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Thursday, 14 February 2013

"... and perhaps more": A useless guide to internet dating failure - Part 2; approaches and assessment

~Part 1~ is here. Or just scroll down, lazy.

It’ll be clear from the first part that these paragraphs are mainly based on the conversations, the note-comparing, the analysis that went on while doing the dating site thing.

So for part two here are some of the recurring key debates for your education and consideration. How fun.


To play it safe or not to play it safe

The obvious thing when starting out on dating sites is to be terribly polite, terribly normal – an eager and interested blank page, like a daytime talk-show host at a business networking event.

This, I discovered, is wrong. Or at least it seemed to be for me – about a month in, one of my fellow dating-siters told me he was despondent about how women just weren’t getting his sense of humour. As soon as he dared say something a bit quirky they did the online-messaging equivalent of a nervous, blank look before disappearing altogether. He resolved to play it safer, keep up the “normal”, at least until they met in person.

But I was in an altogether different place. I’d decided, hell, screw it, if they don’t get my off-kilter asides and dry bon-mots from the off, they never would.

There was a reason for this beyond my own massive ego, mind. I’d spent a while doing the usual bland small talk, and it hadn’t really got me very far after the initial interest. I felt I wasn’t living up to my oh-so witty and self-deprecating profile – and worse, I was boring myself. How come, after a couple of back and forth exchanges to get the basics out of the way, I’ve ended up telling her about my f***ing commute to work, ffs? Why are we discussing things neither of us, quite clearly, give a crap about? This is not a good start.

Then, someone popped up who responded to my (very minimal, as I wasn’t sure I was really interested) initial prod with a distinctly kooky and vaguely sarcastic come back – and that was it. Suddenly I was interested. Never mind the “I do this for work, blah-blah, my commute is long” woman I was talking to, I wanted to talk to this one. There’s fun to be had here, I thought. So I, uh… told her about my commute. But in a way that was funnier. The conversation zipped along, it zinged, it fizzed, she was fun and suddenly things seemed to be happening.

Another time someone else appeared online with what can only be described as an utter piss-take of a profile - all “My hobbies include having feelings of self-loathing over baked beans” and “I hate to travel – who doesn’t, right?” and I was instantly smitten, even though she was too far away to be a realistic option.

Now, I suppose if you’re a hot female you can get away with being a bit more “out-there” than if you’re just some average-looking bloke like me – but all the same it was not lost on me that the people who stood out and got my interest were the people who played it light, honest and slightly knowing (ie piss-takey), and I resolved to be the same. It was simply a lot more fun than all this earnest “let’s compare notes and see if we’re suitable life-partners” stuff. And I got a lot further with it – that was very much a game I could play.

To facebook-friend or not to facebook-friend

On the one hand it would seem to save a lot of time and effort – why not invite ‘em into your everyday social media world? But it’s a massive, massive gamble, because, if you’re a regular user like me, you will have put a hell of a lot of yourself online and that’s going to be a hell of a lot for someone to take in all at once.

Rather than the natural slow drip-feed of getting to know each other, it’s like slapping each other with a family photo album of embarrassing pictures, forthright opinions and stupid in-jokes with friends, which is just as likely to alienate as endear. I was naively confident that I’d appear like a witty, interesting man doing interesting things with witty friends on the ‘book. But to a complete stranger with no context whatsoever, who the hell knows what it would look like? You may know your social-media self is but a warped caricature of you, but they will not. And who knows what state the constantly changing stream of nonsense will be in when they check it?

One of my friends (an artist with a love the female form) quickly regretted doing the “hey, find me on facebook” thing when it dawned on him what this poor, innocent woman had been faced with: “When asking girls you met on dating sites to find you on facebook, remember not to have a friends list full of burlesque dancers, lots of pictures of women in the nip and a status with the phrase 'If in doubt whip it out'. Needless to say, she hasn’t added me,” he said.

Nevertheless, maybe it’s not such a terrible thing. It’s a good test – if she’s still interested after clicking through your horrible photos and boggling at the oddball content of your wall, then that’s a pretty good sign.

And at least it’s even – you can see hers too. That can help you establish things like x) you may have no idea how you would fit into her life, but y) she says some funny things and is clearly not a hideous idiot, and z) most importantly she has a good ratio of good pictures to bad, so on balance she probably is actually hot in real life. Pursue.

To message much or not to message much

On balance, it’s probably best to meet up ASAP, and not a good idea to spend too long chatting online first.

Because it’s sad but true that, no matter how amazingly you think you get along in text, you simply never know how that will translate face-to-face.

On the one hand it’s not completely useless – if you’ve spent a couple of weeks chatting, laughing, and flinging information and observations at each other, you will at least know there is something there to build on. On some level you get each other and can communicate. And being someone who “writes”, I’m fairly comfortable and confident about coming across well in that medium.

But I’m aware I can also get ahead of myself – it can take a while for me to realize what I think is a terribly witty and zinging conversation is actually mostly me amusing myself and her just making (possibly bored) encouraging noises. I can happily carry on “hilarious banter” with just myself, really. All she needs to do is pop her head into the room and go “uhuh” and “haha” now and again. With no face and body language to tell you, you can think your material is going down better than it is.

And people often have different personas in writing to in person, it never completely prepares you for the sometimes jarring meet-up in the flesh. No matter how much you have been messaging, nor how many pictures you have seen, people are never quite the same as you imagined – mannerisms, voice, attitude and all. You are then faced with a weird decision to make – you knew you fancied the person you thought they were, but do you fancy the person they actually are?

It can be a bit deflating when your new exciting love interest of the past few weeks turns out to be a figment of your imagination. So because of this, I decided, along with prevailing wisdom, that maybe chat should always be kept to an absolute minimum – in fact if it wasn’t for stupid society and its stupid conventions, I’d happily wade right in with “When are we meeting up then? Day, time, place, let’s go, I ain’t got time to f*** about.”

Which is kind of what one woman did to one of my fellow dating-siters. After they “liked” each other she told him she was no good at web-chat and they should immediately set a date. A bit functional maybe, but refreshingly bullshit-free, no messing about, no false hopes raised, all done and dusted with the minimum of fuss. There’s a lot to be said for that.

But there’s a downside to that also, he pointed out – it puts massive pressure on the date itself. At least when you’ve done plenty of web-chat leg-work you feel like you’ve properly given each other a chance. You can be satisfied you’re not just making a decision based on an hour or so of awkward random first-meeting small-talk, which may be grossly misrepresentative if, for whatever reason, you’re not on form on the day.

It’s got to be said, if much messaging is done first, it makes for a much more easy and relaxed first meeting – as you already know each other a bit and you’ve got topics of conversation up and running. It’s pretty safe that you’ll get on ok and it won’t be horrible, romantic future or no. Maybe a quick meet up over a drink, with no little or no foreplay, is the quickest, easiest, most practical solution – but I can’t help feeling it’s missing something, and just not enough.

To big date or small date?

Though saying that, I’m in two minds. When I first entered into it I was keen to go all out - dinner, drinks, days out; zoo, art gallery, hill walking, whatever – maybe break the mold I thought, be inventive, have new experiences. But I must say as time has gone on I have downgraded to a more cautious “coffee is probably fine”.

The reason for that is just the realization that really, all you want is the chance to talk a bit, establish you are not weirdos, see if there’s any spark, and that’s it. Anything is else is just (possibly expensive) dressing, additional pressure, and doesn’t necessarily help.

As one friend commented on part one (you can go check): “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 coffee and chat nervously for a bit.” That's advice that I should really, probably take, probably. Really.

Another friend insists that a first date should never last longer than an hour, but I don’t necessarily agree with that. Maybe you should not plan for longer than an hour, but if you get on, who knows? In my (ok, limited) experience the best dates are the ones that linger, that become an adventure, that neither of you want to end – obvious, really, but you can’t plan for that. One of my friends famously had a 36 hour first date. Or a 10 year one, she says, because she never really went home again.

The truth is there is clearly no “right way” to have a date. Everyone responds differently to different things. If you get on and the will is there, whatever you do is likely to be charming and fine. If you don’t, or it isn’t, you’ll blame it on all sorts of things. It’s alchemical. Who can say?


So how successful was I? And how do I feel about it now? Well, I’m not hearing no wedding bells anywhere in the near, or even distant future, let’s put it that way. I think I have exhausted the pool on the site that I’m on – having gone with one of the less mainstream sites, the volume of people is not massive, and nor is the turnover.

Part of the problem is living in a small provincial town. You do a search for people including the nearest city and you get pages and pages of eligible types. You narrow it to 25 miles around where you live and there are, like, 10 – three of whom you recognize as people you already know. You quickly work out you may have to travel if you want to get a date.

When I first signed up I was getting a lot of interest, but that seems to have tailed off dramatically – mainly because I’ve seen everyone and everyone’s seen me and who’s interested in who (or otherwise) is now already kind of settled. I’ve reached stalemate. I’m now just waiting for new people to show up to pounce on. But I have also kind of lost interest, in a been-there-done-that kind of fashion, and of course, with these sites you only get out what you put in.

But it’s been an experience, and a confidence boosting, perspective changing one – at least I’ve felt like I’ve tried (a bit), encountered some interesting people along the way, and learnt quite a lot about other people’s attitudes, hopes and fears with regards to romance and dating. I don’t feel anywhere near as odd and isolated as I did, now secure in the first-hand knowledge that a massive amount of people out there are all struggling with exactly the same thing.

“So what’s the next step?” asked a friend of mine (who swiftly and happily met his partner of the best part of year on such a site).

“My next step?” I said, pausing for thought. “Well, die alone, I ‘spose,” I told him.

But I didn’t mean it. Maybe I’ll try a different site. Or maybe, what the hell, make a tiny bit more effort in the real world.

~end Part 2~ 


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  2. I am a reformed internet dater. 1/There's just no point unless you're in London or Bristol or Manchester. 2/It's all back to front - you get to know them before you see them. 3/So much gets read into profiles, I'm guilty of it myself, and yet mine would be completely different if I wrote a new one every day. 4/You can't smell them - and it's all about chemicals at the end of the day..

  3. Having 'been there, done that, still doing it' I enjoyed your posts.

    It's comforting that anyone with a modicum of intelligence soon reaches similar conclusions when it comes to online dating. I think Mr James Smith above (well met sir) has hit the nail on the head, location changes everything.

    In the huge, predominantly anonymous , frenetically paced, culturally diverse, bulging at the seams with singletons city of London where I find myself, online dating has found its ideal breeding ground.

    It serves as a way to make an introduction, nothing more, nothing less, and when you're in an environment where there's an infinite number of fun and easy ways to spend an hour or two, casually chatting over the fluff of life, it works very well.

    I've not found a wife mind you, but I have had chats, flings, 'liasions' (ahem) and some decent dates. What's more important, I have definitely made friends, as in real friends, who I would now meet up with to do stuff, with it barely registering that we met through a website.

    Outside of a city I can see it must be a whole different ball game. But if you live in one of these towns (as you do) where the size and population means you can, you know, chat to more folk, get to know the locals, all that shit, then surely that's better for your 'chances' in the long run.

    If for example you were living in some remote, windswept, sheep-farming community in god-knows-where, with zero chance of outsiders entering the fray, then your romantic dreams and aspirations would be humbled by brute fact. You either marry one of the perhaps dozen single girls in the community, or you die childless and your community dwindles to nowt, condemning your culture to the historical void. So you'd pick one, any one, the one you are least repulsed by in all likelihood, and that would be that.

    It's only in our insane times where finding true love with a partner has become the holy grail of existence and seen as an inalienable human right that we have the front to go about choosing, and picking and selecting! And I do believe that ultimately dating sites operate on a very clear 'shopping for people' model, it's unavoidable that they all end up this way.

    So my recommendation (not that I follow it myself all the time mind you) is to fuck the system, be disciplined to genuinely not seek ANYTHING other than a friend, and try and make a new friend from it.
    And who knows, that friend may have a friend, who has a friend who has a friend etc. The wisdom of this is summed up in one thought - imagine that anyone you date may be the person who introduces you to your lifelong partner. I like that (although don't take the piss with it and start each date by asking 'so, any hot mates?!'

  4. ***POSTED ON BEHALF OF GWEN (I agreed because she said nice things at the end)***

    Gwen says: In my experience it works but i agree you have to put quite a lot of effort in to get some good results. I followed the same journey as you did, going through the 'chatting-on-line' for too long and getting my bubble burst at the first 5 min of meeting the guy (urgh, not prince charming then?) so then i went for 'let's-meet-for-a-coffee-and-talk-some-more' technique. Not only did i find out very quick that chemistry is a bitch and more often than not, doesn't turn-up at the rendez-vous, but also, men lie!! (well i never) often lie about their heights?! (excuse given many times: oh i don't understand metrics') or by publishing photos from at least 5 years ago, like we wouldn't notice d'oh! (excuse given: i didn't have any recent ones...)
    Anyways, going on dates is a wonderful experience. For once it takes you out of the house... and second you get to learn a lot about yourself whilst trying to meet that special love interests.By that i mean that you actually get to see if what you think you're after or what you thought you wanted is actually what you really need. You're right, the profiles are bullshit. The key steps to browsing through them are: 1 - photo - do i like? tick - next: 2 - does he/she sound like a total twat? nope - ok next: 3 - send a brief 'funny' message to catch the attention of that little fish... If they take the bet you successfully reached step 4 - arrange to go on a coffee date asap. Chemistry will decide if it's a 5 min out of your life deal oe a happily ever after kinda deal. AND very important, remember to always be yourself/ That's how you do. In this sense, the more people you meet the better because there's a lot of 'no goes' out there but sometimes 1 person proves everyone else wrong and bingo you've got a winner. I met my man on Internet site (I like to shop online hehe). I didn't want a city boy who just likes football and goes for pints with the lads... And, as you know, many train tickets later we're still together! Don't give up and keep looking. Your special lady is hard to find because she's extra special... What else would you expect for a fine lad like you? :)

  5. My experience of internet dating was: guys I messaged first never messaged me back and guys who messaged me first were either obese ubergeeks (attracted by my own geekiness, but drowning it in levels of geekdom I didn't even know existed), psychos (who talked about how much they hated their father/loved their mother as the opening line of their profile) or the most boring person in the world (who clearly hadn't even read my profile). Or worst of all, people I kind of knew in real life. And for every nice message I received, I got one that was just random abuse. So I gave up after a month. That was free sites though. I believe paid sites are probably better but I can't afford to sign up to those.

  6. When I joined a dating site, I used the header 'curmudgeonly mercenary bore seeks willing scapegoat,' and that got me a lot of attention from, pleasingly enough, guys who did get my humour...