When I first discovered internet dating, I did everything wrong.
I was so excited to have so many dating prospects that I met basically anyone who asked, if there was at least some indication of intelligence. I had long introductory conversations with interesting people I was already sure I never wanted to date. In short, I wasted an incredible amount of time and spent a lot of money trying to outdrink the awkwardness of my poorly-selected dates.
One exchange is particularly illustrative of this time period: An attractive woman with whom I had nothing in common wanted to meet me. I told her flat out that I didn’t think we would get along, but she was having none of it. I reluctantly agreed to go on a date and incomprehensibly insisted on paying for our fairly high-end Indian meal (“You sure you don’t want to split it?” she quite reasonably asked). About 90 dollars and several hours of mutually boring conversation later, we parted ways. Later messaging established that I had in fact won her over, because she finally agreed that we didn’t have a future together.
But somewhere along the way the incredible ease of getting a date online worked it’s way into my brain in a manner not unsimilar to a meth addiction. Despite my best intentions, my internal dialogue began to match that of a much more attractive and successful member of society. “This one seems a little bored by your step-by-step granola making instructions, let’s stop trying and do better with tomorrow night’s date!” Suddenly, I was free of rejection. At the first hint of disinterest, at the first sign of a minorly inconvenient flaw (also known as a “dealbreaker”), I could give up entirely and return my glass to the never-ending tap of moderately attractive okcupid users.
In time, my dating life became consumed by this mentality. I optimized my profile to get more messages (“game theory of online dating” post coming soon), I began to be starkly, prematurely honest with my dates about my own flaws in order to weed out anyone that might be bothered by them. I almost always waited to be contacted by my date to arrange a second meeting. The Groundhog Day-scale freedom was exhilarating.
“Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?
Ralph: That about sums it up for me.”
At some point it dawned on me that my methods would never allow me to develop a real connection with anyone, a realization that would cause most people to change their ways. But for reasons I don’t fully understand (read: reckless hedonism), I just kept sprinting in the wrong direction.
Eventually I discovered that masterpiece of cavalier interactions, Tinder. Like a prescription opiate user stepping up to mainlining heroin, I dutifully swiped right to an endless series of poorly-cropped pictures of really very attractive women while sitting on the bus, waiting in line, or drifting off to sleep. Even at a fairly low rate of return swipes, I soon had a list of matches that would take years to contact (in researching this article I counted over 500 since I joined 4 months ago). I wasn’t in it for the sex so much as the possibility of sex. I wasn’t in it for the conversations so much as the potential for future conversation. I was a Pavlovian dog in it more for the drool than the resulting meal.
Though I’ve only ever agreed to meet about 3 of them, I keep playing the swipe game and accruing more matches. The only thing I’m confident of is that Tinder is not the lowest form that online dating can take. The future is full of 140-character dating profiles, Google Glass approval of faces in a crowd, and the ability to sort matches by facial symmetry and pubic hair style. See you…there?