My dear friend from high school recently asked me what online dating was like. We graduated in 1985 and he’s been married ever since—almost. Long enough to have missed online dating altogether, that’s for sure. He wants to try it, but he’s sure his wife would complain. This is where I come in. I let those who’ve never tried online dating live vicariously through me, because I’ve been online dating off and on (mostly off!) since before there were pictures attached to the profiles. Since Yahoo Personals. I even recall the days before that when we would post our photo and a short bio on the wall at the coffee shop. If someone saw something they liked in your Polaroid and two sentences, they dropped a note in the locked box and you’d collect your notes next time you were in. Talk about early adopters!
As my friend and I were sharing a brief online chat, I summarized online dating like this: Men like it for its constant novelty. Women don’t like it unless they’re slutty. To which my friend replied, “Men like it because women are slutty.”
An oversimplification? Perhaps . . .
But having just read A Billion Wicked Thoughts, oversimplification is fairly accurate. Brains are hard-wired. Men are visual creatures, and they’re programmed to receive new stimuli. Even women have to work to keep the romance alive, but they do it differently—they seek romantic stories, and the most popular story lines involve a bad boy falling for his female protagonist and becoming good. But not that good.
A large percentage of females fantasize about stranger sex—which is not to say they want to be raped. But if the idea of sex with a stranger is a turn-on, you can see where online dating would be pretty popular. And sure, you can happen to meet a stranger in a bar or in line at the DMV, but you wouldn’t have his data handy: does he want long-term or short-term dating? Or casual sex? Does he have children, etc.? The thing is, if you only want him for an hour or two, details like his income won’t matter. But as the saying goes, a woman can get laid any night of the week. The challenge is in finding the one you want to see the rest of the nights.
I’ve been online dating off and on (mostly off!) since the demise of my marriage when I was 33 years old. I am now 47. Over the years, I see some of the same men who clearly haven’t met their matches either, because they are still online. Like me, they keep seeking. One could say online dating isn’t working for us. Or perhaps it’s working perfectly for some of these men—because it is a constant supply of first dates.
I’m looking for my last first date.
Sociologically speaking, it has been interesting. I enjoy meeting people and hearing their stories, but I’m no closer to finding love. And I do work at it. I do my best to weed out men who only want “one thing.” My profile says I’m not interested in casual sex, but it never ceases to amaze me how what I write in my profile does not compute in their brains. This past season, I had a first date with a guy who kept asking for a second date. We never got there because I wasn’t attracted to him and kept trying to find ways to say so. I thought I was pretty clear: “I think you’re my people, but not my person.” To which he replied: “Perhaps you don’t think I am your person, but you are attracted to me for a more casual relationship. I would be open to that if you are. I like you and I’m safe and tested. I’m also free this weekend.”
I told him to stop writing to me.
Another date, well . . . I knew I wasn’t going to be interested but, in the spirit of open-mindedness, I agreed to meet for a beer after work. And I was right. And I emailed him afterward and said we were no love connection but that I enjoyed talking with him and hoped the second beer didn’t lead him in the wrong direction. (I even spoke about ways he could improve his dating profile during that second beer.) He wrote back that he wasn’t sure what he wanted—even used the word “confused,”—but said he found himself wanting to have sex with me and the second beverage was an attempt to pave that road.
Pretty much any guy is going to choose the just sex option. Ultimately they may think they want a girlfriend, but getting laid until they find her is fine too. I’m sure many women feel the same way—or maybe they hope sex will turn into love?
On OkCupid you have the following boxes to check: Long-term dating, Short-term dating, Casual sex, or New friends. I can sort for men seeking only Long-term dating. Or I can sort by weeding out any that are seeking Casual sex. Many serial online daters have gotten around this strategy by checking only the New friends box. “New friends” is the new “Casual Sex.” It is code—one that doesn’t take long to crack.
And by the way, everyone has their own answer for what Short-term dating means. I think of it as Long-term dating that didn’t work out. For others, Short-term dating is Casual sex. Longer than a one-night stand, but not a real relationship.
The fact is, no matter what I put in my profile to try to weed out what I don’t want, I get plenty of responses from men who see what they want to see. They like the picture, or they like that I watch Jeopardy! and think, “Now there’s a gal for me!” I may say I want a man who has command of the English language—trying not to sound too negative, of course—but it doesn’t matter. I’ll get replies that are the grammatical equivalent of a grunt.
My profile says I’m looking for long-term only, that I’m looking to grow old with someone. I get a lot of older men writing to me.
Nothing about my profile says I would like to go fishing, but there are plenty of men with fish pictures who write to me. One of them asked me why I was single. I gave him what I deemed a thoughtful reply. “Not enough good guys to go around? Busy single mom? Over 40 with a child? Not picky enough in the past, therefore really picky now? Who can say, in truth, the reason?”
He could be a deep thinker, I thought. All that time spent fishing might be time spent in contemplation. So I asked him if he wouldn’t mind answering a question for me. I asked, “Why is your profile picture one of you holding a fish?” I wanted to see what the thought process was behind the fish profile picture; was it the biggest fish they ever caught, were they hoping to find a fishergal, or was it the only good picture of them taken recently? I got one very choppy paragraph back, full of partial sentences and punctuation nightmares, that I believe was meant to tell me that he very simply loves to fish.
Well I don’t love to fish. To me, fishing would be a waste of time unless I were multi-tasking. Like working on my tan or reading a great book. Or letting my kid fish. Or, okay, spending time with someone I really really liked.
Anyway, fishing aside, I am not meeting people in real life. Fewer as the years go on. A date from two days ago said the same thing. He isn’t meeting people in the real world. I asked if he thought this was due to online dating. He said he had no idea. I see people looking at their smart phones as they walk down the street. Are they on OkCupid right now, I wonder?
One guy on OkC emailed and said he was on the corner of Broadway and Washington when he laughed out loud at something I wrote in my profile.
Alright. I’m glad I made someone laugh out loud. Maybe all this online dating isn’t a waste of time? Or maybe I need to get me to the nearest fishing hole. I am not going to go to bars alone—unless I’m stood up. Ha!
So why not leave my profile up and hope for the best? It’s Pascal’s Wager applied to online dating. Why not believe that love could find me here on the Internet? I may be closer to finding love, but I simply won’t know until I’ve found it.