I say every year around birthday time that I permit myself one post that actually relates to some aspect of my life. This is a break from my usual, ironclad rule. I think it’s incontrovertible fact that everyday people blogging about their lives is not only boring, but wildly narcissistic.
While I’m plenty boring, I lack the requisite narcissism to drone on about my uneventful life on a regular basis.
My one indulgence for 2016 is to discuss the observations I’ve amassed from over two years of immersing myself in the mildly distasteful world of online dating.
Lower your expectations. I don’t have any crazy stories. One, I’m a goody-goody (and boring—see above). Two, I’m very selective. Three, I’m actually pretty good on dates, especially first dates. I don’t get nervous, and I
don’t act weird hide my weirdness well.
All of that means that I’ve never had any dates that ended in acts of insanity or criminality by either party. They’ve almost all been C+/B- experiences. No complaints, but neither great enough nor bad enough to pass the tales down to future generations. I don’t have an unkind word to say about any of the women I’ve dated.
As such, my observations are general, not personal. I will say that a lot has changed in the last two-plus years. As a naive and (VERY) reluctant newcomer to the world of online dating, I had a lot to learn. Hell, back in 2013, I actually thought referencing an affinity for the Oxford comma in a profile summary was mildly clever. Then I saw 500 other people do it, and it became less so.
Here’s a rundown . . .
eHarmony: Looking for an overpriced dating website that has almost no chance of finding you a match? Then eHarmony is for you!
First off, signing up takes about an hour, thanks to a mountain of introductory questions ostensibly designed to improve eHarmony’s ability to match you with other users. It’s also the most expensive of the bunch, or at least it was back in 2013/14. Neither of those things would be so bad if it generated results. But it doesn’t. I would go a month and have maybe four possible matches, with the closest match often being at least 50 miles away.
To be fair to eHarmony, part of the problem was that I was living in Richmond at the time. I think eHarmony probably works much better if you’re in a major metropolitan area. The issue is that eHarmony has such a high barrier to entry—a massive questionnaire and a big price tag—that it shrinks the dating pool quite a bit. That’s no problem in a major city, but, even in a fairly populous area like Richmond, the pool is pretty shallow.
But that’s not all! As a bonus, users have to compete in a pentathlon-esque series of predetermined and very structured steps in order to be able to communicate with a potential match. Over a year removed, I can’t remember all the hoops, but I recall that part of the gauntlet is “deal-breakers” and another component involved asking five questions. There is a way to bypass this ordeal and send messages directly, but most people didn’t know about it or use it.
The craziest thing about eHarmony was that, despite those barriers to entry, there were still two very obvious catfishing attempts on me in the limited time I was on the site.
OKCupid: The best thing about OKC is the questionnaire. Users are able to answer hundreds of optional questions about any topics, ranging from the very specific (“Do you own a valid passport?”) to the philosophical (“Can money buy happiness?”) to the absurd (“Have you ever secretly sniffed an undergarment of someone you had a crush on but were not sexually involved with?”).
You can also indicate how important particular answers are to you in a mate. Maybe you care a lot about him being a dog person, but you only care a little about whether he knows the odds of a penny being flipped three times and coming out either heads or tails three times in a row, for example.
(It’s one in four, by the way. NOT one in eight. One in FOUR. DON’T YOU DARE SAY ONE IN EIGHT, FUTURE WIFE! NO, I DON’T KNOW WHY I’M STILL SINGLE. WHY DO YOU ASK?)
What’s great about these questions is that they’re actually more helpful than broad categories like “body type” or “height” or “income.” For example, it’s all well and good for a woman to list herself as a non-smoker, but a question like “Have you smoked a cigarette in the last six months?” is a more pointed way of getting an accurate picture. You can even jump to “unacceptable answers” to see any responses they have that clash with your priorities, and vice-versa, which is a hugely helpful feature.
One drawback of OKC is that, until you learn how to set your filters, most of your messages will be from people in China or the Phillipines or the Ukraine who are either seeking money (if fake) or citizenship (if real).
That said, OKC is relatively user-friendly overall and has a mobile app that faithfully recreates the website. The site is free, which lets in a lot of scam-artists and ‘bots, but they’re fairly easy to spot. If you see a woman looking Looking for “men, located anywhere, ages 18‑99, for short & long term dating, casual sex, and new friends,” RUN.
Another protip—avoid any woman who just happens to be gorgeous but who only has one picture. Or who has a picture with a website logo at the bottom. She is, in reality, a spammer. Or maybe a dude.
Match: The online dating pool spectrum ranges from the overly-“selective” ghost town of eHarmony to the anything-goes, bursting-at-the-seams chaos of Plenty of Fish or Tinder. Match’s strength is that it hits a nice sweet spot between those extremes.
Like OKCupid, Match is free to use, but offers a paid subscription option. The difference is that OKC’s paid features truly are premium add-ons that aren’t absolutely necessary. Match’s idea of “premium” features are things like, you know, being able to read messages.
That means that it’s almost pointless to be on Match if you’re not a paid subscriber. That facet drives a lot of would-be scammers away, since they’re going to incur some significant costs before they can try to reel in marks. Match typically attracts more young professionals than the others as well. It’s probably the most mainstream and “socially acceptable” option.
Although it has the best pool, top-to-bottom, Match is still too expensive. Even if you get a discounted rate by purchasing a one-year subscription, you’re still paying over $20 per month. A one-month subscription will run you $42.
Not only that, but a lot of important features are sold as a la carte additions. For example, an added option that allows non-subscribers to read and reply to your messages costs ten bucks per month.
All told, a fully-featured Match subscription will run you a few hundred dollars per year, even if you’re getting the best monthly rate possible.
Considering that I’ve gotten more dates through OKCupid than I have Match, it’s tough to justify that expense. Of course, that lack of relative success may have to do with my own lack of, uh, marketable attributes in the face of the more selective pool I mentioned a moment ago.
One last point about Match: For some reason, it has a subtle but noticeable inferiority complex. Match is constantly trying to mimic other services. It has tinkered with its app over and over to make it look more like OKC’s, to the point that I sometimes forget which I’m using. It also added a matching feature that functions a lot like Tinder, complete with swiping right and left.
I’m not sure why Match is so paranoid (or willing to copy others), but it comes off as a little desperate. And, as you might have guessed after the first few paragraphs of this piece, I know desperate when I see it.
Tinder: Everything you’ve heard is true.
All of it.
The thing is, I love the simplicity. Yes, you have to be more careful. You generally get substantially less information about the other person unless you bother to ask a litany of questions up front.
If I were a woman, I wouldn’t use Tinder. That understandable apprehension is probably why somewhere between 95% and 125% of the non-spam / non-prostitute (yes, they exist) women on Tinder have “Not here for a hook-up” somewhere in their profile.
However, after wading through an armpit-high layer of BS from sites like eHarmony, the straightforward nature of Tinder can be pretty refreshing: Instead of crafting a Match.com message that has a surprisingly low chance of even being read, much less replied to, a quick glance at a few pictures and a short bio (if any), followed by a swipe left or right means you spend 10 seconds on each potential date instead of 10 minutes.
I love that efficiency.
Thus, if you’re willing to overlook the possibility of winding up in a shallow, unmarked grave near a rest stop, Tinder really isn’t all that bad!
Hinge: In theory, this one should be my favorite. It combines the simplicity of Tinder with a great wrinkle. Namely, you only get prospective matches who are at least friends of friends of yours on Facebook. The pool of candidates is limited somewhat, but the system filters out fake people to the point of eliminating them almost entirely.
Sounds pretty perfect, right?
There’s just one . . . odd . . . thing I’ve noticed about Hinge.
I haven’t quite figured out why, but there are a lot of women—and I mean a lot of women—on Hinge who are apparently married. But I don’t mean that they’re married and quietly looking for an affair. I mean that they use their wedding photos as their @#$%ing profile picture.
Now, there are three possible explanations for this phenomenon that I’ve been able to formulate.
1. Women use Hinge as the app of choice for cheating on their husbands (or divorced women use it and forget to change their old Facebook profile pic).
2. Young couples use Hinge as the app of choice for finding a third for a menage a trois.
3. Either they or I don’t understand Hinge’s purpose correctly—either I am wrong in thinking it’s primarily for romantic interest, or they are wrong in thinking it’s also a way to find friends.
It’s not a deal-breaker, it’s just a . . . curiosity . . . that gives me pause.
Otherwise, Hinge is great. As long as you don’t have sketchy Facebook friends, it’s extremely likely that all of the people you’ll potentially see on Hinge will be perfectly decent folks who won’t try to steal your credit card information.
A word about Richmond vs. D.C.: I’ve found that Washington has been different than Richmond in one way I expected and one way I didn’t.
I anticipated that the number of available, desirable women in D.C. would be much, much higher than in Richmond—for several reasons: The overall population is much higher; Many more eligible, educated women come to D.C. to pursue careers; Unlike Richmond, most women in Washington aren’t married by the time they’re 27.
Here’s what I didn’t anticipate: Women in D.C. often won’t even consider dating someone outside of their own ideology. In worse news for me, the vast majority of the young and young-ish women here do not share my political views.
I’m not upset by this, just a little puzzled. I’ve never needed a potential girlfriend—or even just a potential friend—to agree with my views. That seems a little closed-minded, but, nevertheless, the reality is that many young professionals in D.C. work in ideological echo chambers. And that’s no accident.
Personally, I would never think that only folks who share my ideas can be nice or interesting people.
To a lesser extent, there’s a similar revulsion at the fact that I don’t drink. Because of this, I list both my ideological leanings and my non-drinking status prominently in my profiles, making it clear that I don’t need those characteristics in a match. Again, I’m all about efficiency, and putting that information up at the outset saves time.
There’s one more difference I’ve noticed that is purely behavioral. In Richmond, the timeline for going on a date was roughly—if we match on day one, we chat on day two, and we make a plan on day three or four. The date would then occur sometime within the next week.
In D.C., it is very different. I don’t know if it’s because women here just have so many more options that they don’t have any sense of urgency, or if it’s because many of them just want pen pals / glorified emotional-support animals. Whatever the case, some of these women would want to chat for weeks.
I will say that I got over that pretty quickly after completing the move up to Washington. I think a better rule for all involved is to make plans within a few days, or the conversation is finished.
This philosophy became obvious after I chatted with what seemed like a very promising woman for many weeks (I was in the process of moving / commuting, so this wasn’t quite as egregious as it may sound), only to be stood up when I finally nailed down a time for us to get together. Frustrated as much or more by the massive amount of wasted time as the no-show, I realized that I needed to adjust. That shift was a smart move.
Final Thoughts: If my time investment in online dating has led me to an ultimate conclusion, it’s that I’m almost certainly not going to meet my future spouse through one of these sites.
Online dating’s appeal is mostly speculative, akin to Powerball. To be clear, I’m not talking about odds. I’d like to think that even my chances are a little better than one in 292,201,338.
No, I mean that, on those rare occasions when I buy a lottery ticket, the fun is in the imagination—the idea of what it would be like to win. Until the inevitably fruitless drawing injects reality back into the situation, it’s entertaining to ponder the fantasy of winning.
Likewise, the fun of online dating is mostly in the possibility, because it usually dwarfs the reality. That’s just a reality of the numbers game. You may only get to go out with one out of ten girls you contact (I’m being generous). However, when you’re writing all ten of those icebreakers, subconsciously or not, you’re thinking about how fun a date with that girl could be. In the end, I think that’s a lot of what you’re paying for—access to possibilities.
Another structural issue with online dating is that there is far too much emphasis on the visual. I’m not going to pretend that looks don’t matter to me, but things like intelligence and sense of humor and kindness are extremely important. The problem is that you only get a taste of those qualities (if that) when you read an online dating profile.
Thus, decisions about whom to pursue are disproportionately weighted toward people who happen to have three or four good pictures of themselves to upload. That’s not an effective way to select a potential significant other.
Case-in-point, I think the strongest match I’ve found (via OKC, incidentally) was a woman whose best qualities only became fully apparent because we happened to keep in touch. In addition to being pretty, she’s smart, quick-witted, and has terrific comedic sensibilities.
Those are things that aren’t necessarily obvious when you’ve known someone for 30 minutes and are in the process of going through the basic list of “Where did you go to college?” or “Where did you grow up?” or “What are you going to order at this restaurant?”-type questions.
That’s another reason why I think online dating isn’t a great fit for me: A lot of the best things that I like about a particular woman are aspects of her personality that only present themselves after spending time with her and getting to know her better. Online dating is designed more for volume, which is great, but that doesn’t lend itself to being the best process for me personally.
I think online dating is best suited for people who are looking for casual sex, people who have occupations (such as nursing) that have odd schedules, or people who want to get married, like, yesterday.
I don’t fall into any of those categories, which is part of the reason why I think online dating has gradually lost some of its luster for me.
As such, I’ve let my Match subscription expire as of yesterday, I haven’t set up a Tinder date since last summer, and I don’t check Hinge nearly as often as I did even a few months ago.
Overall, I don’t use these things as much as I used to, but I also doubt I’ll be deleting my profiles anytime soon. Despite some of the negatives I’ve addressed, I think my experience has been positive, as I said previously. All of the girls have been perfectly nice, and I’ve been able to avoid all scams. And, if nothing else, online dating helps me get “at-bats” that improve a skillset that admittedly isn’t my best.
I just wish the swings-and-misses weren’t quite so expensive.