Tuesday, 18 February 2014

An Idiot's Guide (That's Me) to Online Dating

You could say that for a Romanian and a South African to meet online and now be living together in South Africa, looking forward to celebrating our fourth wedding anniversary, is a special occurrence.

I know I would have, if I haven't recently been contacted by my second couple of exactly the same nationalities looking for tips on how to get together ... ok, two is hardly a flood, but it's plenty if I recall the fact that I had to open an atlas to figure out where 'Romania' was when my then 'friend who was a girl' online told me she came from wherever that was.

Now these intrepid couples reached me simply by e-mailing me, and while I don't have a massive amount of personal time - Cape Town isn't as sleepy as it's made out to be - I do have the world of time to helping people down this specific path because it's one I've been on for the past six years (counting time separated) and which I'm still on.

Dating online... I'll let you know that it never gets easier, even after four years, when somebody asks you 'So how did you and your wife meet' and you have to launch into a long and infinitely more complicated story than 'I knew her in High School'.

That said, I wouldn't be afraid of dating online, and would never criticise somebody for it ... not least because that'd make me the world's biggest hypocrite. Even back before I'd actually *met* my then-friend/now-wife for the first time in person, I knew that what we had was potentially a good thing for all its frustrations: the hours we spent talking online and on the phone and every kind of messaging program known to man and even a few that aren't (weird tip: multi-player internet chess is an interesting diversion from the pain) definitely ensured that we at least had a good connection.

I'd go so far to say that every couple should try it, even if they're in the same town or city. Try a month without seeing each other in person, and just see if you still have something to talk about by the end of the month. Considering this is a person you're potentially hoping to spend the rest of your life with, I wouldn't worry about missing out on a month of kissy-face time if it meant knowing that that isn't all I'd have to look forward to in the long run.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend proactively trying to find a partner online through a dating website, but that's mostly because it'll make the explanations later to friends and family even harder, and it could prove to be a lot more challenging to find somebody in an environment like that. I mean, you don't walk down the street asking random strangers if they want to date you, and then start the relationship with the first person who says yes. *shrugs* Or maybe you do, and it's all perfectly fine - your mileage may vary.

In my case I ended up experimenting online on the wonderful world of Internet Relay Chat, which if you ever enter it you'll find is dominated by people over the age of 40 who first got onto it when the Internet was invented back in the 1990s and a bunch of people who go online because they've got nothing better to do or because they're bored at work.

My wife and I met on a trivia channel on IRC, which is about the sanest way to meet anybody online in my horribly biased opinion. At least the people you're speaking to are vaguely interested in something pseudo-intellectual, while the rest of IRC consists of random strangers from across the world logging onto new channels and posting an endless stream of 'lol' (laugh out loud) and 'hi' and 'wb' (welcome back) and bye and ... that's it. Sounds a lot like real life then: people communicating right past each other, and not actually a great way to meet somebody special.

The one point I really want to stress here is that online you need to be yourself, while realising that everybody else online is likely to be withholding some negative elements of their personality, and exaggerating their best parts (to the point of sending you photos of people they're not and claiming they are - this had actually happened to me).

I get that online dating or at the very least looking for love online is the last resort of people who're very desperate, and I think we've all been there: well, everybody except for women, even though they seem to be luckier than guys at scoring dates if not actually converting those into long-lasting relationships. Despite this: don't act desperate! Even if you're looking for love in real life, just go online to enjoy yourself and make friends ... nothing chases anybody away online faster than the smell of desperation. And if they do NOT run away if you're desperate, you definitely should, because then you KNOW there's something wrong with them.

Ok ok, none of this makes sense if you haven't actually entered this dark world with its twisted logic, but the bottom line is this: there is no difference between online and reality, because online is just a different mode of reality, but many people continue trying to pretend there are no rules online. Some of those people will break your heart if you're not careful, and others will 'only' empty your bank account.

The worst fate, however, is exactly like it is in 'regular' relationships, except with the stakes turned way up: you meet somebody you kinda like, are forced to marry them before you should (to benefit from the favourable immigration implications), are left pretty much financially destitute by the costs of relocation one partner to join the other and supporting each other (at least initially) on only one partner's salary; and that's before you start dealing with things like culture shock and actually living together with a stranger.


Maybe it's because it worked out for me despite all the odds and I'm insanely grateful about that that I'm so worried that somebody else - somebody young and innocent and hopeful and willing to risk everything - will actually take that plunge and one of the swinging hammers I missed will catch them. If you're contemplating this seriously, it could happen to you.

My best advice is to first at least meet up with your partner if you can, before trying to marry them. Yes, living apart is horrible - and will become intolerable if you do meet in person and then have to separate again - but it is the only way you can satisfy your conscience that at least you did the very least available to you to ensure that your partner wasn't an axe murderer. As the lyrics of that song go, 'It's in his kiss', and I think on a biological level you can sense a lot more about your partner in person than you ever can if you're online (and goodness knows women have a REALLY freaky radar that way).

Are there still conventional ways of meeting people in real life? Sure thing: you can try join a club, join a gym, take dancing classes and hit on the instructors, chat up that guy or girl at the corner table in the restaurant ... in fact, if you still can I highly suggest you turn off your computer and try that first. Then try it again. Because really, the other way is MUCH harder.

I think for most people who get into a serious relationship online and who really pursue it to the end, you're way past the point of still making a decision. Just like in life you fall for something about that other person, the screen becomes electrically charged whenever they log online, and if you've done some of the due diligence I've indicated here you'll have at least the same chances of success as you will meeting any regular stranger (as a fringe benefit you know your intended partner will know their way around the pointy end of a computer keyboard).

If you get into this situation, start saving as soon as you know the bug has bitten you. Cancel any big holidays or massive expenditures, because you'll REALLY need that money, and sooner than you know. With money, persistence and a bit of luck, I firmly believe you can do everything you want to: with or without the support of your family ('with' is definitely preferable) and definitely without the need for any expensive immigration consultant (despite what they'll tell you the average form you'll be required to fill in was designed with Homer Simpson in mind).

Yet again, that's like everything in life: it will work if you and your partner are both really invested in it and want it to work. If your partner isn't really invested in it, however, or if you have second thoughts, stop and address that issue first: divorcing a foreign partner who is now completely out of their depth in a foreign environment and reeling from a failed marriage is a responsibility you don't want to have.

Too negative? I don't think so: I'd rather tell you everything I know now so that you can make an informed decision in a rare moment when those rose-tinted glasses you're viewing your partner through online come off. The decision can still be yes, and in many ways I think if it works you'll be a lot happier having really overcome huge challenges and having the world at your feet than you would have if you'd just given in and gotten hitched to that guy or girl around the corner.

Life is too short for regrets, so try not have any. If none of this has put you off, I'll be happy to help with specific questions you might have pertaining to South Africa :) I promise I get friendlier from here!


  1. I think quite a few people found your blog while looking for info on dating a Romanian, well thats atleast how i stumbled upon it.
    I agree with what you have written, i have been dating a Romanian girl for over a year now and its not easy, I have visited her and thats just made it harder.
    We are both at the place now where we want to move together regardless of our fears and the constant slew of negative advise we have gotten from friends and family.
    Ive done some research and i believe a temporary life partner visa is what she needs and then we apply for a working visa once shes here. You have already been through this and have made it work so what do you feel is the easiest way for us to be together here in South Africa, visas, marriage etc. Any advise on how to actually take the next step would be greatly appreciated.

    1. As far as I know, the life partner visa is reserved for people who have lived together for several years and can provide proof of that - kind of difficult for people who are looking to get together for the first time! My wife and I went the spousal temporary residence permit route, and we're pretty lucky that it happened to work out. The NB thing for new couples thinking of taking the marriage plunge after meeting, the Department of Home Affairs has recently published amendments for comment which include a prohibition on a change of visa conditions from within South Africa - meaning that any partner that enters the country on a visitor's visa and gets married would then need to return to their home country and apply for a TRP to re-join their spouse! Do bear in mind that this isn't law yet, but if it does happen (it's actually a pretty common sort of law - the UK has the same) it's going to be a huge extra stumbling block for cash-strapped couples hoping to just start a life together. Sad news!

    2. Thanks for the info the spousal visa seems to require us being married for atleast 5 years. The temporary life partner permit seems like the one i need but we need to prove our relationship is real and long lasting. I dont know how we would prove that though, did you guys have to prove that as well?

    3. I don't know where you're getting your info Marc, but it's dead wrong - in our case my wife applied for a temporary residence permit (valid for two years) one month after we got married. She got it then, and has renewed it five times since (with various work permit endorsements), so it works. The five year restriction applies for if you want a permanent residence permit, converted after another year to full citizenship if you want that. That's the whole problem with a life partner visa - I really don't know if South African Home Affairs is switched on enough to recognise things like online chat records (not that you want to submit those!). The one benefit you'd have though is that your girlfriend would be able to apply for this without joining you in South Africa first, so it's a safer way to go. On the down side, it will cost ... when you're married the applications are 100% free, which is a big benefit over the period. *shrugs* Not that you should ever marry somebody just to save money!

      Good luck with your investigations.