This post has been drafted for a few days, with various bits changed. Truth is, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to post it because I’m not sure how it reflects on me. When I talk about what I’ve done, I didn’t do those things out of desperation although I will admit to a desire to meet people. Part of me got to the stage where I decided to see how much effort I could put in still with little to show for it – it became a bit of a joke with myself. I’m also not looking for the sympathy vote. Providing the back story is simply a way for me to explain my point. As I say at the bottom, I actually had a pretty good result in one sense.
I recently read a Vanity Fair article about online dating and the struggle for equality that it brings in today’s liberal (for better or worse) society. I don’t want to talk about power imbalance between the sexes – I’ve previously tried to give a balanced opinion on feminism and my lack of understanding of it while firmly believing that any unjustified discrimination on any grounds should not have a place anywhere.
Taking out that element of the article, what we were left with was the key point that whatever the “date” or encounter that was arranged, they were readily available – there was a genuine inclination for people to meet each other or be in each others’ presence whatever the reason.
I’ve had two friends who have used online dating to varying degrees and purposes. The first joined match.com. He went on numerous dates, perhaps hedging his bets that if he played the numbers game he would find someone. And he did, and they’ve been married for 18 months. (He literally found himself without a Y chromosome, it’s uncanny).
The second decided to use Tinder and has unfortunately over-shared the “success” he’s had in meeting a particular type of person for one night stands. Now, each to their own, as long as it’s what they both genuinely want, but it made remarkably uncomfortable listening for the majority of us that were present while the conversation was taking place. And I’ll admit, we don’t have any proof of his boasts other than the cream he brought out with him for regular application and the fact that, when we thought he was sending a message to a friend over the curry we were having, he was actually Tinder-ing.
So this brings me to my experience. Any regular readers or people who know me will probably realise by now that I’m single and I would really like not to be. While I realise some people are asexual, I think it naive to think there are levels of intimacy that are not normal between two people who are “just friends”. A romantic night out with the lads won’t work. Cuddling on the sofa with your best mate after a shit day at work is probably crossing a line. I sometimes feel like a “I’m sorry” or a “I hope you feel better soon” hug is too much. But aside from the intimacy, I have this ideal in my head of being able to share special things with someone special away from anything physical. I’m going to trust that people will forgive my lack of eloquence but understand what I mean here. Maybe I watch too many movies.
To date (both in terms of time and attendance), I have tried Match, Match Affinity and eHarmony of the what I would consider “decent” paid for dating sites. On these sites where I’ve paid, I’ve actually even had friends pick out my pictures and help writing profiles. (It would appear that, conveniently, not even my closest friends trust me to create a good first impression)! I know one can pay many hundreds of pounds to be profiled and matched as professionally as such a business will allow. I make it that I’ve now tried 6 different apps which I consider to be much more of a “take it or leave it” thing than anything that requires a computer / money and, therefore, difficulty.
I’ve tried to be honest and I’ve tried to be a cheeky chappy with lots of “banter”. I’ve tried them seriously and I’ve tried them without so much effort. Yes, I’ve done some cutting and pasting of messages where there wasn’t much to go off but a few photos which only really leave you with the opportunity to compliment her on her appearance. But then I’ve also spent an hour writing two lines where I would really, genuinely, have liked to talk to her. I’ve tried cheesy chat up lines, I’ve tried compliments, I’ve tried to ask questions about common interests, I’ve tried combinations of those. And yes, I’ve probably sent messages to people that I would not ordinarily be interested in which, in some aspects, makes me a hypocrite. And I have also sent messages to people that I believe to be out of my league. What I’m trying to say is that I think I’ve tested a number of scenarios. I would say, though, that I didn’t send follow-up pestering e-mails when I got no reply, as I believe can be a common tactic.
The article I read was saying that there are people out there who not only get messages from 3 or 4 different people a night, but actually get 3 or 4 meets a night. Now I’ve lost my figures having worked them out a while ago, but I remember that if I counted all the replies I’ve received from messages I sent on the Match sites (for which I was an active member for probably a year over various periods of time), my rate of reply was 4%. For every 100 messages I sent, I got 4 replies. Four. One of those replies was one woman telling me she wasn’t interested because 12 miles was too long distance. But hey, at least it was a reply. I didn’t once have a conversation initiated by the other party. My 4% were spread across three conversations one of which resulted in a date that I was stupidly nervous about, and another ended in a date in which she actually decided not to bother turning up or ever talking to me again (thus probably not making it a date at all).
I was a member of eHarmony for 4 months and tried to use it as much as possible making a real effort (perhaps blinkered by the advertising blurb about them making a reciprocal effort to match people). Each month they would send me an e-mail containing their statistics about my site usage and non-success compared to their “average” user. They would call it a Progress Report, the implication being that I was getting somewhere. The progress report details the number of “matches you communicated with” and I remember that I, again, got barely any replies. So I would estimate my reply rate on eHarmony to be less than a third of a percent of the people I contacted over a 4 month period. Apparently “successful couples” would communicate with 8 people per month on average. Let’s just say that I was well above that but that I am actually pretty embarrassed by it. I guess anyone so inclined could do some sums.
(NB. The Match figure of 4% takes into account conversations, so message, reply, message, reply etc from the same person. The eHarmony figure is people alone – I didn’t have one conversation. If the Match one was based on the same criteria as eHarmony, the figure would therefore be lower than the 4%).
Of course, the hardest thing about paid dating apps is that not everyone pays. I may have sent my many messages to people who could not read them, but I would never know. So one can spend a night crafting a sonnet of timeless wisdom and beauty that would have made Shakespeare proud (when he wasn’t smoking weed), but unfortunately it becomes a dead letter, never receiving even a cast glance from the beautiful almond shaped eyes for which it was intended. Indeed, it’s even possible for people to be “interested” in you without being a member – a clever tactic from the service provider presumably designed to lure the fence sitters in to parting with their money. For this reason I would usually try to contact people I would see regularly in the “Online Now” search criteria as an indicator of their commitment to subscription fees.
This moves me to the apps. These are much harder to quantify but the headline figures stay the same. The swipe apps allow you to quickly move through large volumes of potential matches relatively quickly. You need to be quite fussy (I believe, although the article I read suggests otherwise) as the algorithms will start to penalise you for spam but still, one could reasonably be showing interest in 20 people a day. Multiply this up over the course of a month, 2 months, half a year, and that’s a lot of people. My record here over the course of longer than I care to imagine (excluding spam and fake profiles) is one conversation where it became apparent that we weren’t on the same wavelength and one (declined) offer of sex from an elderly lady because she liked men with long hair. (NB. The latter was from an app where you don’t have to “match” before talking).
Now I know I’m shy and awkward. I don’t drink and I don’t really talk to anyone who appears to be too drunk when on a night out and some approaches in the street or supermarket do feel a little bit artificial to me. “Hello, I noticed those, umm, tampons you’re buying and, while I have absolutely no use for them whatsoever and have no wish to talk about your requirement for them, I happen to think that you’re really pretty so wanted to talk to you about something (anything) and those tampons and your prettiness were the only thing I could think of before you paid for your tampons and took your prettiness out my life forever. Please don’t call Security. ARGH! MY FACE! I’m sorry. Bye. *cries*” The vast majority of my friends are married, some with children, while the others are in long term relationships, so meeting people in the real world is hard too.
But the point of this post is supposed to be this… The article I read was analysing the feelings of those that achieved various goals, making it sound terribly easy to do that. So think how it makes someone feel reading that article, knowing that 1 out of (let’s exclude the swipe apps and then be generous on me) 250 people even deem you worthy of recognition in the ether, let alone a conversation, the excitement of a date or the commitment of a relationship. I’m not saying that everyone has to make a concerted effort with everyone they get a message from, but a simple and polite turndown can at least provide consolation. It’s like when I screwed up my A-Levels and then opened the newspaper to see commentators saying that exams are getting easier. “How thick must you be to have failed when these are so easy?” or, basically, “How ugly and boring must you be that you can’t even be a hedged bet or an average or [dare I say it] something to just have fun with?” It’s hard to play hard to get when you’re hard to want.
The Vanity Fair article highlighted an issue that was caused or exacerbated by the ease of use of the service. Obviously I’ve spent the last 1500 words trying to say that that’s not my experience, but maybe that’s just me. My opinion is that the services can be easy to use because they give you a mask to hide behind and the ability to think of a reaction. They buy time which gives the ability to influence and mould a situation or a persona to whatever one sees fit, whether that be the attempt to get a date with someone that you think you have enough in common with to make it worthwhile, or whether there are social pressures to hookup with as many people as one can (which is a different subject maybe for another day).
I wonder whether a real life scenario allows that level of influence as it removes the time element. From my experience, when you’ve seen someone with an amazing smile the other side of a room and you want to not screw up talking to her so much that you actually need to spend the next 20 minutes in the toilets composing yourself, you’re pretty much just having to make things up on the fly. Sure, the physical attraction is still there, as is a certain level of preparation that you’ve done based on your appearance – the profile picture element. You can also think of your opening line. But pretty much the rest of it you have to find out for yourself there and then. There’s nowhere to hide. You have to take your dry mouth over there and try to utter something and learn about her. Then when it goes wrong you have to skulk back to your friends and hope you don’t bump into her again before you or her leaves. The online world (I guess whether dating or blogging as a matter of fact) can limit the requirement of being genuine that living by the seat of your pants produces.
So, to the people lucky enough to be worth a chance on their own terms, don’t take for granted what you’re being given. Don’t abuse it, work on it if that’s what it requires and, if it’s not right for either one, leave it with good grace.
Also to the people out there whose profiles I read that are complaining that all they ever get is men asking for one thing or that no-one is ever after anything serious or that some people are more talk than action – I’m sure there are people out there who want the same thing as you. Sometimes it’s just hard to notice the people who might not be so bold.
For the moment anyway, I’m going to delete all my online dating profiles. I don’t have a beard or tattoos so need to come back in fashion and I still don’t understand the purpose of a profile simply stating “Ask me” (despite asking what that meant). Plus a 32 year old man probably shouldn’t be able to recite a Coco Chanel quote because he reads it so often. I don’t regret joining the services because, despite the statistics, I can’t complain. I just don’t think my pride and self-confidence can take anymore of it for now!
In the name of love,
What more in the name of love?
Pride (In The Name Of Love) by U2