I grew up a shy kid in a small town – I had my circle of friends I was comfortable with, but around anybody else I was usually pretty quiet.
When I joined the Air Force I got pushed out of my comfort zone – way out. In the service you get thrown into a new environment with a bunch of guys from all over the country and are told to just work it out. So you do. This leads to all sorts of firsts – I even found myself volunteering for things I never would have tried back home.
One day a guy in my unit told me they were looking for a new squadron narrator (I had been recruited into the Air Force Honor Guard – we did big ceremonies in and around Washington DC) and he suggested I try out for the job. So I did.
I got the position and on my very first day I was tasked with narrating a high ranking general’s retirement at Andrews Air Force Base (that’s the one the President flies in and out of) in front of thousands of people. I was a 19 year old kid, scared stupid, and it literally was all I could do to read the words off the page in front of me without shaking and stammering. Personally I thought I’d done a terrible job and screwed the whole thing up. But to my dismay people were coming up to me after the ceremony with nothing but compliments – telling me how poised I looked and how good I sounded. To this day I remember that feeling of approval – of validation.
Validation is a crucial part of human social interaction. We don’t just want it, we need it. It’s what the other members of our group, social circle or tribe use to tell us that we’re okay by them – that we have friends and people who care about us – even if it’s only to step up and say a quick “nice job” or “way to go”.
Now here’s something that people don’t talk about much when discussing online dating. They’ll often decry the negatives, such as “the guys are just there to play around” and are not really serious about finding a relationship. They’ll say that the women are using ten year old pictures and listing an age that hasn’t been correct since those pictures were taken. They’ll also talk about the positives: That it’s a great way to meet people, or that it’s where they met their boyfriend or girlfriend, or even husband or wife.
But here’s what people leave out: The validation we get from those sites.
I mean look at what we do: We take a handful of pictures, and we write a few paragraphs describing ourselves, and then put that little marketing package up on the internet for all the world to see. And you know what happens? People respond to it. They send emails saying “I like your pictures” or “I identify with what you wrote” and ask you out for Saturday night. That is validation. It’s us showing ourselves to the world and the world saying back yes you are desirable; yes you are wanted. Now some will say it doesn’t always come from the right person – and sometimes that is the case – but is being told you’re desirable such a bad problem to have?
I really think validation is the first step in the courting process – and it’s one that transcends just the immediate interaction between one man and one woman. When a guy tells a girl that he’s interested in her somehow the effect it has is magnified. It’s as though not just a man, but men, are telling her that she is wanted. Now I won’t get all philosophical about where self-worth comes from, and yeah we’re all supposed to love ourselves first (and please don’t ask me to describe how that looks) but there are few things as sweet as when someone you have your eye on turns out to be looking back at you.
Here’s how I view validation’s importance in the whole online dating dance: If this process – using online dating sites – were only to find a mate wouldn’t most of us have given up long ago? I mean really, how often does any one of these emails, that leads to a ‘meet and greet’, which then leads to a second date, end up in a long term romance? I don’t want to bring anyone down here, but the success rate for online dating is not stellar.
If you look at it that way.
But if what’s really going on is not just a search for a mate, but also a search for acceptance, for validation, then this whole thing starts to make a lot more sense.
And while it doesn’t work out for the long term in most cases, I promise you the first step you’ll remember in that romance where everything does fall into place will be when your future partner acknowledged you; validated you. It’s that humble step we go through first that then leads to everything after.
Down at the end of my street, right by the water’s edge, there’s a memorial bench – and it says on a little plaque there that it’s in memory of Jack Dunne. Jack appears to have been a Navy pilot from World War II. There’s a little picture of a PBY Catalina on the plaque (a plane used a lot in that war) and the words “Jack Dunne, forever in our hearts”.
Now I’ve been to that bench many times, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it when there wasn’t a bouquet of flowers laying up against the plaque. Someone cared, and cares, very deeply about that man. And isn’t that what we’re looking for? Someone who cares deeply about us and whom we care deeply about? I’ll bet that relationship started not with big plans or grandiose words, but with a man telling a woman she was wanted.
A simple moment of validation may not be so simple after all.