Friday, 15 July 2011

In which I consider online dating

One of the myriad brilliant things about being with The Writer is the chance to piggyback his frankly ludicrous magazine habit. Numbers aren’t really my thing, but a little mental arithmetic suggests his weekly outlay is somewhere in the region of News International’s imminent legal bill (any lovely men’s mag / current affairs periodical publishers reading who fancy offloading a subscription or two: you know where I am).

One of TW’s hundreds of weekly must-reads, and thus one of my over-Sunday-morning-coffee-and-almond-croissant-now-reads, is The New Yorker.

A recent piece in the magazine was a long, brilliant exploration of online dating sites, and their successes and failures.

The number of online dating sites out there is mind-boggling (as I say: I don’t have a head for maths). You can decide which characteristic is most important to you in a partner, and start from there. Some make some sense: Jewish? J-Date. Rural? Muddy Matches. Being a bit proactive about life? Doing Something.

Some are rather more niche: massively shallow? Beautiful People. Like men in uniform? Uniform Dating.

(For the sake of decency, we’ll ignore the fact that there are also dating sites purely for those looking for affairs.)

Or, you could put yourself at the mercy of one of the dating sites at the more scientific end of the market, and let maths whittle down your options for you.

The New Yorker article explored – at length – the algorithms that different sites use to pair up compatible users, from the first ‘computerised’ dating service back in 1964, to the eHarmony-type sites today.

It all seems exceptionally clever, and as someone with very little idea how something works if it’s not entirely composed of words, I’m quite in awe. Or, I would be if I weren’t quite so sceptical about it.

Whilst not quibbling that science, in all its forms, is an amazing thing (hell, TW and I were up till the small hours last night talking about quantum mechanics and string theory. Or, at least, he was talking. I just was desperately trying to keep up), I would suggest that there’s a flaw in the plan.

I don’t quibble that clever algorithms are just as good as a bottle of Merlot (or two) for finding you someone you quite like having around. Personally, I know two women who are utterly, blissfully in love with men they met online. The men they’re with seem wonderful, and I genuinely could not be happier for either of them.

But looking at it a little more cynically, surely the sites – a bit like dieting companies – don’t really want you to succeed? I mean, they want you to sign up, and go on dates, sure. But that they want you to go on a few dates, find The One and then end your subscription, I’m less convinced.

Of course, a few success stories are good for giving the majority enough to believe that it works, and hope it’ll happen to them. But taking things to their logical conclusion, ultimately, everyone would be paired up (or skinny) and you’d do yourself out of an awful lot of cash.

Surely what they’re after is people having just enough success – several dates, a few that turn into something a bit more long term, but not permanent – to keep people thinking that it nearly worked with that chap, so I’ll go back and see if I can’t hit the jackpot this time round…

But maybe that’s too cynical, even for our unromantic, digital age. After all, someone has to be the success story. But don’t give up on the Merlot…


Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

I know people who have met their other halves sucessfully on and the like.

Although I can't ever see myself signing up to a dating site, I can imagine meeting someone on the internet, and have done in the past. There's a lot of places online to find someone who shares your interests (whether it's Twitter, music forums, blogs, whatever), which I think is slightly less weird than being brought together with someone specifically because you're both looking for a relationship. It goes against how I think the best matches often happen; when you're not looking at all.

looby said...

I do and it's a lot of fun. There was a thread about it a while ago on the Guardian, who were discussing that "Beautiful People" site. If I can be excused a quick drag of the mouse and a click and paste...

I live in a small northern town where men stare into their beer, think you're a cruising poof if you strike up conversation, and in which there are precisely zero available, middleaged, non-lunatic women. I've tried the luring of married women and it's not a rewarding long term experience.

Since starting internet dating two years ago, and being a fairly average-looking 40something bloke with absolutely no money, who once failed to fit an ironing board cover, my only area of expertise being the semiotics of loganberry production in Alsace-Lorraine, I've had more sex in twelve months than I had in the decade previously.

And just (more?) importantly than the sex, I've met a couple of women with whom I completely hit it off with in a Platonic way. Last New Year's Eve, dancing to Banco de Gaia and then repairing to Kendal Youth Hostel with a couple of bottles of Prosecco with "tiddlywimble" or whatever she called herself, was a really really lovely night, and we've become great friends since - I mean, "tell each other everything"-grade friends.

Brennig said...

I signed up to when I lived in Manchester. I met 8 women and am still scarred by the experience(s).

nuttycow said...

I've done the online dating thing. It was amusing to say the least. I don't think I'd do it again but I think that if it works, hoorah! Frankly, I'm at the stage where I simply don't care anymore!!

HC said...

My Dad made the mistake of telling me he had joined a dating website. He then made the fatal error of telling me I shouldn't try and find him, because I would be wasting my time. I put two and two together and went straight for his favourite newspaper, submitted myself as a middle aged woman looking for a single man aged 50-60 that lived within ten miles of [my Dad's house]. Bang, HC Senior was the first recommendation. I was impressed, at first, he came across as romantic, intelligent, honest and charming. His turn-offs were fine too, women with short hair, women who were too direct and not tactile enough (disturbingly we are quite similar).
It was when I got to the turn-ons that I encountered the first wave of shock. "Skinny Dipping".

The second, stronger wave hit me when I saw "Erotica".

Mrs C pulled me out of my stupor yesterday. I am deciding between therapy and punishing my Dad (which could lead to therapy).

Blonde said...

PDEWYMO: I couldn't agree more with your last sentence. It really does seem to be the way things work.

Looby: If it's working for you, then that's good news. And there's no such thing as having too many friends. Maybe I am being too cynical.

Bren: Oh to hear those stories...

NC: Something tells me that's not entirely true...!

HC: Surely the mistake was yours in looking him up? MASSIVE sympathy, though - that's not something anyone needs to know about a parent.

seniors dating services said...

Romance is just a state of mind, but love comes from the heart.It is important for all people to accept that fact that everyone is born differently and not everyone is born with deep inclination to romance.

Anonymous said...

This is a great and interesting post. Thanks for this one.

african woman said...

I can say that romance is everywhere just like love. Love is in the air. It only depends on each individual how they will handle their relationships. Each of us has distinct characteristics because we are born to be unique.

Matt Tempo said...

I'm a cynic to but I must say i have signed up to eharmony and lovestruck and enjoyed the people i met on the latter service. What do other people think?

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