Two months ago I was offered a practically-free month of binary romance via Match.com, a “true pioneer in online dating that hosts sites in 25 countries, in eight different languages spanning five continents.” I was freshly single and somewhat curious, so I signed up. This isn’t to say that I took the entire process as earnestly as I should have. My profile was far from representative of my actual tastes (online Sean was a satanist whose dream date was taking a girl who enjoyed Mexican & Italian to a Taco Bell/Pizza Hut Combination). The ladies of the internet still reached out to say hello, even if they risked a potential Black Mass soiree/Frito Taco Deluxe. Over 30 days, my profile was viewed roughly 1,200 times and received 40 winks (nonverbal hellos that signified interest). I’d be interested to hear what the average amount of traffic a Match user experiences and what algorithms dictate it, but I’m personally surprised when anyone, regardless of gender, age, or sexual preference, finds me attractive. I’m the same guy who once put chocolate icing on a bagel. My DNA is bargain bin at best.
Here are some lasting observations and random posts, all in chronological order, from my time as an online bachelor. I’ve replaced all profile pictures with portraits of semi-popular ’80s cartoon characters. Please let me emphasize that I have complete respect for anyone with the resolve to reach out to strangers and build a bridge that wasn’t there before. That said, I was probably the troll under that bridge when all is said and done.
1. Onomatopoeia Speaks Volumes
When writing marketing or advertising copy, the most important language arrives at the end: the call to action. The hook. And it is absolutely integral. After padding your copy with a halcyon description of a service or product, this is the exclamation point that ignites the consumer fuse: Buy now. Donate. Sign up today.
Online dating profiles are essentially advertisements for people, as are the messages enticing others into their world. So the above—my very first message received on Match.com—completely lacks a call to action. What did this woman want? To make me feel better about my ability to attract the opposite sex? To express her smile preferences? I’ll never know. She asks no question and commands nothing. She wants nothing.
This is a simple declarative statement that doesn’t allude to any additional form of communication past its inherent message. It’s also an introduction to some of the consumer psychology and marketing value of sites like Match.com: you can feel romantically connected with minimal connecting. Users can enter Russian Roulette email syndicates comprised of hundreds of gals or guys, all under the guise of anonymity. Hundreds of texts and emails and notes and…whatever with complete strangers who remain strangers. Do you ever get close, grab a cup of coffee, or meet his/her Labradoodle? Hell no. You’re busy and actual romance has the potential for heart break and penicillin prescriptions. This is training wheel dating that lets a user feel proactive without ever acting. At the same time, I give credit to anyone who can start an email with onomatopoeia.
2. Never, Ever Mention Future Children
A girlfriend once told me, on our first date no less, that we’d have really cute kids. I didn’t think anything of it. In fact, I thought it was kind of adorable. Most people are not me.
The above user is an attractive salt-of-the-earth Midwesterner who “wakes up in the morning and watches ESPN.” She sent me more than a few messages asking for correspondence and I really had no clue why. Her interests are so opposite my own that I feel like our first date would fuel a failed CBS sitcom pilot. I asked her how we would raise our hypothetical children, with her conservative, domestic-beer loving proclivities juxtaposed against my flaming arts-farmers-market-indie-rock pretension. It’s a valid question: we might have gorgeous children, but we should probably have a game plan. Evidently, that’s a question I will never, ever know the answer to. I still fantasize about our children, Brielle Madison and Hunter Smalizabeth, before I go to bed, though.
3. Never, Ever Try to Start a Band Called MatchBox.com 20 on Match.com
Mazzy Star. Mates of State. The Joy Formidable. ABBA. Handome Furs. Band couples are hot, so why wouldn’t I pursue one after a young lady asked me about my guitar playing history? (Confession: I attempt to start bands with strangers all the time. It’s kind of a social dysfunction at this point). The above user, a good-natured physical therapist with auburn hair who finished all of her messages with “LOL,” did not want to start a band called MatchBox.com 20. Her loss.
4. Avoid Stalkers, Even If They’re Apologetic
The above user proclaims “FUN~Found here! I pinky swear.” I don’t believe her for a second; she lives in Akron, Ohio, a solid two and a half hours from where I live. Akron, Ohio is not fun. It’s the geographic equivalent of a kidney stone wrapped in barbed wire. I actually dated a girl who lived in Akron, and it was a labor to visit her and the suburban sprawl, strip mall, industrial decay that creeped around her city. That said, anywhere that spawned The Black Keys can’t be that bad.
But I appreciate this user, because she openly admits to stalking me. This is like the first message (“Hmm I like that smile”) kicked through a Fatal Attraction filter. Again, no call to action, and again, some “hmmmm” (that’s two more Ms than the first one, mind you) onomatopoeia. Or is there a call to action? She asks whether it’s my grin or Golden Retrievers that force her to frequent my profile. Am I supposed to answer her question about why she keeps stalking me? Who would do that? That’s like teaching a diabetic how to make creme brulee.
5. Don’t Judge a User by His or Her Horrific Screen Name
NightmareMoon doesn’t sacrifice orphans to prepare for the harvest or recite Sumerian prayers to necrotic gods. With a name like NightmareMoon, she totally should. But instead she reads 50 Shades of Grey and really likes The Notebook. Match.com is an interesting site in that it’s more of a people catalogue with light statistical matching than an actual digital matchmaker, as its name might imply. If eHarmony is a calibrated algorithm machine that can pair you with your unrealized spouse in coded milliseconds and Plenty of Fish is the raw, dirty orgasm donator network, Match lies somewhere between. You can hone down your dating pool to what you think works, but you’re not excluded from the rest of the masses.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: your soulmate might be the chain-smoking libertarian you traditionally avoided or the pachouli-doused midwife your Mom warned you about. Likewise, NightmareMoon seems perfectly normal and un-terrifying; all things I wouldn’t know from her screen name. Did I actually have any correspondence with NightmareMoon? Hell no; she likes The Notebook.