Online hunting

Ok Cupid is pretty fucking frustrating.

I recently got rid of my old Ok Cupid (henceforth ‘okc’) profile (which had been up there for years, through several relationships) – I had originally written it in 2009, and had refined and polished it again and again. And my old profile was good, but I just needed a fresh start. Or something.

New profiles also get a boost in terms of how often you see them, so I also figured that couldn’t hurt. I had tried Match.com for five minutes (the horror) and decided that, despite its several flaws, okc was still much better in terms of interface, match questions, and demographic of people you are connected to. In case that sounds too euphemistic, let me put it this way: match.com is full of  mainstream bros, a more traditional crowd. Ok cupid, on the other hand, is full of queer-oriented feminist hipster people. My people.

I’ve been getting the same barrage of underwhelming messages (‘hey’; ‘s’up’; ‘hey, can we chat?’) with the occasional thoughtful message mixed in, though often from someone who I end up not being that interested in responding to for whatever reason. (We all have our preferences.)

I have to remind myself, though, that my best experiences with ok cupid mostly comes out of my own research and message-sending. When I first moved to NYC I had SO MUCH TIME and I would spend hours scouring through profiles, based on the match percentage you receive after answering 50, 100, 200, 300 match questions. Okc also suggests people you might like based on the particular profile you’re looking at. I’m not quite sure how this works, since I can be sometimes looking at someone who’s a 85% match, and find that there’s a 93% match listed as well as a 68% match, so how much these people actually have in common is unclear. But anyway you can just go down the rabbit hole of ‘you might also like’ lists for just, well, hours.

What I do is I bookmark something like 15-20 people during these searches (which I’m doing now, intermittently, while also writing this post), to save them to write later. The idea is to write to about 15 people over the course of about 3 days or so. I then delete all these people from my bookmarks, so that I don’t remember who I’ve messaged (and thus cannot fixate on who replies and who doesn’t). Usually a bunch of people will write back, and then out of those exchanges I’ll end up with about 2-3 first dates.

And the thing is, that’s all okc can really get you. A first date. After that it’s all on you. I’m not going to be able to tell if I want to marry someone based on their profile. In his book “Modern Romance,” Aziz Ansari suggest understanding online dating sites as online introductory sites, instead. No actual dating happens on the site. You have to meet people to get a sense of them.

The trouble is, though, sometimes it’s really fucking difficult to even tell if I want to go out on a single date with someone.

It’s hard to write a profile. I think writing in general is hard for a lot of people. Personally, I love writing, and do quite a lot of it, so I’ve developed a kind of online personality that I think makes my profile come across as pretty interesting to a bunch of people.

But I’m tired, so tired, of reading vague and indeterminate – and, most importantly, BORING – statements like ‘I’m just an easygoing guy who is into adventures and enjoying life!’

Like, what the fuck does that mean? Honestly. What is an ‘easy-going’ person, and ARE YOU REALLY? Those are just words, hon. Lots of people like to THINK they are easygoing and are in fact NOT AT ALL.

I also don’t know what ‘adventures’ entails for people. For some people that involves trying out new restaurants (snore). For others it means white water rafting. Other people have no idea what they mean by that and just want to make themselves look interesting while not actually giving me any goddamned information that is, in any way, interesting.

And I swear to god, if I read one more goddamned hipster profile listing not only solely white male authors, but a list that includes Kurt Vonnegut as the pinnacle of the literature of our time, I will fucking barf.

Like, look, I don’t want to knock Vonnegut, he’s a very good writer blah blah, but when you list Vonnegut, you’re listing him to make yourself sound literary but edgy, smart but cool, dark but still lovable. You are trying to represent your personality as dark and unique and interesting except that SO IS EVERY OTHER FUCKING HIPSTER ON THERE. (I know, because I have read all of your profiles).

So yeah, anyway. I will persevere. So far I’ve got 6 bookmarked. None of them list Vonnegut. Or ‘easy going’. Or ‘adventures’.

It’s a start.

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Snap (?) Judgements

I had a conversation a few months ago that I found somewhat frustrating and unsettling, so much so that I feel the need to write a post about it. This is maybe my first explicitly feminist post, the one I’ve been promising for ages.

So. Here we go.

It started when I made a flippant comment that I could never date anyone who is a fan of Lars Von Trier. A couple of men I was with at the time registered their surprise at this. A discussion ensued about why that might be the case. (I don’t want to bore people with my LVT rants, the short version is that even if he thinks he’s a feminist, his films show a lot of graphic violence perpetrated against women, over and over, and I find that at best oblivious on his part and at worst a sinister slight of hand to excuse yet more portrayals of something that will obviously unsettle and perhaps trigger half of his audience. But I digress.)

Finally, I said something like, well if someone was anti-choice, obviously you’d understand why I couldn’t be with them? He considered this, but expressed a worry that such a standpoint might be somewhat ‘intolerant’, wondering if I also wouldn’t be able to be friends with someone who was anti-choice. I didn’t know what to say to this, and so in the moment I replied that romantic relationships are different, and he conceded that point, saying something about how they are allowed to be ‘irrational’ choices.

But I’m not entirely satisfied with my response there, because it’s more complicated than that. And so here I am, writing this post. The guy I was speaking to is a completely thoughtful and kind person, he wasn’t intending to be offensive, and yet if someone like that can be confused about the issue, then we still have a lot to talk about.

Let me rewind a bit. Lately I’ve been thinking about my online dating instincts. Ok Cupid is a site I’ve been on for years, and between the photos, profile prompt questions, other match questions, the match percentage that the site tallies up for you, and the personality tests, there is quite a lot of info to work with. I usually have an excellent sense if someone is at least a viable first date, especially after a few exchanges. I don’t have a formula for this or anything, I just get an intuitive sense. And not always, but usually, my intuition is pretty accurate.

With Tinder and now Bumble and other similar apps, there are a lot more snap judgements you have to make when deciding to swipe right or left. People barely write a blurb sometimes. More often it’s a name, an age, and a series of pics. No picture? Swipe left. Abs only? Swipe left. Swipe left. Swipe left. Investment banker? Swipe left.

Now, there are times when I do get a kind of existential anxiety that I’m sending potential loves of my life, people with whom I could actually have sailed off happily into the sunset, down the NOPE tube at breakneck speed as I continue to swipe left twenty, thirty, forty times. I worry that, sometimes, I am being too judgemental, or that my judgements are superficial or arbitrary.

Of course, there is a certain amount of personal taste that goes into these sorts of choices. That in itself is a bit anxiety inducing, because there’s such a limited amount of information you get online. I have a distinct physical type, it’s true. I often go for the tall, skinny men. The ‘pointy’ men as they have often been called by a friend of mine. And yet, I’ve gone outside that type frequently enough to know that while it’s a mode in my romantic statistics, it certainly isn’t an inevitability. But who outside that type might appeal to me, and why, and what the pattern is there still eludes me. I just kind of, well, know it when I see it. It’s possible I’ve swiped left on more than one person who could have fit into this category if I’d met them in a context in real life.

And so there is a certain level of contingent, arbitrary preference. And sometimes that does rule out certain people for reasons I cannot justify in a robust sense. Like, either I like them or I don’t. And I don’t have a huge amount of control over that, to be honest. And also? It’s perfectly fucking fine to have these preferences, as we all do.

But there is another level here too. Arbitrary preferences aside, I’m looking for someone who on some level shares my values. I am an intellectual, an academic, a feminist. A lot of what I do on a daily basis situates itself as a critique of mainstream capitalist patriarchal culture. If you are an investment banker, or an insurance agent, or something like that, chances just are that you are probably at least somewhat invested in the status quo in a way that I find kind of unsettling. Our lifestyles, probably, are pretty opposed.

Now, of course, in theory it is possible that I could fall in love with an investment banker. But unless there is something else on your profile that balances out the assumptions I’m going to make about you based on your job, then I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. This is what I like about OK Cupid – maybe you have a bunch of really interesting books and movies, your sense of humour is apparent, maybe you have some nod to the fact that being an investment banker is how you pay the bills but in reality you are a stealth anarchist trying to take down The Man from the inside.

But in all likelihood, you aren’t.And the more time you spend online, the more you date, the older you get, the pickier you get. Or maybe I should speak for myself. The pickier I get. I’d like to end up on dates with people who might actually be potential life partners. Or at least compatible enough to end up on a second date with. That would be nice. And if I’m on Tinder, where there is very little else I know about you, if this is combined with a bunch of pics of you drinking beers with your buddies, some ab shots, and a fuzzy selfie, well… swipe left. I don’t have time to meet everyone, nor do I owe that to strangers on the internet. I’ve only got so much time, and I have shit to do.

And there is still yet another level. There is a difference between arbitrary preferences, judgements about values matching up, and what we might think of as ‘dealbreakers’. These are a bit different from arbitrary preferences and values, as they are qualities or conditions that I might more consciously impose on a relationship or dating situation. Like, ‘I won’t put up with x.’

Which brings me back to this idea about ‘tolerance’. Now look, of course whoever I end up dating next will have some qualities, some preferences or whatever that I might not get, or even always like very much. People have different takes on things, and I might not always agree. So sure, this is inevitable and it’s part of what it is to have relationships and a certain amount of disagreement should be tolerated. Life is a rich tapestry, etcetera.

But this is not just about abstract political values and political structures. I am a woman. And I’m not just looking for what would be a good match. In fact, the match stuff is even somewhat secondary to something else: a basic fucking level of respect.

On Ok Cupid, when I think I like someone, I’ll head right to the questions section, and look up ‘unacceptable answers’. Sure, I care if you think the Earth is bigger than the Sun (yikes), but also: do you think women are obligated to shave their legs? Do you think that No is sometimes a Yes in disguise? (Uh there is a disturbingly high percentage of men who think this.) Do you think it’s okay to be gay? Do you think that abortion is an option in the case of unwanted pregnancy?

Beliefs are not atomic, they often come clumped with other beliefs, and, sometimes, an entire world view. Someone who thinks that abortion should be illegal is not just someone who has a particular stance on the metaphysical personhood of the fetus, not someone who happens to have ‘a religious belief’ – this is also someone who believes on at least one level that I do not have complete autonomy over my own body.

If someone doesn’t think that I have autonomy over my own body, what does that entail for other sorts of situations? Sexual situations? His sense of jealousy or possession over me and my body? How will he act towards my male friends?

And in a relationship – in a situation in which I’m trusting this person with my most intimate self – with my BODY – this is not acceptable. And this isn’t intolerant. And it’s not arbitrary, or ‘just’ emotional. It is perfectly, entirely, completely fucking rational.

Are we on the same page yet?

Of course, there will also be levels. So I’m not willing to date someone who isn’t on board with my right to make choices about my body, but would I be willing to date someone who considered themselves a feminist but was kind of stuck in second-wave feminism? Well, maybe. But maybe not. And guess what, that’s my decision, regardless of whether it is arbitrary. Because maybe bodily autonomy is a kind of baseline, but it’s also okay if my baseline is higher. Like, for example, if I want the kind of dude who can take my point about Lars Von Trier.

Thus I also want to get a sense of how open-minded you are. Of how often you think of things from other perspectives. Got a list of only white male authors on your ‘faves’ list? Yeah that seems unlikely then. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are sexist, but it does mean that when called upon to list books/movies/whatever the things that first come to mind are things that only reflect the perspective of one demographic and also that this very fact – that you are only listing white, male, cis dudes – doesn’t occur to you as even a problem. In other words, when you make your profile you should be trying to represent yourself, but maybe consider the perspective of the person LOOKING at the profile too. It might be important to us that we know whether you try to branch out, if you are able to find interest in a wide range of perspectives. If you aren’t, that’s a bad sign already for your powers of imagination, conversation, etc. I need my partner to have a robust imagination, and be generous to my perspective when I might suggest things that don’t strike him as ‘true’ in his (quite narrow) experience. (File under: I don’t want to have to teach my partner all about feminism. Again.)

And to be honest, the qualities I look for in my good friends are basically the same qualities I look for in romantic partners. I might have a slightly higher standard for a partner, but not by much. And a lot of those standards are going to include the value of open-mindedness and tolerance, sure, but not tolerance at the expense of someone’s humanity. No one should tolerate that.

Useless Internal Narrative

Right now I haven’t been posting much because I’m sort of stuck on a post I started writing. The post itself covers a lot of ground, and is more feminist than some of my posts have been, so I want to take my time with it; and yet, I need to try to subvert the bottlenecking of thoughts that it’s caused, so I’m going to try to write a few shorter entries while the rest of this one cooks.

Dating causes anxiety. I am also an anxious person. This is not a great combination, in theory. One of the single best pieces of dating advice I have ever gotten has addressed the intersection of these two things.

Dating is often thought of as a game. I don’t like this metaphor, for lots of reasons, but I understand why sometimes people use it. Dating is a weird combination of both a genuine attempt to get to know someone else, and figuring out how you feel etc, and also a kind of exercise of and performance in judgement. So, you’re interested in getting to know this person, and you want to know what they think about you, and this causes all sorts of doubt and speculation and will very easily bring many an insecurity to the surface of one’s thought. At the same time, it’s hard to just be really honest about all of this, because you’re also trying to put on your best behaviour and show the other person not only a good version of yourself but that you have good judgement, you understand social cues, social norms, that you are not creepy, etc.

So you go on a date. It ends well, and as you part they say that they will be in touch or that you should go out again, or whatever. A few days go by, they don’t call. Doubt starts creeping in. What’s going on? You had a good time, you thought. It doesn’t make sense.

Has something happened to them? Did they get in an accident? Did they actually hate you and were just being polite? Did you have something on your face the whole time and they were so disgusted but they didn’t want to say anything but now their impression of you includes a big smudge over your nose? What if that thing I said about that thing was totally stupid and now they hate me? What if they met someone else at a party and eloped? WHAT IF WHAT IF WHAT IF.

Continue ad infinitum if you are an anxious person with a creative imagination, like me.

A good friend of mine, who was my dating guru for a time in my mid twenties, coined a term that exactly describes this line of thinking: Useless Internal Narrative. UIN, for short.

Once I had this concept, every time my mind would wander in the direction of the dramatic and unknowable, I would repeat this to myself, as a mantra. UIN. UIN. UIN.

Dating is seriously hard enough without speculating about people’s lives and motivations. It’s useless because it’s time consuming and anxiety-inducing and most of the time, it’s not even close to being accurate.

Maybe they DID meet someone else. Maybe they have a deadline. Maybe their bunny died. WHO CAN SAY. Maybe CALL THEM AND ASK THEM OUT AGAIN. If they don’t respond, or say no, then at the very least you will have that information and you can move on with your life.

Because honestly, even if the answer is that they aren’t, after all, interested, there probably is no dramatic reason for it. It is not personal, it is not a final judgement on you, it does not mean that you are failing or somehow un-datable. If I think of all the people I have had decent dates with but not wanted to go out with again, there was never a ‘reason’. It wasn’t that they said something stupid, or had something on their face or did anything in particular. It was that, on reflection, it just wasn’t a match. And there is something kind of banal about that answer, but it’s also often the most true.

And, if you can accept it, it is also very reassuring.

Sorry, what was that?

When I first started online dating, I was interested in how my intuition about the person from their profile would match up with what they were like in real life.

One unexpectedly hot Sunday in November, I found myself nervously walking towards the Cake Shop on the Lower East Side. I was overdressed, since I had expected it to be cooler, and dehydrated, and hungover. I was heading to meet Matt, a nice but slightly boring-seeming guy I’d been chatting with online. Our online chat hadn’t been scintillating, but he asked me out and back then I had just moved to NYC and I had a lot of time on my hands, so I figured why not.

I got there, and ordered the only thing I could consider imbibing, which was a ginger tea. Matt arrived, and we sat down at a table.

Me: So, Matt, what is it that you do?

Matt: *mumbles incoherently*

Me: Sorry?

Matt: (almost inaudible) I work as a paralegal at a law firm on Wall Street.

Me: Ah.

I felt like I was on an episode of Seinfeld with Matt, The Low Talker. He didn’t speak much, and when he did, I could barely hear him. My heart sunk into my stomach, and I just thought, how the hell am I going to get through this?

So I did what only seemed sensible: I performed a one hour long, improvised, one-woman show for this man. Anything he said that reminded me of ANYTHING I’d use that as a jumping off point and I told stories, made jokes, gave him my take on being in graduate school and living in NYC and online dating, and really just ANYTHING ELSE THAT CAME TO MIND.

At the end of what seemed like hours (it was only one) I said: okay well, I have some errands to run now, so I should head out! He replied that he’d had a really great time, and could we do it again? (Uh, of course YOU had a good time, dude.) I said I’d be in touch, and got out of there as fast as I could.

I was drained and angry and frustrated, but I also took something significant away from that experience. I had, I realized, essentially just gone on a date with myself. I had just gone on a date with someone who gave me next to nothing to work with, and I made it work. I could do almost anything. I could go on a date with anyone. No more need to be nervous about dates, I thought. I got this.

Adventures in Speed Dating

A friend of mine suggested a few months ago that we try speed dating. I was actually up for this because most of the time, I can tell in the first five minutes if I’m interested in spending an entire evening with someone. In the case of speed dating, I can check ‘yes’ for the people I want to spend more time with, and I don’t need to commit to more than five minutes with the less interesting ones. Plus, this speed dating event was organized by the Toronto Public Library system, so it was FREE. I could meet 25 people and not spend a penny (nickel?). As a graduate student, I find this appealing, as well as the ‘literary’ theme: we had to bring a book (or a DVD) to promote conversation. Surely this would mean that the men who go have self-selected as people interested in things at least remotely literary?

In theory, it all sounded great. In practice, it was a bit more awkward than I expected. To start off, there were fewer people on the ‘men’ side of the table than on the ‘women’ side, so each person on the woman side got several breaks. (The library is actually pretty inclusive when it comes to genderqueer folk – they still use ‘men’ and ‘women’ labels, so it’s still fairly binary, but you sit on the side according to which you get to talk to the people you’re interested in dating.) There came a point when I appreciated the breaks, actually. I took advantage by grabbing a donut and a coffee, or reading some of my book which was definitely more thrilling than a lot of the guys I ended up talking to.

After the awkward beginning of mingling that was reminiscent of a high school dance (the men hanging out on their own, awkwardly, the women in groups chatting to each other), and then some awkward organizational work to ensure that the table-switching would work out, we began. Except, half of the men didn’t bring a book or a DVD with them. They didn’t know! they claimed. (It’s called Literary Speed Dating?)

I had a few good conversations, and many less good ones. One guy could only speak about his love of the band Rush, and seemed to deflate when I admitted I wasn’t that familiar with their music. Another guy started off by talking about Fight Club. When I admitted that I hadn’t seen it (I mean, I know what the movie is about but) he literally spouted OH MY GOD I HATE YOU. He started to say something about Brad Pitt, and when I went to say something, he cut me off and said YOU HAVEN’T HEARD OF BRAD PITT? YOU ARE THE WORST. I have actually ‘heard of’ Brad Pitt, but he didn’t seem super interested in listening to what I was saying. I’m actually not sure if he was trying to ‘neg’ me, or if he’s just super awkward? Another guy had brought a Richard Dawkins book. To speed dating. I actually just unabashedly told him that he was going to scare off a lot of ladies with that choice, and he maintained he had to ‘be himself’, which, fair enough, but he might want to look up what a crazy old fuckhead Richard Dawkins has become in the last five years or so. To be honest, I think he was unaware of that fact, but that is actually a bad sign in its own way. (I checked that guy as a ‘yes’ though – maybe that says something about where my expectations were at that point in the night? Whatever he seemed nice, if a bit naive.)

At a certain point I started taking the absurdity of the musical chair aspect of the whole event into my own hands by greeting people by saying ‘Hello and welcome to my table!’ This amused some people, and startled others. I had other conversations, most of which were mediocre. After being a server for ten years or so (on and off), a teacher, and an actor, I consider myself a gregarious introvert – i.e. an introvert who has great social coping mechanisms, but by the end of the two hours I was exhausted. 

After the event was over, I was getting all of my winter gear on and struck up a conversation with some of the ladies who were also lingering behind. She asked me about a book my friend had just given me, and we started talking about historical fiction and history as narrative. It was the most interesting conversation I’d had all evening. And I realized that although speed dating is useful in terms of quantity, the quality is almost impossible to regulate. Even my bad dates usually are worth a drink or two. Well, most of the time.