Tuesday, 21 February 2012

If Argos did Romance… - The Horrors of Online Dating Part 1

Have you ever been online dating? If the answer is no, then you’re probably a good-looking, confident, humorous, approachable person who enjoys the company of others. If not then you probably fall short or one or more of these traits, or like in my case all of them.

As the most socially awkward person in the Western hemisphere with all the confidence and small-talking ability of a British-Argentinean state dinner, I have succumbed to the potential pitfalls of online dating. There’s a number of online dating sites all keen to collect the loneliness tax from you and add you to their books, but broadly speaking they all work in a similar way (not that I’ve been on many – awkward), from the mainstream, heavily advertised dating sites to the niche Velcro fetish ones (not that I’ve been on any of those at all – awkwarder still).

Anyway after last week’s Valentine’s hell, many people have suggested I be more proactive and try and find myself a boyfriend, so for those lucky enough to be unfamiliar with the process of internet dating, here’s my two part guide to the potential horrors you face in searching for your soul mate, which will hopefully convince you it’s not worth trying. Today we’ll look at setting yourself up on a dating website, and tomorrow we’ll go through the exciting carnage of interacting with other people online and arranging that all important date.

The first step is creating yourself a profile, so that prospective suitors can find a good reason to dismiss you and save both of you the cost and inconvenience of a date. Many sites will ask you to choose a unique username, rather than just allowing you to call yourself by your own name – which would be arguably a lot more helpful. The trick here I’ve found is to be broadly non-emotive and not try and use this to sell yourself. Overconfident usernames such as HornyDogXXX and BigBreasts49 generally make you come across as a knob, ironically trying the reverse and using under-confident usernames like EssexWeedyBoy and LonelyGirl2 actually just come across as truthful and plastered immediately above a photo of you leave a strange psychological imprint that makes other users instantly close your profile.

Next up you’ll need to fill out a short questionnaire to give a summary of you and what you are looking for. Questions that usually come up include age and location – which provide a helpful way to filter out a large proportion of the online community. Also things like occupation, education (for some unknown reason), eye colour (just in case Hitler himself is indulging himself in a spot of online dating) and the important question “do you drink?” – I think if you select no to the drinking option, a pop-up box appears warning that you need to start, in order to meet the level of tolerance required to survive on-line dating.

I’ve noticed a handful of questions that particularly stick out, first is Height – not necessarily an odd thing to ask, but am I the only person who doesn’t actually know their own height? This has come up in other situations and I haven’t a clue, the last time I measured myself was when I was 12 and my parents routinely stood me next to a height chart. This seemed to serve no practical purpose other than to give family members an opportunity to tut loudly and moan about how fast your growing, and how you’d probably need a fortune worth of new clothes soon. Then there’s increasingly common question of “Do you take Drugs?” – for the avoidance of doubt I don’t, I’m simply not cool enough. To be perfectly honest I’m not sure why the police’s anti-drugs team don’t get themselves a profile and round up all those who tick the “yes” box to this question. As a side note to the people who leave this box empty or select “prefer not to say”, you aren’t really creating any mystery – even the stupidest of people can read through your elaborate avoidance of the question. Lastly there’s the question on “Build”, this is the first real opportunity to be creative with the truth, unless you’ve been trying to cover up your red satanic eyes in the eye-colour question. Options here usually range from “very skinny”, through “muscled”, “average” or “a few extra pounds” right through to “have been mistaken for a bouncy castle”. The general rule seems to be always class yourself one category better than you actually are, anything more is a blatant lie, and may result in a visit from trade’s descriptions.

Next up you’ll need to write a short essay on your interests, broadly speaking this will go one of two ways. Either people struggle to write this and up putting down a lame set of interests that include “watching television, going to the cinema and socialising” as if they’re fleshing out their CV circa the age of 14. Sometimes given how obvious the choices are, you wonder if the people considered listing things like breathing and defecating just to fill up the character count. Though this at least feels like it has a sense of refreshing honesty, unlike the other option, which is to go crazy and make your entire life seem like one long gap year. Contenders for this need to list white-water rafting, abseiling, kayaking and travelling, lots of travelling – if they haven’t listed The Moon as one of their top tourist destinations they’re not even trying. The primary problem with this is that all the non-liars won’t want to date you as they feel they will be shown up as exceptionally boring in your company. And all of this is rather arbitrary as the average forum browser will select you solely based on your picture and won’t read any of the torturous c**p you spent seven hours writing.

This leads us nicely onto the final thing you need to do – select at least one, preferably a number of, photographs. As a quick note here if you don’t select a photograph you will not be appear like a mysterious romantic stranger – instantly people will correctly presume you are ugly. Photo selection is always fraught with quandary, particularly if like me you are about as photogenic as an explosion in a septic tank. Clearly you don’t want to show a picture that actually features an accurate representation of yourself, because quite frankly if you looked naturally attractive in all your photos you wouldn’t be needing online dating in the first place. The question here is always how much to lie, a flattering photo taken at a good angle seems reasonable, one taken a few years ago possibly less so, a photo of someone else seems definitely morally questionable. But you’ll be surprised at the lengths some people will take “bending the truth” hoping you won’t notice the extra 50lbs when they have subsequently put on when you meet them in person.

Up to this point you won’t have had to pay a thing, all dating websites allow you to create a profile and search for matches for free. But the minute you want to send or read a message, is where the cash comes in. Incidentally setting up your profile counts as joining the website, being able to read messages is considered an “upgrade” even though there’s no way to use the site without it! This is why many website list themselves as “free to join” even though just joining them is about as much use as voting for the Liberal Democrats historically was.

At this point you can receive messages, but not read them so the temptation to part with your cash increase all the more in order to view these mystery messages. The pricing strategies of dating websites follow an interesting model, despite adverts suggesting you’ll be finding your true love very soon, the price list encourages you to sign up long term – as let’s face it you’re destined to be single. Just one month’s membership comes in at a hefty thirty pounds on average, but if you’re prepared to part with upward of a hundred pounds you can join for a year. Which if you do certainly implies you don’t have much faith in your own ability.

With credit card worn out, you’ve finally joined, you can start browsing the website, flicking through the pages like your glancing through the Argos catalogue looking for a flat pack wardrobe. Although sadly should you meet up with anyone from the dating website they won’t be delivered to you down a conveyer belt – which would make the whole thing a lot more fun.

By this point you’re exhausted, to get this far has taken you all weekend and now you can’t be bothered to look at all the other profiles. With any luck you’ll forget about the whole project and not bother arranging any dates. Just cut your losses here, because the actual dating part will be awful.

Join me tomorrow when I’ll explain the fate that you are destined to fulfil when you start browsing those online profiles.