Not long ago, I was merciless in criticizing anyone who used an online dating service. The only online dater I knew was my sister, so she took the brunt of my criticism. You have to understand, my sister is intelligent, funny, and beautiful. In my mind, she should have gentleman callers falling all over themselves to get a date with her. You can imagine my dismay as I watched her go on a string of awful dates with guys who, by conventional standards, were rather unattractive. One of them looked like the main character from Ratatouille. No, not the chef, the rat.
This look is much less endearing on a human.
The worst thing about online dating is that it encourages people to be completely shallow and feel okay about it afterwards. This is also the best thing about online dating.
All of the online dating sites I’ve used encourage users to upload numerous photos of themselves. Some sites even go as far as citing dubious statistics like “Users who post X or more pictures are Y% more likely to receive messages/get asked out/find eternal happiness!” Match.com allows users to upload 26 photos. I don’t think I even have 26 photos of myself. The point is, photos are the first thing others see when they view your dating profile, and are ultimately the most important part.
As I watched my sister go on dates with a series of losers I sat in harsh judgement. She was paying to use a dating service, and wasn’t even using it properly. Online dating is based on the idea that people want to weed out the uglies and click on the hotties. Of course, it’s not that simple.
We live in an age where airbrushing is the norm, and Photoshop is as common as Microsoft Word. Even if the photos users post to their profiles aren’t edited in some way, everyone is guilty (myself included) of only posting those pictures of us we deem flattering. Anyone who claims they’ve never untagged themselves from an unflattering Facebook photo most likely has a scorched ass from their flaming pants.
But back to my sister. Were all of the guys she dated unattractive? No. Did all of them turn out to be total jerks? Yes. How did this happen? Well, online dating is not for the faint of heart. It’s as tough in cyberspace as it is in physical space. Pretend for a moment you’re at a bar on a Friday or Saturday night. You watch as a guy gets shot down, girl after girl (or, guy after guy if it happens to be a gay bar). Online dating is a lot like that, except you’re not in the same room with these people, and this lets them believe they can be even more cruel when they reject you. By extension, many online interactions never result in a face-to-face meeting, so people can be pretty flexible with the “facts” they put on their profiles and no one will be the wiser. People tend to be flexible with the facts in real life as well, the difference being that more alcohol is often involved, making this flexibility come across as merely charming instead of misleading. (This phenomenon is parodied to great effect through the character of Barney Stinson on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Hilarious stuff.)
What makes me such an expert? I’d be the first to admit I am anything but a dating expert, but I am an active user of three online dating services, two of which I’ve paid for. How did I end up paying for two when one is probably sufficient? That’s kind of a long story.
I started using a free online dating service, OkCupid, late this summer. What happened to my belief that online dating is wrong because it encourages acceptance of shallow behavior? I got lonely. I live in a suburb so small it has no economy to speak of, so it’s not like I can meet girls around here. Also, I was commuting to school at the time, so anyone I met in the city or on campus either lived in the city or was a commuter from a different suburb. This makes the creation of any sort of meaningful relationship rather challenging. So, I thought, “what the hell,” and joined OkCupid.
OkCupid is a fairly standard service. You’re given a large profile, you can upload numerous pictures, and you can send messages to other uses, all for free. OkCupid makes its money through loads of advertisements, but if your browser has a decent ad-blocker this is essentially a non-issue.
About a month ago, I heard about another free online dating service, HowAboutWe, that sounded very intriguing. The entire service is designed to “get you offline and on real dates!” or something like that. Like OkCupid, the service provides a free profile, but HowAboutWe’s main draw is the HowAboutWe date box. The top of the date box features the text “How about we…” and next to this is a field where users post their ideas for a date. You can even include details like what kind of date it is, location, or a specific day for the date to occur. These dates show up on the profiles of the users who created them, and other users can respond to them. Users can also search for dates by topic or location. Some users fail to understand the purpose of the HowAboutWe date box, so their dates usually look something like “How about we… looking for a great guy!” or “How about we… verry good.”
HowAboutWe’s dirty little secret is that you can’t send or receive messages unless you become a paid subscriber. The good news is, HowAboutWe is a fairly new service, so subscription rates are pretty cheap when compared to other dating sites. I know this, because before I became a paid subscriber for HowAboutWe, I decided to look up the subscription rates for Match.com. My thinking was that if I was going to pay to use a dating site, I wanted to make sure I was getting the best deal. I knew Match.com has far more users than a newer service like HowAboutWe, and I wanted to ensure that wherever I subscribed, I’d get the most bang for my buck. No pun intended.
Match.com is kind of an online dating behemoth, and as a result they charge a lot more than a site like HowAboutWe. The best deal on Match.com comes to about $18 per month for six months. HowAboutWe also offers a six-month subscription for the considerably lower price of $10 a month. HowAboutWe is obviously much cheaper, regardless of its number of users, so I subscribed for six months, and started sending messages.
I didn’t realize I was a sucker until a few days later when I noticed that a number of HowAboutWe users simply post an email address somewhere on their profile. This allows them to still receive messages from interested parties for free, while also weeding out those who are too lazy to open up their email, or who haven’t read the whole profile. Not only had I just lost about $60, I also realized that HowAboutWe wasn’t telling me whether the people I was sending messages to could even read them. Probably, a number of the people I’ve messaged have simply received some form letter from those shysters at HowAboutWe saying something like, “Someone messaged you! Become a subscriber to find out who!”
Moral of the story: HowAboutWe offers a unique twist on the online dating service, but don’t pay for anything until they get their shit figured out.
While this was happening, I also fell into a trap set by Match.com. Before I could find out what Match.com charges for a subscription, I had to fill out an entire profile. Looking back, I probably could’ve googled Match.com subscription rates, but I didn’t think of that so let’s move on. I already feel like an idiot from the HowAboutWe debacle. Anyway, this profile went live, despite the fact I chose to not subscribe. A few days later I got an email saying someone on Match.com had “winked” at me. Of course, I could only reveal the identity of this winker by becoming a subscriber. Curiosity got the best of me. Well, it might be more accurate to say that my romantic optimism (also evident in my previous post) took hold. I found myself thinking, “What if this “wink” is from The One? How will I explain to my unborn children that I didn’t meet their mother because I was too cheap?” This went on for a while, but I eventually became a subscriber with Match.com. In all honesty, this additional subscription was partially motivated by my anger with the people at HowAboutWe, making me look even more like a petty idiot.
As it turns out, that first “wink” was from some woman in Utah I have no interest in pursuing. Utah? Seriously? Not even Salt Lake City, Utah. Rural Utah. Yikes.
So, I am now the proud owner of two paid online dating profiles. I wish I could say I’ve seen a corresponding spike in my dating life, but that hasn’t been the case. If you’re considering joining a dating site, there are a few things you should know. Whether you’re interested in hearing these things or not, I’m going to tell you anyway, because it may be the only way my subscriptions are put to good use.
First of all, each of these sites, OkCupid, HowAboutWe, and Match.com, lets you see who has visited your profile. Obviously, this means that anyone whose profile you visit will find out, so try and keep the cyber stalking to a minimum. (In an interesting twist, it is my understanding that OkCupid users who upgrade to a paid membership are able to browse anonymously, thus allowing them to cyber stalk to their heart’s content. You’ve been warned.)
For some reason, a few weeks after I became a subscriber, Match.com decided to start notifying me when the messages I sent had been read by the recipient. Had I been so inclined, I could’ve had this information right from the start for an additional fee. I’m glad I didn’t go for it considering I got it for free later. So, if you go with Match.com, stick with the bare-bones subscription and cross your fingers they’ll start giving you free stuff.
To be fair, I suspect a large part of the reason Match.com subscriptions are so expensive is because of their six-month guarantee. The deal is, if you haven’t found someone “special” in your first six months, Match.com gives you an additional six months free of charge. I haven’t been a subscriber long enough to be certain, but I’m pretty sure you’re on your own after that.
Something I’ve noticed among Match.com users, and only among Match.com users, is a tendency to respond to an initial email, and then ignore the second. This has happened to me on a number of occasions. I’ll send a message, the girl will respond, I’ll reply, and then nothing. Thanks to my Match.com freebie, I know these women are reading my messages, they just decide to end the conversation. Why? You’d have to ask them. In the interest of full disclosure, it’s not as if I’m proposing to these women in my second message. I always try to keep things light and friendly. Maybe, despite my best efforts, I’m still coming on too strong. I may never know.
A curiosity limited to OkCupid users is a distinct lack of conversational etiquette. I see a profile I like. I send a nice message usually asking about what they study in school, the name of their dog or cat, or some other innocuous question that demonstrates I’m interested, and that I took the time to fully read their profile. These women will respond and answer all of my questions, but they fail to ask me any questions. A conversation will die if there’s no give and take, and that’s exactly what happens to these messages. My question is, if these women aren’t interested in me, why did they respond in the first place? It’s not like they’re required to respond to every message. Lord knows I don’t. Do they think they’re so interesting and attractive I should be the one doing all the conversational legwork? Please, ladies. You’re not. Trust me. All these messages accomplish is signal that you are probably quite self-centered, and would be a terrible bore on an actual date.
So has my online dating experience been a total failure? Absolutely not. Shortly after joining OkCupid I met a terrific woman I liked a great deal. We dated for about a month, and she decided she just wanted to be friends. In hindsight, I probably liked her too much. Despite its brevity, I still consider that relationship valuable. Maybe The Dating Gods have decided I’m not worthy of meeting another nice girl online. Who knows.
I’m also happy to report that my sister also met a great guy on OkCupid, and they are still dating. He is not a jerk, and he kind of resembles Wil Wheaton. Way to go, sis!
I guess my point is, don’t pay for an online dating service. I’ve already cancelled both of my paid subscriptions, but I already paid for six months up front, so it will be a while before my online dating life is over. If reading this hasn’t completely turned you off from online dating altogether, use OkCupid or post an unused email on your HowAboutWe profile. Match.com isn’t worth it unless you’re positive you’re going to strike out in your first six months, and will then receive an extension for free.
Granted, because OkCupid is free, the creep quotient is much higher than on a site people are paying to use. My sister and I have both had some negative interactions on the site, but luckily you can block any users who seem a little too interested. It goes without saying you shouldn’t put your address or any information on your dating profile that might allow someone to track you down in real life. That’s just silly.