If you do something long enough, you’re bound to learn a thing or two.

What many single people learn is that on-line dating is so time-consuming, noisy and ultimately treacherous – especially when it comes to self-esteem and feelings of self-worth – that you’re better off giving it up.

Many people (usually the married ones) feel that it’s better to meet people in real life. Okay, but on-line dating is still responsible for a huge number of real-life partnering-ups. So what does a single person do with that information?

What many of us do is we get on the sites for a short time and then retreat. Over and over. We show up, fly high for a brief time, lose our “shit”, then “take a break” when it all feels like too too much. We swear off the apps, and then, banging around on a Friday night, we reactivate and give it another college try.

I’ve been a part of the ping pong world of on-line dating for way too long. I’ve been on long enough that it has changed me, and the way I view dating.

I know I’ve changed because the past month I’ve watched a friend enter this confusing world for the first time. I’ve watched the excitement as she’s connected with a few good men. I’ve watched her bask in the afterglow of a nice conversation, or a really great guy texting her good morning and good evening. I’ve watched as the texts slow down and the confusion set in. I’ve watched the frustration emerge when someone terrific shows up, seems enthusiastic, and then goes limp.

I’ve watched a perfectly wonderful woman squirm and twist and wonder if it was something she said. I’ve watched her shoot off messages she’d like to take back when they go unanswered and watched as she’s generally questioned her own now fragile-seeming mental health. I’ve watched her ask herself where the crazy she’s felt has come from, exactly, and watched her wish she could go back to the calm she felt before she started this on-line dating thing.

Only it’s like gambling and caramel corn – there’s no going back or pretending it doesn’t exist or that you don’t want any. Your peace of mind is toast and the only thing that will make it better is hitting the jackpot or nomming your way through another bag of candied sweet and salty goodness.

HOW exactly can you become emotionally invested after a few weeks of cheery banter with someone you barely know? And why is it so devastating when men go suddenly quiet? By the way, why do they do that? What’s with all this ghosting and breadcrumbing?

It’s unfathomable to her, but obvious to me. As someone who’s been on every side of all of it, it’s obvious.

These men don’t know her.

They don’t know her one little bit.

So here is what I’ve learned. On-line dating is like standing in a coffee shop and talking to people. Most people you talk to, it’s just going to be a quick exchange, and you’ll never talk to them or think about them ever again.

Every now and then you might have a longer exchange with a person. But you’re still going to pay for your coffee and walk out that door.

You could meet someone that might be fun to hang out with, but you’re going to leave that coffee shop with nothing more than a number an option to get to know that person better. And think about it, how many people have you met at a coffee shop and stayed friends with? Odds are slim.

Stuff may come up. Even if you’ve exchanged numbers, either one of you might get busy or distracted or any number of things. You’ll probably never talk, no matter how fast or spectacularly you hit it off.

Making new friends is hard! There’s a lot more to it than just whether or not someone seems nice. Everyone has entirely their own big life that they are juggling and lots of their own maneuvering to get to. So much of it is actually quite random. Timing is everything. See ya later alligator!

You might think that people on dating sites are people who are there with purpose and energy and commitment. And that is the way it used to be. On-line dating used to select for folks who really wanted to meet people. In the early days there was a lot of actual meeting up and giving it a whirl in real life going on.

But now everyone is just standing in the coffee shop handing out weak hellos and holding doors open, getting their coffee, acting reasonably pleasant – but not much else. On-line dating is a place to be, a place to people watch, a way to get out in the world. And for many who show up, that’s all they really are there to do. Whether they know it or not, all they can manage is to take a few numbers, grab their coffee and leave.

When you realize that, everything changes.

My friend and I have made it a pact not to invest any energy in particular, other than genuine pleasantries, in anyone who hasn’t dated us for a while and asked to be exclusive, or at the very least, predictable and regular. Texts and phone calls – nice! A few dates with or without smooching if we’re in the mood – bravo and yes!

But last names and going deep or offering our souls up for any kind of attachment whatsoever – that would be a hard no.

This is funny coming for a person who used to swoon hard over every great conversation I ever had with a man. I used to be a premature attacher and I didn’t even know it.

READ THIS BLOG. Oh, the pain!

Random dates or quick exchanges happened and I was interested in some people. I crumbled when I didn’t get the chance to know a random person better. I thought about how much fun we could be having and was really bummed when I didn’t get to drive to the beach, cook dinner with or generally enjoy the f-ck out of someone I thought I’d get along with. It hurt, man, not gonna lie.

I was really cute and really sincere and so are a lot of people out there but if you’re going to on-line date, do yourself a favor and pretend you are just in a coffee shop getting your coffee for the day.

I had coffee with Ed a few times, and it was delicious, but it turns out that he’s got to get to work and Ed is super busy so see ya, Ed.

Bless his heart, Ed is a good guy and he stayed tethered with the good morning texts, but after a couple of weeks of that and no idea when I’d see him again plus the fact that a girl still has to get her coffee, well, Ed is sort of fading to the background. I like Ed and maybe we’ll have coffee again if either of us is in the neighborhood. We’ve even talked about dinner but – you know, life.

I’m sure y’all are reading between the lines and hip to the metaphor here but seriously, stay with the coffee analogy and it all makes more sense than the actual exchanges between me and Ed. If you knew about those you might have a thing or two to say. Well, don’t bother because that’s not the way things work anymore.

I’m chatting with a lot of people in the coffee shop because that’s what we single folks do.

Periodically everyone in the whole damn shop decides I’m worth a hello-  all at the same time. I’m having one of my busy periods. It’s noisy in here.

Maybe someone will break through and I’ll find myself on that beach or cooking that dinner. And we’ll do it enough that I can think of it as more than just coffee.

But as god is my witness, I’ll never make that leap again without considerable evidence and weight behind it. It’s all just coffee.

Turns out, the coffee analogy really holds up.  Coffee is delicious and it comes in many flavors. It’s nice with cream but sometimes you gotta drink it black. (!) Sugar tastes lovely but it isn’t always good for you. Sometimes you have to switch to tea and sometimes you have to give it up entirely for a bit. But by and large, coffee is a staple you always come back to.

A few cups are nice,  but be careful you don’t drink too much or you’ll get the jitters.

And that’s all the dating wisdom I’ve got for today.

Cappuccinos all around!

And wipe that foam off your mouth you little scoundrel!