Childfree dating online: boon or bust?

So I joined a group for childfree singles. My heart hurts whenever a woman posts about coupling up with a childfree man she (finally!) met through a dating site/app only to discover—sometimes years later—that her erstwhile beau was still skulking around the site on the sly all along. Fuck those guys very much. Actually, no. Don’t. That’s what they want.

Some childfree men have gone through this, too. It seems to be a common story.

I was married during the years computer-mediated communication went from Something Only Nerds Do to Hey, This Is Pretty Cool. Online dating was de rigueur by 2010, when I was ready to start over again. The childfree demographic was growing, just not on trees. Moreover, identifying prospective partners in real life was a pointless endeavor. Try it sometime, if you don’t believe me. So on one hand, it’s logical to assume that a childfree single can meet a like-minded partner online, if he or she has the patience of Job makes an honest effort.

On the other hand, when you, oh single childfree person, hit “Subscribe”, you open a veritable Pandora’s Box and unleash the ills of the interpersonal world. See, we call the same shenanigans as our childed and child-wanting counterparts and then more. (Re-read first graf.) If you’ve used these sites/apps, chances are excellent you’ve been duped into a date with a cheating cheater someone who’s married or in a relationship. That’s always a fun one.

People whose profiles state they don’t have kids but really do? Childfree guys seem to get the lion’s share of these hopefuls. Dispiriting messages from strangers shame-shame-shaming us for not wanting kids? Women own most of those.

Each online dating dilemma warrants its own blog post. I think we can agree that online dating can be all that and a kettle of queso if we do it smart, but also that while exposing ourselves to liars, losers and creeps impacts all singles, it impacts the childfree differently and perhaps more profoundly, because we depend on the internet to find and connect with our “tribe”. We need to trust the data.

When I re-entered the dating world, attractive, emotionally available single men were all over the damned place. They just weren’t childfree. I coffee-dated a few single dads and mid-life fence sitters. Great guys, but it wouldn’t work for the long haul. I needed a childfree life partner, and the best way to meet one was to give online dating a whirl.

Novelist Anais Nin wrote, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” It’s human nature to see others through our own filter, projecting onto them our values, beliefs and motivations. I admit to having loftier expectations of childfree men by virtue of their childfree-ness, which doesn’t necessarily translate into “stellar human being”. I should have checked those expectations at the door.

I just knew my stellar counterpart was out there wondering when I’d show up. This magical golden unicorn of a man had put his ear to the ground and hearing nothing but the tick-tick-tick of biological timeclocks had capitulated to “this stupid online dating stuff” friends warned him against. I imagined him typing his profile with an earnest heart and weary brow, and the flutter of hope he felt when it went live.

Hope. That tiny creature at the bottom of Pandora’s Box.

Welp. I dunno about my imaginary boyfriend, but my expectations of online dating ran laps around the reality. I did meet some incredible childfree guys that live in other states and countries. I lunch with one whenever he passes through town. But I encountered far more men, even childfree ones, who didn’t seem to like women very much. Then I had The Big Bad Experience that only seems to happen when you meet somebody online. Damn it.

Childfree singles’ opinions of online dating sites/apps are polarized for this reason. They give us access to other childfree singles we wouldn’t have ever met—as well as strangers we shouldn’t. It’s a coin toss, really. Heads you win, tails you lose. And lose. And lose. For every man or woman who met Mr./Ms. Magical Golden Unicorn almost straight away, there are gobs more whose trust got clobbered so hard they vow to stay single for life. Because, jerks among us.

I suppose I could make light of my online dating escapades. It’s only a site! Why take it seriously? Because there’s a spiritual trade-off to deception and betrayal, no matter how it comes about. Our ability to feel is diminished; we lose the capacity, the desire, to know who is of true heart. We risk devolving into our own worst nightmare: the guarded, defensive, ludicrously picky childfree man/woman who rejects others for really dumb shit.

Online dating sites don’t exactly have built-in quality control. Lest we forget, they exist to make money. But if we childfree single folk opt into this madness, we can change the culture. We can start by giving each other more deference. We can be honest about who we are and what we want, so we don’t hurt one of the tribe.

We might not feel the magic with someone. That happens. To simply acknowledge that we have met one of our own, so special and rare, and wish each other well on our respective journeys, is good enough.

We don’t have to be the liars, losers and creeps of online dating. We are the magical golden unicorns of singles, remember—far more than just pixels on a screen—and we can make a better, brighter virtual world.

I hope that we will treat each other well there.