Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My Life Online: Love Me Tinder

I came across a troubling report the other day. Online-dating website WhatsYourPrice.com had used Google Analytics to calculate the amount of time people in particular U.S. cities spend evaluating online dating profiles.

On April 30, the site released a press released titled "Salt Lake City Ranks 1st Among 'Most Superficial Cities in America'", which included the impressive statistic that Utahns spend a whopping 7.2 seconds deciding whether to interact with or callously dismiss another human being.
"Salt Lake City members clearly value physical appearance above all other profile information," says Brandon Wade, Founder and CEO of WhatsYourPrice.com. "One cannot possibly determine dating potential in only 11.5 seconds. Evidently, superficial factors such as looks and income influence attraction when Salt Lake City members browse profiles."
Of course, Wade was actually being generous by confusing the 11.5-second average of Louisville, Kentucky with SLC's 7.2. Also in case you're interested, the rest of the top 5 are Portland with 7.7 seconds, Houston with 8.3 seconds, Chicago with 8.6 seconds and D.C. with 9.8 seconds (at least it's not just a Red State thing).

Now, this is a problem for two reasons: 1) I just so happen to live in Salt Lake City at the moment and 2) My well-documented failures in the dating arena would suggest I am not what most people would describe as "conventionally attractive."

Obviously this report is less than scientific and should be taken with a huge grain of salt. That said, do I personally agree with WhatsYourPrice.com that Salt Lake City (and Utah by extension) is among the most, if not THE most, shallow places in the country?

Emphatically, yes. Which is why it does not surprise me that the mobile dating app Tinder has done gangbusters businesses in Utah since its launch in October.

I described Tinder briefly in my last post but in a nutshell, the app presents a user with a photograph of someone in their geographical area and asks them to swipe right if their interested or swipe left if their not. Should two individuals independently approve of one another, a "match" is created, whisking the two would-be lovers to a private chat room where they can exchange pleasantries and contact information.

The app seemed to arrive in Utah via Brigham Young University (the global epicenter of superficiality) before quickly spreading through the Wasatch Front and eventually seeping into the farthest reaches of the Beehive State. I recently took a trip to rural Grand County (home to Arches National Park and the world-famous Slickrock Bike Trail) and had no shortage of profiles to ogle/reject.

That's right, baby doll! I'm on Tinder. And I love it.

As I've written (ad nauseam, potentially) online dating is an awful experience, consisting of unpleasant conversation, laborious self-promotion and a seemingly endless routine of checking various profiles to little or no avail. You're little more than a fisherman at the end of a Los Angeles pier, spending the long, hot day maintaining 12 hooks in the water while the only action you get on your line is occasionally snagging the drifting corpse of a gangland victim, thrown at you by the indifferent current.

And lest we forget, you're probably paying for the luxury of participating in this grand social experiment, which also puts online dating into that dubious category of businesses that get rich off their customers failure, like weight watchers or nicotine patches. The longer I remain a romantic misfit the more money I'll end up paying to the design-inept overlords of my niche online dating service (Hint: it's not SinglesWithFoodAllergies.com).

So I press on, adjusting the keywords in my search criteria and scrutinizing my profile photos for greatest appeal despite feeling like I'm doing little more than wasting time.

Contrast that which Tinder, which is an addictive way to kill time. No need to describe my interests, hobbies, musical preferences and income level (phew). No need to plant my flag in the perpetual cats vs. dog debate or anticipate the number of children I one day hope to sire. All I need is four decent photos of myself culled from Facebook, a catchy tagline ("Writer, Biker, Ukulele Player") and I'm off to the races, casually browsing a veritable host of mostly beautiful women (sadly the cutest ones have a habit of being 19 and I have a strict cutoff line at age 20...most of the time).
Compared to the depressing seriousness of many online dating profiles ("Hoping to find a nice guy, if they still exist. I'm not so sure, my ex-husband was a lying cheat and ran over my chocolate lab") Tinder is casual to the point of silliness. After a match is made, users are encouraged to strike up a conversation with prompts like "You look great together," "Tinder can't type for you...actually, it could, but it won't," and "They probably look better in person."

It's not perfect. There's a litany of online etiquette issues that have yet to be established due to the app's infancy. For example, what do you do when you come across an attractive coworker's profile? Or a friend's ex? (For the record I swiped right on both occasions, though the gesture was evidently not reciprocated).

Also, with the quick-paced, visual-exclusive medium you quickly latch on to arbitrary but obnoxious photographical turn-offs. When was it that big, comically fake mustaches became a thing? That picture of you at the wax museum? No one is fooled OR impressed. And stop it with all the pictures of you and smiling, starving third world children. We get it, you're a decent human being who builds orphanages in your spare time and we're all lazy, spoiled American snobs. That's not the kind of think I want to be reminded of while I'm making snap judgements on your physical appearance.

But I digress. Since I'm engaged in a year-long online dating project, I say "Hi :)" to ever single match that I get. I don't have any particular expectation or desire to actually meet these people, except for Kelsey.

Kelsey and I matched on April 29 and of all the pictures I've swiped right, hers was the only one I really hoped would come back from the dead. She's brunette, a sort of cross between Felicity Jones and a young Virginia Madsen and from the scientific measurement of four self-selected photos she seems like a nice girl (what? I'm from Salt Lake City, remember?).

I sent her the usual "Hi :)" but after a day or two of silence figured I had to up the ante from a simple emoticon. "Go big or go home!" as me and my frequently home-going high school friends always said.

Me: Instead of awkward small talk, I'm just going to act like we're already best friends.  How was your day? Did you finish that project you were working on? My coworkers were crazy today, you know how they can be. 

And then, out of the darkness, a voice!

Kelsey: Oh yeah, I know. Those coworkers of yours, I know all about that, obviously. Any fun new projects? 

Me: Seriously, totes cray. Nothing big, I'm just wrapping up an article before I go out of town tomorrow. I tell ya, this Moab trip can't come soon enough. How about you, any big plans for the weekend? 

Kelsey: Are you going to Cinco de Moab? 

Me: Not intentionally, I didn't even know that was a thing :) We're just going down for some biking. 

Kelsey: Some of my friends are going down and having a Cinco de Moab party. 

Me: I like your friends, except that one guy who's name I can never remember. The one with the hair. You're not going with them?  We should get dinner when I'm back in town. It's been way too long since we hung out last. 

Kelsey: True Story. Catch you later.

I gave it some time, a completely casual and not-at-all calculated three days.

Me: Hey, how was your weekend? 

Silence. I knew from my research into online dating that a date had to happen relatively early on before conversational momentum died. Had I squandered my shot at true love for a few days in the Moab sun? I had but one choice, I had to go for broke.

Me: Dinner. On me. Your favorite restaurant. Just tell me when and where. 

Kelsey: When I'm back in town, that would be great. Next week sometime. 

Me: Great, let me know when works. 

And so I wait, hoping for the mechanical buzz in my pocket that will alert me to a new message from my Annabel Lee. I tell myself that she wouldn't have bothered to respond if she was insincere. We are, after all, complete and utter strangers with no form of communication beyond a third-party and easily-disregarded application.  In the meantime, I guess I better check on my other profiles (groan).

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