Monday, April 15, 2013

My Life Online: Close Encounters



So my last post, admittedly, was a bit of a low point in my quest for a digital relationship. I lost sight of the prize, letting my own frustrations dampen my resolve.

But, as they say in theater, "The Show Must Go On!" and as The Doors said in Light My Fire, "The Time To Hesitate is Through!" After the crushing defeat of my last post, I decided to redouble my efforts in the online dating game and am happy to report that it yielded results, but more on that later.

Drawing from the knowledge I gleaned from my ill-advised business minor in college, I knew that with little demand for my product (in this case, me) I could either close up shop entirely or extend my breadth and depth by diversifying into the marketplace. So, as March came to a close I added two free online dating services and the mobile app Tinder to my tapestry of digital romance, while also recommitting a can-do attitude to my original, niche online dating service (hint: it's not WomenBehindBars.com).

What I've increasingly come to realize is that in a nutshell, free dating sites are digital wastelands of human depravity, while subscription-based sites are just depressing.
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In you haven't yet heard of Tinder, you will. It is the new hot app sweeping across college campuses around the country in which users are presented with the photograph of another human being and asked to swipe right if they're interested and swipe left if they're not. If two people express a mutual interest, it creates a "match" (tinder + match = fire. Get it?) and ships the two users into a private chat for the purposes of arranging a rendezvous.

It really is that simple, cutting down the noise of online dating to its most basic visual elements and allowing you the satisfaction of rejecting dozens of your peers in quick fashion from the safety of your home. There's no awkward requirement to describe your hobbies and personality in paragraph form. There's no questionnaires about how you would rate your own self-confidence or whether you are a morning or night person. And, best of all, there's no possibility of being asked by a stranger how you take your ice cream unless you've already registered your approval of their appearance.

But Tinder, as addictive as it is, paints a worrisome picture of the future of online dating. The same ease of entry it presents undermines the essential elements that drove people online in the first place. All the literature I've read on the app (which is more than you would think) suggests that the majority of women who use it have absolutely no intention of ever meeting or even speaking to the men they "like" and in the best case scenarios, it's little more than a way for urban adults to meet up for casual sex.

It's success (which is rabid) will likely lead to the Tinder-ization of many online dating programs, and while I never thought I would find myself defending the medium it is unfortunate that as the stigmas fall and the online format becomes more mainstream, all of the hangups and annoyances of modern romance that drove people online in the first place will become digitized. What was once intended as a respite from the superficiality of bar-scene hookups and a way to get to know someone on an intellectual level prior to a physical first impression has now given way to the same snap judgements and cat-calling of the real world.

I believe we will look back at the arrival of Tinder as the day online dating became "cool." So on the one hand congratulations, we've arrived, and on the other hand it's probably time for the hipsters to jump ship.

In it's worst and often-ridiculed form, online dating is largely an additional medium through which men can objectify women with the hope of a quick score. One blogger put this to the test to hilarious results, in which she created a false online persona to see how crazy she had to act before men would stop trying to shag her. The answer? Very.
"In fact, Marla's favorite movies — Free Willy and Monkey Trouble — made frequent appearances in her interactions with men who still wanted to bang her even after she called them "wanksta" or that she'd accidentally killed her boyfriend because he forgot the safe word. They didn't care that she reported her day to be terrible because she found out that she just ran into a friend who had syphilis. They didn't care that she was bummed out about having to pay to taxidermy the hamster that her cat had killed, or that she was upset that her cat had died after eating her pet poisonous Amazon frogs." Jezebel.com
And it's not just women who have reason to utter a collective groan. For the few sincere, relationship-seeking men in the world, online dating is now one more medium in which beautiful women claim to want a nice sensitive guy but reject his advances in lieu of the basketball player/surfer/warewolf. In the meantime he's under a burden to prove he is more than an online predator while also dodging the increasingly real possibility that the woman he's pursuing online is Manti Teo's dead girlfriend.

For example, I recently came across a woman, screen name MadiWolff, on OkCupid who's profile picture was that of a blond in a tank top bending over at the waist to make sure the web cam had a mostly unobstructed view of her naval. In her description, she make it clear that she was looking for someone to have sex with. How you ask? By writing "I'm only on this website to find people to have sex with. Seriously, I love sex and I'm not afraid to say it."

Under the "Things I'm Good At" heading she responded "sex" and under the "Six Things I Couldn't Live Without" heading she listed 1. Sex 2. Sex 3. Sex 4. Sex 5. Sex and 6. Sex, with a smiley face emoticon on the last one to really drive the point home.

In January, a story made the rounds about a Brooklynite who had created a fake OkCupid profile to lure the thief who had stolen his iPhone. After pretending to be a 24-year-old woman named Jennifer and a few rounds of flirting, the thief agreed to meet up for a bottle of wine, at which point the phone was restored to its rightful owner.

Or there was this recent story on Huffington Post about how some 70 idiots at BYU were lured to a FroYo shop on the invitation of a fake Tinder profile. One single message saying "meet me for Froyo" and a smiley face emoticon was all it took. No questions asked.

Now for all I know, MadiWolff was an actual flesh-and-blood female who just wanted to have herself some sex. I suspect she was a similar type of online specter (referred to as a "catfish" in internet parlance) and would've posted a screen grab of her profile here for your enjoyment but it appears she no longer exists. Surprise, surprise.

But, now that I've bored you with my analysis of modern dating I suppose I should probably tell you about the date I went on this week.

Returning to the well of my original niche dating website (hint: It's not CougarLife.com), I encountered Tess (not her actual name) who had actually engaged me in conversation about who I preferred between Batman or Superman -- Batman, natch.

After a few exchanges with Tess, through which I learned that she was from Oregon, would select Telekinesis as her superpower of choice and would prefer to lose her sense of smell if one of the big five had to go, I suggested that we meet up and chat over a hot beverage. She accepted, passing me her number, and the date was set.

We met on a Tuesday night at a local haunt renowned for its delicious hot chocolate. Yes, I felt like a 12-year-old taking a girl out for cocoa, but this stuff is seriously amaze-balls.

In my entire life I've only been on two blind dates and so I'm in no way versed in the appropriate arrival behavior when you don't know your date from Eve. I found myself almost paralyzed by the question, feeling that I had to do something even though a hug felt like overkill and a handshake would be anathema. Luckily she arrived immediately after me and I was able to remove the threat by holding open the door (or using it as a shield, depending on perspective).

We ordered our libations and found a seat beneath a photograph of the store's owners sheltering themselves from what appeared to be chocolate rain by an umbrella. This detail isn't pertinent to the story, other than the fact that I found it extremely distracting as I attempted to carry on a conversation with Tay Zonday stuck in my head.

I learned further that Tess works on campus, practices Karate, has lived in Utah for 7 years, is studying exercise science and has been a member of our mutual niche online dating web site for only two weeks. We covered the usual first-date basis -- work, school, family, books, movies, hobbies, other -- sipped hot cocoa for about an hour and then called it a night. I was careful to not tell her my last name in attempt to avoid her finding me on facebook and, by extension, this blog post; but she knows where I work and my first name, which would be enough for anyone determined to find me online, especially since I exist on the internet in a greater capacity than I do in the real world (I can't decide whether that's depressing or not).

I learned several things from this experience. First, that I tend to present the gayest version of myself on first dates, like how I enjoy a cup of Rooibos tea in the morning, how I'm a lover of musical theater, how the thing I miss most about new york is a Broadway-themed sing-a-long piano bar in the Village whose primary clientele is single turtleneck-wearing gentleman and how I have a very strong relationship with my mother. At the time all of those statement made sense but looking back I'm not sure it's completely indicative in the aggregate.

Second, I re-learned that dating doesn't have to be death. I have no intention of seeing Tess again but it was a altogether painless and relatively painless evening nonetheless. Who knows, if I were to ever actually meet a girl I was interested in, this could almost be fun.

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