Clicks and the single girl: the perils and peculiarities of online dating

I pull up a chair and brace myself for another half hour of checking my matches on Chemistry.com. I’ve come to think of this process as my “nightly round of rejecting” because I always seem to rate my matches as “fizzling” rather than “sizzling” on the “Feeling the Heat?” scale provided by the site. I decided to join a pay-per-use online dating service after my last Craigslist date, during which I found myself having coffee with a man who lifts weights seven days a week and was able to work the information that he was “training to be an ultimate fighter” into casual conversation. As he described the attention and care that went into maintaining his muscular physique, I was telling myself that I needed a better way of learning more about my dates before agreeing to give up an otherwise gorgeous afternoon only to find myself sitting across from someone who begins every day with a shake made from six raw eggs, two scoops of protein powder and a jigger of flax seed oil.

I was drawn to Chemistry.com for a few reasons, not the least of which is that the eHarmony guy totally scares me. Something about him suggests that he might, without warning, ask eHarmony members to don a pair of Nikes and drink a cup of Kool Aid; his ads—and the Stepford-wife expressions worn by those who appear in them—make relationships look like a cult in which the ultimate goal is to live “happily ever after” in heterosexual married bliss. eHarmony, of course, was not keen on trying to grant homosexual couples bliss of any kind—married or not. In the eHarmony world, apparently,  lasting success as a married couple requires that the partners involved be heterosexual.

Chemistry, by contrast, doesn’t care what your orientation is; as long as you keep coughing up the money for the monthly fee, they’re plenty happy to try and fix you up with other members, each of whom is supposedly a “personalized match,” deemed a good fit for you based on the results of your “personality profile.” How this matching is performed remains a mystery. The “About Us” section of the site says, simply, “From the moment you first sign in to Chemistry, our advanced matching system begins learning about your preferences and adjusts the matching criteria to better meet your needs.” What exactly this “advanced matching system” entails is anyone’s guess. The hopeful, trusting part of me wants to believe that a team of experts hovers over a row of computers, poring over every last detail of each member’s profile, occasionally exclaiming, “Wait—wouldn’t this guy be just perfect for Sarah?” as the other experts crowd around, clasping their hands to their chests and sighing knowingly in agreement.

Meanwhile, the cynical, jaded part of me thinks the “advanced matching system” is probably just an old computer running outdated Windows software and frequently crashing while searching for keywords in member profiles.

I am paying fifty bucks a month for this service, though, so I want desperately to believe in the team of experts, but more and more I am seeing evidence that the crashing computer is more than likely the source of these “matches.” While I like that on Chemistry I can see pictures of a potential date before I meet him, or get a bit of a sense of his personality, more often than not I am completely baffled by the people who have been selected as possible “matches” for me.

Case in point: one man had this to say about who he is as a person:

I have developed a much harder edge over the past few years, initially being viewed as a competent analyst, but lately garnering respect as an agent of organizational strategic goals.

I hope you will join me in asking, “Say what, now?” The question is not, “Did this guy use his resume to fill in the ‘essay’ portion of his profile?” but rather, “WHY did this guy use his resume to fill in the ‘essay’ portion of his profile?” Did he think potential dates would swoon over someone who has “lately [been] garnering respect as an agent of organizational strategic goals,” whatever those may be?

Still, though, what this man may have lacked in charisma he made up for in syntax. Some of my matches struggle with both, as in the case of the man who offered this information about himself:

I need a woman who is life smart. I do okay but not very money wise. It would not bother me if she makes more money than me. I would be content to take care of the home.

If I signed up for Chemistry in hopes of seeing certain red flags before actually venturing out on a date with someone, then the service is doing its job with this profile. The admission that “I need a woman who is life smart,” reads as nothing more than a poorly-worded euphemism for “I find day-to-day activities to be completely beyond my grasp,” and the parting thought that “It would not bother me if she makes more money than me. I would be content to take care of the home,” seems no more than a thinly-veiled shorthand for, “I’m hoping to meet someone I can mooch off of for the rest of my life.” (For whatever reason, this ad seemed strangely reminiscent to me of a poem sent by someone who responded to an ad I posted on Craigslist once. The poem included the lines, “I can be this man, whash (sic) the plate and my girl cook/I can be this man make the laundry with my girl.” Of course, it seems that the latter gentleman’s references to plate-“whashing” and “laundry-making” suggest that what he may have lacked in eloquence he at least made up for in “life smarts,” which would put him one-up on the Chemistry guy.)

Because it is a struggle to communicate what we’re about through the awkward constraints of a dating site “profile essay,” it seems that some men don’t even try to do so, opting instead for the “I hated my ex, so don’t be like her,” approach, and it’s shocking just how common this tactic actually is. Two days ago, one of my “matches” included a man whose profile headline read, “Prove to me that women aren’t all the same.” Such a statement makes me wonder why the person is dating in the first place: if he thinks that women are “all the same” (Read: “evil”), then why even try to date them at all? Why not swear off women completely and just develop some nice hobbies? A quick reading of his profile revealed a bit more as to what he means by “all the same”:

My ex-wife and the last few women I’ve dated all share the same trait, they live under a dark cloud 
of lies. Lying is one of my biggest pet peeves, and I just can’t stand it. I don’t see the point, if you 
need to lie to get people to like you then there’s obviously something wrong with you! Two things I 
want to try, dancing and wine tasting. I can’t dance (maybe you can teach me) and I want to try all kinds of wines.

I personally like to re-word the first sentence in my head to read, “My ex-wife and the last few women I’ve dated have all lived under a dark cloud of flies.” I also love how he blames these women for being so untrustworthy and false, but apparently no self-examination is in order as to why he keeps choosing mates who are dishonest. (In my “dark cloud of flies” scenario, I suppose the speaker would have to examine why he keeps choosing women who smell like garbage receptacles. But I digress…) I think my favorite part of the whole thing, though, is how there is absolutely NO transition between the “dark cloud” of liars and the fact that he wants to learn to dance and to try wines. One wonders why he needs a woman to do these things in the first place. Want to try different kinds of wines? Why not check out Beverages and More?! Can’t dance? Why not take a class?!

As clunky, imperfect, excruciating, and even downright offensive as many profiles are, I don’t entirely fault the men behind them. Dating can be awkward to begin with, and online dating even more so. In a “normal” social setting, you can start a conversation and hit it off with someone who, on paper, might not look like he would be a good partner for you; but if your personalities click in the right way, those differences that might have seemed like they would be obstacles instead become the complexities that add texture and interest to the partnership. In the online dating world, there is no conversation to begin with—no quick joke or brief comment that might make the two of you curious about one another. Even stranger is that you find things out about people (how much money they make, whether or not they want kids) far sooner than you likely would in a “traditional” dating scenario. Knowing these things may help to determine true compatibility in the long term, but if you can’t establish a spark in the beginning, what good is the information about income and parenting desire?

In fact, I sometimes wonder if the very specific yet depersonalized nature of online dating actually precludes the possibility of romance rather than encourages it. I know the forum can work—my brother met his wife on Match.com, and they are quite well-suited for one another—but as I log in to Chemistry each night to review (and, usually, reject) my “matches,” the possibility of my meeting someone I really connect with this way seems increasingly unlikely. But I suppose the same could be said for all of my other daily interactions with the outside world; after all, what has led me to online dating in the first place is that, at this point in my life, I (like so many others my age) have few opportunities to meet new people; I have an established group of friends, and I have little extra time to fit in new activities that might allow me to interact with folks outside of my usual circle. And even when I do pursue opportunities like volunteering or taking a class, there’s no guarantee that I’ll meet someone there who piques my interest. I suppose that’s where online dating most closely matches real-time, real-life social situations: in the end, both are just a crap shoot; you may end up finding someone awesome with whom to spend your days, or you may not.

Still, I can’t help thinking it would be nice if the fifty bucks a month I’m paying felt a bit more like money well-spent and a little less like money lost at the craps table. After all, I met plenty of weirdos for free on Craigslist, and at least back then no one was adding insult to injury by telling me that I should consider those oddballs a “match.”

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About Sarah

Grammar goddess, cultural critic, full-time media junkie. I read, I bake, I watch tv. And then I write about it.
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