn’t work, and trying is a waste of time. (Of course, I’m single at sixty, so what the f**k do I know? )
Because sexual attraction often occurs seemingly upon reception of specific triggers–we all know what floats our boat–we tend to think there is an actual template. A certain set of desired characteristics like hair color, height, intellect, personality, body type, etc. which can manufacture it. Ergo, online dating sites’ lists of preferences and the mental boxes we subconsciously check off when considering a dating profile.
Herein lies the fundamental problem of online dating, as I see it. We human possess five senses, in addition to our brain, with its powers of thought, analysis, deductive reasoning, etc. While online dating is able to tap into our brains and all their technical and analytical abilities, our senses are pretty much left out of this selection for a mate/date process–except for the sense of sight (semi-satisfied, at best, by a one-dimensional photograph). Even eventually adding in the sound of someone’s voice via a real phone call does not provide the full panoply. Moreover, only a small percentage of the human brain processes verbal communication. We are wired for more and function thusly: sending and receiving wordless clues in a conscious and unconscious encoding and decoding process that cannot be recreated in virtual reality. “In living color” is more than an expression or a 90s TV show!,
Think body language: facial expression, gestures, eye contact, posture, distance proximity, etc. According to experts (and Wikipedia) these nonverbal behaviors comprise 75-85% of all human communication. Factor in tone of voice (hearing is 11%), touch (2%), taste (1%) and smell (3%), and now you have the full picture of human interaction and communication. The look in his eye, the crook of his smile, the tilt of his head . . . sure. These can all be relayed on a computer screen. But what about the smell of his skin, the taste of his kiss, the touch of his caress? How do you get those from a dating site profile or photo. (And I’m not even going to mention pheromones . . .)
Oh, you could–in person, of course! But chances are either or both of you will eliminate the other long before that final stage of online dating can be reached. For here’s the curse of online: The numbers, the sheer volume of choices, create a “what if there’s something better out there?” mentality that is a constant plug-puller on countless flickering interests. Before true current can flow, the off switch has been flipped. It is the exact opposite in organic (traditional) dating. The face-to-face meet is online’s first step–not its last!
The dating sites have sold us a bill of goods, convincing us we are “communicating” online. No. We are not. At least, not very much. We are typing on a keyboard, texting and emailing. There’s a reason we had to invent emojis, people! Absent tone, inflection and accompanying visual clues, the written word is an ineffectual, ambiguous, subject to false interpretation means of connecting to an emotional end. Certainly anyone who has ever had a text message “taken the wrong way” can attest to my point here.
Give me a man in the flesh. Let me read the nonverbal signals–how long he looks at me, how closely he sits to me, the fact he lets his touch linger when he passes the salt shaker–hell, even the fact he rinses out his coffee cup the next morning before he puts it in the sink! I’ll take all that any day over staring at a text and trying to decide if his use of ellipses indicates continued interest–or not.
In a nutshell, a keyboard is a means of contact. It is not a means of connection. And as for that person you might find online–as opposed to stumbling across in life–I offer a final comparison thought . . .
Online you know a lot–and feel nothing. Offline you know nothing–and feel everything.