It Took One Man 3 Websites To See Why Online Dating Is Terrible
Dispatches from New York - Valentines Day Ed.
image courtesy xkcd
So Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and down here at THL Headquarters we’re just as fat, lonely and horny as the rest of you in Cyberspace.
So in the interests of increasing the love in the world, I am venturing foolishly out into the world of online dating once again in the first of several posts for v-day, a holiday I have no idea why anyone outside the greeting card industry cares about.
The concept seems simple enough: rather than a bunch of complex hoops to jump through, in theory there’s just one: come up with a good date idea. People like it? Go do it. The New York Times wrote it up, specifically pointing out how suggestions seem to go through trends: rock climbing one week, tapas (bleh) another. The whole website seems to be as lighthearted as possible, even going so far as to eschew traditional profile sections and instead just asks you basic questions about how you would behave and what stories you’d tell on a first date.
My friend Kira joined but got bored literally within the first hour as most of the dates people proposed seemed lame. Browsing them myself, I can’t say I blame her. Most are pretty pedestrian: food at X, drinks at Y, maybe doing one or two of the interesting hobbies that would be MORE interesting if EVERYONE didn’t do them (hi rock climbing!). Furthermore, no one here seems to have half an idea how to write an interesting sentence. Yes, “go sledding” would be fun, but those two words alone don’t exactly entice? Maybe “defy death by sledding at that rock at Central Park where I totally saw a guy nearly brain himself once.” Please, people: put some oomph into it.
So I put up what was a tried and tested good date: playing pinball at Satellite Lounge and drinking whiskey (neat). Within 24 hours I had 22 people telling me they’re “intrigued” (the H.A.W. version of pokes*) and 2 messages, one apparently from a cougar.
This was when I learned something: the intrigue was free, the messages (both the ability to read them and send them) would cost you at a minimum $20 a month. Now is when it starts to feel less like a fun experience and more like a particularly bad encounter with a drug dealer. The taste is on the house, but the good stuff will cost you.
Over the course of last weekend I also found myself joining EHarmony.
In retrospect I can’t really explain why – there was a link for a deal and I leapt at it. The experience in short: I answered a million multiple choice questions and then got bombarded with more by potential matches whose profiles and pictures I could not view until I paid them. The experience was somehow both futuristic and Victorian yet unquestionably shameful. Like watching Logan’s Run in your underwear while drunkenly eating Froot Loops: not only are there more rewarding ways to spend your time, but there are less humiliating ones as well.
So the deal winds up being identical as to that of H.A.W.: here’s a taste, give us money and maybe you’ll find the woman of your dreams. Or maybe you’ll just meet a lot of crazy people, who the hell knows, but either way we’re going to send you a million emails a day until you pay us.
I start to realize that this isn’t about letting the Internet do my matchmaking for me: it’s about letting commerce do it. These companies have absolutely no interest in my meeting someone but rather getting a subscription fee. They know my shelf life, whether I find someone or give up trying, is at max 6 months.
There are striking resemblances here to The Prisoner’s Dilemma. To wit, you can’t assume anyone among those 22 intrigues or 15 question-posers have actually paid the penny required to exchange a simple sentence with me. You could be “flirting into the void” as OK Cupid once put it, as they estimated nearly 1 Out Of Every 10 profiles on Match.com were not paying subscribers and therefore incapable of responding to messages.
I say “once put it” most poignantly because OkCupid was bought by Match.com recently. This Atlantic article I came across recently puts everything about the marketplace in online dating more poignantly than I ever could and is the source of, or at least verifies, many of the conclusions I’ve drawn from recent experiences above. What the author doesn’t take into account, and for that matter nor do these services, is the fact that the number of people who HAVEN’T tried online dating and are still susceptible to these tricks is quickly dwindling. I’ve already deleted my profiles to HowAboutWe and EHarmony due to the massive spam deluge and a refusal to fall for this again.
So what’s to do? Go back to OkCupid? I probably should before it’s turned into a drooling husk whose sole purpose is to drive subscribers over to Match. The internet seems to have a proud tradition of buying competition merely to destroy it. A continuation of my OKCupid stories (volume 1 here) to come shortly.
*I can’t believe a Facebook poke deserves it’s own F.A.Q. page.