Social-circle accountability — a missing link in online dating

We’ve heard — and sometimes experienced — the horror stories of midlife dating. When we think that middle-aged men and women should behave like adults they flummox us with their adolescent behaviors.

Many of these bad boy/girl stories come from meeting folks through Internet dating sites. If you’ve been around for more than a day, you realize that not everyone listed on a site has stellar ethics and social skills. They do things that leave us incredulous — whether it’s happened directly to us or we hear about it from someone else.

It’s made me ponder the various reasons why people act the way they do when in dating mode. Is it lack of social skills education, not caring how they affect another, or general self-centeredness and obtuseness? I have a theory to add to these.

social circleLack of social-circle accountability.

When you meet someone through friends, some filtering happens beforehand. If you meet your date at a friend’s party, the friend has determined the person to be socially adept enough to be in their circle. Granted, someone else could have brought the guy along, but they would have assessed he’s not a total creep as they wouldn’t want him embarrassing them at the party.

Secondly, there is built in social accountability. If you or he is a jerk to the other, the friends will hear about it. “What’s with Fred? We set a lunch date then he never showed.” Or “Is there something going on with Alice? I asked if she’d like to go out and she said yes, but she has yet to return my calls.”

A pal shared that he asked out a woman he met at some mutual friends’ party. They had a wonderful dinner a week later, and a few days after that he invited her to his house for pizza and a DVD. She accepted and they set the time. She didn’t arrive. He called her cell 15 minutes after her due time. No answer. He called again at 30 minutes, then an hour after her expected arrival. He was concerned for her safety. He emailed her the next day to ask what happened. No response.

A week later, he asked some mutual friends if she was okay. They said she was and had no idea why she would stand him up. They checked with her, then got back to him. She said he was physically aggressive and she was concerned about going to his house. This is totally out of his character (I know this guy and he’s a good one). Why couldn’t she just decline his second invitation if that was how she felt? Instead, she started this rumor mill.

Their mutual friends had known him much longer than her, he’d dated other women in their extended social circle, and there had been no reports of his being inappropriate with anyone. (We know that some people can be entirely different in public settings than they are behind closed doors. We also know he could have been inappropriate with other women in the circle and they didn’t speak out.) However, other examples of this woman making stuff up was beginning to surface. She was caught lying about other things.

Social circle 2They were both accountable to their social circle. If there had been other evidence of my pal being inappropriate, he would have been ostracized by the group. I realize this doesn’t happen in all groups; some let egregious behavior (e.g., adultery, abuse) slide. But many groups will police their own and shun social misfits. And some will confront him/her directly.

In Internet dating, some people behave as they never would in person (if you’re communicating by IM, email or phone). And when they meet you, they do and say stuff they wouldn’t try if you met them through a friend.

What have you experienced in social circle accountability? Have you seen representatives from a group step in when there has been unacceptable behavior when two of its members are dating?

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5 responses to “Social-circle accountability — a missing link in online dating”

  1. Elena Avatar

    Yes, you are so right that this is a missing link in online dating and if more people knew that they would have to be accountable (i.e. have to explain their misbehavior or rude behavior) to a social network, they would think twice before acting inconsiderate. In my experience, most of my friends have stopped arranging blind dates with acquaintances/co-workers because of the social circle accountability issue and all the “surprises” that can pop up afterwards.

  2. walt Avatar

    I think you are right that people are under more pressure to behave appropriately if there is social circle accountability, although in your example the woman behaved inappropriately anyway. The problem you mention with internet dating also applies to other types of anonomous meetings – I experienced it with women I met in clubs in my 20’s. I think the accountability benefit (and pre-screening) is one reason some people prefer personal introductions. The problem with that is that people set you up with the most inappropriate people, or people you know within 30 seconds that you are not attracted to, and then you have to try to gracefully exit without ruffling your friend’s feathers. Meeting someone at a party or group get-together is ideal, but those oportunities don’t come along every day.

  3. hw Avatar

    DG – I think you hit the nail on the head! I think that is why I liked Charlotte’s idea in Sex and the City. She decides to throw a used date party. I’ve met some good people, just not right for me, why not bring them into my social circle.

  4. nysharon Avatar

    I’ve been treated rudely in both situations but on-liners always showed up for a date. Their behavior on that date may not have been the best. I was however, stood up by three men over the past year and 1/2 who I met though friends. One was a best friend of my girlfriends husband! The other two where men I met socially of which we had mutual friends. From the first I got an apology (can you believe he asked me out again a year later when I ran into him?) The other two went Poof. I don’t care why, I am glad I avoided it all in the long run. Honestly, if they are immature and thoughless, they are that way no matter how you meet. It is just harder to check out what kind of person they are if you don’t know anyone mutually.

  5. Vivian Avatar

    DG-I agree with you.