A few years ago, I was bemoaning my love life, as many early twenty somethings do when they graduate college.
I was sitting at a diner with one of my closest friends, and she presented me with a solution: set up an OkCupid account. She said that it wasn’t the terrifying mid-90s AOL chat room that I imagined it to be, and that it was an excellent way, if nothing else, to get the confirmation that there were human males on the planet.
This was 2011, before Tinder existed. OkCupid seemed non committal, and it posed the option to state what you were looking for: A friend? A pen pal? Casual sex? Long term dating? And, most confounding of all, short term dating?
I let my friend construct the basics of my profile for me, and then I underwent the existential crisis of building my profile. What was I doing with my life, anyway? Do I honestly like horror movies? And was I going to resort to platitudes about my typical day (“there really is no typical day for me!”)?
And so I began my online-dating escapades. I found myself messaging several potential dates (and I also found myself on the receiving end of some comical messages, particularly ones regarding my affinity for pickles — the food.)
My very first date was with a guy whose profile picture was in black and white (“Artsy!” I thought). We met at the iconic Slaughtered Lamb Pub in the West Village. Don’t know what it is? It looks like this, and I assumed it was a metaphor for what was to come in my dating escapades:
He was a nice guy, but we weren’t a match. Still, it was just the beginning.
Over the course of two years and several incarnations of my profile, I went on many (well over thirty) adventures and misadventures with various men who inhabited the city and its boroughs.
My next door neighbour who I met online? Check. A professional clamdigger? Check. That time I agreed to go to a place that specialised in grilled cheese sandwiches when I’m lactose intolerant? Check.
And as it turns out, my error-prone dating life turned into a rom-com — I finally met my fiance on OkCupid.
I don’t claim to be an expert because I got the prize at the end of all of the trauma. But — having been through the throes of the dating sphere — I believe I’ve gained insight that’s applicable to any dating app or service out there, whether you’re looking for love…or short term dating.
Actually try, then stick with it
If there’s one thing I’m positive about, it’s that finding the right person is a numbers game. You can’t bemoan your nonexistent romantic life if you aren’t trying.
There were times when I would get frustrated and would delete my account completely. Someone really did bring his entire posse of bros along with him on a date. Someone really did believe “want to listen to a Podcast with me?” was a good seal-the-deal line at the end of the night. Someone really did utter the words “good luck” to me as he sent me off onto the R train, back into the abyss of the Internet.
And there were people who thoroughly disappointed me, too, and because I’m a human, there were occasional tears shed in the process. I went through a vicious cycle of deleting and undeleting my account, ultimately deciding that the only option was to have hope. After all, every date I went on could have — potentially — been phenomenal. Most weren’t, but that’s fine.
Game the system if you can
In early 2013, I read a book that changed the way I viewed dating. “Data: A Love Story” by Amy Webb chronicles Webb’s journey as she looks for love on the Internet. Webb used analytics and data to gamify the system and find her husband-to-be. Webb’s thesis, essentially, boils down to the idea that there are many search variables on some services (age, location, religion, smoking or non smoking, height, if you’d sleep with a pet in your bed, when you’d sleep with a significant other, etc), and you can use these variables to work in your favour.
With this in mind, if you are very specific about what you want — and who you are — you can weed out a lot of mismatches who might seem ideal from the outset, but are very much not for you. Maybe you’ll go on fewer dates, but the dates you do go on will probably fare better than they would had you not paid attention to specifics. I started doing this in the tail end of my dating saga, and it turned out to be a smart move.
Be honest with yourself…and others
Again, this is difficult to do with services which prohibit you from providing ample information about yourself, so the next best thing is to be honest with yourself and the person you’re talking to — whether it’s within the first message or on the first date. And that means being honest about what you really do for a living, what you’re really looking for, and perhaps most terrifyingly, what you really look like.
Profile pictures are probably the single most-daunting component of setting up any dating service. And everyone knows the old standard rules (don’t put photos from ten years ago up, don’t post photos with exes, don’t post photos of people that are not you, etc) and many people know some dead giveaways. But the photo issue ultimately boils down to honesty.
Photos that show personality — and maybe aren’t even the most attractive are probably the most helpful. (Although I admit I occasionally posted some abnormally flattering photos, I did have ample goofy, imperfect photos on my profile.)
And it’s ok if what’s real seems completely flawed to others.
Once, a friend of mine was scouring my profile and told me that I talked too much about what I did and that I didn’t sound chill. “Guys wouldn’t be interested in someone who enjoyed working and wasn’t chill,” she insisted. And they especially wouldn’t like someone who used a lot of words. So I updated my information to sound more amenable to men, and I procured more dates…we were completely mismatched. There’s nothing wrong with not being a “cool girl,” not being a sports enthusiast, and wanting to use words (…especially if you write them for a living).
I learned it’s equally as important to be honest in-person as much as you are online, like admitting no, you haven’t heard of the band Com Truise and that the idea of playing catch in the park is not an ideal date for you (both I did not admit in 2012 — neither date ended well for me, especially when catch turned into ‘fetch’ given my lack of hand-eye coordination).
Have standards…or develop them if you don’t
The more dates I went on, the more I was able to realise what I found to be acceptable — and what I found to be unacceptable. There was a time early in my dating journey when I thought that a pulse and the ability to understand my theatre references marked the zeniths of romance. And then, that guy brought his friends along, and I realised that…and many other things…were deal breakers. But the only way that I was able to develop standards was by going on lots of dates.
For example, I learned that I wanted to put the date back in dating, and that I abhorred the phrase, “Want to hang out?” It was too casual, and I always ended up disappointed.
Coffee Meets Bagel aims to rectify this problem by forcing people to be more selective — you can only go on one date a day. While it sort of depletes the numbers facet, it certainly bodes well for those who want to start being more discerning with their love and sex lives.
I messaged most people — including my now fiance. In fact, I was eating a salad in Whole Foods when I messaged him from my phone. And obviously, I’m not the only woman who thinks this is an awesome strategy, because now we have the popular dating app, Bumble. Bumble forces women to make the first move, like a mobile Sadie Hawkins dance.
One 24-year-old woman I spoke to told me she likes Bumble better than any other dating app, for a multitude of reasons — in part because it eliminates the fear of seedy messages from the opposite sex, and it puts the onus on the woman to go for what she wants. The woman also told me she liked the 24-hour window to respond (connections disappear if there’s no conversation) which remedies the radio silence problem that’s practically synonymous with the online dating services of yore.
That’s not to say that guys shouldn’t message girls (on behalf of myself in 2011, please do, but don’t be gross). Wifi-chivalry is not dead.
Go with your gut — even if “the rules” say otherwise
Before I was about to go on my first date with my now-fiance, I swore to myself that I was going to be done with dating services (as I often said) if it didn’t work out, and I would de-activate my account.
Our first date was at The Blind Tiger in the West Village — just a few blocks away from The Slaughtered Lamb Pub, my old one-time haunt! It was a disgustingly humid day out; I was not at my finest. I was waiting outside for him, nearly confident that he had seen my frizzy hair and the sweat forming at my temples and had walked away — but it turns out he was already waiting inside.
As we made our way to the second location of the evening, I found myself thinking something I had never thought before on any of my many dates: “I really don’t want this date to end; I’m liking talking to him so much.” Sure, I had good times on other dates, and I certainly convinced myself I was having a better time than I actually was on several dates, but I was never so acutely aware of how I felt as I was in that moment. He was thoughtful, intelligent, and not aggressive. There was a real back and forth to our conversation, and although all first dates are filled with plenty of questions, this didn’t feel like a job interview to be somebody’s hookup. This felt sincere.
So I did something I had never done before and something that defied the “rules.” I didn’t wait for him to text me. I got home, and I pulled out my phone, and thanked him for a very nice evening. He wrote back shortly after, asking to see me again soon.
A few days later, we went on another date. Shortly after, we went on our third. After our fourth date, I pulled out my phone. I deactivated my account. I’d found what I was looking for.
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