Tuesday, 18 February 2014

OKCupid: Love's Elephant Graveyard

It was just after the New Year I signed-up. It’s a common thing that 20-somethings start looking for something more after graduation. Something more meaningful in their lives. Yes, there comes a point when a young, yearning heart must find a release. And with a lack of a smartphone meaning I was unable to access better alternatives, I made do with the best resource available…

Image courtesy of James Longhorn


It’s easy to take the piss out of online dating sites, there’s nothing more cringeworthy than people earnestly ‘looking for love’- the sort of people who spend evenings listening to Back To Bedlam, weeping gently because they can’t ‘find the one.’ But the basic premise of OkCupid actually makes a lot of sense: everyone’s fucking lonely, so why not answer a load of questions and  get matched with people similar to yourself? At least it means you can avoid the sort of women who’d casually drop ‘the superiority of the white race,’ or ‘positive effects of eugenics’ into conversation.

But even for all the algorithm determined matching, it still comes across as a less subtle version of MySpace (and remember the subtlety of ‘pc4pc?’). With boobshots, dickshots, dogshots, catshots, hi-res, low-res, and all the other shit that results from internet anonymity. My profile pic choice was b&w selfie: opting to cast myself as a brooding byronic-hero amongst the rabble of social-recluses and wannabe pornstars. 

I got a start on my profile, hitting the brick wall of how to present my drug, alcohol and cigarette intake (does anyone in their 20’s not dabble?)- ultimately deciding that as I don’t drink bottles of Smirnoff in bed I was ‘social drinker’ and as I don’t smoke when I can’t afford to I was a ‘social smoker.’ It also asks you about religion, your love of animals, and a other questions designed to turn the best of us into the untruthful cretin beneath.

"I'm a poet, do you want me?"

Searching through the dating profiles (and writing my own) I got the sense that nobody has any idea what they’re doing. The process of consciously selling yourself to members of the opposite sex is so foreign to us that nobody could be good at it. Not that it’s that important. Online dating is essentially the process of trying to convince stranger you’re not a serial killer: I figured pretty much anything is fine as long as it isn’t creepy.  Still, there were a lot of 500-word ‘about me’ diatribes, I suppose it's hard to know how to sell yourself to other people faced with questions like 'what are you really good at?' and 'what's a secret you wouldn't tell anybody?'

The strangest part of distilling yourself into a paragraph is that it forces you to genre-ise yourself, so that everyone becomes a certain type. Based on matches my top types were (primarily determined by the fact I’m quite into politics and not against abortion): raging socialists and feminists; tea-gin-cats-cake feminists; and art students. It took about an hour until I realised the algorithm matching wasn’t that important anyway, and that for most people, everything was pretty much redundant besides whether or not they were fit. If they were called Coco and used bake sales to smash the capitalist-patriarchy I guess it would be an algorithm assisted bonus.

Having set up my profile I started trying to make contact. I think the messaging part is probably the part of online dating that takes the most getting used to. The fact that it’s all done via the internet meant I constantly had to remind myself that it was a real person on the other end of the messages. I imagine it’s probably this sense of not interacting with reality that begins some men's online sleezy descent, from donning a tank-top and flexing their abs; to posing topless and asking to see women tits; eventually culminating in their becoming one of the penises on chatroulette. 

It was during the messaging stage that I began to realise that all in all it’s a pretty dull experience. Its fundamental flaw is the lifelessness of digital communication. Even beyond the standard MSN “how r u/ wuu2/ how u doin?” convo, without the nuances of human face to face interaction, flirting ( ;) ) and discussing  shared interests are rendered lifeless.

In profile

Everything about the process feels forced. It feels as if nobody really knows what to say. For instance, people seems to really love discussing their hangovers. But I’ve never really understood why grown adults think alcohol is cool. Sure there’s some street cred to it when you’re 15 with a 2litre bottle of Strongbow and half a pack of JPS. But once it’s legal surely it’s just something that allows to interact with strangers and/or momentarily forgetting how shit life is. It’s pretty much a conversation killer online, beyond rating your headache out of ten, what is there to say? 

So having had multiple discussions about the Smiths and Amelie (which seems to be really big amongst the OkCupid community) I came to the realisation that it was all just too manufactured. Sure, if your sole intent is to find somebody because you feel it’s all that could make you happy, then maybe it’s worth it. Or if you’re too shy to find somebody in the real world. But everyone else? You should probably just get out there and talk to people- real people.  Surely there's more to finding love than the monotony of a keyboard convo. 

Besides, everyone knows you find love in the place you least expect it. Like power-hour in that club that serves cheap doubles, or Tinder, yeh, maybe Tinder...

Words: James Dawson

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