OKCupid Stalking

When he sends a message on OKCupid, I flip over to his profile.

I start with the standard look: I weigh likes and dislikes. I geek out over the more unusual references with which I can connect (OMG, he likes James Keelaghan! Caroline Stevermer! Caroline Stevermer is awesome!). I make sure he knows how to spell. I check some of the key demographics: does he have kids? Does he smoke? What does he have down for politics? Religion?

Maybe I send a message back.

And then the waiting begins. While I wait, I start playing the obsessive stalker.

OKCupid is AWFUL for this. For those of you who’ve never tried OKCupid, it has these sets of questions. There are hundreds or thousands of them. I don’t actually know how many, because I have never gotten close to answering them all. They run an interesting range of topics:

Which of the following best describes Science, in your opinion?

  • A belief system, no better or worse than Religion.
  • A method one can follow to make predictions.
  • A post-hoc explanation of God’s miracles.
  • Hello? Like totally boring, dude.

Could you date someone who already has children from a previous relationship?

  • Yes
  • No

Who do you think was smartest on this list?

  • Einstein
  • Shakespeare
  • Mozart
  • Jesus

Do you own any dice with more than six sides?

  • Yes
  • No

Would you consider roleplaying out a rape fantasy with partner who asked you to?

  • Yes.
  • No.

If some men are doctors and some doctors are tall, does it follow that some men are tall?

  • Yes
  • No

Or one of my absolute favorites:

“Your a bitch!” What bothers you more about the above sentence?

  • The profanity
  • The grammar
  • They both bother me equally
  • Neither one bothers me

You answer (or don’t answer) these questions, and then you put down what acceptable answers are for your partner. You can say, “Any answer is fine,” but if you choose to say some answers aren’t okay, you can add how much you care about them: a little, somewhat, or very.

OKCupid then calculates a match percentage and an enemy percentage. Without really thinking about it, I tend to group match percentages into 3 categories: 85+, 50-84, and below 50. The enemy percentage is the interesting one, though. If your enemy percentage is high, there are some compatibility issues: either you or they have said no to some of the others’ answers.

As an interesting note, most of my enemy issues with men have to do with either:

  1. Their objection to my “extremely important” answer to the question: How important is religion/God in your life?
  2. My objection to their “no” answer to the question: Could you date someone who already has children from a previous relationship?

So, when I start to stalk someone on OKCupid, I flip over to their questions page and start looking for our matches and issues. If you haven’t answered a question, you can’t see someone else’s answer, so sometimes I find myself staring at someone’s question sheet. They answered the question “Do you consider yourself dominant or submissive in bed?” Do I care enough about their answer to put my own answer publically out there? Usually, my answer is no.

Sometimes, the answers make me laugh. It always cracks me up when someone has said getting the right answer to a logic problem is a deal-breaker because they figured out the wrong answer. STALE is to STEAL as 89475 is to…

Mostly, though, it’s about getting a larger picture: it’s about seeing more of a person. I worry that it makes me overthink: it’s so easy to disqualify people based on arbitrary rules before you’ve met them and seen how they light up while they talk about genetic algorithms, before you’ve cracked up at their dry humor, before you’ve gone deep into a talk about the worldwide response to the Ebola crisis and been impressed by the breadth and range of their insight. They checked off the wrong box! No date.

But the questions are there, and since they’re there, I can’t seem to stop looking at them. I stalk people quietly, feeling vaguely obsessive, like a voyeur. The questions are there to be looked at, but I really don’t want to know so much, so soon. What happened to the process of exploration?

Choices

One of the most empowering moments of my professional life was when I walked out of an interview I nailed, got to the parking lot, and thought, “You know… not for me.” I sent them an email the next morning withdrawing my application, and soared high for a few weeks off of it. I had choices. What was up with that?

A few nights ago, I sent an OKCupid message to a guy who responded promptly and warmly. We traded some messages back and forth, in which we talked about geeky stuff and about work things – he and I are in similar lines.

After about ten messages, though, I had nothing. He seemed nice! He could carry on a conversation. But he hadn’t asked to meet me.

So I decided to ask him. I started a message. “This has been really fun,” I wrote. “Would you be interested in –“ No. Not working. I deleted. “This conversation has been very–“ Yick. No. Delete. “Ha! That’s true. Hey, would you like to –“ Delete delete delete delete.

I couldn’t get the message to come out feeling right, and the reason, I realized at last, was that I didn’t really want to meet this guy. He was nice! He could carry on a conversation. But I was having polite smalltalk, and neither of us was feeling a drive to move beyond it.

So I started over. “Ha! That’s valid. At least I got out on time. I need to do a load of laundry, too, but at this point I think it’s waiting for tomorrow.

Best of luck with things here!”

“Yeah, you too,” he said.

And that was all. And that was enough. I have choices. I can walk away.

Guy meets girl

There is a narrative to online dating.

Guys go onto online dating sites, and they go through thousands of profiles, sending messages out to the women they like. They wait for messages to come back, and hear a resounding silence. They have to send out 100 messages for every response they get. They feel invisible and unappealing. Women, on the other hand, are inundated with messages. They suffer from too much choice. They spend so much time emptying their inboxes that they never have time to do anything else. They feel like an interchangeable object, the reward for successful completion of the OKCupid quest. “Turn in 100 rejection tokens to receive your Girlfriend.”

This narrative is, like many cultural narratives, UTTER BULLSHIT.

First off, all women do not get hundreds of messages. Every time I update my profile, I get a few people swinging through to check me out. My last update was two days ago, and in the 24 hours after it, I got thirteen visitors to my profile. Three of them sent me messages. I’m going to quote all three messages pretty much in their entirety:

1. Hi there
2. Hey you seem interesting , I want to get to know you better. We should meet for coffee / drinks
3. Hey my name is Kevin. How are you doing today.

The only change here is to the name, which I changed. All punctuation is as it arrived.

For every message I receive, I check out the profile. Sometimes the message is interesting all by itself, but often (as you can see) it’s really just saying “I exist! Come look at me!” So I go to these profiles. Here is what I see:

1. “I am a sociable guy and ready to meet people from all walks of life. I am caring and have a good heart . I like hanging out with my friends, bike riding, walking around Boston, watching sports and just being outside when the weather is really nice. I am looking for someone to share my interests with. There are so many other things that I want to do but would be nice to share those activities with someone. I keep fit by going to Planet fitness at least four times a week; however I strive to get to five”

2. “It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love for your dreams for the adventure of being alive.BTW for those who love dogs , I volunteer at a humane society as a dog walker ;)”

3. “My name is Kevin Douglas hi I am single and I have a 4 year old son named Leo. looking to meet someone new and to be able build a life with that special someone”

Number 1 looks interesting enough at a glance, so I send back a “Hi.” I’m going to let him put in more effort if he wants. He sent me an “I exist!” and I am sending back an “I see you!” If he wants a conversation… we’ll see where it goes. The other two just make me roll my eyes. Tell me something about yourself! I don’t want a vaguely man-shaped thing stuck on my life. I had one of those. I got rid of it. I want to be able to feel something of the person behind the keyboard. I need to be able to see something of who you are, either in the message or the profile.

For the record, and for comparison, this is what my profile says:

“I write letters to elected officials, and I write posts about feminism and equality on Facebook.

I no longer fit into the elaborate Renaissance and fantasy gowns I wore in college, but I still have a tiara I wear around the house, and a lap harp I pretend I’m good at playing.

I have three kids, and I watch Star Wars, Doctor Who, and MasterChef Junior with them.

It makes me sad that I no longer have the time or the social circle to play GURPS.

I haven’t written fanfic in nearly two years, and this makes me sad, but not quite sad enough to start writing it again.

I can argue at length about just about anything, and am very rarely without an opinion.”

So, sitting back and waiting for my milkshake to bring all the boys to my yard is clearly not working. Instead, I spend a chunk of time every day or two skimming profiles. I narrow my field down: men ages 30-44, within 15 miles of me, online in the last week. Sometimes I add other search terms, for fun. Author names, “nerd”, “geek”, “Avengers”, “punctilious”, “Obama”. (Seriously, it’s a fun game.) I skim them, rejecting anything without a picture (sorry!) or where the guys aren’t single. I read profiles. I look for something about the profile that jumps out at me. Most of them, there’s nothing. I move on. Some of the guys look absolutely fantastic. I write a personalized message.

“:)

I almost just want to leave it at that. You are the photo winner of the day. I saw your profile pic and just lit up. Awesome. It looks like a ton of fun.

(Dude was in SCA getup — full plate armor. Swoon.)

“Hello, world traveler! You have a great set of pics, and a REALLY great set of favorite books. Do you travel on business, or for fun?

Good music choices, too. Have you ever listened to Laura Love? She’s a self-described folk-funk musician, who plays bass and sings. She’s got some really fantastic stuff. I’ve been toggling this week between her, Mary Black, and Vance Gilbert for car listening.”

“I saw your comment about NaNoWriMo. Did you ever finish? Are you planning to do it again this year?”

My response rate on OKCupid for the last 3 weeks is 14 messages sent, 1 response. The single responder has not been giving me a whole lot to build on with responses, and I suspect we’ll lose steam before we get to an in-person meeting. He seems a little lackluster about the whole thing.

I really wish we could ditch this narrative about women having it easier than men. The real message behind it seems to be, “Women have it totally easier than men if they just play the game exactly the way men expect them to play it, don’t allow themselves any standards, and don’t care about their safety or happiness.” Which, yes, we all know. But (shocker!) women want to have agency in their own lives, too.

I am feeling discouraged this week.