“In a certain light, wouldn’t nuclear war be exciting?”
“Do spelling mistakes annoy you?”
“Are you happy with your life?”
These are a few of the first questions I answered when I filled out my OKCupid profile in August.
I told friends, and myself, that I set up my OKCupid for the sake of entertaining journalism. I said it’d be fun to write about in my column. And that was true, but there was also more to it than that — I wanted to give online dating a shot.
It’s not that I was having trouble getting dates at the time. In fact, as noted by my friends, my summer was developing into a romantic comedy. I was getting asked out by strangers in bookstores, coffee shops and while out to dinner with my roommates’ families. I was kissing the boy next door while simultaneously schtüping the punk rocker who had dreams of writing fiction in Nashville. In other words, I was ankle-deep in trysts.
But I was at a point where, after a hiatus from relationships, I wanted more than flirtation and tipsy kisses on the way home from the bar. I wanted someone with a great brain and an artistic sensibility, who had a high capacity for empathy and could spend hours discussing poetry and gender and love itself — you know, the usual. However, that person wasn’t readily available to me and, like many lonely people, I considered the Internet as a viable shortcut to love.
The site consumed me almost immediately. I sat in my living room for hours on a Friday night, answering multiple choice and short answer questions about my worst fears, fantasies, opinions on God and ambitions. It was like a cross between a midterm and a psych evaluation, but way sexier and more ego-nourishing. I loved answering these obscure questions because they forced me to think about what I wanted out of a relationship, my future and myself. It seemed like — with the help of my trusty guide, the Internet — I was learning a lot about who I was. Clearly, I was totally buying it all.
OKCupid inserted my responses into complex algorithms and then spit out graphs and percentages that told me who I was. I believe that every person, on some level, desires to know where they stand in social circles, and I’m no exception. I was into the idea that hard evidence could tell me things like whether I was cool or pretty or boring. You can even ask the site to conduct a survey that will determine whether or not your pictures make you seem bone-able to complete strangers.
Neat! I thought. This data says I’m hot.
It was all very logical and science-y.
Of course, none of this dating math has much merit in the real world, but the anonymous surveys and algorithms weren’t the only entities confirming my tap-ability. I was receiving several messages a day from dudes of all ages and from all over Michigan asking permission to infiltrate my pants. Direct quotes include: “I want u 4 pleasure” and “Do you wear heels? Maybe we could go shopping for them together sometime.”
But OKCupid isn’t all farcical flattery. It may be easier to suss out potential dates with the help of the Internet, but online dating still incurs the same emotional risks as traditional dating. You can still get stood up. You can still have awkward encounters with old love interests around our small town — like the time I bought condoms at CVS from a guy who’d visited my profile the day before. You can still be unsure about the terms of the date — is it romantic, or a just-a-friend thing? Most of all, a date can still go poorly.
I met two people from OKCupid in safe, well-populated environments. One spent the majority of the time complaining about his recent ex who ran away to China; the other has become my friend and artistic collaborator. So, they weren’t bad experiences, but weren’t particularly romantic, either — which is how I feel about the entire online dating process.
It was all flattering and fascinating for a while, but I started missing the magic associated with discovering attraction in real time. I decided that I don’t want to know whether or not my future lovers are okay with sharing their toothbrushes, or how many people they’ve slept with, before I’ve even shaken their hands. By knowing answers to intimate questions like those, I felt like I was robbed of the intimacy that’s born out of sharing secrets in person. When I share details of my life, I want it to be with someone I already have a connection with, not hundreds of Ann Arborites who’ve all suddenly become candidates for future coitus.
I don’t doubt that sites like OKCupid work for some people. It’s proven that they lead to happier marriages, and I’m sure they’re handy if you’re looking to get life-long serious. Even if you’re young, this method may be a convenient way of evading loneliness, or finding a hook-up nearby, but it’s all too logical for my taste. If I’m going to risk the other humiliations associated with dating anyway, why not hold out for sparks? Sites like this reduce romance to an exact science, which doesn’t settle well with me. I could find a cute 94-percent match, but there’s no way the science behind that percentage can account for the chemistry and intangible attractions that fuel young love. As schmaltzy as it may sound, I’d rather take my chance on magic than be guaranteed a date.
Emily Pittinos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.