Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dharmic Internet Dating?

I stumbled across this article by an editor of Tricycle magazine about "dharma" internet dating(Dharma Dating). Having done way more than my share of internet dating over the past six years, I was definitely laughing and agreeing a lot with Anne Cushman's comments about her own experiences. Here are a few lines in particular, though, that struck me.

Perhaps dating is just a way to practice keeping the door of my heart open to intimacy - without attachment to results. In the process, I can notice the habits of contraction that keep me feeling separate from other people: judgments, expectations, fears, busyness, guilt, chronic feelings of insecurity or superiority.

As the regular readers of this blog know, I'm one who tries to see the dharma in everything. Not that this is an easy task all the time, but it definitely is more effective than constantly dismissing things, or people, or experiences as meaningless. So, dating is yet another dharma field - in my opinion, a kind of strange, chameleon-like dharma field.

One of the things Anne Cushman is how, when you meet people in the flesh, you spin stories around them based on what you see and experience. There's some initial connection, whether it's simply sexual attraction, shared interests, or something deeper than that. However, when you meeting someone after seeing a profile and e-mailing online, your mind ends up creating a story about everything. Although you have more information about the person in a certain sense, you have none of the tactile, concrete, on the ground information that often makes or breaks both love relationships and friendships.

When you pay closer attention to all of this, there is a wide field of dharma hanging out here, waiting to be tapped into. First of all, the identity issue I spoke about in the last post comes up constantly. How do you present yourself on-line? Does it at all match who you really are? Can it ever? Second, there is a ton of "picking and choosing" going on. Now, you most definitely have to do some of that, but it's amazing how easy it is to dismiss people you have never met for trivial things you'd never dismiss in real life. And at the same time, it's also amazing how easy it is to get attached to other things someone says. Actually, attached is too light a word - obsessed to the point of blindness is probably more accurate. "She's a Buddhist too, we must be a match in heaven!" "Oh, my god! She uses the word 'partnership' in her profile, and loves to read dharma books by the lake under the full moon. Me too!" Third, all of your self-absorbed qualities get plucked in this process as well. You write in your profile that your kind and patient, and then during the date, you have an argument about politics. She writes that she has been practicing Buddhism for a long time, and then you discover that she actually only reads about it in magazines like Tricycle, and thinks that "it's a bunch of cool ideas" she'd like to follow some day. And finally, there's the good old red thread - sex. Only the rude or overly aggressive bring it up on a first date - unless, of course, it was the stated goal of both parties from the beginning. And yet, unlike meeting people in real life, the whole sex issue coupled with on-line dating is almost guaranteed to produce some wacky off-spring. Some want to maintain a "pure" image in the beginning, and worry that any talk about sex will automatically make them appear to be sex crazed. So, they date for awhile, start to really like each other, but then find themselves faced with a wall of anxiety concerning sex because going there might "ruin" the image they have created. Some never say a word about sex, but end up in bed with each other after a few hours over dinner and then wonder why, a few weeks later, they can't stand each other. (This is different from the in person fling or one night stand because, at least in theory, these people have some common interests and should have something to talk about.) Still others don't talk about sex, but then drop a person after a few dates when the sex doesn't happen. And then there are those who state "I just want to be friends in the beginning," which is definitely a good sentiment, but because the whole thing began on a blind date, creates an awkward energy around sexuality and physical intimacy. After awhile, one or both people start to wonder if they are "just friends" or if "it's something more." This happens in real life meetings as well, and the line is often blurry no matter what. However, at least in real life, there is more of a chance for a natural progression from friendship to love relationship. The friendship wasn't artificially imposed as a means of slowing things down, in other words.

What's really comical is that, even though I have been on and off the online dating thing, I have ended up dating only one woman I met online for longer than a month. The three year relationship I had during the middle of that six year period was a woman who I met through a friend. However, I can't completely dismiss the online factor because the friend and I had been talking about online dating when he brought up the woman I would eventually spend three years of my life with.

And yet, I have found many teachings out the process of dating strangers I have met online. It's taught me plenty about myself, as well as what I really value in a potential partner. But I do hope that someday, this part of my life goes offline for the duration.


spldbch said...

If anything will trigger a person's "issues" it's dating! I find dating (whether online or otherwise) to be very anxiety-provoking. Dates feel too much like job interviews:-) So for me, dating is a practice in tolerating anxiety and accepting uncertainty, both of which I think are good practices.

BTW, thanks as always for your insightful comments to my posts -- they are much appreciated!

Artisalie said...

It's been seven years on and off since I started online dating, which is also the same time I work on comics.
During that time frame I dated two people which lased longer than 3 months. I have come up with a clearer understanding of who I am and what i want but the process on a whole is still puzzling.