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Single Living



I “Googled” myself the other day.



I really should know better by now. It’s
rarely a good experience to see how my name is being used and misused
over the World Wide Web. This time, among the various articles
and book advertisements, I found a spirited discussion about me on a
message board for animal rights activists. Apparently they had
tripped over an article I had written, and they didn’t like it.
At least I don’t think they liked it, if calling me “human brain donor”
whose “IQ is smaller than her shoe size” indicates disapproval.



I’m used to stuff like that, and it doesn’t bother
me too much (provided they don’t know where I live). But it’s
always a little disconcerting when people who know so little about me
have such strong (and negative) things to say about me.



But I think what I find even more disconcerting is
how very much people can find out about me on the internet. Not
just about where I live, but about who I am. I looked at some of
the articles I’ve written, and it felt kind of weird. I don’t
make it a habit of getting particularly personal when I write (although
I’ve made more than one exception to that rule here on Catholic
Match.) But even the few personal things that I’ve mentioned
seemed to take on a different light when I realized that literally
anyone in the world could read them simply by going to Google and
typing in my name.



It made me think about the whole world of online
dating, and the tricky nature of “revealing” ourselves in an arena
where a whole lot of people can see what we write, but nobody can see
us.



I’ve written elsewhere in these columns about why,
much to my disappointment, I don’t and for all practical purposes can’t
have a profile on Catholic Match. But that doesn’t mean I have no
experience with online dating. I’ve seen plenty of profiles in my
day.



Let’s face it – writing your own profile isn’t
fun. How on earth can you sum yourself up in a few
paragraphs? It’s impossible. Some people (myself included)
tend go for the “minimalist” approach. If I can’t sum myself up,
I’m just not going to say a lot at all. I’ll save it for later.



Others go for a more “global” approach, trying to
cram as much information as possible into a few sentences. And
still others take what I call the “pick a trait” approach, where they
select one aspect of their personality (funny, sensitive, whatever) and
essentially beat it to death for a paragraph or two.



I have no idea which approach is best. I will,
however, tell you the one deadly mistake I’ve seen in far too many
profiles.



I call it “leading with your flaws.”



I’ve seen profiles where people talk about their
fear of rejection, their devastation over a failed marriage, their
insecurities, their past mistakes, and a whole host of other
less-than-pleasant aspects of their lives and themselves.



To me, that doesn’t seem like such a great way to use these precious few paragraphs of introduction.



I know, I know – plenty of people say “Well, I’m
just being honest. That’s who I am.” Okay, that may be part
of who you are. But is it really all of who you are? Is it
the best part of who you are? Is it the first thing you want
someone to know about you? Don’t you want to lead with your
strengths?



Look, it’s kind of like meeting someone for the
first time. What parts of “who you are” do you want them to see
right away? I’m guessing that part of “who you are” is that you
start to smell if you don’t shower for a few days. Is that the
part you want to introduce them to first? Is it the first
impression you want them to have?



There’s a reason that intimacy is supposed to happen
gradually. It’s all about percentages. When someone reads
your profile, what they see there is 100% of what they know about
you. If the first thing you say about yourself is negative, then
how inclined are they going to be to keep reading?



Over time, as two people get to know each other, a
bigger picture starts to emerge. It becomes easier to disclose
difficult or challenging aspects of yourself or your life, because the
other person can put that information into the larger context of who
you are. There has been time to build mutual trust and
respect. There is some sort of relationship in place.



The same, then, is true for initial correspondence
between two people who have met online. I can’t believe how often
I see, or hear about, someone who discloses deeply personal information
(and lots of it) immediately. Think about this. If you were
on a first or second date with someone you were just getting to know,
and you were chatting over dinner or coffee, would you be getting that
personal, that fast? Would you be divulging your deepest
feelings, or insecurities, or fears? Somehow I doubt it.



I think some people really believe “that’s the
beauty of online dating. You cut straight to the heart of things.”



I’m not buying it. It is true that sites like
Catholic Match allow people to cut to the heart of what they
believe. A lot of your “weeding” is done for you. You’re
spared the “I don’t believe in premarital sex” talk, or the “I won’t
use artificial contraception” talk. That’s a very good
thing. But there’s a big difference between that and disclosing
deeply personal things about yourself, your past and your life.

It’s been said that we live in a society where
people are losing their sense of personal boundaries. I believe
that. We have teenagers who post their personal journals on
MySpace. Grown men and women spill their guts on television talk
shows. Celebrities dissect their relationships in Vanity Fair
interviews. It makes sense that someone looking for a husband or
a wife would be tempted to disclose a lot early in a relationship.



But I don’t think it serves us well. There is
something sacred about our deepest selves. When we open up too
easily or too quickly, we disrespect ourselves.



Plus it tends to freak people out.



So think twice next time you’re reviewing your
profile, or you’re beginning to correspond with someone you’ve never
actually met. Don’t feel obligated to catalog your flaws, or your
insecurities, or your deepest, darkest secrets.



Real emotional intimacy takes time. Don’t try to rush it.



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