Thursday, January 6, 2011

Send Us Your Dating Horror Stories

It's almost that time of year (i.e., Valentine's Day), and we'd like to get a head start on Gawker by collecting your dating horror stories. In the name of catharsis, send your pick-up lines, walks of shame, and bad decisions to ones get thrown up on the blog throughout the month.

To get you started, we're setting the bar high with this story from Hey Lady.

And if you're more in the mood for happy endings, don't forget to send in your matchmaking profiles.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Don't Put Too Much Stock in a Profile Picture

Online dating profiles are hotbeds of superficiality.

The whole page revolves around the photos, and even the most open-minded users usually check the physical appearance before they read any text.

This kind of browsing doesn’t make you a bad person—after all, attraction/chemistry/whatever you want to call it is mostly physical.

But it does create problems.

To understand how, think about how “real world” dating works. You meet a guy at a party, or a bar, or the bank, and here’s what you know about him: what he looks like.

How many times have you found yourself 30 minutes into an amazing conversation when a guy casually mentions his girlfriend? Or what about the guys you go out with four or five times before you realize your religious differences/educational backgrounds/grooming habits make you totally incompatible?

Attractive people can be intoxicating, and there’s nothing like making out with a guy you could’ve sworn had a bit role on The OC.

But in the moment, isn’t it just like kissing anyone else? And more of a self-esteem boost/story to tell your friends than a wildly passionate encounter?

Judging potential partners on looks alone has a time and place. But if that time and place is OKCupid, you’re kind of missing out on the advantages that belong exclusively to the cyber world of romance.

The whole point of these sites is that you know, before you even message back, that SustekStaffer27 is purportedly single (and if he’s taken, so sociopathic about hiding it that you wouldn’t fare any better if you met him at a happy hour), that he shares some of your outlooks on life (i.e., has aspirations beyond getting drunk, tan, and/or laid), and that his interests could be compatible with yours. You don’t have to go on three awkward dates before you realize that he only likes to play video games in his free time, and you get to see answers to questions you could never get away with asking early on (e.g., where he sees himself in 10 years, whether he wants to get married, how old he is).

That’s not to say that you can’t write some people off based on what they look like. There are some people you’ll just never be attracted to—maybe your first boyfriend had hazel eyes and traumatic headgear, and you always associate blue/green irises with the time your braces got stuck together.

If you find someone physically repulsing,  you might be fighting an uphill battle if you try to let his personality make up for it.

But if he looks great on paper and his picture only elicits a, “meh,” don’t be so quick to write him off completely.

It’s amazing how quickly you can become attracted to someone who didn’t knock you off your feet the first time you saw him. A funny, charming persona can be much more seductive than those mile-deep blue eyes. And on the flip side, anyone can get used to beauty, and the more time you spend with a physical trainer, the more ordinary he starts to look.

That’s not to say that you should spend your days pining over every profile you come across, or messaging guys you’re not immediately attracted to. But if a guy messages you, try to read his profile before checking out the pictures. And if the words line up, but the photos leave something to be desired, remind yourself what you’re looking for.

If you’re not looking for more than a few hookups, by all means, weight the photos. But if you’re looking for a successful relationship, consider giving guy who looks good on paper a chance.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Online Dating Deathmatch: OK Cupid vs. Vs. eHarmony

When you decide to take the plunge into online dating, you’ve already made a big and sometimes difficult decision. You have to get over that knee-jerk reaction most people have to the idea of meeting a soul mate online, but now you an even bigger conundrum: which site do you choose?

Today, we’re going to talk about the Big 3  sites in DC (OKCupid, Match, and eHarmony) and how you should go about exploring the world of cyber romance.

First, the basics: OKCupid is a free site that reminds a lot of people of Facebook. It feels targeted at a younger crowd, and the quizzes can be as addictive and time-consuming as Farmville.  The profile is more structured—users answer specific questions, like “What are 6 things you couldn’t live without?” and tries to get users to post more information than “Who are you? What do you do for a living? What are you looking for?” Users can “wink” (which no one seems to do) or message when they see a profile they like. There’s also an option to chat via instant messenger. 

Match is a paid subscription service, although you can do some things without paying. The profile isn’t as slick as OK Cupid and tends to be more open-ended. You get a lot of “About me” responses that are pretty vague and some variation on, “I enjoy long walks on the beach and am looking for someone to share my life with.” The communication is similar to OK Cupid—when you see someone you like, you initiate a conversation.

eHarmony is another paid site that’s definitely targeted at the older, more serious crowd. The profile is more structured with OKCupid-like “quirky” questions, but eHarmony distinguishes itself with its communication process. When you like someone, you don’t just message them—you can send an “Icebreaker” that says something cheesy like “I like your smile,” or you can send him a message. The difference is that eHarmony pushes users to use a guided communication process, which makes users send and answers questions like “What books have you read recently?” before you can send an open-ended, unstructured messages.  You do have the option of sending a say-anything message right off the bat, but the user has the option of rejecting it and pursing guided communication.

Before we get into the pros and cons of each site, we’d recommend that beginners sign up for all three and see which they like best. OKCupid is free, and Match usually has a free trial period. eHarmony lets you create a profile for free, but you can’t see pictures or message anyone unless you pay, although they do “open communication” weekends where you can message without a subscription. Match and eHarmony also usually have money-back guarantees, where you can cancel in the first two weeks and get your money fully refunded. If you sign up for a shorter period, or cancel within the trial period, you’ll probably get an offer to resubscribe at a much lower rate.

But here’s our take on the offerings in the DC area.

OKCupid seems to be the best bet for the recent grads, students, and “young professionals.” Because it’s free, it tends to attract people who just want to test the waters of online dating, and you’re probably going to get a wide range of atypical users (Match and eHarmony seemed to have a lot of overlap, but OKCupid seemed to have more users who weren’t singed up for the paid subscription sites). Basically, it seems like a younger crowd who would prefer to meet dates in “real life” (e.g., in bars) but got sick of trying to meet Mr. Right in AdMo.

OKCupid claims to have a scientific method for creating matches. There are basically just a bunch of questions on a wide range of topics (from religion to education to math problems) and you select your own answer to the questions, answers that would be acceptable for a partner to answer, and how important the topic is to you. They use this to match you up with people, sometimes to varying results, but you do get a chance to see, for example, how important religion is to FaulknerHottie222.

In our experience, Match is to OKCupid what MySpace is to Facebook. That comparison might not be totally fair, but you do see more users who seem to fit the stereotype of online dating (e.g., shirtless guys, creepy messages). The selection might be better for older users who might be turned off by the “personality quizzes” and other more juvenile features OK Cupid offers. The matching feels a little more arbitrary, probably because they’re matching you based on a public profile (on OKCupid, you can choose to keep your answers to the matching questions confidential). People might therefore be more likely to exaggerate answers and paint more flattering pictures of themselves. Because Match matches people based on an idealized description of who they are and what they’re looking for, some of your “100 percent” matches might be people you wouldn’t go out with on a dare.

We say this all the time, but paid subscriptions do not mean better results. If anything, paid users have made an investment, and they’re looking to get something out of it, which might mean more aggressive messages, a push to meet in person faster, etc. More “serious” users might be people who’ve had so much trouble with “traditional” dating that they’re willing to drop cash for something that works. That doesn’t mean that all subscription users are desperate, weird, or creepy—most probably aren’t—but there does seem to be this misconception that the paid sites attract more desirable users.

eHarmony was our least favorite site, mainly because the barriers to entry seem unnecessarily high (you have to spend about 2 hours filling out really long surveys before you can see your matches), and there are so many roadblocks to communication. It might seem like sending a message with something along the lines of “What’s your favorite book” would lead to more substantive conversations, but sometimes it pulls you into extended communication with someone who might have revealed his true colors if he sent you an initial message that said something like, “I like to take care of my body and hope you do too.”

The OKCupid-style questionnaire might lead to better matches, but it’s so hard to actually talk to anyone that we ended up giving up because we couldn’t take the frustration.

Again, it might be better for an older crowd (and that doesn’t mean super-mature 23-year-olds—it means people who are looking to date a 40-something), but it seemed pretty tedious when a 20-something can find (and communicate with) plenty of matches on the other two sites.