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Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

This Week:
When One Person is Uncomfortable Saying You Met Online
Difference From Online to First Date

Should couples tell their friends and family that they met online, if one in the couple is uncomfortable with it?


A couple’s private life is just that… private. In my opinion, a couple is under no obligation to reveal or explain anything about their private life to anyone. This, of course, includes where and how they met. So, simply said, if one person is uncomfortable telling people how he or she met that special someone, then this should be kept private.

Having said that, I also think this question stems from an almost irrational fear that meeting a mate through an online dating service is some social taboo. Well, I’m eager to tell anyone who feels this way that any such taboo is either completely extinct or is quickly moving that direction. Back in 1993 with the boom of the Internet, there were obviously only a very few online dating sites. But brick-and-mortar matchmaking services eventually made the transition to cyberspace. Those early days of online dating were very much new territory for singles, and success stories were quickly reported in the media because they were novel human-interest stories. But, success stories with online dating are commonplace nowadays. In fact, I’m sure that nearly everyone who is firmly grounded in the 21st century knows of a couple that first met online. The bottom line is – no one is really surprised by online dating success stories anymore. To be sure, online dating is both a widespread and socially-acceptable way to search for love and a lasting relationship in this day and age.

You can keep your online dating success story a secret from family and friends, but I really doubt it’ll matter to them how you met your partner as long as they see you happy and healthy. In my experience, that’s truly what our family and friends care about it.

Why is the person I first met online so different offline?

What a great question. There’s no simple answer, however. Some reasons would be that the person deliberately misled you – and I mentioned before that even little white lies are harmful. Also, people can look quite different in their photos than they do in person. This can be true even when a person shares a photo that was recently taken. And, let’s not forget that some people communicate exceptionally well over email and IM versus in real-life, face-to-face social situations. The Internet offers a “mask” of sorts and that anonymity and barrier can inspire a person to be bolder, more social, and more flirtatious than they would be in person.

But more often than not, our offline experiences don’t match our expectations because of the way we’ve envisioned the person with whom we’ve been corresponding. We tend to idealize people and construct a profile of how they are based, in part, on our own biases and past experiences with others. Most people are extremely poor at assessing their own personalities and characteristics, much less those of another person. Of course, we can get to know a person online by evaluating some cues, but we may draw wrong inferences from some of the cues we focus on. This is why it’s important for online daters to use as many of the communication “tools” as possible to get to know someone before taking the relationship offline. These tools include IM, video chat, compatibility testing (where applicable), and extended emails where many questions are asked and answered.

If you pace your online relationship, communicate in-depth and consistently over time, and utilize as many of the online dating tools that are at your disposal, I think you’ll find the closer the match between the real person you meet offline and the mental picture of that person you formed while getting to know them online.

> - The best approach to find the one. <

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