We’d been messaging for weeks. She had been about to go abroad on holiday when we matched, so there had been no alternative but to get fingers to keyboards and chat away until she returned. It had been fun, light, carefree at first. I’d thrown in jokes, anecdotes and more gifs than probably I should have, but then she’d come back with the same. We’d built up a rapport. We’d laughed. We had lol’d – and that’s genuine laugh out loud stuff, not merely a slight shrug and half a smirk. Then we’d set a date to meet.
She’s going to expect me to be as funny in real life, isn’t she?
There’s nothing like a little pressure to find out whether you actually have what it takes or whether you’re a keyboard warrior of the highest order. A lot of people never meet up face to face after matching because they are so much more comfortable and confident online than they are in person. Countless are the stories of dates who, from the safety of their screens, are witty and world-wise but up close and personal turn into jittering wrecks.
I’m not in any way claiming to be the next David Mitchell or Tim Minchin, but I do know that not everyone is funny. Full stop. Some people are simply boring. It’s harsh, but it’s also true. It might be down to poor communication skills, a lack of empathy or simply a lack of anything funny to say, but some people make Eddie Izzard look like Jeremy Corbyn.
But if you do happen to have a modicum of humour inside you, then expressing it online is very different indeed to expressing it in person. Online, you have the freedom to think for a moment, to search out just the right gif of meme and to delete and rewrite something several times before you send it. Ideally you want to be quick and right first time, but if you can’t think of something to say immediately then a minute or two of delay isn’t going to be frowned upon.
Now, imagine someone is sitting opposite you having a discussion. They say something to you and you sitting there thinking for a minute. A full 60 seconds. In silence. You then start to utter your reply, getting five words in before deciding it’s not good enough so you stop and think some more. Excruciating, right?
And that’s the fear. That in person you won’t have the time to second guess so will either clam up for fear of saying the wrong thing or, just as bad, will actually say the wrong thing. Or perhaps you will say exactly the same things as you would have written, but there’s a certain style of delivery that means it doesn’t come across as it would have in text.
What if she was just being polite? What if every “lol” was forced, every “hahaha!!!” tapped out of a sense of duty rather than because she had genuinely laughed aloud? What if she realised that the humorous, off the cuff quip had taken ages to craft and hone and she was now just waiting to trap you in a situation where you wouldn’t be able to come up with another? What if you actually aren’t that funny after all?!?!?!
You see, it’s not only women that get anxious. I’ve read countless blog posts where women have mentioned how nervous they were about how they looked or how they came across. They felt they were being judged by society all the time, never more so than in a pressured dating situation which itself came about as a result of the visual swipe-fest that is online dating.
Men feel exactly the same. Some of us know that we aren’t Brad Pitt/Idris Elba/Zac Efron (delete according to taste) in the looks department so we feel a need to make up for it in others. Humour is one of those areas. According to what every woman says (while not saying that they want him to be smoking hot too), women want a guy who can make them laugh.
Do you know how much pressure that is? Try standing in front of someone who has actually or metaphorically looked you in the eye and uttered the phrase “okay, funny man; make me laugh.” You want it to happen. They want it to happen. But I’ll be damned if I can, at that moment, think of anything funnier than a crap knock-knock joke*.
When humour is all you’ve got, the pressure is intense. It takes guts to go for it anyway, especially if you’ve built up a reputation with your date for being funny before you’ve ever met them properly. Crafting the written word is one thing; delivering it verbally is another. There aren’t that many out there who can do both with any degree of success.
So, ladies, the next time you find yourself bantering with a guy online and arrange a date with him, cut him a little slack if he takes a while to find his rhythm. He’ll need to see your eyes, your smile, your body language and more if he’s to discover the little clues that will tell him when he’s saying the right things or when he’s taking the wrong route. Knowing the right moment when to branch out from middle-of-the-road family-friendly jokes into darker, edgier stuff is tricky at the best of times, especially when he barely knows you.
He is funny, honest. He just might need to gaze into the distance for a second to put his thoughts in order. Give him time. He’ll be worth the wait.
*I know an awesome knock-knock joke! Okay, you start it off…