Sassy Psychologist: The “don’t talk to strangers” theory: Why you feel so icky after first dates from online dating sites

Think about this: You’re driving along in your car and you get into a fender bender.  Someone hit you.  You immediately get pissed off and stomp out of your car to let the other motorist really have it.  You walk over there only to realize that the motorist who hit you is no stranger.  He is actually your backdoor neighbor with whom you have a great relationship.  What are you thinking now?  Since he is someone you know and like, might you reach for understanding and forgiveness more quickly than if he’d been a stranger?  Isn’t it interesting to consider that our minds and bodies may have evolved with a defense mechanism that makes us weary of strangers?  I mean, “don’t talk to strangers” was pretty much ingrained in our brains as children.  What happens if this mechanism is at work when you first meet someone from an online dating site? 

Now, think about this.  You are with a friend and they mistakenly fart in public, or spit by accident, or wear different colored socks unintentionally.  What are you thinking?  I can tell you that the average person would not care about these trivial things and would show support if it was needed.  But I’d like to ask you if you’d give your first-time date the same regard.  If your first-time date mistakenly burps (or does something slightly off-putting to you), would you brush it off or would you condemn them?  If you find yourself making comments like, “oh my god, I just can’t date a guy who wears those shoes,” or “she has a particularly large head,” or “I just couldn’t stand the way he chewed his food,”  you are definitely irrationally sweating the small stuff and might very well be sabotaging a relationship. 

If this behavior does sound like you, you might want to consider that this is an anxious reaction to meeting a stranger (while, simultaneously, desperately wanting them to feel familiar because you want to have a successful date).  Based on this “don’t talk to strangers” theory, you will definitely scrutinize the littlest of things your first-time date does.  The mistake we make is thinking that the scrutiny and harsh judgement we feel for our date is a sign that we can never be romantically involved with this person.  Truth is, that icky feeling you are getting, could very well be your body’s normal defense mechanism working to protect you from strangers.  You can’t expect to have any feelings of familiarity on the first-online-dating-site date.  You do not know them at all and your body might have a built in mechanism to immediately reject them.  You have to realize that with online dating dates, you are meeting a complete stranger.  A traditional date usually happens after meeting someone and having some sense of familiarity.  You therefore cannot compare the feelings you get from a dating site date and a traditional date and expect them to be at par.  Instead, date #1 of a traditional date might be at par with date #3 from an online dating site.     

So if you often feel icky after dates from online dating sites, what do you do?

Let me start by saying that if you truly have zero attraction to this person, of course you should move on.  However, if the person is interesting and “normal” and there is technically nothing off about your interactions, go on another date.  As a matter of fact, go on 3 dates.  I’m using a particular number (in this case 3) as a general guideline because sometimes we need a very specific rule to follow in order to override our bad default behavior.  …so I’m saying 3.  Once you have gone on 3 dates, go back and evaluate how your heart feels.  I’m not saying that you’ll find a boyfriend or girlfriend the first time you try this, but I am saying that this tactic might yield more quality interactions with your new dates.

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.