When, oh, when did online dating lose its stigma? When did it become the province of sexy nerds and closet punks, as well as the schlubs and the hipper-than-thou among us?
Who knows? Who cares? One thing, though, that online dating has spawned is worth celebrating: the social guinea pig—someone willing to risk humiliation, rejection, and heartbreak (not to mention a few lost dollars and hours) in the search for connection.
Back in the day, online dating was for the socially inept or those who needed specific niches filled. My first experience with it was actually third-hand: a friend’s college roommate—an Asian Muslim woman in WASPy suburbia, no less—met her future husband, an Anglo Muslim a thousand miles away, in a chat room. They had been corresponding for only a few months before they decided to meet. And about a year after first contact, they married. Now they’re a happy, middle-class, interracial Muslim couple with 2.3 kids, living in middle America.
By now, stories like this have become so common that they have lost that frisson of scandal they once gave. Never mind the online come-ons; advertising for dating sites has gone mainstream, from magazines to subways to network TV. Lavalife.com tells us singletons to make our married friends jealous, Elle mag and Oprah plug GreatBoyfriends.com. The ubiquity of the ads erodes your resistance, making you feel as if the lovin’ is everywhere and you just have to get you some!
Dear reader, I went to claim my share at this site I jokingly call the Man Store.
Last fall I was doing a lot of online research for a grad school project and ended up frequenting a news/culture site that co-sponsored an online personals service. One day, it occurred to me: it might be neat to meet other folks who read this stuff regularly. I made like Alice in Wonderland and clicked through to the other side.
No facial profiling
The site asked me to create a screen name and profile for myself. The profiling served as both a test of self-knowledge (who do you think you are?) and a fun exercise of imagination (how do you want people to see you?). Some people actually bother to keep multiple profiles so that they can experiment with different ways of presenting themselves. More power to them, if they have that kind of time and energy.
The initial anonymity is appealing, and I take it pretty seriously: I post no picture with my profile for several reasons: 1) to minimize the chance of attracting a fetishist, 2) to keep my private and professional lives reasonably separate, and 3) to make the point that while looks are important, they’re ultimately not the most important thing. So it may reduce traffic, but if that cuts down the freak factor, that’s fine with me. After all, I did put considerable care in writing a fair and honest profile.
While in the aisles
For a while, I tinkered with my profile every few days, just to see what difference that might make in attracting someone’s attention. One thing I had noticed was the indifference or even hostility to religion (I’m doing my doctorate in theology), except in the broadest, “spiritual-but-not-religious” vein.
One other surprise to me has been the issue of sex. If you exclude the ones who make it clear that that’s all they want, the question of “whether/when” still comes up relatively quickly in the correspondence or actual face time. Then again, that may just be part of the social world of the still-single “dirtysomething” in the land of so-called consenting adults.
Online, as offline, it helps to be clear about what you want and expect, keep an open mind, be respectful, and act your age (not your shoe size).
All in all…
Whether shopping or being shopped, I’ve been a pretty happy customer at the Man Store. I went from zero to date in a week and have been going out regularly enough, sometimes with new folks, other times with repeat offenders. It’s been a good way to jumpstart my social life and shift my scene a little—try new food, visit unfamiliar neighborhoods, learn dazzling party tricks. In the process, I’ve met some cool, interesting people—everyone from art models to jazz drummers, architects to non-profiteers, schoolteachers to sexy nerds—whom I would never have met otherwise. I’ve even gotten other single friends to join the fun.
So let us praise the social guinea pig, driven by lust (or hope of love) to connect, be it with The One or just plain anyone. The love you seek may just be a click away.