Friday, October 10, 2014

Online Dating

As you may or may not know, I embraced the 21st century (as computer nerds are wont to do) and decided to use online dating as my primary means of finding a lady sometime in 2008 after ending a relationship with a girl I met at a wedding. One of my good friends from college met his wife online, so that was good enough for me to try it out. You’re not going to believe this, but I’ve accumulated some thoughts about the whole thing over the course of 5+ years.

For the uninitiated, online dating essentially works as follows:
  • Pick a website and create a profile. This profile should contain some pictures where you attempt to look attractive and some writing where you attempt to seem witty.
  • Answer a bunch of general questions that are used (both by you and prospective mates) to find people who you would get along with “on paper.” Examples include your height, political stance, religious views, age, occupation, etc. Most people are mostly honest about these.
  • Look at other profiles to find someone you’d like to date, then send them an email to see if they’re also interested. Of course, they’re not interested, but that’s OK because there are literally hundreds of other people to choose from, and one of those people might be interested. Plus rejection is a character-building experience!
  • When you actually do generate some mutual interest, go on a date and see how it goes from there. Potentially go on multiple dates. Like a boss.

As for my thoughts, let’s start with the data--it’s not pretty. Things started off smashingly well as I ended up dating the second girl I went on a date with for a year and a half, and the third girl I went on a date with has been one of my best friends for the past four years. However, I was also single for those four years so...uh...yeah, it didn’t go so well on the whole.

My original inspiration for this post was a question: what is my actual success rate with online dating? I decided to define “success” as going on more than 2 dates with someone and estimated my success rate as follows: my odds of actually getting a response from someone I contact is about 15%. Of those, I'll go on a date with about 80%. Of those, I'll like them well enough to want to go on another date with about 50%. Of those, about 50% will feel the same about me. Of those, about half will have some kind of reason for not pursuing things further, even if the date went well (more on that later). That leads to this calculation:

.15 * .8 * .5 * .5 * .5 = 1.5%. That is my success rate with a girl that catches my fancy online. Or: one in every 66.6 girls. That’s right--according to my calculations, online dating is literally the devil.

I then went through all the history available to me from the dating sites I’ve used (match, OkCupid, eHarmony, and HowAboutWe) to crunch the actual numbers. Unfortunately, I had to delete about a year’s worth of sent messages with no response from OkCupid, and match automatically deletes old messages so I only have data for girls that responded to me there (since I still have the emails). I didn’t include the “response only” data in my calculations for response rate, but even so the response rate is inflated since I can’t account for the many, many unreturned messages that have disappeared into the ether. For the data I had, here are the actual rates:

23% response rate
47% date rate from responses
76% good dates for me
71% good dates for her
29% of dates last more than 2 dates

.23 * .47 * .76 * .71 * .29 = 1.69%. That is how often I’ll go on more than 2 dates with a woman I send a message to, or one in every 59 women I contact. My original estimates were way off, but they balanced out (although actually hitting 66.6 would have been really entertaining).

Now for some general thoughts:

--After reading through some of the messages I’ve sent, it's kind of amazing that anyone has ever responded to me. At least 75% of the stuff I’ve written has been really fucking awkward (which would explain the 15-23% success rate quite nicely). I didn’t rush through these emails, either--I actually took the time to try and make them engaging. I wish I had some great insight into why it’s so hard to write like a reasonable human being when attempting to woo a nice young broad, but I don’t. Other than the fact that I like to call them “broads.” It also probably doesn’t help that I’m nearly incapable of writing without using sarcasm. Did you know that people don’t always pick up on inflection online? I STILL HAVEN’T FIGURED THIS OUT.

--It can be just as convenient as it seems like it should be. Theoretically, online dating is a phenomenal idea. It’s easy to meet people in school, but it’s much harder after leaving college. Blind dates are unreliable, dating coworkers is risky and typically doesn’t provide a large pool to choose from, and dating random people in bars is a crapshoot. Dating online, on the other hand, has tons of benefits. You get easy answers to important questions before you even talk to the person: how old are they? What are their religious views? Do they smoke? Do they drink? Do they want kids? Do they already have kids? Are they employed? Are they attractive? What city do they live in? Do they have a sense of humor/are they a robot? Are they interested in your gender?

On OkCupid, you might also get the answers to more varied and interesting questions: how many kids do they want? How do they feel about drugs? Gay people? Beards? Nerds? Video games? Cats? Dogs? Furries? Star Wars or Star Trek? Mornings or evenings? Normal or weird? Are they sexually attracted to inanimate objects? (To which I answered “Yes - I love lamp.” Because I'm so damn funny.)

Even with the answers to all these questions, there’s no telling whether you’ll get along well enough to have a meaningful relationship, but you should be able to tell whether you’ll get along at all. I have friends who have been on terrible dates with people they met online, but I haven’t had a single bad date. I went on a couple that weren’t too good, but I didn’t expect them to be; even if the person is generally boring, it’s still interesting to meet and talk to new people. The key is really getting to that first date, and online dating makes that easy. Well, it’s only relatively easy because...

--There are many dudes. Many, many, many dudes. Even when limited to dudes in their 20’s and 30’s with a decent sense of humor who are reasonably intelligent and have their shit together...there are still many dudes. Sooooo many dudes. I’ve heard that the demographics are more balanced in some other cities, but in Cleveland guys like me far outnumber women I’d like to date. I’ve talked to a bunch of women about their online dating experience, and they almost all talk about the insane number of guys they have to deal with. Granted, many of those guys do nothing but send a message that says “how r u?” because many of those guys are bad at online dating (and quite possibly life in general), but there still seem to be a ton of reasonable guys.

There are a few reasons for this. There’s still a stigma (although it’s lessening) that online dating is creepy or just for nerds or ineffective or full of losers (which I suppose it is, although there are plenty of good people, too). Men are much less affected by this stigma as I don’t think we’re embarrassed as easily. Even the women who like online dating often want to pretend that they met their guy in a bar, so many of them are reluctant to even sign up. Those that do can easily be turned off by all the dicks they have to deal with (hopefully only figuratively).

However, it seemed to me that there were more women joining when I got out of the game, so I think it’s getting better and more socially acceptable.

--Turns out not dating religious people severely limits the available pool of women, particularly in Ohio. Even though I included “spiritual but not religious” and “Jewish” I still cut out a decent chunk of the population. If you’ve read this blog you probably understand my reluctance; I’m totally fine with having religious friends, but not so fine with dating religious people. I don’t think they’d be too interested in me, either, as I’m still kind of an ass regardless of how much I work on tolerance. I think religion is silly, and that's not likely to change.

--OkCupid is far and away the best online dating site. It’s free, they employ good web developers, the dating pool is relatively large, and I think their matching algorithm is the best since you can weight which questions are more important to you. Also, anyone in the entire user community can submit a question, and you can add explanations to your answers. It just wins on all fronts. Don’t bother paying for other sites.

--The list of extenuating circumstances (names changed to protect the innocent):
Agnes: parents got divorced the weekend after our first date
Esther: was dating another guy before our first date and stuck with him
Lucinda: recently got out of an engagement and I was too big of a pansy to push for a relationship before another guy did
Kay: worked nights and weekends so we never went on a date despite great online chemistry
Cornelia: some people can’t handle sarcasm. Also, I’m kind of an asshole to stupid people sometimes, and she was kind of stupid.
Mildred: thinks Jesse Ventura is just speaking the truth, man
Samsonite: date was immediately followed by a hospitalization for the second time in a few months

And finally, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Not everyone clicks. I’m glad I didn’t click with any of the people above, but it was always frustrating at the time.

--Lessons learned from sending hundreds of messages:
Be casual.
Ask at least one question.
Make sure they know you read their profile.
Don’t be creepy.
Be funny.
Don’t be unattractive.

--When you go on a date, don’t talk too much; if you like the person you’re on a date with, the goal should be to get them to talk more than you do. It has to be a back and forth conversation to work, but whoever talks more usually has a better impression of the date afterwards. If you legitimately like them, you won’t mind listening to them talk anyway.

--I have spectacularly fucked up most of the real life opportunities (i.e. meeting someone through means besides online dating) bestowed on me by giving girls my number instead of getting theirs. Or not even bothering to see if they’re interested. Always get a number.


With all that being said, I still view online dating in a positive light, despite all of its frustrations. This is, of course, primarily due to the fact that I finally found a broad that I’m completely crazy about. Inexplicably, she also really likes me. Yeah, I’m surprised too, but I’m not going to complain. I guess sometimes people just work really well together, but the key is actually meeting them to begin with. Luckily for me, I was prudent enough to praise Billy Madison in my profile and I caught m’lady’s fancy. We never would have met if it weren’t for the wonders of OkCupid, even though we were at the same college for a couple years. Hell, we both almost took jobs in other cities before we met. Meeting the right person can be a bitch.

Anywho, I’d give the online dating experience a A-. It’s not without faults, but it still beats the hell out of the other options for meeting a potential mate after college. I think it has a tendency to make people overly picky when they’re presented with the whole of humanity as options to date, but it’s still really useful for those who are open-minded. It also has a ton of success stories now. It really can work. It’s not as good as the Keurig, but it’s still one of the better things we’ve come up with so far in this millenium.

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