Online dating is not happy, but it is fascinating – part three

If you’ve found your way to this post first you might read the others in order:

Part One

Part One

Part Two

Part Two

Life is too short

My uncle died just after my second post in this series. It was an unexpected and somber reminder that we should all go see doctors regularly because health problems can be well-hidden. He died doing what he loved with minimal pain and, despite depression and misfortune at every turn, never gave up on spending every moment he could enjoying the outdoors and crusading causes as a naturalist. His passing became a stark indicator of how small-minded and narcissistic all of this has been, and really just how much it matters to me to be my ordinary positive and intense self. Not the hopelessly overly-analytic, insecure choke-collar’d appeasement hound the system (or the character I’ve rendered here) had made me.

People seem to like this parody masquerading as a journal because of the sheer emotional display punctuated with some attention to pseudo socio-cultural analysis so I figured I owed it one last entry before laying the whole business to rest. Don’t get me wrong, the emotions displayed have been real but I’m also not exactly in a hurry, nor am I truly worried about finding love again ‘before it is too late’ or something of that matter. In some sense I think this last episode is merely a lesson in self-respect.

Spending cash to be a creepy old man?

One of the breaking points I hit just before my Uncle’s passing was joining Coffee Meets Bagel. In most of these systems in towns as small as CU attractive women are inundated with hundreds of messages from users. I reversed a search on OKcupid to see how many guys there are around my age and it’s something around 3-4 times as many as there are female users. CmB seeks to mitigate this overage by just showing you a couple of matches a day, along with some optional ‘just outside your ideal range’ matches. You run out of bean credit for the optional folks very quickly, however, and I got my hopes up a little too high and did the thing I swore I’d never do: spend money on a dating website. After buying credit and saturating all of the options (just like I had on the other sites) it quickly became apparent that it works just about the same way as all of the others do: dozens of likes and short notes sent with no responses, juxtaposed to exhausting efforts attempting to be creative or interesting in profile and message design. This was disappointing, but what’s way, way more freaky is the optional pairings it now gives me. Nearly all of them are ages 19-23, which is

more than a decade younger than me.

My low-end is set to 25 (which is already a bit sketchy), and I even wrote their tech support asking if it could be changed (my students could show up on there!), but I think it’s the reality: in this college town there are barely enough people to fill up a couple of pages of Okcupid or PlentyOfFish, the secondary apps are bone dry when it comes to folks in their late twenties or early thirties. I confirmed my Chicago experience when visiting San Francisco for a week: in the span of just a few days I got as many matches on Tinder as I did in a month in CU. These services need a substantial (and diverse) population base to be useful.

Meanwhile, in Iowa, and other follow-ups

Transcendental Atheist Mormon: Why don’t they have yogurt for dogs called dogurt?

Me: Maybe they have and haven’t yet un-leashed it. There may need to be a brand for cats too before they release the product to the general pawblic. It’s a Greek idea that could contribute to the Chobani-fit of overall pet health.

This quippy reply is 400% copyright Holly Brown the goddess of all that is punnery and cosplay. I am a crowdsourced sham like no other – but she hit me back on this on the fly at 2 fucking AM.

Although a few weeks of Snapchat flirting gave a fun (but false) sense of appreciation and hope it became hollow after I realized the disproportionate effort I was putting into it. Kindred souls or not, distance friendships require people have enough bandwidth to connect. I’m not sour about it, I just realized I’m probably better off focusing on friends here in the now.

The “librarian” and I ended up becoming friends. We met for tea and have been talking on and off ever since. She might honestly be one of the only two good things that’s ever come out of the whole escapade.

The gardener ended up just ghosting completely. I told her standing me up, as well as the lack of later response, was disrespectful and defriended her from Facebook. I kind of wish I could do more to curb her behavior – she’s pretty enough that she’ll just keep getting away being like this to other guys and never having to deal with any real consequences.

Maker her feel something: by the numbers

You know I really liked this challenge at first – be interesting and compelling in about the space of a tweet. Here, let’s look at some data for all 5 services combined over 2 months:

  • Matches made (in CU area, not counting SF/Chi or bots) – 22
    • Tinder – 9 ( 5 replied)
    • Bumble – 4 (1 message)
    • Coffee Meets Bagel – 4 (3 replied)
    • OKCupid – 3
    • PlentOfFish – 2
  • Total initiating messages sent ~ 58
  • Total conversation strands ~ 30
  • Initiating messages received (that weren’t just “Hey”) – 9
  • Messages that weren’t just “Hey” that I have not replied to – 0
  • Ongoing conversations that I’ve left hanging without answer – 2
  • People I’ve politely turned down ~ 8
  • Times I’ve been “Ghosted” in chat ~ 25+
  • Redirected me to email/text/FB, then “Ghosted” – 5
  • Dates canceled last-minute with no intention of rescheduling – 2
  • Actual honest-to-god real life dates – 2

So as you can see I’m not doing very well overall. In the same time I had 4 invitations in face-to-face offline life that could have turned into dates. No luck there either: 2 evasions, 1 polite refusal and 1 TBD I suppose. Also – why the hell do people match with you and then not at least respond? This happens so often and feels like a tease :/ Maybe upon closer inspection I’m actually ugly… or just too transparent, which kills all the sexy mystery. Here, let’s check out some sample messages:

I thought these were good (but no response)

Hi Stephanie. So which national parks have you visited? I put up a bunch of vintage posters by Kai Carpenter recently ( and had the realization that there a bunch in Utah that I never knew about (Arches, Bryce, etc). I also really want to camp out at the Dry Tortugas now – Google’s fault (

So (Dee?) I don’t even know where to start – you have a really thoughtfully assembled and well-adjusted sounding profile… and life. So do you feel resigned working as a receptionist in CU and not in the midst of the wilderness? It sounds like you want to work your way into something like the Peacecorps in the middle of the Pacific (had a friend who did that – she came back married and with a child, so maybe not a bad path?). Anyway your comment about being less career-oriented and more inclined to have a balanced, happy life really resonates with me. My degree and role at UIUC have catapulted me into this spot where I have nearly unlimited control and outstanding opportunities… and yet lately I’m really just trying to connect substantively with folks who have a hefty share of empathy and curiosity more than ambition for their job. Anyway I’ll stop there – you seem really neat, I’d be happy to talk 🙂

Shmurr your profile is straight up charisma incarnate. Luckily I can play the Ukulele with sound synths on a computer, which probably makes me the nightmare version of your dream man. Glad you’re keeping up the sass, it’s a refreshing break from all of the people who chronicle every little bit of their Netflix obsession. Keep it up.

[Name] I… think we matched on Bumble but you didn’t message. Feel free to hit me back if you want to talk, according to OKC’s mildly arbitrary rating system we’d be best pals. If it was just intended as an acknowledgment of cuteness – thanks, the feeling is mutual 🙂 Cheers-

More were like these, rated “meh” (also no response)

Hi Bremaree. I know I already messaged you, but I’m trying again because you seem worth the attention (and you looked at my profile, thnx). I also work in education – and I’m not sure if you mean board games or sports games or videogames, but my gang of friends does all of those things too 🙂 I’d be happy to talk, drop me a line sometime. Cheers-

Hi (Peper? Makes me think I could be Iron Man?), how goes the job search? Or should I not ask? 🙂 I like that you try not to take yourself too seriously – I think that’s been my saving grace in jumping into this whole online meeting game. I hope your animal prompt (what you spend a lot of time thinking about) wasn’t inspired by The Lobster – that movie… was not what I expected it to be. Anyway seems we have a lot in-common, I’d be happy to talk, here or any other medium. Cheers-

Hi Sweetpea (yikes, I feel… almost condescending opening with that?), what makes you want to work on minimizing your weaknesses, instead of, say, maximizing your strengths? Do you get into a lot of trouble for some of the ways you are?

Hi Acat. One of my best friends in town here is also all about pickles. He’ll walk around during parties with a jar trying to get us to eat them. It’s kind of gross but adorable. I’m totally with you on the defining favorites bit – changes every time I fill something like that out. Anything you’ve been digging lately?

Some messages that actually led to something substantial

So if I’ve understood your name right, you’re a Cheshire cat? (actually, just looked at two clips on YouTube, I don’t know that he ever laughs or meows, just grins in a frightening fashion). Hi Cheshire, I’m Jeff and I’d like to listen to your future podcast. What will be the topic?

Hi Swede, been up to Starved Rock yet this fall?

Hi. So how’d your garden plot go this summer? I moved into a house recently and it’s got gobs of garden space and I have no idea how to handle it.

Hi Anna. So how much of a deal breaker is it if I’m unreasonably afraid of Tango?

In conclusion, message content barely matters

Asking questions, effort or creativity appear to have little to do with success. Generally I think it’s as Anna eventually described to me – a combination of being good looking and catching a person in just the right lucky moment. Turned out the data verifies my experience:

Your Looks and Your Inbox

OK Trends, a blog with some of the most interesting studies of inequality and social interactions that I’ve ever encountered found that women are just brutal to men in their attractiveness ratings and that a very small minority of women receive the vast majority of the attention. Interestingly for all the failure of men crafting messages it seems women are hugely successful when they bother to reach out (save for some strikingly sad racist undertones). This is perhaps why systems like Bumble should be outstanding, but might be troubled, because often women don’t have to bother to initiate, they can just fish guys out of the veritable river flowing by them at any given time.

She sings to me

And then, surprisingly, in the midst of all of this the system actually worked. It was a fluke, but I couldn’t dream of a more beautiful burst of inspiration to keep me going. I ran into Anna Leon, a world-famous traveling tango instructor with more Facebook friends than god and talents to rival one (dancer, painter, singer-song-writer, photographer, interior designer). Within the span of a few messages she invited me out to join her for hookah in the middle of the night and we begin what became the most intense three week relationship I’ve ever had in my life. We knew it was only for the time she was visiting in CU so we spent every day together, as much time as we could. Beyond dozens of social-emotional connections in that period she taught me to dance, inspired comprehension of my 35mm lens, redid my entire wardrobe, painted me a piece of artwork that redefined my living room and totally blew away any and all understanding I had of… things I ought not to share too much about here 🙂


The biggest gift she left me with, however, was a brutal and necessary reminder. I have this tendency to get self-depricative or leave insert cautionary words/tone into my interactions when I perceive adversity during could-be romantic exchanges. Stuff like “Hey I know you’re not [whatever], but I was hoping we could [whatever]” or “Sorry to be [blah], what if we [blah]” and so on. She just stopped me one day and said:

Stop apologizing.

Whatever the limitations of the CU landscape might be it doesn’t mean I don’t get to have self-respect. It’s hard when you’re the initiator and creator of all things in the rest of your life to let go and trust that others will care about you and find you worthwhile or chase you back romantically. It’s even harder to do this when the social norms (and data) suggest that stepping back will leave you lonely and without attention or any kind of validation in your romantic life. And it’s even harder for me, a person whose friends groups are disintegrating who may have even lost the very person who gave him this advice.

It goes back to the original catharsis I blundered into when Uncle Mark died. Life is too short. I am who I am and people should meet me where I am, just as I want to meet them where they are too. I’m going to be intense as fuck and care about others like crazy, even if it doesn’t ever “work out.” I am unabashedly, unapologetically some broken mixture of socially-motivated, savior-mentality-stricken, undiagnosed ADD scrambled bewilderment and

that’s okay.

Now, time to get off this silly internet soap box and go run an ops meeting. Next blog post will be academic, I swear.