After breaking up with my boyfriend of nearly 9 years, I only waited a month to sign up on Match.com. I really did think that I’d given myself a good month-long break and that it was time to see who was out there in the dating world.
I rationalized that it would probably take a while since I’m older now, and you know, not as marketable as I was last time I ventured into the dating scene in my mid-30s.
In a society focused on youth, I knew that at 44 I was now at a disadvantage in the dating market.
In a society focused on youth, where men have no problem (or even prefer) dating women over 20 years younger than them, I knew that at 44, I was now at a disadvantage in the dating market.
Yet, I was also optimistic that it wouldn’t be so bad. I expected to find a match within six months at the most. Because, like many of us, I was going to be the exception. Even though I knew there were many challenges, I would find someone.
With a classic case of FOMO, I signed up for Tinder, Bumble, Match.com, POF and sometimes OKCupid. All in!
What I found was less than encouraging.
One blurry picture of the guy wearing sunglasses, no description.
Three pictures, all in a car, from slightly different angles.
Description: Just ask. (Um no.)
Two pictures with kids and one with a Snapchat-type filter with cartoon whiskers and ears and pink cheeks.
Description: Busy dad, my kids are my priority but will make time for that special lady.
Twelve pictures where most could be anyone in full ski/scuba gear.
Description: Fit, active. Looking for same. Wow! So multi-dimensional.
Every once in a while – about 1-3% of the time, I swipe right or respond to a message.
I’ve met about 25 men in the 10 months I’ve been dating on and off. I’ve also texted and spoken with men I didn’t end up meeting.
Out of the 25, I felt a connection with one – and he disappeared after our 4-hour first date.
He sent a text the next day and we talked on the phone that afternoon but then when I texted him a few days later, I never heard back from him. I’d been ghosted.
Since then, four other men have ghosted me. They simply stop all communication. It’s loads of fun! 😒
Not to mention the men I didn’t even meet. Many of them stopped texting/chatting after asking me to send them more pictures.
That felt like a slap in the face.
As someone who barely uses any social media, I’ve been able to stay away from measuring my worth online through likes or comments. (Yes, this happens to those of us in our 40s and up too.)
Yet with dating sites and apps, I’ve quickly fallen into the trap that they set for us and still can’t seem to get out. These services want to make money. To make that money, they need people to be using their product (so they can advertise or get you to pay for upgrades). So they incorporate elements in the user experience that they think will entice users.
On Bumble, women need to send out the first message after matching with someone. We have to do that within 24 hours or the match goes away. And if we do send a message, the recipient then has 24 hours to respond or the match goes away. There are design elements constantly reminding you how much time is left for this to happen.
On Tinder, which used to be for hookups but has been for more general dating for a while, there is no time constraint for responding but your matches’ pictures sit at the top of your screen with many of them never messaging you.
On Match.com or Plenty of Fish, you can like or favourite pictures or profiles and you can see who’s viewed you. As far as I can tell, there is really no point to these features. You have to message someone to set up a meeting so that’s the only feature that truly matters in the end.
The gamification elements of these services has seeped into my subconscious and I’ve found that my moods are affected by whether or not I matched with someone and by how many – if any – messages I get.
In this age of thinking positively, it feels like I shouldn’t admit this but…shit, this sucks. Dating is draining, ego-shattering and generally ick.
I keep searching for ways to meet people in person without the pressure or expectation of a date in the air. And even though I live near a large urban center, it’s been hard to find interesting ongoing activities.
Here’s what I believe:
We’re doing dating wrong.
Online dating is inefficient and soul-sucking. And it needs to stop.
It’s time for a major disruption.
As I see it, there are 7 key issues with the state of online dating and dating as a whole:
ONE: You have to commit to simply getting to know someone first. And that can be hard.
One meeting at a coffee shop can tell you quite a bit about a person but it’s definitely not the whole picture. Plus a coffee shop date is more like an interview. And interviews are also inefficient for hiring so let’s not keep that going.
Dan Ariely’s Google talk on online dating has many gems. One of them is how we tend to connect with people over time. A high percentage of college roommates become close friends even though most people wouldn’t have predicted that they would be based on a profile.
Of course, I don’t want anyone to spend that long getting to know someone if it’s really not a match but the ongoing exposure and shared experience make a huge difference.
TWO: The proliferation of ghosting, icing, simmering, and bailing
As smartphones have become ubiquitous, we have chosen to take advantage of the relative anonymity and less tangible nature of technology. It has made it easier for us to keep someone hanging or to disappear altogether without having to deal with too many real human emotions or responses.
We covered ghosting – as in ‘poof’ you’re gone!
Simmering is keeping your options open by letting your date know that you had a good time but that the next few weeks are super busy but “let’s get together some time.”
Icing is also about keeping your options open but a little more coldly. “I enjoyed our time but I’m not sure if I’m ready for anything more right now. When I am, I’ll get back to you.”
And bailing keeps your options open until the last minute and then you cancel your date with some lame, made-up excuse. So a few hours before, you might get a text saying “Hey, things got crazy at work and I won’t be able to make it. Another time?”
And that brings us to…
THREE: The cult of busyness
Our phones keep us tethered to a constant flow of emails, texts, meeting and social media alerts. We are never completely ‘off’ anymore. We feel so busy all the time and many of us feel like our worth is tied to how busy we are. Although we may not actually be any busier than before.
The feeling is real though and trying to fit another thing into our lives can seem awfully onerous. Even if we want to find true love or make more friends, it’s not easy to commit to it when we already feel overwhelmed. Dating to find someone who you could have a long-term relationship with takes time and could yield no results.
And in a world of instant gratification, the process seems even more unappealing.
FOUR: The immediate gratification nature of modern society
Technology gives us what we need more quickly than ever before. The original purpose of Tinder to hook up (and other apps that still exist for this) was to provide a quick and dirty way to satisfy your carnal needs by simply seeing who was also up for the same in your area. It’s just the way things are now. You want something, if it takes more than a few days to get it, well it better be damn good.
FIVE: Too many choices
In this everything-right-now climate, we’re perpetually unsatisfied even if (and maybe because) we can get things and experiences quickly. That’s because there’s always something better waiting for us. We have seemingly unending options we can choose from. Even though the micro rejections of not matching or getting a response are hard to take, when we do connect with people, we’re still wondering if there’s someone better on the next swipe.
SIX: Choosing based on societal norms vs actual preferences
I recently read Lindy West’s Shrill. She talks about men being attracted to her and wanting to have sex with her but not wanting to take her out to dinner or be seen with her in public because she’s fat. We know that there is variety in preferences but somehow we aren’t quite at the point where we can celebrate this variety. Heterosexual men’s choices for partners, in particular, are influenced by our societal ideals. The women they are with are part of promoting their status to other men. And since our beauty ideals are fairly narrow, they may be more apt to stick to that narrow range when selecting who to have a relationship with.
SEVEN: Dating apps are in it for the money and stick to what’s easy
As with any business, dating services want to make money. They offer (mostly useless) upgrades to their free services that they hope will entice their users to pay. Or they charge you to use the most basic of the service’s features – I’m looking at you Match.
And while OKCupid seemed to be doing something different when it introduced its algorithm that matches people based on its large database of questions, the resulting match percentage doesn’t equate to actual real-world matching. And because the looks-based matching of Tinder or Bumble is simpler, it is likely to be the way we continue to use dating apps for years to come.
The League, dubbed the Tinder for elites, is an app that seems to offer something different with their vetting process but ultimately it’s the same as every other service. Matches are based on the stuff that’s easy to quantify and are not necessarily indicative of how we connect in person.
Online dating is a $2 billion industry.
There doesn’t seem to be any reason for the services to make any significant changes since people keep using them, even though they’re substandard at what they purport to do – increase your chances of finding just the right person for you.
It’s time for disruption.
So what can we do? How can we move away from this mediocre process and disrupt the dating industry?
By now, you know some of the major disruptors in various industries like Amazon, AirBnb, and Uber. It’s time for an Amazon (although it doesn’t necessarily need to be a behemoth monopoly) of the dating world.
The way to disruption is to think of the ideal, if not purely realistic, experience to see where actual changes can be made.
To that end, if I were Queen of the Dating Universe, here’s what I would do to fix all the inefficient shit that will actually help people find the real relationships they want.
Queen of the Dating Universe decrees:
1 – There shall no longer be any swiping.
2 – All matching will henceforth be done in person.
3 – Only those who are serious about finding a relationship (whatever shape that takes) will be accepted.
4 – Everyone shall go through a database of images of men and women both clothed and bare and select all those they find appealing. These will not be the people they actually meet.
5 – Based on the selections, the Queen’s powerful AI will sort people that most closely match in the real-life database.
6 – Meetings shall then be organized with the most expedient combination of people as determined by the AI.
7 – All people in these selections will get a chance to meet.
8 – Our concierges will pick up pairs at their homes and bring them to our meeting spot where they will spend 30 minutes solving a puzzle together. Working toward a common goal will help form a connection.
9 – Each pair shall meet for a second 30-minute meeting within the same month.
10 – Those who have selected to meet a third time will then go through the 36 Questions. These questions were used by psychologist Arthur Aaron when he wanted to quickly establish a connection between two people in a study.
11 – A celebration of many good quality matches will be had by all!
Since I’m not the Queen of the Dating Universe, I’m just going to hang out and hope that someone out there will consider using some of these decrees and create a better dating universe for us all.
What are online dating profiles if not the story you tell about yourself?
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