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The Turmoils of OkCupid and the Future of Internet Dating

September 12, 2012
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The Turmoils OkCupid and the Future of Internet Dating

Written by Niki Murphy, Edited by Diana Vento

“seems legit”

“A lot of them are allergic to condoms,” Staver Klitgaard calls from the other room, describing the type of men I can find on the popular, free dating website OkCupid.

My friend has gone on many dates over the year she’s been on OkCupid, her most notorious being (1) a man who stopped by the drug store to buy Plan B while on the date, and (2) a man who accused her of lying on her profile because she wouldn’t have sex with him on their third date. (To read about similar winners you can find on OkCupid, check out the blog okcenemies.com)

Up until last week, my knowledge of the website was limited to secondhand stories of my friend’s unconventional, if not plain lousy, dates.  The website, however, has recently become a hot topic among college-aged people, with many local MICA, UMBC, UB, and Towson students uploading profiles. With this optimistic introduction, I decided to make an account to explore the world of online dating with the somewhat hopeful intent that it would perhaps change my negative opinion of this trend.

It didn’t. The absurdity of regular online dating is only rivaled by free online dating.  Horny college students, pervy men, and desperate women have nothing to lose in trade for the small possibility of sex.

My profile, although filled with nonsensical squiggles, the occasional smiley face, and a chic Photo Booth close-up of my lips and nose, attracted several messages a day.  After only five days, my inbox was filled with messages from 15 different men.  The messages, mostly something along the lines of, “You seem down-to-earth, let’s meet” or “Heyyyyyyy,” were sent primarily by men clearly stating on their profiles their sole intent for sexual relations.  Using the website’s tracking system, I noticed that the most flirtatious of men checked my profile multiple times a day, at various hours late at night.   The feeling I garner from OkCupid is equivalent to walking down a street full of skeezy men watching me. Even after my picture was taken down (for being an extreme close-up, which is against the profile rules) and the only portrayal of my appearance was “white” and “average body type,” I still received a decent number of messages from interested men.

This number of messages seems to be quite the norm on the site however.  According to OkCupid’s blog OkTrends, which compiles user date and analyzes it to find interesting correlations, certain races are more likely to receive messages than others.  On average, a white woman is 7.3% more likely to receive a response to their message than a black woman.  According to the blog, men do not face the same racial disparagement as women.  This uneasy piece of data is just a small example of the magnified difficulty women have on the site compared to men.

“The dudes on OkCupid are really skeevy,” explains bisexual OkCupid user Davian Shakes.  “They’re too much for me and I didn’t really wanna deal with that. Girls on OkCupid… aren’t as disturbing as the boys.”  Davian changed his profile’s preferences to solely women in an attempt to avoid the type of messages his female friends received.  Since eluding the men of OkCupid, his experiences have mostly been uncomplicated.

An unfortunate misconception of online dating is that many believe it is easy to tell the creeps from the normal guys.  As I learned, from both my friends and my own experience on the site, a whirling alarm doesn’t go off on your computer when you click on the page of a questionable fellow.  It takes more than several exchanges of messages for true personalities to shine.

“I thought I had met a nice guy.”  Staver begins to tell me about another disastrous encounter from the OkCupid charm reserve.  “I really got to know him, you know, and liked him until he told me he bought me something from the store.” She looks up at me with smiling exasperation.  “He sent a picture of himself holding a whip, smiling.”

Of course, this isn’t the prime of romance.  Pleasing irony greets me on the website when I log in to answer some user-made questions to hopefully match me to a possible beloved.  One of the first questions the website asks me: “Are you romantic?”  I feel as though the romance died when I signed onto a webpage full of bathroom mirror pics.

On a more serious note, one of the most painfully unromantic foundations of the online dating world is that success relies on your ability to sell yourself.  Although we choose how to present ourselves each day by the way we dress and the words we say, we are rarely required to sum up our entire personality using only a few adjectives when meeting a new person.  Usually we get to discover a person’s defining traits for ourselves, which often turn out to be traits of the undefinable quality anyways.  The online profile is the 18th century pistol of firearms; it can easily go off in your face and make you look like a jackass.  It is nearly impossible to find the middle ground between selling yourself and sounding cocky; to appearing humble and making yourself unappealing with too many self-deprecating details.  In the end, all you’re left with is a cliché.  The online profile captures nearly nothing of a person’s essence.

Possibly my greatest vexation with the college student’s interest in online dating is that it forces students out of the real world, tethering them to their computers or phones for socialization. Students turn to places like online dating sites for comfort and convenience when they have difficulty finding a partner outside of the virtual world.

According to scholar Jaclyn Cabral, “social network profiles allows adolescents to create an identity and find social acceptability without having to directly face scrutiny. College students are exposed to a higher risk of Internet addiction because of their vulnerability” due to “massive amounts of developmental and life changes.” Students of Generation Y already have a heavy dependence on technology for socializing and OkCupid is not doing us any favors. Instead of encouraging students to mingle in classes, clubs, music shows, or at any other social event, these sites box them into their computers.  They keep students online, searching profiles and replying to dozens of messages, away from where most people eventually want their relationships to end up: the real world.

“It’s so hard to actually meet people on OkCupid,” Davian revealed to me. “Men follow their penis, and with girls you have to try really hard with them to keep the conversation going. I’d rather meet someone off of Tumblr than OkCupid.”  Even more than I have heard about the endless tribulations of OkCupid, I have heard of many college students meeting their significant others from Tumblr.  “It flows more with the people on tumblr.  We share the same interests and they know me better because of what I post.”

Tumblr might possibly be the greatest dating site, alluring with its disguise of instant reblogging and photos of delicious food.  Of course, the popular, free blogging site is more than this, but it’s strength in match-making far exceeds that of OkCupid.  Instead of summing yourself up in a few words and inept joke-questions, images are allowed to speak for you.  The posts you choose to create and reblog, whether they are photographs, art, memes, quotations, pornographic Gifs, or nearly anything else, describe your taste and personality.  If a picture speaks a thousand words, OkCupid should require more than the crass, cellphone snapshots many of its users upload.

When it comes down to results, OkCupid is little more than a cheap bar in a bad part of town.  However, Internet romance isn’t an impossible delusion.  The more innocent and elegant sites such as Tumblr might be the next step for many looking for companionship.

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