I Read This Book About Online Dating And It's Giving Me Nightmare Flashbacks

I went on HUNDREDS of dates that summer and met a handful of people I could even tolerate for an hour, much less wanted to see again.

Jan 16, 2013 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

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The last time I went on a date, I was 20 years old.

I'd finally wrested myself from the emotionally abusive long-distance high-school boyfriend, lost 100 pounds, and I immediately put up a profile on Nerve Personals, which at the time was what the kids were using. All my boyfriends have come from the Internet; I've long treated it as my personal man factory, a conveyer belt bearing broad-shouldered silhouettes far into the distance.

I went out on a ton of dates that summer, because I was in my first size 8s, and lonely, and prone to using other people as emotional Band-Aids. In some ways, it was a lot of fun: I drank a lot, slid off lots of barstools into tongue-kisses, met interesting people in strange, unknowable professions like "business." I had a lot of intrigue in my life, a lot of compliments to roll over and over in my brain, a lot of flirtatious text messages to occupy my time. I made at least one friend I'm still in touch with today.

Yet for all that, what I remember most about dating is the strange feeling that the person across from you literally does not speak the same language as you, that your words are leaving your mouth and bouncing off your tablemate's epidermis without penetrating. I went on HUNDREDS of dates that summer and met a handful of people I could even tolerate for an hour, much less wanted to see again. 

To somehow, from that sea of stilted small talk and meaningless glass clinking, pluck a man with whom you want to have a meaningful relationship seems like a miracle or a freak accident, like a stack of untouched photo albums in the wreckage of a tornado.

And I was so young, and looking for excitement, not love. What must it be like at 30, at 40? What must it be like if you're sincerely hoping to meet a life partner, not just check out a new bar with company?

I got an idea when I read "DATA: A LOVE STORY: How I Gamed Online Dating and Met My Match" by Amy Webb. Sick of going on horrible dates, Webb, a technology consultant, created a bunch of male profiles, studied women's online dating behavior and did a deep data analysis which she then used to recreate her own profile to attract the maximum number of potential suitors.

It's an enjoyable read for anyone, but online daters should definitely check it out, as some of her findings are revelatory.

For instance:

Write less and keep it general.

Shorter profiles correlated to greater popularity in Webb's finding. She says to include just enough information to pique someone's interest, rather than laying out every detail of your personality and preferences. And keep in mind that the more specific you are, the more chances you give yourself to turn off a potential partner over unimportant details.

For instance, you say you're looking for someone to watch "Curb Your Enthusiasm" with. Your potential match hates the show so much that he declines to message you. Enjoyment of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" probably isn't something that you find essential to a great relationship, but you could be losing opportunities over it.

This is all super-counterintuitive to me and also was to the author. Although I'm not sure I could bring myself to be as generic as in some of the examples Webb gives, it does make sense to only be specific on things that are genuinely important to you and that you're sure your potential match would agree with.

Seem easy to date.

I have a tendency to want to lay out all the potential deal-breakers up front so everybody knows exactly what they're getting into. For instance, if I was writing a profile today I'd be all, "Hey, I'm Emily! I'm almost 30, I have a child, I don't drink or use drugs, and I'm kind of chubby. Cool with that? Let's go."  That's the wrong approach.

The most popular profiles projected a tone of positivity, approachability and a sense of being up for anything. Webb calls it the "Cameron Diaz" affect -- men want to date women who seem upbeat, happy, and easygoing. The most frequently used word on these profiles was "fun." The goal is to be relatable to the widest possible audience so you can then apply your own filters to decide who you want to go out with. Speaking of which...

Don't go out with everyone.

In retrospect, my 20-year-old self was likely casting too wide a net, afraid to turn down a date with anyone, lest we have some ineffable in-person chemistry not hinted at by their lackluster profile.

"Not everyone is a writer," I kept reminding myself, reviewing my mental list of people I liked in real life whose profiles wouldn't have caught my eye.

Instead, Webb recommends making a list of the qualities that you need in your mate in order to be happy and then only going out on dates with men who meet a significant portion of your requirements. (She uses a points scoring method of top-and-lower tier traits.) The goal (and probably the hardest part) is to be really honest about what you need out of a relationship in order to be happy. Then, instead of going out with any person you think you could possibly have a spark with, you only go out with people who meet enough of those requirements to be a prospective match.

The only person Webb goes out with after implementing her system is her now-husband, which could be a coincidence, but makes for an awesome ending. Either way, it was a fun read.

Anyway, I obviously have literally no idea what I'm talking about. Is dating as horrible as I remember it?

EPILOGUE: After reading the book, some accident-scene curiosity drove me to log into OKCupid, where I promptly almost died of horrible. Single people deserve a medal, you guys.