It ignores the very real problem that minorities face in dating.
I was at an event last Friday. Towards the end of the event, I was talking to one guy. He was asking about my dates, and at some point he said something to the effect of (paraphrasing):
You found people with the online apps, but has any one of those relationships lasted?
I know the drill. Maybe you do too. Someone will latch onto the failures at securing a lengthy relationship online and declare proudly and loudly that online dating is worse than real life dating. This guy was just the latest in a string of people who bleats this nonsensical notion to the sky. I’d expect most people saying this to be neurotypical, and moreover not belonging to any sexual minority.
Let me break it to you. Dating is no walk in the park. It does not really matter whether you’re online or not. Furthermore, I’ll say that whether you prefer real-life dating over online dating or the other way around is a matter of preference. So when someone starts arguing that real-life dating is better than online dating, they are trying to erect their preferences as objective truths.
I replied to that goon that I’ve met everybody I’ve dated online, including my ex-wife. We met over email in 1996. The relationship between my ex-wife and me lasted 26 years. Is it a failure because it did not last? How about his own relationship with his ex-wife? I’ll bet you that they did not meet online, and yet that relationship faltered. I did not bring this up when we were face to face, but I wish I had done so.
Furthermore, I can also take the example of my father. I cannot point to any relationship of his having started online. Oh, I don’t discount the fact that maybe a small subset of his relationships started online. However, this was not his modus operandi. Most of his relationships started in real-life. After he divorced my mother, he had a string of lovers, dozens of women, coming in and out of our life. He is still single.
My father is monogamous, straight, vanilla, and allistic. His set of prospects was pretty damn big. Since there’s a genetic component to autism, let’s, for a moment, entertain the notion that my father might be if not autistic, then neurodivergent. It still does not support the notion that real-life dating is any better. Statistically, he must have been in relationships with neurotypical people most of the time. His situation would then lend credence to the notion that neurotypical people and neurodivergent people make, generally speaking, poor romantic partners.
In order to find romantic partners in real life, what we have to do are things that we autistic people have a hard time with. Go out to a bar, or a dance club? That’s what my father did most of the time. However, autistic people are likely to have sensory issues that would make both venues overwhelming.
Pick up a hobby, then? First, there’s the issue that not all hobbies are created equal. I’ve been to events where we played board games. Unfortunately, some of those events are held in taverns or bars. We’re back to square one with the sensory issues. Moreover, the people who are there too are not necessarily interested in finding a mate.
Find a partner at work? Again, not all of your workmates are even interested in finding a mate. Moreover, this assumes that you have a facility with navigating the workplace elegantly. This is something that a lot of us autistic folks have trouble with, and I include myself in this lot.
Hope to bump into a unicorn? Sometimes that’s how it feels when people suggest to me that real-life dating is better than online. I’d rather buy a lottery ticket.
I’ve mentioned the sensory issues above, but autistic people have other challenges. There’s for instance, the issue of proper social signaling while dating. Either, you date another neurodivergent prospect and lessen the issue of social signaling, or you date a neurotypical prospect, and you face the issue at full intensity. There’s also stimming. If you obviously stim, like I do, is your prospect going to accept your stimming? Here, too, you have a better chance with a neurodivergent partner.
I’m going to go out on a limb here. For us autistic people, it is better to try to pair with a neurodivergent partner than a neurotypical one. Now, before I get boots thrown at my head, let me make it clear that I’m not saying that all neurodivergent pairings are necessarily successful, nor that all pairings between neurotypical and neurodivergent people are doomed to failure. However, if we want to improve our chances, we have to look for people who are neurodivergent.
So, how do you find this neurodivergent partner? If you were to use the real-life strategies I provided above, in every case, you’d have to satisfy yourself with a much smaller set of prospects than what you’ve started with. And I’m only talking about the proportion of neurodivergent versus neurotypical prospects. If you add to this the fact that a lot of your theoretical neurodivergent prospects might not want to be at the venue you picked, this becomes an even bigger problem. If you are the only neurodivergent person at the bar, good luck finding that neurodivergent partner.
A secondary problem is how do you identify who is neurodivergent and who is not? I guess the real-life equivalent would be to wear some sort of label saying “I’m autistic.” I suppose this approach could work. Those people not interested in dating an autistic person would just not approach you, or would decline when approached. (Hopefully, they would politely decline.) Same with people who think that wearing such a label makes you a weirdo.
When you decide that real-life dating is better than online dating, without nuancing your position, or indicating that it is merely your preference, you are being ableist. I’ve given my reasoning above. You are simply ignoring the issues that us neurodivergent people have to face. More than this however, you are on top of this ignoring the issues that all sexual minorities face.
How do I know? I’m in multiple such minorities. I’m pansexual. This eliminates a lot of contenders out of the race.
“Wait! But you can date people of any gender, or of no gender at all. What gives?”
This is true, on its face. However, the reality is quite different from what the theory tells you. Straight women are going to think about the fact that maybe you’ve had male lovers, and be turned off by this. My ex-wife, who is straight, was a notable exception, but she knew I was not actively seeking men when we met. The gays are going to treat you as a closeted gay who hasn’t accepted his own gayness yet. In principle, this does not prevent a relationship from happening, but in practice I don’t want to have a partner who keeps bugging me about my sexual orientation. These losses more than make up for any theoretical gains.
Furthermore, I’m polyamorous. Newsflash: not all queer folks are polyamorous. You might find more people accepting of polyamory in queer circles, but it does not follow that all queers are polyamorous. So this reduces the set even further. This also compounds the issue with straight women who happen to be polyamorous. They will immediately think about your same-sex partners and declare that they don’t want to be exposed to the risk.
Finally, I’m also into BDSM. Another newsflash: not all queer people are into BDSM, and not people into BDSM are into polyamory. Again, there is more acceptance of queerness and polyamory in BDSM circles, but it does not necessarily make it popular. I remember actually seeing a clip of Evie Lupine saying that the set of people who are into BDSM and polyamorous is a rather small set. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which specific video said that.
Now, I realize that not all autistic people are into my exact situation, but I do know that a lot of us will resonate with what I’m saying here. You may not be polyamorous or into BDSM, but you may be queer. Still, what I’ve highlighted above should be enough to demonstrate the heteronormative, mononormative, and pro-vanilla stance that the notion that dating in real-life is better, no matter what.
So let’s go back to the idea that I should privilege real-life dating. How the hell am I going to find anyone who I want to date, and who is interested in me? Tell me! Until you have a great solution to this problem, I’m going to continue dating online. Again, it is fine if you prefer real-life dating, but don’t erect your preference as a rule.
The notion that real-life dating is inherently better than online dating ignores the reality that sexual minorities have to face. It is ableist, and normative in all the wrong ways.
There is more to tell, but I’ll stop here.