Monday, 21 June 2010
D is for Dating
We don't really date, as a nation, and I think that's a shame. There is a bit of a suburban culture of one-at-a-time, orderly queue relationships, where it's considered somewhat exotic and experimental if you have a drink with more than one of the opposite sex in the same month. If us Brits did as the Yanks do and shop around a bit for a significant other (with no confusion about the casual nature of a single date) I think we would have better relationships and less painful break-ups. Due to the city pressures of careers, commuting and the sheer volume of human traffic, London in particular has started to embrace singles events, speed dating and the like in last couple of years. In the spirit of this new urban date market, I have decided to cast aside my closing-in-on-5 months of wallowing singledom and join a dating website.
Online dating? I hear you gasp. Surely this is for painfully awkward folk, those almost clinically inept at attracting a mate, or merely specimens with unnervingly lopsided faces? Well yes it is, in some ways - of which more later. But I've jumped on the bandwagon anyway. I felt my attitude towards online dating change gradually this year as I kept finding myself chatting to very normal, attractive, charming people who had given it a whirl and reported back with mixed, but often positive, experiences. A particularly attractive male acquaintance confided that he had tried most of the big sites, and admitted it was awkward at first but on the whole, great fun. A good female friend (who is a dating dream: bright, successful, pretty & interesting) was giving it a go and feeling boosted by the assertive nature of the process, and even one of the most straight-talking, no-nonsense girls I know was nosing into cyberspace in search of a hottie. Maybe it's the facebook revolution or perhaps people are just bored with pretending that we meet fantastic potential life partners every day, but it's no longer weird to approach your lovelife as you would an ASOS spree. So as a single, slightly bored blogger, I felt I needed a slice of the action too.
I plumped for MySingleFriend.com, highly recommended as the least intimidating and most relaxed UK dating site. Instead of trying to match you intensely based on life values and pet preferences, MSF aims to be more like a large online pub - you scout around for faces you think look nice, get the insider info on them from their friend, and 'favouritise' them much like a facebook poke. The idea to have a friend write your description is a stroke of genius - there are no cheesy 'I like walks on the beach, sunsets and a nice glass of Merlot' spiels, as well as it hugely taking the pressure off creating your profile. As a result of the recommend-a-friend system, there are no GSOHs or 'free-spirits', just a lot of quirky descriptions and jokey speculation as to why their single pal hasn't met the right person yet. On my first man search (a heady experience, shopping online for cute boys) I was surprised by the amount of passionately bromance-y descriptions by male friends, even more so by the amount of older sisters giving their hapless little bro a nudge onto the market, but most of all by how many friendly faces and witty profiles I actually came across.
Now, don't get me wrong, MSF is no Cosmo centrefold; there are plenty of nice guy/hopelessly lopsided face scenarios, and even a few tanned and waxed Adonises who appear to have clicked 'seeking a female' by mistake. But now and again you come across an interesting description, a lighthearted picture and a hook of some sort, be it an Anchorman quote, a PhD or a winning closing sentence. Considering I don't tend to go for muscley dreamboats so much as funny geeks, I was quite relieved to see the focus was firmly on personality. If nothing else comes of this experiment, it has proved a huge ego boost with minimal effort from me. I asked a friend to back up that I was not a psycho or a misanthrope, came clean about my musical theatre habit and lust for Greek food, stuck a couple of pictures up and went about my own business. On returning to my inbox 24 hours later, I had 30+ notifications that people had added me to their favourites, and even a few messages were coming in (some concise and witty, others stilted and cliche-ridden). So it's good to know I am not hideously malformed or tragically invisible. Granted, some of the aforementioned facial landslides were among those singling me out as a possible match, but as part of the well-organised wonder that is MSF, you can send a delightfully crisp and cruel 'Thanks, but no thanks' message to any real Quasimodos. It's actually a bit nicer than it sounds, more 'I don't think we're a good match but good luck with your search and all that', but it does mark the rejected party's messages with a cartoon thumbs down sign, clearly separating the tasty wheat from the dating chaff.
So what have I learned in part one of the saga? A good male friend took the time to say that I'm quite a nice person (I blushed a little), 60 random males took the time to click on my profile and liked what they saw enough to add me as a favourite (woo-ha) and I learned just what my bizarre and fairly shallow manhunting criteria are, doing it as I was sober and from the comfort of my sofa. In short, nice face - tick, good smile - tick, too much sport - no thanks (they'll only be disappointed at my lack of ineffectual berating of little men on TV), too much travelling/skydiving/shark-wrestling - next, any mention of food loving - on the right track, bad spelling - chaff, chaff, chaff, and any admission of guilty pleasure films or TV are also surprisingly attractive amongst hundreds desperate to look cultured. I am being a little brutal, but that's the great thing - you never have to meet these people or worry about crushing their feelings so you can judge away on first glance. Knowing how to sell yourself (and having a witty friend) goes a long way on this site, so it will be very interesting to see how profiles compare with the real product... if I ever stop hiding behind my laptop and actually accept a date with any of these virtual suitors.
My top tip so far would be ALWAYS look at the 'secondary' pictures as well as the one on the profile. Some people just have one very flattering shot (or have gone for black and white, moody lighting or a good angle) and their further shots are nothing short of horrifying. I'm also watching out for anyone who has 'possible marriage material' selected as one of their personality traits; I don't care if their friend ticked it, it's totally weird for a man not to appear shrouded in commitment-phobia at first and it actually isn't what women want to be hit with before they've even met the bloke. There are also a few 'thirty year olds' who have either spent a large proportion of those years chain-smoking in bright sunlight, or are in fact not thirty at all. No one said it wouldn't be a minefield, but just like a Wetherspoons on a Friday night you have to dodge the old creepies, sidestep the court jesters and keep an eye out for the cute advertising exec at the bar with a nice glass of red. Next stop: testing out the actual dating bit...