Monday, August 11, 2008

Matchmaking on the Internets

Would the arrow find me?

Just before summer started, I was having a lovely faux romantic dinner with T at The Park. Me with my risotto, him with his blackened catfish, surrounded by other couples (other faux couples?) taking in the scenery. It was all so...funny. I may have been flicking tiny pieces of lobster at him across the table. He might have been 'accidentally' spilling his water towards me repeatedly. I pity our waitress though we tipped her well.

T's great and all but he is faux. We are too good at arguing with each other. So when he announced that he was taking his annual all-summer trip to Chicago this year I was sad but not disappointed. He asked what I was going to do without him to which I replied: "Find a boyfriend online." His face kind of wrinkled into a frown and then contorted into a disbelieving smile. "Nooooooo," he said. "You?"

The evidence was too good, I retorted. Three out of four of my friends who'd tried the online thing had found success and I was interested in maybe joining those ranks. And while I am a believer that love finds you and not the other way around I am not the most patient flower out there. Plus, I've found everything else in NYC online -- my apartment, my job, my social events -- why not a nice guy?

T ticked off the reasons: I'm too independent (true, though I was willing to commit to sharing!); I'm flaky about setting up dates (also true, I get nervous!); I go for days or occasionally weeks without calling or emailing (wouldn't guys love that?? the opposite of needy!) and I was faux his (ahem). I dismissed his reasoning. Now say nice things about me, I implored. Please. Help me write my profile.

We spent the rest of dinner assembling my selling points and the next weekend day I signed up for BFF M was my trusty advisor helping me to construct a profile that sounded alluring, appealing and realistic. You have to answer some questions about yourself and spend a lot of time describing yourself (kind of a good gut check in a way). Then you set criteria for your match...looks, job, life's all in there. I uploaded a couple of photos (a headshot and a full body shot as recommended), paid some ridiculous fee and then I was set!

It was kind of overwhelming at first. You have your own dashboard, which shows you how many people looked at your profile and all of the peeps that either winked at you or sent you a message. You can search for matches based on your criteria or wait for peeps to contact you. I clicked on a link for some personality test and ended up getting roped into signing up for a second site, I bought 3-month memberships for both sites at a discounted rate.

It was pretty exciting for awhile. Every morning I'd wake up and have 5 or 6 new emails from people either messaging me (match) or interested in me (chemistry). On match we could correspond freely through double-blind messaging while on chemistry we had to go through an annoying 3-step process before we could email each other. In the first week alone I was steadily talking to 2 or 3 guys and I felt kind of weird about it. I felt kind of like the Bachelorette. Was the expectation that everyone online was casually dating? Was it considered bad form to see more than one guy at a time?

A quick check with friends, co-workers and maybe a few random people on the street and the consensus was it's OK to see multiple peeps at the beginning but once you like one commit. OK, easy enough. I went on 3 nice dates and saw 2 of those guys a few times. We'll come back to the 3rd guy later. The 2 guys fizzled out because we weren't as compatible as we seemed. No big deal.

Except that then the twighlight reality zone set in. Some of the guys I met were perfectly content to just email or chat, never to meet me. Some of the guys flaked -- showed interest and then disappeared. Some of the guys were sketch or clearly had...alterior motives. Some guys started cool but I wasn't interested enough to actually meet them (I tried to politely let them know this). I went through a 2-week period where none of my matches interested me.

The sites didn't seem to learn from my rejections, and I HATED that on you couldn't set your preferences to only match you with people who had photos. Seriously, who goes on a dating website with no photos? Worst were the people who said "see my photo after step 4, first meeting." So you can see me but I don't get the same courtesy. One guy's profile was hysterical; it said "I don't play games" but he was one of the wait until x step to see my photo. games except not being able to see what you look like? At the risk of sounding superficial, I need to be able to see you to know if I'm attracted to you. It's not the only thing that matters but it matters.

With 2 of the guys, we set up dates and then they backed out at the last minute (to be honest, I did that once too). One guy just plain stood me up. Oh, and that 3rd guy from above? We had 3 great dates and then he jerked me around for a month. We set dates and he backed out. He would call to apologize and then asked me to wait while his busy season played out. Except he had plenty of time to go out with his buds every night. I don't know what I was thinking with that one. What a jerk.

In total, over the 3-month span my profile was viewed over 1,000 times and about 100 guys made contact with me. The site yielded 4 total 1st dates that actually happened, an additional 3 that didn't and 8 more regular online conversation partners. I went 0-fer when I initially made the contact. Only 1 person actually used the "no thanks" mechanism to reject me. From Chemistry, I had 2 1st dates that actually happned, 2 more that didn't and 2 guys that were regular conversation partners. Five guys rejected me outright, 4 ignored me and I probably rejected about 12 myself. The guys I talked to really did not seem to like when I suggested meeting first.

The experiment ended a couple of weeks ago and I am still talking to 2 of the guys, plus maybe meeting 1 for the first time. My main finding is this: guys online are pretty much just like guys in real life. Some are dependable, some are flaky, some only care about themselves and some just don't care about anything. I didn't find love on the Internets (at least not yet) but I'm no worse off then before I started. The one thing I did notice is that people will say things online -- especially on AIM -- that it would take a lot of balls to say in person. It could be the caliber of guy I was attracting I suppose.

Some weird things happened too. On match I had a few people from across the country wink at me or email me. Also, way too many guys in their late 40s or 50s winking or emailing me, even though I set my max match age to 37.

The lame factor was also there. After I cancelled my memberships, I was still getting matches and winks from both sites. Turns out that you can leave your profile active when you're not paying. The shitty part is that people can contact you but you can't respond in any way. Lame! So someone could show their interest in you but since you can't reject them they're left wondering WTF hasn't this chick responded? Try being on the other side of that coin. After about a week I figured out how to disable my profile on both sites. I'm still getting daily matches from, but I'm just deleting them for now. The experiment was fun, but I prefer the instant gratification of real-life flirting.

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