Archive for the ‘dating’ Category

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Two weeks ago I took a trip to New York for some graduate school shopping and while I was there I stopped in at the Museum of Sex, affectionately referred to as MoSex (Mo’ Problems, amirite?).

MoSex, located off of Madison Square Park, is dedicated to the cultural significance of human sexuality. It consists of several floors of exhibits, a bar and lounge and a gift shop featuring the kind of items you would expect at a museum dedicated to the cultural significance of human sexuality.

The museum is more than just rocking beds and phallic art (though it has those too, natch). The top floor is comprised of an interesting exhibit on sexuality and reproduction in the animal kingdom (did you know there are single-cell creatures with as many as 7 genders? Neither did I) which focuses mostly on the more atypical habits in nature, such as male sea horses giving birth, ubiquitous self-gratification among primates and Roy and Silo, the two male Central Park Zoo penguins who built a nest together and tried to hatch a little rock-baby. Their story was also transitioned into the children’s book “And Tango Makes Three,” which is as adorable as you would expect a book about two gay penguins raising a baby would be.

Sidenote: perhaps the 2014 sequel to My Life Online should be my adventures with an imaginary rock girlfriend, “And Trisha Makes Two.” /Sidenote.

But the most fascinating part of MoSex — and the part that relates to MLO — is the “Universe of Desire” exhibit, which is based on the research of Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, who collected and analyzed internet search data from July 2009 to July 2010 and published their findings in the book “A Billion Wicked Thoughts.”

As the puppets of Avenue Q have made abundantly clear, the internet is for porn, and not surprisingly Ogas and Gaddam found that of the more than 400 million internet searches they gathered, roughly 55 million (or 13 percent) were for some type of erotic content.

The exhibit breaks down these searches, ranking specific terms by popularity. “Breasts” were number 4, separate from “small breasts” at number 81. “Buttocks” came in at number 23 and “feet” ranked 54th.

Many of the terms I had never even heard of. For example, there is, evidently, an entire sub-genre of humiliation pornography in which a naked man is ogled and ridiculed by clothed women. I’m not entirely sure who would be into that, but I’ve never really understood the feet thing either (my brother used to joke that mid-90s singer Jewel had great feet. At least I think it was a joke).

Universe of Desire also included installations on the rise of the sext. A transcript of Anthony Wiener’s extra-marital Facebook chats was displayed, as was an email exchange between two coworkers that was meant to be private before it was accidentally reply-all’d, the horror of every intra-office romance writ large for the world to see.

From the museum website:

“Type. Swipe. Search. Upload. Download. Post. Stream. These are the new verbs of desire. Our most intimate thoughts, fantasies, and urges are now transmitted via electronic devices to rapt audiences all over the world. These transmissions — from sexts to webcam masturbation feeds — are anonymous yet personal, individual yet collective, everywhere and nowhere, and they are contributing to the largest sexual record to date. In short, desire has gone viral. But what does this mean? And what does it reveal about us?”

Dating, too, has gone viral. Online relationship sites love to tout that half of all new pairings begin online, though I assume that claim — much like the claim that half of all marriages end in divorce — is mostly unquantified myth. Regardless of the hard numbers, the way we meet and interact with each other is continually shifting away from “real life,” and it is a well-accepted fact that the first thing you do after meeting someone is stalk them on Facebook, comparing their number of friends to your own and digging through years of old photographs to see how they look in all four seasons.

Sex, money, religion and politics are the ever-present subtexts in a modern society that is increasingly digital. We shop online, we vote on computers, we stream sermons and a sea of skin is always only a mouse click away. I don’t know what it means, or what it reveals about us, but it is the pixelated reality of the world we live in.

As it happened, I got back from my New York trip just in time for the latest anti-pornography White House Petition to start gaining steam. A person identified solely as M.G. has a beef with porn, and is asking the government to step in and require service providers to only allow access to adult content if a customer “opts in.” M.G. is not alone and as of Monday 34,000 like-minded individuals had signed on, although one has to wonder if they’ve really considered the near-impossibility of the proposal or the unprecedented government intrusion into the private sector that they’re calling for. (It should also be noted that the vast majority of signatures come from Utah, a state notorious for 1) it’s opposition to pornography and 2) it’s highest-in-the-nation pornography consumption).

Then there was the news last month that Silk Road, a relatively unknown-to-the-lay-person corner of the deep web, had been shut down and its facilitator, known online as the Dread Pirate Roberts had been allegedly arrested. For years the site had served as the Amazon.com of online crime, allowing individuals to purchase everything from illegal drugs to child pornography to assassins in convenient secrecy through the exchange of bitcoin, which functions as the digital equivalent of cash.

I don’t have the technological head to comment on bitcoin or Silk Road, suffice to say that it’s a fascinating example of something that exists unseen in the world around us. If you’re curious, I suggest listening to this podcast by the Stuff You Should Know guys.

But there’s the lighter side of the internet as well, even when it comes to sexuality. I recently came across the site GhostSingles.com, a satirical online dating service that plays at arranging relationships between the dead. If I search as a male ghost, seeking a female ghost, between the ages of 18 and 200 who died “tragically,” I get six matches, including deadgrrrl, whose profile reads as the following:

Hi guys! My real name is Dorothy, and I’m from West Virginia. Do I say where I’m from as where I was born or where I died LOL?

ANYWAY, I used to like to sew, and miss it so bad! I also miss honey butter like nothing else.

I used to miss my cat until she died. That was like seventy years ago, and then she was fun to have back around. Now she disappears for like a decade at a time, then comes back for a few years. Don’t ask me what a dead cat’s doing. Hey, I thought they had 9 lives! lol!!

Anyway, shoot me a message! XXOO

The take-away message? It’s nice to no there’s a niche online dating service out there if this project kills me.

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Have you ever come across something for the very first time – a word, a song, a concept – and, having discovered it, realized that it’s everywhere around you?

For example, I only recently watched The Usual Suspects and no sooner had the final credits rolled that I found myself hearing references, seemingly everywhere, to Kaiser Soze. In fact, I read one such reference this morning in TIME magazine.

Or take humus, which I initially consumed at a pot luck work Christmas party in 2008. “What is this rapturous creation?” I asked (paraphrasing). “It’s humus,” the creator replied, with more than a hint of contempt in her voice for the uncultured rube she was conversing with.

Imagine my surprise then, when I realized that every gallery stroll, dinner party and grocery store in America features crushed chickpeas blended with olive oil and other spices. Weirder still, I had seen the movie Rat Race dozens of time but never grasped Jon Lovitz’ line, when he compares $2 million to “a lifetime supply of humus.” I could quote that dialogue, but I didn’t know what it meant.

Or take the last week of October, when I first encountered the word “Sapiosexual” on a woman’s Match.com profile. When I see a foreign word whilst using the computer I habitually open a tab and google the definition — because why not? – and was doubly curious because I naturally assumed it referred to something kinky, having discovered it on an online dating site.

Turns out “sapiosexual,” or the optional variant “sapiophile,” refers to a person who is attracted to intelligence above all other characteristic traits.

“Hmmm, never heard that one before,” I thought, before going my way on the information super highway. But since then I have encountered alleged sapiosexuals or references to sapiosexuality at least once per day. It’s apparently a very popular trope people use when describing themselves to the opposite gender.

This is great news for me, since I consider myself to be an intellectual person, or at the very least I’m smarter than I am muscular and wealthy, which one assumes are the other leading characteristic traits women are attracted to.

And yet I’m dubious of these women’s sapiophilic claims. The profile that served as a catalyst for this vernacular discovery was that of a woman taking a mirror selfie in a mini-skirt while most of the others I’ve seen feature women in low-cut tops posing in duckface behind a pair of hipster glasses.

Now, I’m not saying that women who are attracted to smart men don’t wear mini-skirts or low-cut tops – who would want to live in that world, amiright? – but I am most certainly implying an inverse correlation between the frequency of duckface and level of intelligence.

Mostly, however, I’m skeptical of anything people say about themselves online, since people lie and on the internet no one knows you’re a dog. So I decided to engage one of these women, to shed some light on the finer points of sapiosexuality.

Me: I see you’re a sapiophile. How exactly would you expect a man to demonstrate his intelligence?

I didn’t get a reply, but rest assured I will continue to explore this phenomenon further. I think the next sapiosexual I come across I’ll just message with a series of mathematical formulas and/or Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics.

After 9 months of this nonsense, I’ve found that my outgoing messages have lost some of their conversational prater in lieue of more direct inquiries. I’d like to think that’s because I’m of an inquisitive mind and not just because I’m a jaded skeptic who hates everyone and everything. For example, I recently matched on Tinder with a beautiful 25-year-old named Lindsey and sent the following:

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When I started writing this post, I hadn’t heard back from Lindsey. But in the time it took me to finish I received a reply so I suppose there’s some potential there.

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But I haven’t heard back in a while from a woman named Tammy, although that’s probably my fault for not ending with a question. Online dating is a lot like improv, only instead of “Yes, and…” you have to remember to always say “…how about you?”

Tammy: Hey I loved your profile and am interested in learning more about you. 🙂

Me: Hi! So you went from blonde to brunette (this was part of her profile), from an academic perspective, are you having less fun?

Tammy: Actually, I’m having more fun because it is such a big change. What about you? (see) Have you always loved the ukulele? When did you first begin to play?

Me: Yes, I’ve always loved the ukulele but I’ve only been playing for about two years. I first got into it because I moved to New York and couldn’t take my piano so I needed something portable I could play around on.

Tammy: What part of New York did you intern in? I recently got back from a vacation there and quite enjoyed it.

Me: I interned in Manhattan but lived in Queens.

Now yes, before you say it, if I wanted to keep talking to her I should have said something like “What did you do on your trip? Did you see any shows on Broadway? Did you go to Grand Central? Did you see a dead body like I did my first day in the city?” but I didn’t want to keep talking to her. Don’t judge, I’m only human.

But props to Tammy for being woman enough to start the conversation. That is an occurrence few and far between. I mean seriously ladies, what happened to that post-gender society you all claim to pushing for? What happened to Lean Forward? I swear, most the time I’m the biggest feminist in the room.

The other day a friend was telling me about how she met her boyfriend. The story began like this:

“He came up to me in a bar and asked me for a light and I told him that I couldn’t talk to him because I don’t talk to men who approach me in bars.”

“Wait,” I interrupted. “What?”

“Yeah. Guys who meet you in bars are creeps.”

“But that’s how you met your boyfriend?”

“Well yeah, he persisted, and he was the exception.”

“So how is an exception supposed to meet you if he happens to see you in a bar you’re both at?”

“I don’t know. He should wait till he sees me somewhere else.” 

I think the Catch-22 in that story is obvious enough that I don’t have to analyze it in detail. The other thing I find offensive as a man about the scenario is the notion that men are creeps until proven otherwise. I’m not saying that’s a false notion, but it sets up a losing game where we men begin with negative points and are only allowed to continue if we “persist” long enough to win the favor of our liege, like some kind of jester or dancing monkey.

Seriously, women of the world, hear me. There has to be a better way.

But back to My Life Online.

For a week or two I’ve been chatting with a nice red-headed bisexual named Rose. Our conversation started out ordinarily enough but has sinced veered off into a still-unfinished tangent about our shared Irish ancestry.

Now, I’m a big believer in the mantra of “to each his own” but even in optimum circumstances I doubt my mother would approve of Rose. Besides her sexual orientation – which I’d love to ask her about, from an academic perspective – Rose’s profile picture is a high-angle selfie of her in what appears to be only a bra and towel. A bold choice, IMHO, as the way to first present yourself to the online world.

I’m also beginning to realize that online dating functions as a stepping stone for many recent divorcees. I assume the logic is that they’re not quite ready to venture out into the world, so they use the chatting services provided by sites like Match and OkCupid to flex their social muscles in safety.

I assume that was the case with Stephanie, who describes herself as artsy, divorced and non-religious and whose occupation is “creature creator.” Our conversation took a strange turn rather quickly.

Me: What exactly is a creature creator?

Her: I do special effects make up and costume design and production for the film industry and larpers. I’ll sculpt a concept, mold it, cast it, and paint it. I just call myself a creature creator because it is much shorter.

Me: And cooler. I would imagine it’s tough to find industry work in Utah?

Her: It hasn’t been hard for me so far. I’m working on a music video tomorrow.

Her: I’m not looking forward to dating. I haven’t been on a date for a long time.

Her: That probably sounded wrong. I just wish it was easier to find someone I’m compatible with without a bunch of first dates.

I was a little thrown by this. I assumed she was talking in the abstract, but tone isn’t conveyed well via text. At this point I was already eyeing the door.

Me: For sure, first dates are excruciating. You’d think our society would have evolved beyond them by now 🙂

Her: I’m glad you knew what I meant by my statement. I didn’t mean I wouldn’t want a first date with you.

I know that I’ve long advocated for women to take a less passive role in dating, but this is not the way to do it. Plus, any continued interaction with Stephanie would have inevitably led to an increase of larping in my life. I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

Another way to not do it? Whatever it was Julie intended by the message I received on September 12.

Julie: Hello, you caught my eye :$

I grew up in the internet age. I quite literally live in front of a computer screen. I have absolutely no idea what emotion a colon-dollar sign is supposed to convey.

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A few months back I got a message from a girl whose name I don’t remember. We’ll call her Tiffany; no, we’ll call her Sarah.

Sarah has muscular dystrophy and on her profile she talked about how most guys are typically unwilling to look past her physical traits and get to know her on a personal level, which is why she had decided to try online dating in the hopes nurturing a relationship beyond superficial qualifications.

I’d like to believe I’m slightly more evolved than the knuckle-dragging philistines of my gender, but I admit that my first reaction upon seeing Sarah’s smiling face in my inbox was not the most chivalrous. But I stayed my hand, telling myself that there but for the grace of God go I and that I owed it to My Life Online to reply. Who’s to say that she and I would not have similar interests and, physical challenges aside, would not be charmingly compatible on an emotional level?

Sarah’s experiences were certainly, unquestionably, more tragic than mine, but at the end of the day she was looking for the same thing all of us online dating drones are: a genuine connection with another human being in a world where the traditional social models have failed us.

I drafted some form of a response, introducing myself and asking some benign questions about the music she likes or something of that ilk (I tried to locate the actual conversation but it seems to have disappeared).

She never replied.

Now, I would never suggest that any girl with muscular dystrophy should be thrilled to receive a message from me; that would be childish, arrogant, and insulting. Assuming no ill will, there’s any number of possible scenarios that would have prevented her from replying to me, for example, she may have stumbled upon a fulfilling relationship in the interim between her initial message and my response.

Still, I couldn’t help but see some irony in a woman making a request that men exercise patience and get to know her as an individual as opposed to a collection of physical flaws, who then decided that I wasn’t worth talking to. Not that I blame her either, I’m a hot mess sometimes.

Exceptions abound, but in broad, simple terms women just don’t reply to men online anywhere near the rate to which men attempt to contact women. And who can blame them? Men are pigs, particularly those who lurk in the dark recesses of internet anonymity.

Since starting this project I have been privy to countless firsthand accounts of less-than-flattering online dating experiences from friends and acquaintances, with the man typically at fault. For example, there was the recent story of a guy who made my friend drive two hours to meet him, then another hour through the mountains for a burger, at which point he disclosed that he had forgotten his wallet and she would be picking up the tab. On the way home, he asked her to stop and buy him a Slurpee, which she did.

It’s not the worst example of human behavior, and you could argue (I did) that her first mistake was agreeing to drive to him for a first date (always make the guy come to you, ladies, but meet them at neutral location), but it illustrates why I may be experiencing such colossal failure online, besides the obvious explanation that women simply find my uninteresting.

They’ve been through this before. They’ve been stood up, propositioned, mistreated and generally burned by men taller, richer and with better bone structure than myself. So they pass, over and over again.

But Goonies never say die, and neither do I. And so, faced with Act III of My Life Online, I decided it was time to stop goofing around and get serious.

First thing was to get rid of my niche online dating service (hint: it’s not KinkyDatingSite.com) which had proven to be an abysmal failure despite picking my pocket every month. To it I say: Good riddance, you useless, hideously-programmed piece of internet excrement.

But I couldn’t just skate by on the merits of my remaining free online dating sites, and so I turned to the grand-daddy of them all, the apex predator of the online dating world, the pioneer of digital romance: Match.com.

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Signing up for Match was an interesting experience. It runs you through the typical process of uploading photographs (remember to choose images that emphasize your interests and convey that you are not a sexual predator) and describing yourself in vague platitudes (“active,” “social,” “virile,” etc.). But it goes a step further attempting to anticipate your interests by presenting you with pictures of celebrities to select the one most attractive to you (Jessica Alba, of the options given), the wardrobe style you prefer (sundresses, natch) and the body part you notice first on a woman (legs).

It also asks you to select the most appealing among a series of audio samples of women’s voices saying the phrase “Dinner sounds great, I’ll meet you at 7.” This seemed slightly ridiculous to me, although it should be noted that of the 3 options, one was rather husky and another was spoken with a strong southern drawl. I also may have taken it more seriously if the control phrase had been something I was actually used to hearing women say, like “Sounds fun, but I already have plans” or “I’m sorry, do I know you?”

Questionnaire completed, I was ready to yet again embark on a new online dating experience. Match.com, it should be noted, is known for skewing to a younger clientele than it’s chief competitor eHarmony and boasts the largest collection of subscribers of any dating service on the internet. It’s search function has the potential to be hyper-specific, allowing someone to scour the far reaches of the web for a 4’2’’ vegan Sagittarius from Bismark, North Dakota (evidently, there are a few of them), if they are so inclined.

It also boasts a guarantee in which subscribers who pay for at least 6 months in advance are treated to an additional 6 months free if they are unsuccessful at meeting someone through the service. Since I plan on going off the grid for my own personal Walden after this project is completed, I opted for the simple 3-month plan (it also seemed counter-intuitive to pay for 6 months with the pitch of “If we fail to help you, we’ll give you even more time to fail over and over again!”)

Match costs more than your lesser-known niche services, like the one I was previously affiliated with (hint, it’s not SisterWives.us) which in theory filters out the riff-raff of less-than-noble intentions. I say “in theory,” because that argument relies on the notion that unsavory men don’t have disposable income, which isn’t really the world we live in, is it?

Since joining I’ve exchanged a few backs-and-forths with a girl named Carrie, who road bikes, works on the front desk of an accounting firm and whose middle name is the Hawaiian word for “morning star.”

But she prefers Superman to Batman. No one is perfect, I suppose.

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My friend Karen is a hoot and a half.

We first made each other’s acquaintance in 2011 when I was the editor in chief of USU’s student newspaper. Karen sent me a sternly-worded email expressing her displeasure with a photograph we had chosen to publish in connection with a fundraiser held by her boyfriend’s frat.

The image, which featured a young woman with her legs around the waist of a young man fist-pumping in time to whatever sick jams the hired DJ was spitting, was deemed by some in the Greek community as an intentional, calculated maneuver to discredit the image of these fine, upstanding, campus leaders due to my personal prejudices against fraternal and sororital groups.

In actuality, the photo was selected because it was indicative of the event – a dance party – and was one of the more tasteful images we had gathered during the evening. As for my personal bias, I only had ill feelings toward a single house on USU’s Greek Row, which was not the fraternity in question.

I did my best to explain this to Karen and the issue was mostly settled, as today’s newspapers are tomorrow’s birdcage liners. But for the remainder of the semester Karen I stayed in sporadic contact; she letting me know about upcoming news from the Greeks and I using her insight into an area of campus life foreign to me as a makeshift focus group.

In the years since, Karen and I have often debated politics, philosophy, religion, pop culture and any other myriad number of subjects. I value her opinion and insight immensely, and in fact she has been kind enough to read through an early draft of my novel to provide feedback (a labor of love, I assure you).

And yet, Karen and I have never spoken face to face.

We ran in different scenes in college and, after graduation, I scooted off to an internship in New York City while she headed to Wisconsin to be a librarian. Thanks to the wonderful world of Facebook in which we know live, we may as well be neighbors.

Karen isn’t the only example in my life of a relationship that is primarily digital. Among my 600-odd Facebook friends are many who began as acquaintances but, one “like” and comment at a time, have become indispensable members of my social circle.

For example, in 2010 I spent a week in Georgia at a conference for college newspaper editors. There were a few dozen of us, pulled from schools all over the country, and we spent our days immersed in the study of our shared profession and our nights bar-hopping around Athens.

It was one of the most memorable weeks of my life, and though I effectively haven’t seen any of my colleagues since, we nonetheless keep in touch and come together in an online forum from time to time online to discuss the changing state of our industry.

In today’s world, you can go months, even years, without exchanging so much as a sentence with a particular human being, but with one mouse click Facebook notifies you that “John Doe likes your post,” and you know that connection remains.

Most people, I imagine, have experienced this as most people are now on one form of social media or another. That is why it’s so hard for me to understand the stigma that continues to hang over online dating, since the central concept is the same. If a friendship can be built and maintained online then why not love?

It’s also what makes the constant failure of online dating so frustrating, as most of my attempts at a conversation are either never answered or flame out over the space of two to three days.

But the obvious difference is time. It took two years of slow, incremental progress for Karen and I to become bona-fide friends, whereas most of the articles I’ve read on online dating (and my own experience) suggest that after you “meet” your eJuliet you need to suggest a meeting IRL relatively quickly before they lose interest and move on to the next hazel-eyed brunette with a college degree who enjoys folk music, Thai food and embroidery.

Case in point, Melanie, who I was obliged to friend on Facebook after receiving the following message:

So I have an interesting story for you! It’s an epic story with twists and a surprise ending!

This past weekend, a girl I know passed away. This morning, I wanted to find out more details about the accident, so I went to [a website I contribute to] and guess who was the author of the article?! 🙂

Here’s the part where it takes a turn.

First off, great article! I also really enjoyed your blog [ed note: Uh-oh] and flipping through your FB pictures! You never mentioned that you are in a band! [ed note: I wouldn’t exactly call One Wood Uke a “band”] These are the kind of facts you wanna broadcast if you’re really trying to impress a girl!

Now, it’s generally understood that everyone Facebook stalks each other. I mean, real talk, that’s what the website is for. But still, acknowledging it flat-out seems like a breach of social protocol, especially when it affects what I can write on my blog.

But it’s mostly a moot point. After accepting my friend request I didn’t bother continuing our conversation on OkCupid, plus I was out of town with limited internet capability. When I returned to society I had the following message from Melanie in my FB inbox:

“So what’s the deal? We become friends on Facebook and stop talking?”

Apparently, yes. But who knows, in two years we could be thick as thieves.

In other news, I’m beginning to think the initial excitement of Tinder is wearing off, leaving only the sad a depressed or the sexual predators as users. My two most recent “matches” include a woman named Kyra whose tagline says “I’m looking for a one night stand” and Lisa, who mere seconds after matching with me initiated the following conversation:

Lisa: Hi! Have we chatted before? 24/female here…you??

Me: Don’t think so. 26.

Lisa: I’m sorry…I get to be forgetful at times!! How’re u??

Me: No worries. I’m good. How are you?

Lisa: Just got out of the shower…..crazy week been working a lot! But I’m feeling naughty!! So what’s up….wanna have some fun?? 😉

Lisa: I want a guy that can make me [explicit sexual phrase] Have you ever made a chick [use your imagination]?? Hahaa

Me: Can’t say I have

Lisa: Gonna change my clothes…..wanna see? 🙂

Lisa: Want to play on webcam?

Me: I don’t have a webcam

If you’re wondering why I was still responding at that point, it was for academic purposes, natch, I am a blogger after all.

Lisa then proceeded to send me the url for a webcam website where, if I filled in my credit card information, I would be able to enjoy a nice conversation with her about the Socratic method and Plato’s analogy of the cave. She assured me the credit card was just to verify that I was an adult and that I wouldn’t be charged a dime.

Which basically brings us to the present after a mostly non-eventful month. My niche online dating service (hint: it’s not DatingWithHerpes) continues to be an abysmal failure, and to make matters worse I’ve reached the end of my 6-month prepaid period, meaning I know get a nice monthly withdrawal from my checking account to be rejected by women.

If I’m learning anything, it’s that free dating sites offer services as good, if not superior, to paid sites. That may not be true for higher-profile entities like eHarmony or Match.com which, if the commercials are to be believed, employ an army of statisticians to painstakingly introduce you to the next love of your life.

What’s more disheartening about my niche online site (hint: it’s not EquestrianCupid ) is that of my 4 services it’s the one I’m failing the most at. I’ve so far stuck to my quota of initiating at least one conversation a week but am sad to say the last time I received a response was June 4.

I’ve updated my profile, I’ve added pictures, but the scientific method would suggest I’m a lost cause. Unbeknownst to me, there must be something about my smile, the way I style my hair, or the way I answered the 6 things I can’t live without that is a secret female code word for “deranged sociopath.”

As the mutants on table 9 and I have come to realize throughout our lives, we simply have nothing to offer the opposite sex.

Or, maybe it’s just that I’m a writer.

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Back in 2009, OkCupid released a series of reports studying the way its members interacted with each other. They found that on average, women were more likely to respond to men who engaged them on the basis of their interests or personality as opposed to just their looks. The report included specific phrases that increased the likelihood of a response (it’s nice that, fascinating) or decreased the likelihood of a response (sexy, hot, cutie).

The site found that women respond positively to male self-effacement, with men who included phrases like “sorry” or “awkward” as opposed to boastful bravado increasing their odds of a reply by 30 to 40 percent.

OkCupid also looked at the way people of different races interact and match with each other. You can read a concise breakdown of those results by Lisa Wade here, but the long and short of it is that if you’re going to try online dating it helps to be a white man. The officials OkCupid sum up the game as such:

“White women prefer white men to the exclusion of everyone else—and Asian and Hispanic women prefer them even more exclusively. These three types of women only respond well to white men. More significantly, these groups’ reply rates to non-whites is terrible. Asian women write back non-white males at 21.9%, Hispanic women at 22.9%, and white women at 23.0%.”

One would think, then, that I am well-suited to finding romance in this relatively new medium. I am, in fact, a white male, I absolutely hate myself and I would never, ever, begin a correspondence with the kind of “hey sexy lady” nonsense of my protein shaking, tank top wearing peers.

But wait, that’s not all I have going for me. Apparently Salt Lake City has been ranked 20th on the list of most romantic North American cities by MissTravel.com (shout-out to my colleague Wendy for sending me this report). Sure, good ol’ SLC fell behind notable travel destinations like San Francisco (no. 1), New York City (no.2 ) and Las Vegas (no. 4), as well as three cities in Canada (really? Canada?), but still, number 20 is nothing to sneeze at.

“All cities are not created equal,” says Brandon Wade, Founder & CEO of MissTravel.com. “Picking the right destination could mean the difference between finding a platonic connection and falling in love.”

So even though last month we learned Salt Lake City was the single most superficial city in the U.S., apparently SL,UT is a hot travel destination for the star-crossed lovers on MissTravel.com.

What is MissTravel.com? I’m so glad you asked.

While I support doing away with the stigma attached to online dating, I also acknowledge that sites like MissTravel are the reason that stigma exists in the first place. On this particular niche dating website, attractive young singles are paired with older generous gentlemen who are more than willing to pay for the travel expenses and lodging of their youthful paramours (you can see a handy video explaining how the process works by clicking here).

The young ladies get to see the world at little or no cost to them, the generous men get a chance to put their wealth to good use facilitating cultural experiences for the next generation. For whatever reason, these “couples” have chosen Salt Lake City as their 20th most popular destination.

MissTravel.com, where “Beautiful People Travel Free!” Trust me, it’s not as bad as it sounds (it’s exactly as bad as it sounds).

As for me, I already live here in la vingtième ville de l’amour and thanks to my aforementioned demographic identifiers the online dating world should be my metaphorical oyster. Except it isn’t, as I’ve described in the very blog series you’re currently reading.

photo(1)This is the “Social” folder on my iPhone, which functions as ground zero for the My Life Online project. As you can see, I have the apps for my two free online dating services, OkCupid and Plenty of Fish, free dating app Tinder and then LinkedIn, which is kind of like online dating for a job, which is also kind of like prostitution.

Savvy Wood’s Stock readers will notice that one is missing. That is because the imbecilic overlords of my niche dating service (hint: it’s not GothicMatch.com) have apparently written off smartphone use as a passing fad not worth the effort of creating a mobile application. I would find this egregious lapse in basic consumer knowledge shocking if not for the absolute programming ineptitude manifest on said website, but since I can’t tell you what website that is, there’s no sense beating a dead horse (simply put, it’s awful).

Now, remember a few months ago when I predicted that the boffo success of Tinder would lead to the tinderization of other online dating sites? As with most things it appears that my prediction was completely accurate and bordered on divine prescience. About two weeks ago the OkCupid app received an upgrade that included a very familiar swipe left/right pattern.

photo(2)Add that to the already-existing “Meet Me” feature on Plenty of Fish (more widely known by its street name POF.com), and it would appear that the Midas touch of Tinder is alive and well, proliferating its way through the landscape and giving people even more opportunities to make snap judgments based on little more than a person’s appearance.

photo(3)

But believe it or not, it was not these new exciting features that led to my latest online date. It was, in fact, my original niche dating service (hint: it’s not ‘StachePassions) and a few serendipitous turns of events. To tell that story, I need to go back a few years.

In the summer of 2009 my girlfriend Katie dumped me and moved to Chile. I spent a few weeks flailing, briefly going out with Sarah the vegetarian and Mary the Idahoan before eventually meeting Cami the cute tennis player who had recently called off a wedding. We met on a Saturday night, thanks to an outdoor viewing of Fast and Furious that mutual friends had put together, and immediately hit it off.

The next Saturday I took her out on our first date and we proceeded to spend 14 inseparable days together. She met my family, I met hers. Then, exactly a fortnight after our first date we doubled with a friend of hers and when I dropped her off that night I told her I wanted to slow things down and just like that we really never spoke again.

Flash forward three and a half years and it’s December 2012. I was covering a Christmas event at a local elementary school for work and while there I noticed a teacher’s assistant with gorgeous curly dark hair who I knew I had met before but whose face I couldn’t quite place. After the event we chatted and it came back to me that his was Chelsea, Cami’s friend with whom we had double-dated on that fateful night three summer’s prior.

We exchanged pleasantries — Chelsea had recently moved back to Salt Lake City after a stint in the Midwest — and with that, we went on our respective ways.

Flash forward six months to three weeks ago and a message appears in my inbox.

Chelsea: Oh hey, I think I’ve seen you before… 🙂

She had seen me before, but I assume she was being either flippant or coy. We talked about mutual friends from college and I invited her to join me and my band of merry men for an evening of sushi and Star Trek, to which she generously relented.

I learned two things from this experience. 1) It’s considerably easier to meet up with a stranger from the internet when they’re not actually a stranger from the internet and 2) My success rate online is increased dramatically when I’m not the one initiating a conversation (remember Tess?).

Because we men are really just drooling beasts waiting to be told what to do. Should I ever enter into a mature, adult relationship (which past experience would suggest is unlikely) I imagine it will be due to a woman saying to me “Ben! You’re going to date me now!” to which I will most likely nod in submission and say “Yes ma’am.”

That’s the dream.

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I came across a troubling report the other day. Online-dating website WhatsYourPrice.com had used Google Analytics to calculate the amount of time people in particular U.S. cities spend evaluating online dating profiles.

On April 30, the site released a press released titled “Salt Lake City Ranks 1st Among ‘Most Superficial Cities in America'”, which included the impressive statistic that Utahns spend a whopping 7.2 seconds deciding whether to interact with or callously dismiss another human being.

“Salt Lake City members clearly value physical appearance above all other profile information,” says Brandon Wade, Founder and CEO of WhatsYourPrice.com. “One cannot possibly determine dating potential in only 11.5 seconds. Evidently, superficial factors such as looks and income influence attraction when Salt Lake City members browse profiles.”

Of course, Wade was actually being generous by confusing the 11.5-second average of Louisville, Kentucky with SLC’s 7.2. Also in case you’re interested, the rest of the top 5 are Portland with 7.7 seconds, Houston with 8.3 seconds, Chicago with 8.6 seconds and D.C. with 9.8 seconds (at least it’s not just a Red State thing).

Now, this is a problem for two reasons: 1) I just so happen to live in Salt Lake City at the moment and 2) My well-documented failures in the dating arena would suggest I am not what most people would describe as “conventionally attractive.”

Obviously this report is less than scientific and should be taken with a huge grain of salt. That said, do I personally agree with WhatsYourPrice.com that Salt Lake City (and Utah by extension) is among the most, if not THE most, shallow places in the country?

Emphatically, yes. Which is why it does not surprise me that the mobile dating app Tinder has done gangbusters businesses in Utah since its launch in October.

I described Tinder briefly in my last post but in a nutshell, the app presents a user with a photograph of someone in their geographical area and asks them to swipe right if their interested or swipe left if their not. Should two individuals independently approve of one another, a “match” is created, whisking the two would-be lovers to a private chat room where they can exchange pleasantries and contact information.

The app seemed to arrive in Utah via Brigham Young University (the global epicenter of superficiality) before quickly spreading through the Wasatch Front and eventually seeping into the farthest reaches of the Beehive State. I recently took a trip to rural Grand County (home to Arches National Park and the world-famous Slickrock Bike Trail) and had no shortage of profiles to ogle/reject.

That’s right, baby doll! I’m on Tinder. And I love it.

As I’ve written (ad nauseam, potentially) online dating is an awful experience, consisting of unpleasant conversation, laborious self-promotion and a seemingly endless routine of checking various profiles to little or no avail. You’re little more than a fisherman at the end of a Los Angeles pier, spending the long, hot day maintaining 12 hooks in the water while the only action you get on your line is occasionally snagging the drifting corpse of a gangland victim, thrown at you by the indifferent current.

And lest we forget, you’re probably paying for the luxury of participating in this grand social experiment, which also puts online dating into that dubious category of businesses that get rich off their customers failure, like weight watchers or nicotine patches. The longer I remain a romantic misfit the more money I’ll end up paying to the design-inept overlords of my niche online dating service (Hint: it’s not SinglesWithFoodAllergies.com).

So I press on, adjusting the keywords in my search criteria and scrutinizing my profile photos for greatest appeal despite feeling like I’m doing little more than wasting time.

Contrast that which Tinder, which is an addictive way to kill time. No need to describe my interests, hobbies, musical preferences and income level (phew). No need to plant my flag in the perpetual cats vs. dog debate or anticipate the number of children I one day hope to sire. All I need is four decent photos of myself culled from Facebook, a catchy tagline (“Writer, Biker, Ukulele Player“) and I’m off to the races, casually browsing a veritable host of mostly beautiful women (sadly the cutest ones have a habit of being 19 and I have a strict cutoff line at age 20…most of the time).

photoCompared to the depressing seriousness of many online dating profiles (“Hoping to find a nice guy, if they still exist. I’m not so sure, my ex-husband was a lying cheat and ran over my chocolate lab”) Tinder is casual to the point of silliness. After a match is made, users are encouraged to strike up a conversation with prompts like “You look great together,” “Tinder can’t type for you…actually, it could, but it won’t,” and “They probably look better in person.”

It’s not perfect. There’s a litany of online etiquette issues that have yet to be established due to the app’s infancy. For example, what do you do when you come across an attractive coworker’s profile? Or a friend’s ex? (For the record I swiped right on both occasions, though the gesture was evidently not reciprocated).

Also, with the quick-paced, visual-exclusive medium you quickly latch on to arbitrary but obnoxious photographical turn-offs. When was it that big, comically fake mustaches became a thing? That picture of you at the wax museum? No one is fooled OR impressed. And stop it with all the pictures of you and smiling, starving third world children. We get it, you’re a decent human being who builds orphanages in your spare time and we’re all lazy, spoiled American snobs. That’s not the kind of think I want to be reminded of while I’m making snap judgements on your physical appearance.

But I digress. Since I’m engaged in a year-long online dating project, I say “Hi :)” to ever single match that I get. I don’t have any particular expectation or desire to actually meet these people, except for Kelsey.

Kelsey and I matched on April 29 and of all the pictures I’ve swiped right, hers was the only one I really hoped would come back from the dead. She’s brunette, a sort of cross between Felicity Jones and a young Virginia Madsen and from the scientific measurement of four self-selected photos she seems like a nice girl (what? I’m from Salt Lake City, remember?).

I sent her the usual “Hi :)” but after a day or two of silence figured I had to up the ante from a simple emoticon. “Go big or go home!” as me and my frequently home-going high school friends always said.

Me: Instead of awkward small talk, I’m just going to act like we’re already best friends.  How was your day? Did you finish that project you were working on? My coworkers were crazy today, you know how they can be. 

And then, out of the darkness, a voice!

Kelsey: Oh yeah, I know. Those coworkers of yours, I know all about that, obviously. Any fun new projects? 

Me: Seriously, totes cray. Nothing big, I’m just wrapping up an article before I go out of town tomorrow. I tell ya, this Moab trip can’t come soon enough. How about you, any big plans for the weekend? 

Kelsey: Are you going to Cinco de Moab? 

Me: Not intentionally, I didn’t even know that was a thing 🙂 We’re just going down for some biking. 

Kelsey: Some of my friends are going down and having a Cinco de Moab party. 

Me: I like your friends, except that one guy who’s name I can never remember. The one with the hair. You’re not going with them?  We should get dinner when I’m back in town. It’s been way too long since we hung out last. 

Kelsey: True Story. Catch you later.

I gave it some time, a completely casual and not-at-all calculated three days.

Me: Hey, how was your weekend? 

Silence. I knew from my research into online dating that a date had to happen relatively early on before conversational momentum died. Had I squandered my shot at true love for a few days in the Moab sun? I had but one choice, I had to go for broke.

Me: Dinner. On me. Your favorite restaurant. Just tell me when and where. 

Kelsey: When I’m back in town, that would be great. Next week sometime. 

Me: Great, let me know when works. 

And so I wait, hoping for the mechanical buzz in my pocket that will alert me to a new message from my Annabel Lee. I tell myself that she wouldn’t have bothered to respond if she was insincere. We are, after all, complete and utter strangers with no form of communication beyond a third-party and easily-disregarded application.  In the meantime, I guess I better check on my other profiles (groan).

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So my last post, admittedly, was a bit of a low point in my quest for a digital relationship. I lost sight of the prize, letting my own frustrations dampen my resolve.

But, as they say in theater, “The Show Must Go On!” and as The Doors said in Light My Fire, “The Time To Hesitate is Through!” After the crushing defeat of my last post, I decided to redouble my efforts in the online dating game and am happy to report that it yielded results, but more on that later.

Drawing from the knowledge I gleaned from my ill-advised business minor in college, I knew that with little demand for my product (in this case, me) I could either close up shop entirely or extend my breadth and depth by diversifying into the marketplace. So, as March came to a close I added two free online dating services and the mobile app Tinder to my tapestry of digital romance, while also recommitting a can-do attitude to my original, niche online dating service (hint: it’s not WomenBehindBars.com).

What I’ve increasingly come to realize is that in a nutshell, free dating sites are digital wastelands of human depravity, while subscription-based sites are just depressing.

photoIn you haven’t yet heard of Tinder, you will. It is the new hot app sweeping across college campuses around the country in which users are presented with the photograph of another human being and asked to swipe right if they’re interested and swipe left if they’re not. If two people express a mutual interest, it creates a “match” (tinder + match = fire. Get it?) and ships the two users into a private chat for the purposes of arranging a rendezvous.

It really is that simple, cutting down the noise of online dating to its most basic visual elements and allowing you the satisfaction of rejecting dozens of your peers in quick fashion from the safety of your home. There’s no awkward requirement to describe your hobbies and personality in paragraph form. There’s no questionnaires about how you would rate your own self-confidence or whether you are a morning or night person. And, best of all, there’s no possibility of being asked by a stranger how you take your ice cream unless you’ve already registered your approval of their appearance.

But Tinder, as addictive as it is, paints a worrisome picture of the future of online dating. The same ease of entry it presents undermines the essential elements that drove people online in the first place. All the literature I’ve read on the app (which is more than you would think) suggests that the majority of women who use it have absolutely no intention of ever meeting or even speaking to the men they “like” and in the best case scenarios, it’s little more than a way for urban adults to meet up for casual sex.

It’s success (which is rabid) will likely lead to the Tinder-ization of many online dating programs, and while I never thought I would find myself defending the medium it is unfortunate that as the stigmas fall and the online format becomes more mainstream, all of the hangups and annoyances of modern romance that drove people online in the first place will become digitized. What was once intended as a respite from the superficiality of bar-scene hookups and a way to get to know someone on an intellectual level prior to a physical first impression has now given way to the same snap judgements and cat-calling of the real world.

I believe we will look back at the arrival of Tinder as the day online dating became “cool.” So on the one hand congratulations, we’ve arrived, and on the other hand it’s probably time for the hipsters to jump ship.

In it’s worst and often-ridiculed form, online dating is largely an additional medium through which men can objectify women with the hope of a quick score. One blogger put this to the test to hilarious results, in which she created a false online persona to see how crazy she had to act before men would stop trying to shag her. The answer? Very.

In fact, Marla’s favorite movies — Free Willy and Monkey Trouble — made frequent appearances in her interactions with men who still wanted to bang her even after she called them “wanksta” or that she’d accidentally killed her boyfriend because he forgot the safe word. They didn’t care that she reported her day to be terrible because she found out that she just ran into a friend who had syphilis. They didn’t care that she was bummed out about having to pay to taxidermy the hamster that her cat had killed, or that she was upset that her cat had died after eating her pet poisonous Amazon frogs.” Jezebel.com

And it’s not just women who have reason to utter a collective groan. For the few sincere, relationship-seeking men in the world, online dating is now one more medium in which beautiful women claim to want a nice sensitive guy but reject his advances in lieu of the basketball player/surfer/warewolf. In the meantime he’s under a burden to prove he is more than an online predator while also dodging the increasingly real possibility that the woman he’s pursuing online is Manti Teo’s dead girlfriend.

For example, I recently came across a woman, screen name MadiWolff, on OkCupid who’s profile picture was that of a blond in a tank top bending over at the waist to make sure the web cam had a mostly unobstructed view of her naval. In her description, she make it clear that she was looking for someone to have sex with. How, you ask? By writing “I’m only on this website to find people to have sex with. Seriously, I love sex and I’m not afraid to say it.”

Under the “Things I’m Good At” heading she responded “sex” and under the “Six Things I Couldn’t Live Without” heading she listed 1. Sex 2. Sex 3. Sex 4. Sex 5. Sex and 6. Sex, with a smiley face emoticon on the last one to really drive the point home.

In January, a story made the rounds about a Brooklynite who had created a fake OkCupid profile to lure the thief who had stolen his iPhone. After pretending to be a 24-year-old woman named Jennifer and a few rounds of flirting, the thief agreed to meet up for a bottle of wine, at which point the phone was restored to its rightful owner.

Or there was this recent story on Huffington Post about how some 70 idiots at BYU were lured to a FroYo shop on the invitation of a fake Tinder profile. One single message saying “meet me for Froyo” and a smiley face emoticon was all it took. No questions asked.

Now, for all I know, MadiWolff is an actual flesh-and-blood female who just wanted to have herself some sex, but I doubt it. I suspect she was a similar type of online specter (referred to as a “catfish” in internet parlance) and would’ve posted a screen grab of her profile here for your enjoyment but it appears she no longer exists. Surprise, surprise.

But, now that I’ve bored you with my analysis of modern dating I suppose I should probably tell you about the date I went on this week.

Returning to the well of my original niche dating website (hint: It’s not CougarLife.com), I encountered Tess (not her actual name) who had actually engaged me in conversation about who I preferred between Batman or Superman — Batman, natch.

After a few exchanges with Tess, through which I learned that she was from Oregon, would select Telekinesis as her superpower of choice and would prefer to lose her sense of smell if one of the big five had to go, I suggested that we meet up and chat over a hot beverage. She accepted, passing me her number, and the date was set.

We met on a Tuesday night at a local haunt renowned for its delicious hot chocolate. Yes, I felt like a 12-year-old taking a girl out for cocoa, but this stuff is seriously amaze-balls.

In my entire life I’ve only been on two blind dates and so I’m in no way versed in the appropriate arrival behavior when you don’t know your date from Eve. I found myself almost paralyzed by the question, feeling that I had to do something even though a hug felt like overkill and a handshake would be anathema. Luckily she arrived immediately after me and I was able to remove the threat by holding open the door (or using it as a shield, depending on perspective).

We ordered our libations and found a seat beneath a photograph of the store’s owners sheltering themselves from what appeared to be chocolate rain by an umbrella. This detail isn’t pertinent to the story, other than the fact that I found it extremely distracting as I attempted to carry on a conversation with Tay Zonday stuck in my head.

I learned further that Tess works on campus, practices Karate, has lived in Utah for 7 years, is studying exercise science and has been a member of our mutual niche online dating web site for only two weeks. We covered the usual first-date basis — work, school, family, books, movies, hobbies, other — sipped hot cocoa for about an hour and then called it a night. I was careful to not tell her my last name in attempt to avoid her finding me on facebook and, by extension, this blog post; but she knows where I work and my first name, which would be enough for anyone determined to find me online, especially since I exist on the internet in a greater capacity than I do in the real world (I can’t decide whether that’s depressing or not).

I learned several things from this experience. First, that I tend to present the gayest version of myself on first dates, like how I enjoy a cup of Rooibos tea in the morning, how I’m a lover of musical theater, how the thing I miss most about new york is a Broadway-themed sing-a-long piano bar in the Village whose primary clientele is single turtleneck-wearing gentleman and how I have a very strong relationship with my mother. At the time all of those statement made sense but looking back I’m not sure it’s completely indicative in the aggregate.

Second, I re-learned that dating doesn’t have to be death. I have no intention of seeing Tess again but it was a altogether painless and relatively painless evening nonetheless. Who knows, if I were to ever actually meet a girl I was interested in, this could almost be fun.

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