There’s a wrong way to online date. I learned that the hard way.

Before I started online dating, I was really losing hope that I would ever find someone. As a 23 year old, it was ridiculous to feel that way, but I’d just gotten out of a relationship with a guy who I thought was The One and heartache makes you crazy. Shortly thereafter, but for unrelated reasons, I moved three states away to a small town where the median age is over twice my own. A friend of mine suggested I turn to the Internet. “Why not?” He said, “Everything’s online now; it only makes sense that our generation would do dating that way, too, right?”

He made a fair point.

So, I signed up. That white rabbit ran by, I followed, and boy did I fall down a long, strange and confusing hole.

It’s not that I think online dating is bad. I don’t. In fact, I know a number of people who have met the love of their life through online dating and I am so happy for them — not in that bitter way where you say you’re happy for someone, but really your imagination is hard at work, throwing them into a pit of fire, snakes, rabid raccoons and, above all, loneliness worse than your own. No. I’m genuinely happy for my friends in love.

It’s also not that I didn’t meet some great people through online dating. I met some guys that I now consider genuine friends. We care about one another. We nerd out over the same things and discuss those topics at length. One of those guys has actually been seeing a new girl for months and I’m relieved; it’s confirmation that our friendship isn’t one-sided.

So my issue isn’t with online dating. My issue is with the way I did online dating. The person I became in regards to dating was the exact opposite of the type of person I would ever want to be in a relationship.

I was out with one of those genuine friends I referred to earlier —  a guy to whom I had absolutely no physical attraction, but he made me laugh harder than anyone I’d met in a really long time. It turned out that the feeling was mutual. We were discussing the dating website that we used:

“I feel like I’m at Target, sifting through their sale rack,” I said, and then I mimicked sliding clothes along the rack: “That’s kind of cute, but it would look better on my sister. . . oh, this one’s nice. . .”

I didn’t want to be comparing people to clothing on a rack, though. I didn’t like the fact that I was becoming a person who was treating people like clothing — even if I wasn’t doing so directly to their faces.

When you’re meeting people out in the physical world, you’re usually not lining them up and saying “Next, next, next,” pausing every now and again before either saying “next” again or finally saying “Oh, let’s try this one out.” No. In the physical world, you’re usually going about your daily business, either working or chatting with people you already know and then this person is suddenly introduced into your life without their dating resume on hand to explain whether or not they care about their astrological sign or what their top five favorite bands are.

In the real world they’re brought to you not by an algorithm that may or may not be scientifically accurate, but instead by a mutual friend — or they could be the rare, brave soul that introduces themselves to complete strangers. Hell, maybe the two of you have your meet-cute story where you round a corner and bump smack into each other, creating an adorably clumsy and awkward moment for the two of you to look back on and laugh about. That never happens to me, but hey, you never know.

On the Internet, however, you can sit there for hours (yes, hours!!) on end just looking at people and judging them.

There was an obsessive nature to the whole thing. My friends and I would sit around online and literally send each other links back and forth to various profiles and pick them apart like we were Project Runway judges and they’d been given $250 to create an avant-garde piece for us to wear to the Emmys. Forget catching up on our real lives and talking about our jobs or families or thoughts on the world or anything. No. There were only profiles to discuss, analyze and pine after. We were sixteen again.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that adult women obsess over their love lives from time to time and I think that’s okay, but when it’s literally all that is discussed for months on end, you kind of start to wonder what you’re doing to help further the role of women in our society.

I was becoming shallow. My dating approach had morphed into a strategic mutation of what it once was. I was losing the romance. I was becoming the type of girl that my ideal guy wouldn’t want to date. I don’t want to date a guy who is interested in girls who spend hours on the Internet, looking for their potential mate. I want to date a guy who spends his time reading books and pursuing his passions, and I would expect him to be interested in a girl who does the same thing.

I was that girl until I became the girl who eats an entire bag of potato chips for dinner while staring at her computer screen. My books piled up, my writing slowed to a near-halt, and my desire to explore the surrounding area was fading. I was still new to this town, for crying out loud, and I wasn’t doing anything to discover its best-kept secrets. This was not me.

So I deactivated my profile.

And then I reactivated it.

And then I deactivated it again.

I repeated this cycle over and over again every day for about a week.

Eventually, though, I stopped going back to the site and started re-awakening all those passions I had before. I’m reading more, the dog is getting more walks, and look, I’m writing more, too! All those passions I have that I hope someday someone will see and think “Damn, I want to spend my life around that,” are back. That someone hasn’t shown up yet and maybe he never will. That’s a scary thought, the maybe he never will, but what’s even more terrifying is the idea that if he never does, I would still sit around wasting my life in front of a screen, staring at a bunch of profiles and not actually meeting people.

We are in complete control of very few of things in our lives. Our love lives do not fall into that category. What almost falls into that category is our side of that story, so I’m going start making sure that my side is how I want it to be. I want to stop judging people like they’re clothing in a store, and remember how to start valuing potential dates again.

If you can do this online dating thing without becoming the person you can’t stand, then do it. It’s a great way to meet new people, and even though I wasn’t cut out for it,  I found it to be a great way to get over my heartache.

Emelie Samuelson is a girl in her twenties who is just trying her best. She spends her days selling, writing, and reading books. You can find more of her ramblings and embarrassing stories on her blog, Awkwardly Alive and Pleasantly Peculiar, and you can also watch her and her colleague talk about the world of books and bookselling on their YouTube channel, Page Break. She lives in Connecticut with her dog and four coffee makers.

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