Every status update since the dawn of Thomas


Sunday, 10 February 2013

"... and perhaps more": A useless guide to internet dating failure - Part 1; attitude and actuality

I AM very sorry, but no, I am not going to dish any details. That’s what you were expecting, wasn’t it? Well, tut. Bad reader, naughty reader. Too many people I know will read this (including, possibly, people I met on such sites) and, I mean to say, it’d be pretty ungentlemanly and bad form to kiss and tell like that. Which is convenient, of course, as it hides the fact that there isn’t a hell of a lot to kiss and tell about, but still…

No. The focus of this post is on the experience of using the sites themselves – hopefully a useful glimpse for those considering, a knowing nod-along for those using, and a voyeuristic laugh for those who have never had to (smug, self-satisfied bastards).

Anyway, yes, I recently gave it a go. This is what I found.


Sign up

I signed up around the middle of last year. In theory I wasn’t against it – I have three or four friends who have met long-term partners that way, and another who seemingly has a regular turn-over of *ahem* “intimate friends” from dating websites.

But before I’d always reacted with quiet seething and dark mutterings when anyone suggested the idea. I’m a terribly vain and proud man. Going on a dating site is a bit like announcing to the world that… well, you’ve failed to “just meet” “someone special” like the normals apparently do; like admitting you apparently can’t just wander into a bar and enchant (or even find) the woman of your choice, and quite frankly, you might need a bit of help.

One thing that stopped me before was the idea of people I knew finding my dating profile. I wouldn’t even need to know they had – just the idea made me cringe (again, terribly vain and proud). Another was that when I’d flirted with the idea before I found myself having to fill in all these endless questions that I felt did not represent me – and threw my rattle out of the pram in resentment, spitting “f*** you, trying to put me in box!” at a small screen, on my own, in my bedroom. Terribly, terribly vain and pr… you get the idea.

But a change in personal circumstances at the start of last year made me keenly aware of just how little effort I had got used to making, and that maybe I was odd like that. Suddenly people around me seemed to be getting all pro-active and signing up to such sites themselves, and it became a topic of conversation. It was in the air. It was zeitgeist. It suddenly seemed intriguing, enticing and exciting rather than weird and desperate, something to be a part of, and I was carried along with it.

Let’s do it! Damn right! I thought. I was fed up of just hanging around waiting for the right person to show up. I’d become like a panda, getting off my arse to show some romantic interest in someone perhaps once every 18 months, then going back to grumpily chewing bamboo and ignoring the wider world when it went tits up. No more – get amongst it, Thomas.

Take it Lightly

Of course, the real reason was that on a furtive, curious, preliminary browse, I saw someone I liked and thought I MUST HAVE HER. She was a nurse, had a lovely, gentle, warm smile and a willowy, curvy figure, and she lived in my town. I signed up, gritted my teeth through the interminable put-me-in-a-box questions, clicked on “interested” and - imagine it - winked at her. I have never winked at a strange woman in real life. Largely because I think it’s a pretty creepy thing to do, mind, but still. I think I sent her the obligatory “Hi, I liked your profile blah blah blah,” for good measure. “My god, it’s that easy!” I thought, and went to bed happy, thinking “…and we’re off!”

I got home from work the next day to find she had checked me out and… completely ignored me. My friend called up. I told him what I had done, he was impressed “Well done,” he said, “so what do you reckon to it?”

“F*** it! That’s it! She can’t even be bothered to answer back! Women obviously hate me! There is NO ONE ELSE on there I fancy. I’m done!” …was a brief summary of my response.

To which he (a man of slightly more dating website experience) said: “You can’t treat it like that – if you take it that personally it will kill you – you’ve got to see it as a bit of fun, you’re just window shopping, meeting people, seeing where it goes. Take it lightly. Have fun with it.”

He was, of course, very right – taking it lightly is the key to it. I re-wrote my profile with a light touch, and soon was a getting a rather pleasing amount of interest, that was indeed pretty ego-boosting.

My friend then decided maybe he should make another concerted effort and signed up. He did a systematic sweep of everyone nearby that he vaguely fancied and sent out 15 first-contact messages in one go - which to my ears sounded a bit over-egged with info (by that stage I’d learnt to keep it brief). I know this because he read it out to me. I say "it" because all 15 messages were identical, cut and paste, except for one final line such as "Oh, and I see you like kittens, I like kittens too" to add that authentic personal touch. The next day only four people had read his messages and only one had responded; and they said “thanks but no thanks”.

And he told me: “F*** it! That’s it! Women obviously hate me! I’m done!”

Which just goes to show we all get caught up in it, against our better judgment, and I had to respond: “You can’t treat it like that – if you take it that personally it will kill you – you’ve got to see it as a bit of fun, blah blah. Take it lightly.



Just Like Real Life

So how does meeting someone online compare to real life? Well, at first it seems massively liberating. You can happily browse all these people (although you have to accept they will know you have been looking – though that’s also liberating in a way). You can “wink” or “like”, and of course, you can message.

Everyone knows what you are there for, so there’s no “How do I switch from small talk to asking her out?” moment. The pressure is off – just going “Hi” is basically saying “I think I might want to either a) take you to dinner and/or b) have sex with you.

This is a real weight off the shoulders, and takes a lot of embarrassment and sting out of the process. There’s no public shame of being watched by others as you oh-so-casually sidle up to her and spew up your version of “I really like your hair”, “Ssssssssaaaaayyyy, baby!” or “DUHYOULIKEMUSIC?”, and you don’t have to see the look of dead-eyed contempt on her face as she pointedly turns away and ignores you. Plus, you don’t have to feel guilty about ignoring anyone trying it on with you who you’d rather wouldn’t – that’s the nature of it.

Great stuff. But once the novelty of this newfound openness and freedom wears off, you realize it’s not so different to real life after all. The amount of conversations that just dry up and go nowhere makes you realize you’re still doing the online equivalent of sitting down next to a girl and chatting for a bit until one of you gets bored and goes away. People very much are window shopping, and not all of them are particularly serious about taking things further.

What’s interesting, though, is how much more even it is – I found myself much more likely to flirt around with multiple people at a time, some whom I was more interested in than others, in a way I never would in real life. And instead of being crippled with worry about whether my hair looked ok or I was being funny enough in the presence of this divine creature, I’d be all calm control, dryly assessing “Is she interesting? Do I really fancy her?” like I was George f***king Clooney.

But one thing’s for sure – while a lot of the bullshit drops away, internet dating makes you shallow. I’m aware I have fancied people in the flesh who I haven’t necessarily thought that hot in photos; or who, on paper, I shouldn’t really get along with, but somehow, in the flesh, something clicks. But here you are analyzing four pics and concluding “funny nose”; and browsing a handful of self-report “facts” and sneering at their love of R’n’B and that they’re a dog person not a cat person, so that’s it, it’ll never work, let’s move on. You know you’re doing it. But you still do it. Which is why the profile is so essential…

Other People’s Profiles

No matter how acceptable and mainstream online dating has become, browsing these sites can still make you feel like a desperate weirdo – either because 1) you are like other people on there or 2) you’re not like other people on there. You can’t win.

Of course, there are quite a lot of distinctly odd and alarming types who pop up, and as one of my friends put it, you start to think “Am I odd and alarming too, and I just don’t see it? Have I tragically messed up my youth and now this is what I’m left with? Are these my people now?” The scary thing is, the answer is probably a resounding “yes”.

At the same time you can browse and browse and find no one at all with whom you feel a remote kinship or compatibility, and that can be a very dispiriting and isolating feeling.

Sure, people are savvier than to put utterly pointless tripe like “I like having fun and going out”, but there are a whole new set of clichés for the internet generation, and a massive amount of profiles are depressingly identikit.

I grew so sick and tired of reading about people’s travel aspirations that it started to make me properly angry. Rather than making me think “Oh, hey, yeah, wouldn’t it be wonderful to jet off to Peru and climb Machu Picchu together?” I’d be more likely to think “Jeez, give it a rest, we all want to travel more, already, but give me a break, it’s finding the time and money and everything and STOP OFF-LOADING ALL YOUR ASPIRATIONAL DAYDREAMS ON ME WE’VE ONLY JUST MET GODDAMIT.”

And everyone keeps banging on about how they “love life” which presumably is supposed make you think being with them must be the most fun anybody has ever had in the history of having fun. Actually it just makes them sound either i) desperate to appear exciting or ii) self-satisfied. Or both. Well good for you, I’d think, you don’t need me hanging around bringing the party down then.

For the record, y’know, I kind of like life too. I’m certainly not keen on stopping doing it. And I kind of resent the implication that if your life isn’t one massive gap-year party, and you don’t like f***ing dancing, then you’re somehow ANTI-LIFE. Everyone seems to be constantly backpacking around the globe, taking up extreme sports, spending every weekend at festivals, jumping out of aeroplanes… it sounds exhausting. They can’t possibly be doing all this stuff all the time. Or do these people have more hours in their day than the rest of us?

It’s not that I wouldn’t want to do any of these things but, cripes, I don’t want to feel like I’d have to sign up to all that just to get a second date… Does no one just want to just, y’know, hang out? Kick about, have some drinks and some chat, get something to eat, see a film maybe?

But those life-loving profiles are the more competent ones. Many are little more than a cringe-worthy catalogue of a person’s pretensions about themselves, with glib assertions about how generous, ker-ay-zee or spiritual they are (but little evidence that’s based on anything resembling self-reflection or self-awareness).

Then you get profiles that are a list of demands and no-nos “I’m *this type* person so you’ve got to do/be like this…” or “I don’t want a guy who (reels off 10 commandments)…”. Well, sheesh, that’s romantic, that’s fun, that’s enticing.

And a surprising amount are just plain weird and baffling, to the extent you think “How would anyone arrive at the conclusion that that was a good thing to say?” or “Why would you upload a dingy, off-centre shot of you pissed up and scowling in a comedy fright-wig in your en-suite toilet as your profile pic?”

Strangely, though, this is rather encouraging. I mean – face to face, you tend to presume attractive people are automatically socially competent, even if they’re morons. You presume if they find you odd and boring, it’s because you are odd and boring, not them. But a quick browse of the dating sites is revelatory – the vast majority of people, including the very attractive, are pretty rubbish at knowing how to present themselves. They are every bit as full of oddities, insecurities and self-delusion as you are. In fact, compared to these losers, you’re a figure of charm, confidence and suavity. Albeit a lonesome, isolated figure of charm, confidence and suavity.

So at least you've got that knowledge to keep you warm as you sob into your cold pillow alone at night. Um.

~end Part 1~

Will post Part 2; approaches and assessment on Valentine's Day. I'm sure you'll have nothing better to do.  


  1. Personally, I'm always a bit curious about the analytics behind OKCupid, a site that works with "science" in so far as you answer potentially hundreds of questions and it identifies who answers in a way that matches yours. The "fun" comes in the results they get from the data set and which they discuss on their blog.

  2. Yeah, too many questions kills the sexy mood. You can tell much, more about compatibility from just reading what people say about themselves, anyway - not just the content, but how they see themselves, express themselves, view the world and what evidence there is of their sense of humour etc etc.

    Or so I say. But actually, seriously, WTF do I know?

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  4. Good bloggage.

    It's so strange that Internet dating has become the norm. I met my wife in a chat room ten years ago. It wasn't the norm back then. It baffled most people we told.

    I reckon the trick to Internet dating is to keep the emphasis on dating. You're not choosing a life partner there and then, you're just asking someone to grab a cup of coffee and chat nervously for a bit.

    Take the profiles with a pinch of salt. It's alien to try to capture one's essence in a bite sized profile, as you say, most people will equally inept. So just arrange dates. You'll probably have to sit though loads of dates which would never lead to anything but it's a numbers game. You'll click with someone eventually. Or not.

  5. Good point Ant. It's not really fair of me to have a go at other people's uncertain, faltering attempts to sell themselves on the romantic market (especially when I've not exactly seen amazing success myself) or to judge people too closely on them, when I know full well what a struggle it was for even a wordy mutha like myself to write something I was vaguely ok with on mine. A pinch of salt indeed.