Monday, August 19, 2013

My Life Online: Game Face

A few months back I got a message from a girl whose name I don’t remember. We’ll call her Tiffany; no, we’ll call her Sarah.

Sarah has muscular dystrophy and on her profile she talked about how most guys are typically unwilling to look past her physical traits and get to know her on a personal level, which is why she had decided to try online dating in the hopes nurturing a relationship beyond superficial qualifications.

I’d like to believe I’m slightly more evolved than the knuckle-dragging philistines of my gender, but I admit that my first reaction upon seeing Sarah’s smiling face in my inbox was not the most chivalrous. But I stayed my hand, telling myself that there but for the grace of God go I and that I owed it to My Life Online to reply. Who’s to say that she and I would not have similar interests and, physical challenges aside, would not be charmingly compatible on an emotional level?

Sarah’s experiences were certainly, unquestionably, more tragic than mine, but at the end of the day she was looking for the same thing all of us online dating drones are: a genuine connection with another human being in a world where the traditional social models have failed us.

I drafted some form of a response, introducing myself and asking some benign questions about the music she likes or something of that ilk (I tried to locate the actual conversation but it seems to have disappeared).

She never replied.

Now, I would never suggest that any girl with muscular dystrophy should be thrilled to receive a message from me; that would be childish, arrogant, and insulting. Assuming no ill will, there’s any number of possible scenarios that would have prevented her from replying to me, for example, she may have stumbled upon a fulfilling relationship in the interim between her initial message and my response.

Still, I couldn’t help but see some irony in a woman making a request that men exercise patience and get to know her as an individual as opposed to a collection of physical flaws, who then decided that I wasn’t worth talking to. Not that I blame her either, I’m a hot mess sometimes.

Exceptions abound, but in broad, simple terms women just don’t reply to men online anywhere near the rate to which men attempt to contact women. And who can blame them? Men are pigs, particularly those who lurk in the dark recesses of internet anonymity.

Since starting this project I have been privy to countless firsthand accounts of less-than-flattering online dating experiences from friends and acquaintances, with the man typically at fault. For example, there was the recent story of a guy who made my friend drive two hours to meet him, then another hour through the mountains for a burger, at which point he disclosed that he had forgotten his wallet and she would be picking up the tab. On the way home, he asked her to stop and buy him a Slurpee, which she did.

It’s not the worst example of human behavior, and you could argue (I did) that her first mistake was agreeing to drive to him for a first date (always make the guy come to you, ladies, but meet them at neutral location), but it illustrates why I may be experiencing such colossal failure online, besides the obvious explanation that women simply find my uninteresting.

They’ve been through this before. They’ve been stood up, propositioned, mistreated and generally burned by men taller, richer and with better bone structure than myself. So they pass, over and over again.

But Goonies never say die, and neither do I. And so, faced with Act III of My Life Online, I decided it was time to stop goofing around and get serious.

First thing was to get rid of my niche online dating service (hint: it’s not which had proven to be an abysmal failure despite picking my pocket every month. To it I say: Good riddance, you useless, hideously-programmed piece of internet excrement.

But I couldn’t just skate by on the merits of my remaining free online dating sites, and so I turned to the grand-daddy of them all, the apex predator of the online dating world, the pioneer of digital romance:

Signing up for Match was an interesting experience. It runs you through the typical process of uploading photographs (remember to choose images that emphasize your interests and convey that you are not a sexual predator) and describing yourself in vague platitudes (“active,” “social,” “virile,” etc.). But it goes a step further attempting to anticipate your interests by presenting you with pictures of celebrities to select the one most attractive to you (Jessica Alba, of the options given), the wardrobe style you prefer (sundresses, natch) and the body part you notice first on a woman (legs).

It also asks you to select the most appealing among a series of audio samples of women’s voices saying the phrase “Dinner sounds great, I’ll meet you at 7.” This seemed slightly ridiculous to me, although it should be noted that of the 3 options, one was rather husky and another was spoken with a strong southern drawl. I also may have taken it more seriously if the control phrase had been something I was actually used to hearing women say, like “Sounds fun, but I already have plans” or “I’m sorry, do I know you?”

Questionnaire completed, I was ready to yet again embark on a new online dating experience., it should be noted, is known for skewing to a younger clientele than it’s chief competitor eHarmony and boasts the largest collection of subscribers of any dating service on the internet. It’s search function has the potential to be hyper-specific, allowing someone to scour the far reaches of the web for a 4’2’’ vegan Sagittarius from Bismark, North Dakota (evidently, there are a few of them), if they are so inclined.

It also boasts a guarantee in which subscribers who pay for at least 6 months in advance are treated to an additional 6 months free if they are unsuccessful at meeting someone through the service. Since I plan on going off the grid for my own personal Walden after this project is completed, I opted for the simple 3-month plan (it also seemed counter-intuitive to pay for 6 months with the pitch of "If we fail to help you, we'll give you even more time to fail over and over again!")

Match costs more than your lesser-known niche services, like the one I was previously affiliated with (hint, it’s not which in theory filters out the riff-raff of less-than-noble intentions. I say “in theory,” because that argument relies on the notion that unsavory men don’t have disposable income, which isn’t really the world we live in, is it?

Since joining I’ve exchanged a few backs-and-forths with a girl named Carrie, who road bikes, works on the front desk of an accounting firm and whose middle name is the Hawaiian word for “morning star.”

But she prefers Superman to Batman. No one is perfect, I suppose.

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