Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Internet Dating Undead

Although millions of people use on-line dating sites like Match.com, I'm skeptical about their effectiveness.

For one thing, if they work so well, why is it that the SAME guys are looking for love month after month and year after year? Many of them are not hideously ugly. They say they want a long-term relationship. Their profiles are reasonably interesting. So why are they still single after four and five years???

I have this theory...

I suspect that the ease and convenience of on-line dating lulls users into believing that finding someone for the long-term is far easier than it actually is.

I also suspect that successfully using on-line dating sites requires strategic thinking. The 'luck', 'fate' and 'hope' that many users rely on just don't get results.

Convenience is THE reason to look for love on-line. In the 'old' days you'd have to get dressed up and hit the bars on Friday and Saturday nights to meet someone. Now you can look like a total slob and go on-line anytime and peruse thousands of ads. Simple and easy, right?

What's also convenient is how much information you get to know about a guy. In a bar you know what he looks like, but unless you actually speak to him you don't know anything about him. In a bar, you have to resort to cheesy pick-up lines like "What's your sign?" In the Internet era you're 'empowered' with information. If a guy says he likes to hike in his profile, boom, you have a customized pick-up line for him - "Where are the best hiking spots around here?" See? It's easy.

Deceptively easy, I say. The truth is that too much ease, and especially, too much information, make on-line dating sites far less successful than they appear to be.

A recently published study showed that too many dating choices is a bad thing. They found that too many choices causes information overload and a tendency to get distracted by irrelevant information. Ultimately people react by NOT reacting, like deer mesmerized by headlights. I know that I have felt overwhelmed by too many choices.

The thing is, yes, there is an initial information overload that happens when you first log-in and see 30 or 50 or even 1000 hits from a search request. But you adapt - and so does everyone else.

We adapt by becoming selective. We only look at the "top" matches. Or, we look at pictures. Or, we set height, weight, income and age requirements. Thankfully dating sites provide a multitude of ways to search and sort. That way we can find EXACTLY the guy we're looking for. And shouldn't the ease of being selective make finding the right guy happen that much faster?? Maybe it should, but it doesn't.

Information overload has forced us to become too selective and not just about who we message. Selectivity extends to who we'll meet, who we'll have sex with, who we'll ever see a second time. On-line dating sites prove that it's a great big ocean out there, so finding exactly the RIGHT FISH is not unreasonable. And until Mr. Right Fish comes along, you can pass the time, and have some fun with, the few decent guys you do meet.

Another way we cope with information overload is by becoming selective observers. For example, once I've spent a few weeks on a site I've memorized the pictures of "everyone" who might be a match. From that pool I've carefully narrowed the choices down to "the best matches". Once I'm focused on those few, I pretty much ignore everyone else. I might notice a new picture but not a new headline or new text. And I don't think I'm different from everyone else. Within two months time I think most users only pay attention to who's new. After that, "it's always the same old guys."

Breaking out from the crowd and getting noticed pretty much REQUIRES strategic thinking. There are exceptions, especially if you're young and hot. Other than that, you have to think outside the box and most people don't. And that's why they spend years and years looking. They're too selective, they ignore 98% of the population and they've never realized that fate and luck have nothing to do with success. I call these guys the Internet Dating Undead - guys who stumble along in a mindless, endless quest for romantic salvation.

I haven't been playing the Internet Dating Game yet. I'm an observer. So my lack of practical experience could easily mean that my ideas are pure nonsense. But until I gain experience and test my theories, I feel like I don't any choice but to set some rules for myself that will, hopefully, keep me from becoming a member of the Internet Dating Undead. Here they are:

1. Never keep an active profile up on a site for more than two months.

This may turn out to be folly, but I'm determined to give it a try. The reason is that after two months you're stale. You're ignored. You're undead. You haven't found someone yet? You're not worth messaging. Changing your picture or your profile might extend your shelf-life a little, but those aren't likely to work for long. The only solution is to bow out gracefully.

After you delete your profile, then what? There are two options: either you switch to a different dating site or you think again about ways to meet men off-line. Either way, switching keeps YOU fresh. It's a burst of oxygen that keeps you from turning into a corpse.

2. Provide a very modest amount of information about yourself in your profile

When you post a profile, you're advertising yourself. As such, an effective profile shares the same qualities as an effective ad: it's attractive, interesting, maybe a little funny, definitely memorable, and, it's not overwhelming. Less is more.

When people read profiles they must contend with information overload. They do this to some degree by selectively reading, aka skimming. But even if they carefully read every word, they're still being selective, mostly negatively selective. "Negatively selective" means they're reading to find your flaws so that they can cross you off their list and forever-after ignore you. I think many guys post detailed profiles because they want "a good match" or at least, to screen out the bad matches. My belief is that long profiles DO screen out the bad matches - and many potentially good matches too.

Even simple lists of likes and dislikes, interests and hobbies can get you rejected. "You like to snowboard? I like to ski. That's relationship could never work!" It's stupid for people to think like that, but they do. You do it too, you just don't realize it. You are so trained to be negatively selective that you don't even realize you're doing it. And it's all because too many profiles make you WANT to eliminate prospects.

As with too much information, too many pictures are more likely to work against you than for you. If someone thinks you 'look too X' in just one picture, boom, you're out, even if you look good in the other five.

Although most of the Internet Dating Undead are zombies, there's also a contingent of vampires out there. I think of these guys as the 'experienced' or 'professional' on-line daters. These are the guys who have "been there, done that" and have decided that they need to eliminate the dating riff-raff by posting extremely detailed, explicit and often very opinionated profiles. I think of them as vampires because they want to sample a lot of blood, but they're never satisfied. They just want to stick their teeth in you and then move on. Their profiles are often highly amusing because they are inevitably amazed by their lack of romantic success. All they want to do is "find Mr. Right! Why is that so difficult???" Because they're too damn picky! Most likely because they don't have the looks, personality and/or intelligence to get the kind of guy they think they should have. Vampires - they can't see themselves in the mirror.

3. Be assertive

As this blog has proven, I can be a real doormat. Being too passive is definitely part of who I am. How fortunate for me because when it comes to on-line dating, I'll fit right in. My theory is that most people who prefer reading profiles vs. meeting people in person already have a tendency to be introverted and passive. Therefore, it shouldn't be surprising that the majority of dating site users are far more passive than they should be - assuming that they want to be successful.

Too many choices and too much information lead to inertia. It's the nature of the on-line beast. To combat this tendency, you have to be proactive.

OMG this will be difficult for me!

My plan is to use my two months time on a site wisely. I am committing to myself to proactively contact a certain number of guys each week. I'm not sure what the right number should be. Three? Four? Something like that. When I contact them I'll be mindful that less is more. So I'll try "lines" that are simple and somewhat flirty. "You're a teacher? I had a few crushes on teachers when I was growing up. I still have a real weakness for them! Your profile caught my eye. Let me know if you'd like to meet for coffee sometime." Yes, it's a bit cheesy but the point is that if the guy is even remotely interested, he'll answer.

4. No Internet Courtships

I have a number of Internet friendships. I value them just as much as real-life friendships, even though we've never met. Relationships are not the same. Meeting is required!!! So, when playing the Internet Dating Game, the goal is to meet as soon as is reasonable. Flirty messages can be fun, but only to a point. Overall I plan to be assertive about meeting quickly. If I get resistance, there must be a reason. Either the guy is hiding something, will only meet Mr. Perfect, or just isn't into me. Fine. Then there's no reason to engage in protracted electronic mating rituals.

So there you have it. My rules for avoiding both Vampires and the Undead - based on zero years of real life Internet dating experience. It will be interesting to see how my opinions evolve over the coming months...

Do you have any Internet dating advice you would like to share? Or comments about the above ideas? Don't be shy, use the form below.

7 comments:

  1. I think you'll have a better chance in finding someone you might like by actually going on dates with some of these people rather than spending time writing long blog entries. I think you analyze too much. Also, you either are too picky or too cautious. There's no guarantee in life. Take a chance. Go on dates. If you don't like them, go on other dates. Good luck.

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  2. I agree that too many guys are looking for the perfect match online. Therefore, they overlook dozens and dozens of really good matches over some immaterial matter.

    As for your freshness theory - I'm not sure. Yes, you do get a lot of hits when you create a new profile on a particular site. Fresh meat. Everybody comes by for a look. But I still get messages from pretty interesting guys on my old profiles. And I still message and/or meet up with a lot of guys from a profile that's several months old. Sure - the people who had messaged me several months ago have moved on, but there's always new people joining. And to them, I'm fresh. I wouldn't delete my profile just to stay fresh in my mind. It could still be of some use. I do tend to forget about them - and I am surprised when I get a message from someone on an older (stale) profile. But it happens.

    I agree with posting a modest amount of information. I've done exactly what you say. "Oh - he likes to hike. We'll never work. Why bother? Next." Same with pics - I've thought "well he looks good in these three pics, but what is up with that fourth pic? What a dork."

    Interesting theory about being assertive. I tend to not be. I think you're right. Passive people gravitate to online sites. So they're waiting to be courted. Waiting for you to make the first move. This has happened to me a lot online. Several times I've asked "do you want to grab coffee sometime?" to be answered with "I thought you would never ask. I was beginning to think you didn't like me." Which made me think "it's a two way street - you could always ask." But alas - they are passive and won't.

    I don't agree 100% with avoiding internet courtships. Typically yes - if a guy is resistant to meeting, move on. But I have met some interesting guys after we messaged for weeks. That being said - I am sitting here all alone at the moment, so we see how well those worked out. But I also have had a lot of fun communicating with guys online. So to each his own.

    My advice to others - have fun. Remember that you're going to talk to more people via online dating sites, so there will be more rejection (plus as stated in TwoLive's post, online guys are picky). But really, how upset should you be that someone who's never met you rejected you based on a few lines of text and a low resolution photo? Be ready for lots of flakes. It's easier to stand up someone you've never seen than someone you know through a friend. Be ready for the crazies. I'm guilty of ignoring people who I just don't think are a match. Most of them go away quietly, but I have received scathing messages from people accusing me of being racist, ageist, shallow, ignorant, etc... Because really, what better way to convince someone to reconsider you than to write a nasty message to them?

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  3. Most people are far less picky than they think. They may say they only date "blue", but when they meet people, they venture pretty far into green and purple.

    This isn't true of certain criteria, of course. For example, I can't date anyone who is into religion or mysticism in anything more than the slightest way. But it's true for most things.

    A major thing in dating, online or off, is being willing to test your boundaries a bit.

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  4. Seeking perfection is often at the expense of good enough.

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  5. I was on Adam4Adam for about a week in July in another city where I was staying. I certainly benefited from the "fresh meat syndrome" as I got lots of interest immediately. I'm sure it would have slowed down very quickly had I stayed on the site longer.

    I agree with the "be assertive" comment. I sent messages to many guys of all sorts, saying "Hello there...." or whatever. I was shocked at how many guys in their late 20s responded and how few guys my age (40s) did.

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  6. Your comments about internet dating is partly true--but all "dating" requires one to go to an event or party or bar or some place and do all that same stuff - scanning the field, reacting to surface images and attractions, opening up conversations, being "on" yourself....I agree that it can be overwhelming - there are over 1000 men on Adam for Adam on a given night in the Bay Area!!

    But the thing about your profile is wrong - keep it on a long while, but be aware that most guys are hitting the "whose online now" method of searching, so go on and keep your internet page open and you will find guys coming onto you. I have not changed a profile in a year and yet get hits almost every day from the new men joining the site and some old regulars. The other thing men do is use the "New Members" area to see what new guys are coming on, so maybe that is why you want to consider changing your profile every few months - but then you will loose the other men who have tagged you. Either way, it is a huge amount of work sifting through with very mixed results - but so is real live dating. You need to go live if possible and on-line can be one way to find men that you would not meet otherwise-especially for a guy with 3 kids at home, just how would you substitute the discreet hours on your computer searching, for going out to bars or gay known hangouts?

    You keep making up reasons not to try things, and are convinced nothing works well. That self defeating tendency is what you really need to work on.

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  7. Does anyone know of any guys or gals that have ended up in a long term relationship by meeting through dating site? I don't know that I've ever heard of one, although I'm sure it has happened.

    Most LTRs I'm aware of started when a guy or gal met someone in the course of their normal daily activities or met someone thru someone else they know.

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