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Ones and Zeroes (Online Dating): A Numbers Game June 10, 2010

Posted by flomped in Dating, Love, Men (Martians), Ones and Zeroes (Online Dating).
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Women are terrifying—and that’s really a pretty massive obstacle facing a lot of men like myself.  I was at a grocery store the other day and saw a really cute girl walking the aisles, she smiled at me and I started thinking, “Man, if only I was the kind of guy who capitalized on this kind of thing.”  I’m not completely hopeless or anything, but it takes a really confident kind of guy to approach a woman out of nowhere and start a conversation…

“Hey, you shop for dairy products?  I shop for dairy products!  Want to go somewhere to talk about dairy products and possibly make out?”

My opener wouldn’t necessarily be that bad, but even if I was charming, thought up a decent opener, and said everything a man in my position ought to, I still figure I have, at best, about a 1 in 10 chance of getting a date out of it.

This is really one of the bigger problems with dating.  I imagine that women must have a complementary problem where 9 out of 10 guys hitting on them are dull, obnoxious, or at the very least not charming enough to warrant flirting with.  (A’s comment: Not all women, just the more outgoing ones.) I’m sure there’s some strategy for improving those ratios, but it seems like a much easier way alternative solution is to just ask out more people.

Well, that only works if you actually have more people to ask out.  A lot of people make fun of speed dating for its two-minute sessions of forced awkwardness and its definitive whiff of desperation, but it does demonstrate that an approach to dating built on volume appeals out of sheer utility.

What would really be great would be something that gave the same volume without the weirdness.  Well, that may be available–with online dating.

I started using online dating sites after I felt like nothing else was working.  The anecdote I mentioned earlier was not only true, but pretty common.  I see pretty girls all the time, but I’ve always found approaching strangers to be unbelievably difficult.

This is where online dating can really shine–it makes it slightly more feasible to approach strangers.  It doesn’t make it more successful, but it makes the approach much more feasible.

For all the bells and whistles of matching algorithms and personality quizzes, online dating gives you what the internet does best: it gives you volume; lots and lots of people to message in the hopes that 1 in 10 odds now leads to solid results.  A dating site hands you nice guys a long list of ladies ready to be messaged, and hands girls an even longer list of guys in the hope that 1 out of the 100 messaging them is a decent match.  (OKCupid runs a blog, OKTrends, in which they catalogue, among other things, the fact that there are a lot more guys than girls surfing for dates on the web).  Also, it gives everyone a guarantee that the people on the list are at least potentially open to dating.

But is there a downside to all this volume?  For a guy to have any success with a dating site, he’ll have to message as many people as possible in the hope that some of them respond.  It’s an unreliable process, and it means that when he finally does start seeing a girl, it’s someone who’s only the result of an elimination process.

I originally went through several months of online dating without getting any responses, but when it rained it poured.  Out of nowhere, I eventually got a whole rush of favorable responses, which led to some successful flirting and 3 dates with 3 different girls in the space of as many days.  I imagine a lot of guys would be asking for high fives, but I actually felt uncomfortable about the whole experience.

It’s hard going out with a girl when I’m only considering her as 1 of 3 possible women to evaluate against each other.  Even worse, it makes it hard to settle on one when you know there’s a still huge list available to message…all in all the set up was starting to feel weird and creepy.  Internet creepy.

Strangely enough, I found myself hoping that my later dates would fail just so that I had an opportunity to thin down the list of potential women.

Of course, I’ve never had much experience with regular dating, so maybe this is just what comes with all dating and the big numbers in online dating just illustrates it more clearly.  Maybe online dating is just what it took to push me into the experience of dating, and the weirdness I’m associating with volume and numbers is really just my reaction to how weird ALL dating is.  (A’s: True that, man.) If that’s the case, then I really should just push through this awkwardness and try to develop a tolerance for it, right?

But maybe the difficulty connecting to people is an asset.  Meeting strangers is a difficult experience, especially when you know you’ll be sizing each other up as romantic prospects.  Some forced emotional distance helps take the edge off.  Plus, if you spend enough time with someone, you’re going to connect with them regardless of how awkwardly you met.  (A’s: Or the shared awkwardness will just make your connection that much stronger.  Awkward turtles of a feather flocking together.)

Well, whatever the ultimate significance, I can say that I’ve met people I otherwise wouldn’t, and that alone is enough to call my first forays in the online dating world to be a net success so far.

My stories with internet dating are not over yet, though.  I’m only scratching the surface of the experience as a whole.  So, you can expect to hear more bits and pieces of my experience in the future.

Next time: dealing with the awkwardness that comes with online communication.

http://xkcd.com/99/

**(For reference, I use two online dating sites, okcupid.com and plentyoffish.com.  OK Cupid is better, if you ask me, but both are free and I recommend using both.)

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Comments»

1. Molly - June 11, 2010

Practice makes perfect. Keep at the dating and eventually you’ll be better at making charming comments in the grocery store.


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