I’ve been more or less (more) single since I got to college. That’s five years and counting. I don’t go on a lot of dates, maybe two or three a year, and for the last year or so, I’ve made pretty strict hook-up rules (the most important being don’t hook up with people) for myself. Toward the end of college, I downloaded Tinder a few times, but never actually followed through to a meet-up. Each bout lasted a few weeks and ended because I had, after a night out, managed to swipe my way straight through the entire pool of tinder-using guys in Champaign-Urbana and woke up to a handful of weird Facebook friend requests.
Up until a few weeks ago, I’d never tried “real” online dating either. I started feeling like everyone I knew (my boss and my roommate) had entered the dating scene and thought it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. I sat on my couch with my best friend and created an OKCupid account which, by the way, you have to create a doofy username (basically an aim screen name) for. So much weird pressure. I filled out half of the personal profile and started answering the mostly ridiculous questions the site uses to match you up with potential suitors.
After only a few moments, we saw notifications start popping up. You can, on the automatic settings, see every single person who looks at your profile and then turn around and click on theirs to see if they’re a cutie patootie. This was one of the most transparent and freaky things I’d ever experienced. I don’t even feel comfortable making eye contact with most people.
Then came the task of exchanging messages with my “matches.” I put that word in quotes because about 90% of the messages I got before I filtered the inbox were from people who ‘scored’ less than 50%, or worse, were more than 20% enemies. I’m not sure exactly what the formula is, but I’m pretty sure I’m not looking to do anything casually with full-on enemies. ENEMIES.
Once I filtered my messages by age range and percent match, things got a little less weird. I was feeling a little more comfortable until I realized that I don’t know what to say or how to describe myself to people I don’t know. In real life, it takes me a considerably long time to reveal anything actually representative of who I am as a person (not that I really know who I think I am as a person, and maybe that’s part of it). When I do try, I usually end up mumbling and talking really fast and stumbling over my words like a kid giving a class presentation. I have to really trust someone to feel like I can speak comfortably and honestly. Even then, it usually requires quite a bit of effort to keep it going.
For most of the messages, I ended up waiting way too long and cranking out a short answer if possible. Most of the time, I just didn’t respond because I got too nervous about putting together a particular response. It wasn’t a great strategy.
About a week into my OKCupid experiment, I got my copy of Aziz Ansari’s new book, Modern Romance in the mail. The book was surprisingly informative and had me laughing out loud at several points. Ansari and his partners went to great lengths to gather enough information to present readers with an accurate picture of what the dating world looks like for a great deal of people in the US and other countries around the world. They highlight some of the big cultural differences between places like the US and Qatar, Brazil and Japan. I even got to read about Aziz’s experience using a Japanese sex toy called a Tenga, which is basically a jelly silicone egg that people stick their penises in to masturbate. He wasn’t a huge fan.
The big takeaway point for me was that successful online dating is becoming a pretty typical way for people in my general class status and life situation in the United States to meet significant others and eventual spouses. Whether I can stomach it or not, it would appear that I’m going to have to get better at talking to strangers if I ever want to find a significant other or spouse. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to date anybody I know, so that means I’m probably going to have to meet a lot of new people and talk to them in a coherent manner within the next decade. I just don’t know when that’s supposed to happen between work and naps and hanging out with the people who are already part of my life.
I haven’t given up all hope for myself, but I think I’m going to hang my dating hat back up for a while and pretend I believe that “it’ll happen if you’re not looking for it” rule people who are good at talking to people say all the time. It’s not like I’m dying for a boo, though I wouldn’t mind an occasional cuddle bud. Maybe I’ll be better at dating when the urge to do so feels more dire and I’m nervous about cobwebs forming in reproductive organs or something.