Online Games

Written in November 2012.

A couple of months ago, I decided to create a profile on an online dating site. I had actually spent a few fruitless weeks on the same service years back. That time, I had messaged perhaps a dozen girls, most selected – admittedly – solely on the basis of their physical appearance. Days passed, then weeks. I didn’t get a single response. Eventually, I turned to the site’s message board for advice. Almost immediately, someone made a snarky comment about the pictures I had uploaded. I shouldn’t have been surprised, internet forums being what they are. Yet, I was hurt, even humiliated. I closed my account shortly thereafter.

There were a number of reasons for my second foray into online dating, none particularly interesting or pertinent here. But I was basically the same guy I was before, as underscored by the spectrum of personality tests available on the site. My profile, as you might suspect, was long-winded in each instance, featuring what I would desperately like to believe was an endearing combination of earnestness, wit, and sarcasm. My attributes in updated photos were similarly interchangeable, with the addition of a few years and the recession of my hairline – both developments most decidedly not in my favor. Thus, generally unimproved, I entered my do-over with no insignificant amount of trepidation, hypersensitive as ever.*

*I actually had a recent incident on another, unrelated internet forum that left me again feeling terrible, this time, about my creative capabilities. I’ve learned to avoid internet forums altogether; people are the fucking worst.

This time, however, I resolved to be committed. From the outset, I had a vision of the methodical approach I would implement this time around. I would devote an hour to searching and messaging every other day. I would revisit the contents of my profile every week, tweaking, fine-tuning. I would be in this for the long haul – as no amount of rejection would deter me (and certainly not propel me to return to the forums). Maybe I had learned something from participating in fellowship application cycles the last few years. Maybe I had become familiar, if not quite comfortable, with an unending, draining, and seemingly hopeless task. Whatever the case, I was determined to persevere.

I flipped through what felt like hundreds of listings, if not thousands. I hid the girls whom I had no interest in, for reasons primarily of physical appearance, but also of personality, following a quick read-through of their profile. I did the same with those who indicated clearly through their personality questions that my interest would go unreciprocated (most revealing was a not-so-subtle query about racial preference). I bookmarked the girls with high potential. And thus, every other day, I went to work messaging them, usually three or four to a session. It was the equivalent of a to-do list – not in a callous manner, but an efficient, even necessary, one.

My storage box soon cluttered with my own sent messages. Like the first go-around, I did not receive a single response for what seemed like ages. But some quick research suggested that this was a norm. Eventually, I decided to clear out old messages if I didn’t get a timely response, hoping to depersonalize the process as much as I could. It was a psychological lift, and I soon lost track of the number of girls I contacted. As I continued the progress, I tried to make the mechanical approach a little more flexible. I altered the type of introductory message I would write. I shortened it up, tailoring each to a specific point in the girl’s profile, while asking a focused, if casual, question or two.

As I spent more time on the service, I learned to try different tactics, eventually easing from the rigidity imposed by my schedule. I worked to crop my profile picture in a manner that was slightly more flattering. I uploaded photos that placed me in different environments – outdoors, travelling, with (blurry) friends, and so forth. I noticed I would attract more visitors whenever I responded to personality questions, and whenever I wrote a few lines to elaborate on those responses – so I incorporated that into the routine. I was picking up on nuances in the process that I hadn’t before… though I was certainly no expert, and my intermittent use of the present tense here is revealing.

Eventually, I started getting responses to my messages. Just a couple, though, and the overall response rate remains putrid. Still, it was a relief, more than I would care to admit. I might have become reasonably more confident in the years between profiles, and certainly more at-ease with myself as an individual. But if anything, I was even more susceptible to feelings of vulnerability and hurt and concern as a result, even if the purpose of online dating is to supposedly mitigate most of that. Getting a response, striking up a conversation – shallow as it seems, unfair though it might be, they were to me clear signs of progress.

I’ve met two girls in person now, each after a prolonged period of chatting. Both, thankfully, have been nice, and relatively normal. In one instance, it stopped at the coffee date. I had no interest, and I don’t know that she did either. In the other, there was a little chemistry, and we saw each other a couple of times after. It didn’t go further than that. The dead-end nature of both encounters was certainly disappointing, and the non-existent online contact since seems hardly sufficient in providing a closure to the brief flirtations. Still, I suppose it’s the way it goes. Back to the drawing board.


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