Two pairs of legs with word love for blog by DC widow Marjorie Brimley
Ask A Widow

Ask a Widow: What’s So Hard With Online Dating?

Today’s “Ask a Widow” column comes from a comment I hear from a lot of people, most of whom are not online dating. It goes something like this: “you’re lucky to be dating in the digital age. Think of how many people you can meet online!”I know it’s meant to be encouraging. But I usually respond with some sort of comment about how dating is never easy, and that online dating is even more challenging than regular dating. This usually surprises people and often leads to the next question, the one I’m going to answer today:

What’s so hard with online dating?

If you are a widow who is trying to date online after a long hiatus from dating, or really if you are anyone who is trying out dating for the first time in the internet age, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean when I say this: online dating is the WORST.

I mean, sure, there are potentially more options online than there would be at your neighborhood bar. And as long as the men you meet are telling the truth, you know exactly who is single, who is well-educated, and who prefers street tacos over fancy dining experiences. (Or whatever other qualifications are important to you.)

But there are so many negatives.

First of all, there are the offensive profiles. (I’m just looking at male profiles, so I can only speak about them, but really, I’m sure female profiles can be terrible too.) There are the men who take selfies in the bathroom, cutting off their heads in the photos to just focus on their abdominal muscles. There are the men who pose driving cars or boats or ATVs, presumably to show that they have this skill or that they are very manly. And then there are the men who pose with their guns (sometimes even shooting a gun!) and don’t even get me started about how that is not my kind of guy.

But these profiles can actually be somewhat entertaining, if you don’t take it too seriously. I don’t feel the need to answer everyone who writes me, and many of the men I write don’t write back. That’s dating, and I’ve become much more resilient to these mini-rejections. Furthermore, I get a kick out of a lot of these conversations, even the ones that lead nowhere.

No….these crazy profiles and the slights from attractive men don’t really dissuade me. I can deal with all that. What is actually difficult for me is that it takes So. Much. Time.

Many people do not believe me when I tell them this. I get a lot of encouragement to just “keep trying!” because they believe that’s how I can be successful. And I agree. But do you know what that actually means?

It means I have to spend a LOT of time on it. Much, much more than you’d think.

Here’s an example. I was at a party the other day and I started talking to a friend about these funny online videos in which a comedian takes over another person’s Tinder account. I laughed and said I’d love for that to happen to me. “I’ll do it!” my friend said, gleefully. “But I’m obviously doing this just for the comedy!”

I don’t have a Tinder account, so we created one, posted a few pictures, and then I left her with my phone. An hour later, I came back. “I got you some likes!” she beamed. “I had to write a few things about you, so I said that you liked knitting and sex.”

We both laughed, and then I saw the banter she had going with a couple of men. It was actually pretty witty, but I said that there was no way I was going out with these guys. “Knitting and sex! What were you thinking? This is not how I want to attract men!”

She noted that it wasn’t her goal to get me a real date, which I knew. She also admitted maybe she’d gone over the top, and I laughed and told her I was done with this experiment. As I was deleting my account, she said, “wow, that was interesting. Going from complete stranger to dating material via a text chat is a lot! I’m not sure I would have fully appreciated that without the Tinder takeover. It takes a lot of time.”

“And you weren’t even trying to actually connect with someone!” I said.

That’s not even the half of it. Even if I do put in a couple of solid hours (which I don’t have on a daily basis, so that time would have to be spread out over a week), then I have to spend more time to actually meet these men. Because I worry about my own safety and that of my children, I refuse to meet up near my house, so that means I have to travel (usually downtown.) When my dad is around, he can watch the kids, but when he’s not, I have to find and hire a babysitter. To say nothing of the cost of the actual date.

And then there’s the possibility – a strong one – that I won’t even like the guy! Apart from the cost, that means I’ve spent probably an hour online finding this guy, upwards of another hour chatting online with this guy and another 2-3 hours getting to and from the date and actually going on the date.

Have I mentioned that I write, teach high school and am raising three kids? To say nothing of the other things I have to do to keep our lives going. I’m not complaining (okay, I am a little.) I’m just pointing out that my free time is extremely limited.

So what’s so hard with online dating? It’s not the things you might think: the conversation or the rejections or the fear of meeting someone who is totally annoying. That stuff can happen in real life too, and I’m able to weather it.

No, for me, the hard thing about online dating is that in order to do it well, you have to put in serious time. And that’s not something I have a lot of right now.

Yes, I could stop running in the mornings, and online date instead, but I know that would be bad for my mental health. Yes, I could miss some sleep or the late night chats I have with my daughter, but I just don’t want to do that. Yes, I could give up my book club or wine nights with my friends. Yes, I could stop writing this blog.

But really? Is that what it would take to really devote myself to finding a new man? Seriously, I’m so ready for someone to tell me that they know the guy for me, he’s going to be at this party next weekend and I need to find a great outfit because I’m invited too.

But no one does this. Or at least, they don’t do it for me. So I’m stuck with online dating. I do what I can, and make dates when I have a bit of free time. But it’s a very, very long and slow and (so far) fruitless process.

What’s so hard about online dating?

Well, it’s this: I really want to meet someone. But I don’t want to give up all the good things in my life to do it.

**This column is merely my point of view and is for informational purposes only. I am not a therapist or medical professional, and thus my thoughts should not be a substitute for advice from these professionals. Please get immediate help if you feel like harming yourself. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.


  • Susan Anderson

    I met my husband online in 2001 when it was brand new and most were honest. I chose 3 guys that met my criteria and went on a date with each. I liked Bruce the best and married him 5 months later. We have been happy ever since. My sister tells me online dating now is a nightmare. I know I will want to eventually start dating after my husband passes away, but I think I will just hope to meet someone through golf, tennis or a widow support group. With that said I’m much older than you and don’t have three young children to raise so I feel your frustration. Plus it’s so unfair because your husband should still be here. I’m actually pissed off at my husband for being so sick even though I know that is ridiculous.

    • Marjorie

      I fully understand this sentiment. When I was actually heading down to my last online date, I had this irrational anger that boiled up within me – anger at Shawn for leaving me and thus putting me in this situation! It’s ridiculous. And, I think, very normal.

      • Melissa

        What you’re saying here me think of a song from my Zumba class that we do sometimes during the cool down at the end. “Dancing with a Stranger.” The lyrics start out with how he/she doesn’t want to be alone tonight and then go on to the refrain of “Look what you made me do/ I’m with somebody new/ Ooh, baby, baby, I’m dancing with a stranger.” Even though I know it’s about someone who’s broken up with a lover, it still hits me as if it were a widow or widower dating someone new and all the ambivalent feelings that go along with that.

      • DavidB

        Hi. I just downloaded my first dating app. My fiancé passed away in December after 10 years together. She had 2 kids who I have helped raise since age 5 & 6 who are 15 & 16 now. They’re more or less gone as well.

        I’ve gotten dozens of matches and went on 2 dates. I set up a couple more for next week. But It all just makes me so sad. But it’s slightly less sad than being completely alone. I know for a fact that it’s too soon as Chrissy and I were so incredibly happy and in love, but the alternative is being so alone that it unbearable.

        I’m glad I found your blog. Even though it scares me and makes me tear up it feels a little better to not feel so alone in this.


        • Marjorie

          First, I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your fiance. It’s so terrible, and you’re in the early days. I also dated “early” after loss, and found it very difficult, but I’m not sure I would have changed it. You do what you have to do to get through it (obviously within reason.) But really, it does get easier when more time has passed. This is not to dissuade you from dating now – you figure out what’s right for you. But I promise it does get easier.

  • Hannah Rossington

    Thank you for writing this. I started online dating in January and I’ll have been widowed two years in May. Friends are so supportive but I’ve already had enough. I completely agree about the time element. It is so time consuming and it is time I just don’t have. The expectation to have conversations online over multiple nights, I end up overtired trying to keep up. I’ve just put my profiles on indefinite hold as it wasn’t making me happy. I do want to meet someone but not to sacrifice my life that I’m only just reclaiming from my grief.

    • Marjorie

      If it’s any consolation to know this, I have started and stopped the process of online dating at least a dozen times over the past 6-7 months. I don’t think it’s necessarily something that you have to do perfectly. You have to take a break when it’s feeling like too much!

  • Anthony Pais

    The cost is time. Take it from a Boomer, online dating apps are worthless, except for entertainment value. Better lonely than sad.

    • Marjorie

      I wouldn’t say they are worthless! But I do think they are hard and frustrating. I’m just trying to figure out how to best navigate them…

  • Melanie

    Hannah so well said about sacrificing the life you are just reclaiming from grief. I feel that exactly. Marjorie thank you for this article. It’s been almost a year since my husband died and I am trying to dip my toe into online dating but so far I am not motivated to actually meet anyone anywhere. I have plenty on my plate with kids and work but every now and then I do want to have a fun companion to do something with. I would like to find someone and have a relationship like other people have, but the effort is often burdensome and I am ambivalent. I don’t know how I’ll react if I do find myself on a date, it is possible I might freak out completely in the middle of it all.

    • Marjorie

      Well, I’m not sure if this is comforting or not, but I’ve freaked out on dates. The first guy, in particular, had to deal with me not being able to handle him even touching my arm! He was super kind about it, but it took many, many dates before that sort of thing wasn’t terrible. It’s a damn process.

  • Amy

    I have just started online dating and the frustration of it seems to bring about my worst fears about being widowed at 54, which in turn, shuts me down. It’s either men in their 30s look for quick hookups or men older than me who are burnt out on marriage, divorce or life. Then there are all the expired profiles that the company still circulates. Has anyone experienced that? How is one supposed to keep up one’s spirits while being messaged by someone who doesn’t exist?

    Plus (now that I’m getting everything off my chest) I’m very good at talking with men in real life and I’ve chatted with about 10 of them over the past year, and long enough to know they wouldn’t be for me. One is kinda obsessed with me and has shown up on my street thus creeping me out and another is about to propose something indecent considering I question if he’s really separated. *sigh*. Can I please have my old life back?

    Widows don’t settle. (I learned that here).

  • Amy

    Can you please write something on when (in online dating) to use the widow word? I just did it before meeting and the conversation stopped dead. But maybe that’s a good thing?

    • Marjorie

      It’s so funny – I literally just wrote something on the “widow word,” though not about online dating. I’ll see if I can do another one about online dating!

  • Bastiaan

    The widow word. – I lost my wife at age 55 nine months ago. We had been together since we were 21. My father was also murdered 4 years ago in his home on the Potomac River. So, I say get it out quickly. If I had the guts my profile would read : Widow, have my emotional ups and downs, looking for a new start. I’m quite the catch! But seriously, I tell people right away. It is your life and it is the perfect filter…. I think !

    • Marjorie

      Yes, I think honesty is usually the best policy, though I think everyone does this at their own pace. For me, it’s hard to hide. A quick google search and you get this blog!

  • Jules

    I met a widow online 10 years ago. She had clearly met a couple men online who had misrepresented themselves with old pictures, so she had a very “Go away if you’re not what you say you are, I’m busy raising my child and don’t have time for people who lie to me” paragraph at the beginning of her profile. We were rated unbelievably compatible by the algorithm so we decided to go out with nothing more than a, “hey want to give this a shot” message. I don’t remember her profile saying she was a widow, but when I asked how her last relationship ended on our first date she got very quiet and solemn and gave me the 15 minute teary-eyed detailed version of her husbands traumatic death right in front of her. It had been 1 and a half years, and I’d been divorced the same. We went out again then next week and within a week we knew we had chemistry. She loved me more deeply than anybody I’ve ever known, despite her widow status and despite her ongoing grief while helping her son with his grief.
    I am now her widow(er) after she escaped the pain of her depression and migraines through suicide. It is far too soon for me to consider dating (despite my curiosity and loneliness), I draw strength from the way she moved forward, not only making room for me in her heart, but making me feel like the love of her life. I certainly won’t avoid dating online when the time is right, and I will be forthcoming about my status.

    • M Brimley

      Oh, this is such a heartbreaking and also beautiful note. Thank you so much for sharing. And yes, I think we can find such hope in the way that other people – such as your wife – do find love again. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  • Lisa

    A little late to the game, but here’s my two cents.

    I feel like the men on the site I go to are looking for perfection, likes to hike, likes to dance, likes to whatever…and if you’re not just like them, then you’re wasting their time. And, they want women with few to no children. Also seems like when I say the word widow, that ends the conversation. Like, Oh. you must want looking for someone exactly like your husband or you will probably be too needy.
    I’ve taken myself off, again. I do hope I will meet someone in the future. I don’t think online is the way it will work for me.

    • M Brimley

      There are certainly other ways to meet people, rather than just online! But I get your frustration – that’s so tough.