When people hear the name “Cupid”, they usually picture a winged, infant archer who brings love, lust, and romance. I have come to think of him as a smirking little brat who enjoys setting up the select few while making the rest of us fumble through forced icebreakers, awkward dates, and the eventual repetition of it all.
Since beginning my online dating journey in 2014, I have: been on five dating sites, three dating apps, gone on five actual dates, been catfished twice, and entered zero relationships, meaningful or otherwise. I have spent hundreds of dollars over the last five years in membership fees with close to nothing to show for it. I have tried to put almost every permutation of my personality into my profiles: my humor, my intention for a serious relationship, my likes and dislikes; all to no avail.
So what’s the appeal? Is it just a game where you swipe through and shop for a person? When is it reduced to sending a message in the hopes of a response notification that shoots dopamine to your brain without understanding that there is another person on the other side of those messages? Perhaps it is the last hope of those of us fighting the gravity of the realization that we may be single forever. Sure, there are plenty of fish in the sea, but what happens when no one thinks you’re a catch worth keeping?
After almost half a decade of living in the weird world of online dating and dating apps, I’ve had my fair share of experiences. I have become good friends with one of the women I met, and continue to stay in contact with her to this day. I have been ghosted many times (when someone suddenly stops replying and disappears, like a ghost; this usually occurs after the first date or randomly when a better fish comes along), which hurt at first, but then I eventually ghosted people myself and realized its appeal. It’s definitely the more convenient option as opposed to saying, “Sorry, turns out I wasn’t as attracted to you as I thought,” or, “We lack the class subject I got a B- in during high school: chemistry.” That second one probably wouldn’t fly since it takes the fact I don’t like someone back and making light of it. Don’t worry, though, karma has seen fit to keep its eye on me and make sure I get what’s owed; I blame it for both times I was catfished.
For those unaware, catfishing is when someone goes online and pretends to be someone they’re not, for any of a multitude of reasons. The first time this happened to me was while living in Kansas when I interacted with a woman first on the dating site, and then on the phone; I started to become suspicious when the pictures she was sending me contradicted what she had told me (one of the pictures featured a wedding ring) and, after doing a reverse-image search on Google that turned up one of the images, I confronted her about it. She became violently offended that I could even suggest such a thing and severed all communication whatsoever; I entered her phone number in Facebook’s search engine and found someone in the same area, but very different in appearance. I suppose one could argue that the number was once attributed to the person on Facebook and given to someone else, but the circumstances in which our communication broke down leads me to believe otherwise.
The second time was a few years later when I met a woman online before moving back to Minnesota. We chatted online for a while, even exchanged numbers, but she was reluctant to actually speak on the phone. I noticed some inconsistencies between her dating profile and the Facebook profile she added me on, and when we finally spoke on the phone, I heard the voice of a middle-aged woman; not the 24-year-old I believed I was speaking to (as an aside, I was hit on by a woman in her 50’s once, but she didn’t lie about her age and was very understanding when I said I wasn’t interested). So, through necessity, I typically do an online search when speaking with a new match to make sure everything is on the up and up before even thinking about becoming invested in them.
One might think that due to having such an abysmal time online dating, I would give up on it; however, it appeals to the ambivert in me. I am not very comfortable just going out and introducing myself to someone I find attractive in the real world because I am afraid of how they may react. I like the idea of going to a place, digital or otherwise, that is dedicated to people meeting each other with somewhat romantic intentions; you know everyone is there for the same reason (more or less), rather than just going up to strangers in real life, saying, “Hi, I think you’re really attractive. Would you like to get coffee with me sometime?” Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Well just typing that made me anxious; also, it’s a bit clunky and too direct for my taste. I know I wouldn’t be comfortable with someone doing the same to me, so going to an online site or app that is intended to help like-minded singles find a partner sounds much more appealing. However, this doesn’t mean the process is a cakewalk for anyone involved.
Online dating is difficult, regardless of your gender, but men and women face very different obstacles in their searches for love (I’m keeping it to these two genders because I only know my experience as a man and the experiences of female friends who have also dated online and shared their horror stories with me). For men, online dating is a numbers game; the more messages you send out, the more responses you’re likely to get. There is a big push to put actual content in these messages (asking for more than just “Hi” or “Hello” is a common note on women’s profiles); assuming the woman in question reads your message, this can increase your chances even more. I say this because, on the flip side of the coin, women are absolutely swarmed with interested…let’s call them suitors. As a man, I would get around three or four responses from different matches a week (at most) after sending out dozens of messages; one of my friends told me she received upwards of 40 messages in a single day, all ranging from genuine interest to lewd comments about her appearance and inquiries regarding what she enjoys in bed. It is easy to become discouraged on both sides for the opposite reasons; for men, the waiting can become a burden, meanwhile women soon tire of sifting through the muck and stop looking as earnestly as they did in the beginning.
That initial dopamine rush has lessened thanks to the law of diminishing returns, and what was once an exciting opportunity to connect has become a chore; spending time getting to know someone before being inevitably ghosted, or actually meeting and lacking any connection, only to restart the arduous process is draining. So why don’t I quit? Why not just stop worrying about relationships and searching in vain? I’m not enough of a cynic to believe that there is no one out there for me and, because online dating still remains my most convenient option (I can admit it), I find myself thrust back to the digital dating fore.
I now work 40 hours a week in an office where everyone is either significantly older than me or married, so there isn’t much chance of a love connection. My mother and sister, with the best of intentions, have tried setting me up with friends of friends (in my sister’s case) or friends of coworkers (my mom) to no success, mostly on my account. I don’t care to go to bars and bother people, let alone hook up with anyone since I am truly looking for a real connection and partnership. I am a 26 year-old, single, cliche paying off loans, living in his parent’s basement and finally breaking into his career; if dating online is the largest of my problems, I suppose things could be worse.