Online Dating: ‘This Isn’t Working. Please Stop Trying to Touch My Hair.’
Initially I had little to no interest in dating the internet, figuring that if I really wanted to make myself vulnerable to an unmedicated sociopath I could always get back into the goth scene. But I’d heard Julian Assange’s profile was still up at OK Cupid, so I looked. The next thing I know I’ve answered fifty questions, determined that my medieval job would be ‘harlequin’, and am sitting in a park with a disgruntled German eugenicist.
Caveat: this article is largely anecdotal and based on my own experience. The male experience of a site like OKC can be very different to the female: men get less attention, and women wish they did. Indeed, hapless ladies could be forgiven for thinking they’d just logged on to ChatRoulette.
It’d be easy to write an article taking the piss out of online dating - God knows there’s fodder, and God knows I don’t have that much restraint - but that’s not what follows. Once people breach thirty or thirty-five finding a partner develops its own set of rules. Single people aren’t as easy to identify. Lives aren’t worn on sleeves. So a site like OKC is valuable because it cuts a lot of the crap and gets to the point. But does it get results? And are they the kind of results you want?
A surprising number of people I know are on the site and they all concur that OKC is pretty much the best and only thing going: the quizzes are a fun time-kill, the questions are a fun time-kill and the model is less meat-markety than others. Plus their much-vaunted compatibility algorithm – coupled with being able to read other people’s answers to thousands of questions – does go a long way to dropping the odds of you being cornered by a non-Euclidian weirdo from Ringwood.
- ‘Lesbians’ who want to know if their boyfriend can watch while you make out.
- People who hope your cats will get along, two emails in.
- People who can barely string a sentence together but insist on taking photos of their dog wearing hats.
- Blood bonders.
- At least one long-haul trucker with a diaper fetish.
There was also the polyamorous couple with a deeply footnoted manifesto on the secret joys of sensual knifeplay: confident, damp and as evangelical as Scientologists. But at least it made a change from all the random, unsolicited dick photos.
To each their own, seriously, but there’s something about speaking with empowered sex dorks that feels like being groped on a tram. Explaining you're not interested produces the Dungeons & Dragons defense: "You just haven't played with the right Dungeon Master." No, I'm just not into having my manhood lightly stroked with something you bought from Franklin Mint while your beardy lovemate whispers to me in Klingon.
In darker moments it was easy to imagine the site as Beetlejuice rebooted by Eli Roth. Most of the time, though, it’s just a chat client and people are people.
If you stick around long enough, you’ll decide to take a chance and meet someone. It can be a big deal. There's no seamless segue from the scene where you're getting a monitor tan in some nerd garret to awaiting the arrival of someone you hope lives up to their online persona. And that’s the other thing: internet first dates always feel like a cross between a job interview and a firing squad. For everyone involved. You’ve got to allow for that, both for them and for you. I realised early on that it’s not possible to properly work someone out without a second date. If the first one wowed me, then the second revealed something that challenged that. Quite often when it was the other way around is when it got interesting and human.
Doing a tally of close friends who’ve tried online dating there’s one marriage (happy), one close shave with disaster, and catalogues of stories like the ones related above. If my experience is anything to go by then you can expect about 20% to be a total waste of time and about 10% to have genuine potential while everyone in between ranges from ‘inoffensive’ to ‘excellent drinking buddy’.
I only got one loon. Our percentages were off, but she was insistent, attractive in photos, part French, part Swedish, mainly German and seemed to have an interesting background. In real life she was unblinking, militant, dogmatic about oddly specific things (like the moral bankruptcy of Berliners and the need to sterilise people below a certain IQ level), spent a lot of time clarifying out of the blue that she didn't hate her father even though he's a complete bastard, lived in a women's shelter, slept on a camp bed and spent a lot of time making her own furniture out of salvaged apple crates. I was also approached by a hill-dwelling polyamorous sound engineer, but I’d learned by then.
It’s not all tinkling laughter and stuffed olives, is what I’m saying. But it’s not a lost cause.
Misstep aside, in the four months I was there I did get talking to some pretty decent people and wound up meeting about seven from the site: a very cool and forthright sex therapist, an actor, a novelist, a girl it turned out I’d actually grown up three blocks away from yet never met (who now works as a photographer, model and site coder), and a traveling entrepreneur with a pretty great life. These were all people with whom OKC’s algorithm scored me highly: above 90%, often 99% (the maximum, as far as I can tell.) So here’s the only conclusion I can draw:
Let’s say – for want of a better analogy – your 99-percenter is Frankenstein’s monster: what the site can’t quantify or provide is the spark of life, the electricity, the lightning. What you have before you is something properly shaped, but it ain’t necessarily going to get up off the slab. The inescapable truth is that there’s something bracing and enervating and real to meeting someone alfresco. In the wild. Out there. By chance. Odds are that if you’re both at the same gig you’ve got something in common, even if it’s just being in the same building listening to the same music while drinking the same overpriced and lanted beer. Better still you get to be ambushed by sudden chemistry - that thing that cuts through all the static in a millisecond and saves you having to do the entire tedious internet barn dance to begin with.
OKC’s calibration pulls a little to the left. ‘99%’ doesn’t factor in things like someone’s fears, their recent history, their bugbears, their bullshit, their quirks, the neuroses; the stuff the really smart part of you detects, catalogues and reports back on inside of fifteen seconds. And, given those percentages are keyed off the answers you both gave, the percentage result can be misleading; especially if they’ve answered twelve questions and you’ve answered 1029.
There’s simply no way to tell, via text, whether or not they’re going to laugh at weird times and only ever stare at your forehead, is what I’m saying.
Of the seven I met I’ve stayed in touch with two: both of whom I’d met in real life years before through friends or just being on the same scene. Both are people I’d never had a conversation with until now. We noticed we’d scored 99% with each other, and carried on because we had great conversations. In the end maybe that’s what the site’s for: getting conversations started with people you really should have been talking to in the first place, before life got in the way.