This story was originally published in our Fall 2011 issue. Get your copy here.
Story by Paul Nakayama and Lena Chen
My editor asked me, “How did the Internet change your sex life?”
“It gave me one?” I replied. Never mind that she didn’t laugh. It was sort of true what I said, but it’s not the whole truth. Now, I’m not talking about learning some power moves from online porn and changing my sex life that way (though that’s cool, too). I’m talking about how it became a conduit for getting more dates.
Years ago, after one particularly demoralizing break-up, I went on Match.com and did a quick search to see how many other fish were really in the sea. After inputting just two parameters, my zip code and an interest in women, I eagerly rubbed my hands together to see what lay in the digital land of opportunity.
Well, not much. Sure, there were hundreds of girls, but guess what? Just like in real life, when I walked up to girls in a club, saw them tower over me in their high heels, and I skulked away mumbling, “Sonnuvabitch,” size seemed to matter. Profile after profile, I saw the same damning words: Height must be at least 5’9.” With age, superficial rejections don’t bite as much, but to a 20-something me, it was a spirit sucker.
So, what did I do? I went onto my AsianAvenue.com blog and bitched about it. And then I bitched some more on Livejournal. I guess it was sort of like how I’m bitching again on Audrey. Point is, I wrote about it … a lot.
Before I knew it, people started reading what I was writing. Better still, female readers would start messaging me, asking if I wanted to grab coffee. All right, to be fair, there were more guys than girls wanting to hang out, but whatever, I figured it was due to gender proportions in my city.
I’m a would-be writer, so maybe I could use that to get a would-be sex life. That’s what I tried. But it was an early time for the Internet. There were things I had to get accustomed to. For instance, instant messaging started as a great “pre-date” method: getting to know someone, flirting, building a rapport. I thought it was great since I was better at typing than talking. But my own issues would come to the surface. I’d scream at the computer screen, “God! It’s ‘they’re,’ not ‘there!’” I’d sabotage potential dates if I didn’t like their grammar or if their screen name looked like tHiS. I know, what a snobby dick, right?
But it wasn’t just me with issues. There were women that used question- able photos. I mean, I was pretty sure that I wasn’t talking to Lucy Liu. Or, there were other photos where I had to ask, “Why are you hiding behind this house plant?” There were women that loved the buffet lines more than a conversation. I even had an eerie encounter where a girl invited herself over and refused to leave. Fearing a murder-suicide, I fought hard to stay awake, but losing the battle, I scribbled my last will and testament on a magazine.
Eventually, though, I started figuring it out. I met some really great women online, some that I dated very seriously for many years. I’m a true believer that the Internet can help you find someone suitable, open some doors. Just don’t crawl through someone’s Facebook page before you even get to know them. Nothing says “creepy stalker” or “restraining order” like telling someone everything that you know about them on your first date. But if you’re conscious that the Internet is just a tool for dating and not a crutch, it could totally lead to something great. In fact, you know what? I’m going to try and snag a date with the real Lucy Liu. I’ll just follow her on Twitter and see where that goes.
When I started an OkCupid account, it was 2008 and online dating seemed to be the exclusive realm of the marriage-hungry or the hopelessly awkward. I went on some dates, but the site’s matchmaking formula, an algorithm that calculated compatibility using answers to personality tests, seemed hit-or-miss, no more effective than meeting a stranger at a bar. Overwhelmed by pages of search results and underwhelmed by e-suitors I met up with in real life, I never found much success with the site. Nowadays, I’m dating someone I met offline.
These days, however, OkCupid has become the go-to destination for Millennials short on time or opportunity. For those skeptical of venturing online for romance, don’t underestimate the prospect for finding lasting love. I’ve witnessed more than one longterm relationship come out of web-arranged dates. (One blogger I know met her husband on MySpace.) Online dating can be charming in its ruthless efficiency and democratic nature. On the web, everyone is fair game — just a wink or a poke away. People I might not otherwise encounter in day-to- day life are suddenly potential romantic partners. In some ways, that’s fantastic. (Who wants to only date people exactly like themselves?) In others, it’s terrifying. (How do I know Casanova666 isn’t an ax murderer? I don’t, so I carry pepper spray.)
When my friend, Danny, 30, was dumped by his girlfriend, one of his first steps toward recovery was to sign up for an account. Soon, he was booking himself two dates a night. Within a month, he’d shared coffee or drinks with so many women he could no longer tell them apart. One evening, he spent the first half of a date trying to figure out which profile belonged to the woman in front of him and what they had previously chatted about. Though his method may be questionable, if Danny wanted to remind himself of the other fish in the sea, then the World Wide Web is perhaps the biggest sea of all.
With the array of choices online, it’s tempting to rely on search features that comb through user databases to spit out results based on age, ethnicity, religion, education and even dietary preferences. The criteria with which you can assess potential partners range from the trivial (pet ownership status) to the maddeningly obscure (foreign languages spoken). Should a romantic decision really come down to whether someone is more of a dog person or a cat person? The Internet can make dating seem like an interview process. It’s easy to get caught up in looking for the next best thing or to falsely believe that you don’t need to compromise on your vision of an ideal partner or relationship, because there’s always that elusive better offer.
Cyber romances also blur the line between reality and illusion. Since you can chat extensively with someone before ever meeting, you naturally develop impressions and attachments that color your expectations. While I cringe at the thought of all the grammatically inaccurate spiels I’ve encountered, I’ve also encountered the flipside: a particularly crafty wordsmith might be able to wield a thesaurus and throw in an esoteric film reference or two, but they can be dismal conversation from across the dinner table. Unless one plans to carry out an entire courtship through electronically submitted data, what goes on online has to eventually get tested out in real-life. When people enter dates believing they’re meeting someone they already know, they can find themselves disappointed by a wildly different in-person impression or an unexpected real-life quirk.
Just as most offline marriages end in divorce, for every MySpace engagement, there are countless deactivated profiles. Citing “burnout,” Danny has recently cut down on the number of ladies he asks out for in-person meetings. This isn’t to say that online dating is any more or less desirable than traditional avenues of courtship. Romantic or not, online dating isn’t a passing trend or a substitute for the “real thing” — in today’s world, it is the real thing. So if you decide to venture into the abyss, just keep the following in mind: winks or pokes are far more effective electronically than in person.
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