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Online Dating: A Unique Opportunity To Learn About Ourselves

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Online Dating: A Unique Opportunity To Learn About Ourselves

Try online dating to really get to know yourself and others

I’ve examined and blogged about the online dating process somewhat extensively, addressing its pros and cons. No doubt it’s a convenient way to meet people, gives you a chance to sell your personality, helps you to weed out unsavory types before meeting them at your favorite Starbucks, and provides a larger pool of potential suitors for you to choose from. On the other hand, the process easily lends itself to deceit, allows you to engage in the fantasy that there’s a perfect partner or “soul mate” awaiting you—if you have the patience to sort through a haystack, and can subject you to more rejection in a week than you’ve experienced in a lifetime.

Despite the downside, I believe that online dating is a practical, even necessary relationship vehicle for our fast paced planet. But we still have a lot to learn about it…and ourselves. For example, I’ve found that most of the people on dating sites, particularly those over 40, have suffered at least one relationship trauma in their lives prior to joining, which if not processed, has most likely hampered their ability to sustain a healthy long-term relationship. If this be true, it begs the following questions: Shouldn’t these people have fully grieved their traumas before re-entering the dating scene?  If they haven’t, might they be paradoxically albeit unconsciously replicating the very types of experiences that traumatized them in the first place? In this vain aren’t they starting over only to replicate their previous experience?

These are the questions I’ll address in an effort to make some sense of the nonsensical dynamics of online dating. And I’ll do so by discussing two types of trauma that if not resolved, may well lead to relationship failure. While the paradoxical issue I’ve raised about online dating may certainly apply to other forms of dating, the time and effort, as well as the emotional and financial expense required to online date renders the paradox all the more intriguing.


While many marital therapists don’t necessarily perceive an affair to be a trauma per se, I do. An affair is one of those experiences that most people never seem to forget. This is especially true for the victims. But even those who’ve committed adultery don’t always get off that easily—they can harbor guilt for years. An affair is also like a bad zombie movie: just when you think you’ve rid yourself of it or its memory, it returns to life.  A movie, a song, or a certain restaurant can bring it all back as if it happened yesterday. Even worse…it can start up again at any time. Those who’ve carried on affairs in the work place where adulterer and lover may more easily maintain contact are even more liable to rekindle their romance.

Many online daters have been the victims of an affair in a prior relationship and are anxious to avoid another one…at least consciously. Paradoxically however, the symptoms associated with this anxiety may eventually manifest in more infidelity. For example, serial online dating requires a lack of commitment to any one person. The paradox is that this type of dating often serves as a breeding ground for cheating behavior.  A victim may also re-enter the dating scene only to exert too much control in the initial stages of the dating process. Extreme rigidity or jealousy may help to chase any new potential suitors away, or to thrust them into the arms of someone less controlling. Other victims of a previous affair may consistently test their new potential partner’s loyalty. Eventually this may help to insure the premature end of the relationship or provoke an affair as a means of escape. And of course there’s the oldie but goodie: “I’ll beat her to the punch and cheat on her before she cheats on me.”


A second type of trauma is the death of a spouse. Many online daters who’ve experienced this tragedy may long for a new love, but paradoxically replicate their loss by not giving someone new a chance to fill a void. “He doesn’t kiss the way Sam used to.” “He’s not as smart as Tom.” In essence, the widow or widower may unfavorably compare the new partner to their deceased mate on a consistent basis…and as you know, it’s hard to compete against a ghost. Associating your late spouse with an experience you’re having with your new potential mate may also signify that you’re not ready for online dating: “Oh, Bill and I used to go here all the time.” “This is the first time I’ve gone ice skating with anyone but Tom.” Before you know it this one will have your new date longing for your sister.

The issues I’ve raised may also apply to an online dater who has been abandoned by a spouse or lover such as the one who was killed in a plane crash or an automobile accident. Many of the people who’ve experienced such losses may be too afraid to love again. Life has taught them that we have little control over our fate; a fact of life that is admittedly scary.

Nevertheless, I’ll leave you with a comment often made by my sports loving supervising analyst: “If you don’t step up to the plate you’ll never get a hit; but if you do, you’ll at least give yourself a chance.” Step up to the plate…just make sure you’re ready to play. Fantasy, faith, and hope alone will not be enough to get you a hit. Understanding yourself and your need to replicate your trauma is a nice bat to bring to the plate.

[Stephen Betchen]

Dr. Stephen J. Betchen is a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist, as well as a critically acclaimed author and regular contributor to the popular Ladies’ Home Journal column, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” He currently serves as Clinical Assistant Professor at Thomas Jefferson University. For more than 25 years, Dr. Betchen has helped couples repair their relationships and reach new levels of happiness, whether they’re battling about in-laws, sex, parenting, infidelity, money, careers—or anything in between. (Case in point: He once treated folks who were at odds over the wife’s weight and the husband’s constant criticisms!) Dr. Betchen’s approach to couples therapy is refreshingly simple: He offers no gimmicks, slogans or quick fixes to nagging problems. Instead, Dr. Betchen believes that individuals change only when they discover what’s really driving their behavior—and that relationships change only when couples develop empathy for their partners and understand what really drew them together. (Turns out that physical attraction is just part of it.) Dr. Betchen provides in-depth analysis of couples’ attitudes and behavior, enabling them to see themselves and each other in a new light. And from there, he delivers real-world advice that teaches couples how to change themselves—and their relationship. Dr. Betchen is the author of numerous professional articles on relationships and makes frequent media appearances. His expert opinions often appear in national publications, including Family Circle and Men’s Health. In addition to Magnetic Partners, Dr. Betchen is the author of Intrusive Partners-Elusive Mates.

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