As with many life pursuits, there may be no sure fire way of asking the most useful questions of a potential soul mate on a dating site. Why the Almighty chose to make human communication so irreducibly ambiguous and open to interpretation is, of course, an unfathomable mystery. The gift of language can be as much a Trojan horse as a medium of mutual understanding. Unintended meanings can creep inside the words we use quite innocently, only to be detected by a perceptive (or slightly paranoid) listener. Even simple phrases can mean completely different things: ‘My apple is corrupt’ could refer to a rotten Cox’s Pippin or a damaged computer. And we can never be sure in advance exactly what effect we’re going to have by opening our mouths (or tapping our keyboards).
Lest this problem frightens the reader into a vow of silence, the only way to proceed is speak (or write) as tactfully as you can - and wait to see what happens next. Thankfully, we can always reply to our replies (unless the other person has flounced off in an offended huff). Online dating can be as nerve wracking as face to face encounters; you want to present a good but truthful image of yourself, as well as find out useful information about the kind of person you’re hoping to meet.
Always worth checking.
At least writing isn’t quite as immediate as speaking; as soon as I utter a word, even if I haven’t meant to say it out loud or the wrong one slips out, it immediately goes straight into someone else’s ear. And you can’t pull it out again. Typing out thoughts and queries at least means we can check our spelling, read though what we’ve come up with and double check (even triple and quadruple check, depending on how anxious we are) before sharing. But there are no absolutely fool proof methods even then.
So, how do you begin? There may not be a single formula for getting it right, but there are certainly lots of ways of getting it wrong. Nervousness can sometimes make us unduly blunt, clouding our judgement about how what we’re asking is likely to be received. Asking ‘What kind of music do you like?’, for example, is likely to have a less disturbing effect than ‘Have you ever had a jail sentence?’ or ‘Are there any schizophrenics in your family?’ Both of these last two have been asked on first dates, although I couldn’t work out from the reports I read just how the romance progressed. My guess is that, unless an amazing coincidence had brought two equally eccentric souls together, Cupid’s arrow probably went straight through his own foot.
So you’re dating a guava…
How do you avoid being intrusive, potentially offensive or unduly blunt and yet ask something meaningful, something that gives you a better picture of the real person you are virtually meeting? ‘How would you describe your figure?’ will almost certainly be read as ‘Are you fat?’, ‘Do you support a football team’ will be read as ‘You’re talking to a football-crazy soccer nut.’ And getting all ‘focus groupy’ can easily backfire: asking a potential soul mate what fruit they would choose to be if they could be a pomegranate, kumquat or pear might not get you very far. Hmm, so I’m dating a guava…
Here are a few suggestions which might give you some useful idea of what your virtual Romeo or Juliet is really like. It’s the online chat which gives you the best idea, rather than the carefully manicured profiles.
You can get a good sense of what really raises your possible partner’s hackles by slipping an apparently generic question past them. Something like, ‘What are the most annoying mistakes online daters make in your experience?’ The reply will almost certainly convey a lot of information about the answerer, rather than ‘official’ subject of the question. You’ll learn what really tees her or him off, what truly gets under this particular person’s skin, and whether you share any of the condemned traits!
Another apparently general question which can yield vital information is “What do you think of online dating?” Depending on the length of the reply, you’ll get some important clues about how experienced in the field this particular player is, how many prospective dates have been thrown onto the discard pile, or alternatively how new and nervous about he game she or he is. You’re also likely to get some genuinely heart-felt sharing of both good and bad experiences – equipping you to avoid unwittingly repeating the bad scenarios and helping you concentrate on the good ones.
Sharing musical interests is important.
The next question is without doubt much more sensitive than the previous two, and you have to ‘time it right’. Get a bit of rapport going before you raise it, and raise it very gently. ‘When things have gone wrong in previous relationships, what caused the break-up?’ A reply which puts the blame solely and fully on the other party is something to be a little cautious about. When people are giving their opinions about someone they know but you’ve never met, you’re hearing most immediately about the feelings, opinions, beliefs and interpretations of the person who is speaking, not the person being described. You can get a lot of revealing insights into the speaker, from the ways they absolve themselves from any responsibility or take too much of the blame upon themselves. A balanced, wise answer is more likely to mean a balanced, wise person who has learned a lot from life.
Something to be mindful of from the outset: you might want to ask more direct and personal questions, especially if the conversation seems to be going easily and amicably. Under these circumstances, people often like being asked about themselves and their experiences. But don’t ask any question that you wouldn’t like to answer yourself. Bearing this in mind, some really interesting issues to explore are ‘What scares you most about starting a new relationship?’, ‘In the past, who ended the relationship – you or your partner?’ and ‘Who was the most challenging person you met on a date?’ There are of course many more questions to ask and, hopefully, if the conversation between you flows, both of you will feel freer to be more spontaneous and playful. These early steps should help navigate you onto this terrain, though.