November 13, 2011

Meet your match

explore. I can't believe I'm admitting this on my blog. I've worked hard to keep it a secret for the last month or two, but this morning I read an interesting article in the New York Times that prompted me to come clean about my not-so-dirty little secret.

As a averagely attractive twenty-something with oodles of ambition and plenty of outrageous stories from around the globe, I had to swallow some serious pride to do this. 

I joined an online dating site. 

There I said it. 

I was too embarrassed to tell my friends right away, but I was encouraged by their reactions so I've become more open to it... so much so that I'm proclaiming it on my blog. Here's the deal, it's hard to meet people after college. I joined not because I'm necessarily looking for Mr. Right, but because I wanted an opportunity to meet people I have things in common with but wouldn't have a chance to run into otherwise.

A few years ago, online dating carried a greater stigma of "desperation" with it, but now it's a perfectly legitimate way of meeting people. In my post-college days it seems like the easiest places to meet people are in either bars or at a church. Subsequently, you're left with phone numbers from people you may or may not have accidentally kissed or a relationship that will quickly culminate with wedding bells (depending on which venue you choose). Quite frankly, I'm not looking for either outcome at this point in my life.

I justified my choice of joining the site by comparing the cost of going out to a bar a few times (and hoping that I would make friends that I'd want to hang out with in a sober situation) with the potential of meeting people that I would probably get along with well.

The site I joined is one of the fancy, monthly payment sites (I won't tell you which one, I don't want you to track me down). I've since canceled my subscription... the online dating world is pricy! But this experience has certainly been an interesting little social experiment that has let my inner communication geek shine.

In the article from NY Times, scholars talk about the things people lie about most on their profiles: height, weight, and age. However, if you have any intention of actually having a face-to-face date, it's important not to lie too generously. The academics noted that most of the made up information were just little fibs so people wouldn't have to explain themselves later on.

My favorite nugget from their research? People were more likely to admit to being fat than admitting they were politically conservative.**

From my experiences, I've noticed people amp up things that make them appear interesting or mysterious (I'm guilty of that too). They post adventurous-looking photos and promise they're one of the "last true gentlemen left in the world" in their self-descriptions. 

After a few seconds of reading through a profile, it's usually easy to discover someone's motive for joining. There are several people genuinely looking for a dating relationship, others are wife-shopping, some are broken-hearted and are trying to hide their desire for a rebound, others are slaves to their job. Many are newbies like me who don't know even know where to start to make friends.

One of the more interesting findings from the scholars cited in the article is that caucasians usually stick to caucasians online, there are fewer interracial  relationships than expected. The same doesn't hold true for other ethnic groups, who frequently intermingle in the online singles' sites.

I wanted a wide range of compatible matches, so I said I was open to any ethnicity, religion and income scale. As a result, I have quite an array of men to pick and choose from. It's like grocery shopping -- if an item looks good on the shelf, I'll pick it up and check out the nutrition facts and ingredient list.

I hate to put it that way, but it's the truth. Online dating isn't three dimensional. If a photo looks promising, I'll scroll down to read basic stats then onto their self-description. If they have poor grammar, several spelling errors, over-usage of slang, or several long under-punctuated paragraphs, I won't waste my time reading.

It's horrifying how many assumptions people can make from something as arbitrary as a typed paragraph. Unlike meeting someone in person, it's easy to quantify a person when they exist only on your computer screen. Only when you meet someone in the flesh do things become more authentic.

I've gone out in real-life with a handful of people from the site. It's hit or miss. Everyone has been very nice, and I've gotten introduced to new neighborhoods of the city. But there's always an inherent awkwardness that comes along with meeting someone who has only been an arrangement of digital pixels inside your mind. Will they be like you imagined from their description? Will I match the persona I exude on my profile? What if they're horrible conversationalists?

Of course, the grand-daddy awkward of them all: does this person want a relationship or a friendship? 
At my age, it's hard to tell. If I were 35, I think the boundaries would be drawn a lot clearer.

When it comes right down to it, no one really knows how or why attraction works or doesn't work. The scholars from the article admittedly are thrilled about all the new digital dating data they have at their disposal, but they still can't peg why some people merely get along while others just click.

Perhaps it's best left a mystery.

**(this gives me a little more hope for our country's future)

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