Hi there. So, I went to grad school for three years and just finished in December. Let’s say that’s the only reason I haven’t been writing at all, and that sloth and inertia didn’t play any part. Cool? Cool.
A few years ago, my roommate Petunia gave in to her grandma’s repeated suggestions and signed up for an online dating site. I decided to do it too, for moral support—though the buddy system doesn’t really work on the internet. Unlike when you persuade your friend to come with you to a party, you can’t just stand in a corner and talk only to each other.
Petunia was willing to pay for a membership to one of the classier sites. I was not, and I ended up on Plenty of Fish for free. I can affirm that this is not the skeeviest dating site possible, though. I know this because of the other sites that advertise in its sidebar. Here are some helpful screenshots to prove that I am not making these up:
For some reason these sites do not advertise the number of lasting relationships they have enabled.
Plenty of Fish allows you to craft a description of yourself, thoughtfully answer questions and prompts about your personality, provide information on your interests and the qualities you are seeking in a match, and then receive insistent messages from people who have read none of these things.
I was not prepared for this attention, and at first I applied the same flawed strategy I had used for college mail. After taking the PSAT in high school, I received mail from a number of colleges that had no immediate appeal or connection to my future plans.
They all included a tear-off postcard to send in for further information, and it seemed reasonable to collect as much information as possible before making such a big decision. Even if the initial pamphlet looked unpromising, how could I be sure from first impressions that I wasn’t passing up the perfect opportunity?
I eventually compared notes with friends and realized my mistake. Unfortunately, I did not learn the lesson in a lasting way.
When it came to online dating, I initially assumed that it was only proper to reply to everyone who sent me a message—especially those who wrote more than just “Hi.” That’s how I got myself into the following mess:
This sounded to me like a reasonable and fairly self-aware request. Also, I had one clear reason in mind, and it was something he should be able to fix pretty easily in order to improve his future prospects. Providing this sort of advice—when someone specifically asks for it—is clearly the kindest and most helpful thing to do, right?
To my surprise, he did not appear to consider this a helpful response.
By this point, I still had not begun to suspect that he was not actually interested in my suggestions for improving his approach. I helpfully tried to explain.
Having learned a lot about the norms of online dating messages from this exchange, I then wisely…repeated almost exactly the same conversation with a different guy the next week. Optimism and stupidity often share surface characteristics.
In the end, I deleted my profile after reaching my limit for people coming on way, way too strong.
Whatever approach Petunia took worked noticeably better. She steered clear of Well-Meaning Pedantry traps and managed to avoid the fecally inclined, and I got to be part of her wedding last summer.
As for me, I'm thinking of starting my own site: