The Vagenda

You’ve Got Male – Unravelling the Myth of Online Dating

‘My interests include men who can’t get a date with women their own age, nights in on the sofa and not wearing clothes’
I am recently very single, having broken up with the person who I thought was the love of my life over summer. I went from gliding around like a girl in a bio-yoghurt advert, perma-happy, to re-reading Valentine’s cards and dehydrating myself to sleep. The moral of the story is always be nice to people you care about, because not having them around is quite miserable. But more of that another time. 
I had always subscribed to the ‘woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle’ school of thought – but it turns out that I quite liked my bicycle and really missed having it around. So, having spent a fortnight looking like a member of a Bridget Jones cum Ben and Jerry focus group, I settled on an online dating site. 
Yup, here a clever algorithm was going to do a better job of finding the next Mr Hutson than me, bypassing all the worst parts of being single and ‘looking for a date’ – i.e. suddenly RSVPing to every invite I received in a bid to ‘get myself out there’, weird Tuesday-night blind dates with friends of friends or joining a book club and trying to appear alluring and capable with just a two sentence mumbled analysis of ‘Tampa’. It was also an opportunity to just be judged and valued on the things that I think really matter – what I wanted was to set off a spark based on my interests, my (limited) professional achievements and excellent ‘direct message’ wit (as i’m basically at my best on email). 
How wrong I was. There was nothing egalitarian or revolutionary about the online dating landscape; it came with all the same double standards, hypocrisy and artifice-deep demands of women as the offline world does, and instead all it really seemed to offer was just more ways (winks, nudges, views, favourites) to be on the receiving end of it. 
Case in point – I’m 26 and, the average age of men responding to my profile was 35. And this was quite a selection box of men – we’re talking people who I wouldnt want to sit next to on the night bus worming their way into my inbox. It was quite remarkable how many men WLTM women fifteen years younger than them, yet had no interest in finding a partner of their own age (according to their profiles at least). Far from stumbling across someone new who I wouldn’t meet in real life, it seemed everyone just reverted to type, with male members sending the messages, and female members (myself included) as the passive recipients of their advances. When I initiated contact with someone who seemed like they a) weren’t an axe murderer b) member of the BNP or had a whole host of very fringe interests, the responses were lukewarm at best or a stony wall of silence at worst. Of course it could just be that i’m the least appealing person ever to grace the net, which isnt unlikely, but when i tested my hypothesis that the majority of men didn’t like ‘assertive’’ (my god, what a word) women with a few colleagues who are also ‘online’, they agreed. Whereas I would check patiently to see who was interested, the boys would fire out dozens of emails a day – the ‘spray and pray’ approach to potential dates, and remarked that women who messaged them appeared desperate…yeesh. 
The whole exercise just felt like self-flagellation i didnt need, so i turned the whole episode into a social experiment (a diet coke version of McKinsey, if you will). I replaced my three photos with some less ‘conservative’ pictures – and lo, the number of ‘winks’ I got in a day went from 7 to 19. Not only did my popularity increase, but the nature of how the men interacted with me changed – from banal one liners to increasingly forward and sexual language – men complimenting my ‘tasty pics’ as an opening gambit. As i appeared more available, the tone of the conversation shifted – and it felt leery and seedy. I realised that the paradox of choice that online dating provides us – literally millions of members – means that we resort to the most base instincts to select a potential partner – i.e.looks and youth. 
My favourite finding was that the more vanilla I made my profile – i.e. removing specific references to my interests or job, and instead becoming the profile equivalent of Polly Filler littered with generic non-statements like ‘Im as happy going out for drinks as I am having a night in on the sofa’ or, ‘im really laid back and looking to meet someone similar’ (which are all lies by the way), the more my popularity surged. It seemed anything too outlandish like being into politics, or reading, or the weather was too much for this crowd, and even though my profile made for about as interesting reading as the back of a cereal box, it didn’t seem to matter. 
After six weeks online, I closed my account. Despite the dozens of ‘matches’ the site found for me each day – I felt too disheartened by the whole process to engage. I felt let down by the premise that going online was somehow more honest and less complicated – and instead had been confronted by all the inequalities of the real world. I know for many online dating has led them into the arms of their life partner, all shot in soft focus with a slushy music soundtrack – and I certainly dont doubt that with the right amount of effort in, the numbers game can pay off. But to see it as anything other than as a route to simply expose yourself to people within your chosen postcard is misleading – online dating might provide more choice but it hasn’t fundamentally altered to the power dynamics of courtship – and despite how intelligent those algorithms are, it seems that the bland, beautiful and young will always rank highest.
- RH

30 thoughts on “You’ve Got Male – Unravelling the Myth of Online Dating

  1. Hmmmm, i’m sorry you didn’t have a great time on it. I do think (speaking from experience) that the website you choose to sign up to is pretty important.
    Whilst we’re all unfortunately unique and “interested in politics, cooking, french cinema etc…” The website I used to use did throw up generally interesting men who responded enthusiastically when I messaged them first. My profile had my political views, specific interests etc… and I don’t feel that what you report is played out virtually in all cases. To me the site is crucial; it’s like the difference between signing up to a bloomsbury book club and going out to fabric (in my opinion)


  2. Thanks for your comment – the website was a pretty ‘mainstream’ one, and definitely my experience isnt universal. The reason I signed up in the first place was because so many people have much better experiences of meeting people through them then just hovering in bars or signing up to a million night classes. Perhaps partly I felt so let down by the ‘experience’ because I had pinned a lot to it. Getting over someone by getting underneath someone else kinda thing… It definitely isnt a piece which is supposed to speak for all online dates, rather just my personal time ‘on the site’ and the feedback from people around me…

  3. I’m not averse to online dating, I found my girlfriend online after all (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that we found each other). But I found my beloved on Google+, a social networking site. I don’t like dating sites because I have dabbled and found there are three types of people on them: People that don’t want to be there (like me); People that are single for a reason & People that use it to find desperate men/women they can have sex with.
    So my advice is: Look for like-minded people; know what you’re looking for & don’t be afraid to tell people you’re single and looking.

  4. Thanks Matt- very interesting feedback. I think increasingly, we’ll all begin to find our new partners on line in someway or another – it’s where we spend our time. I just wish the online dating ‘promise’ was more truthful – i felt like lots of the men on there were ‘serial messagers’ copying and pasting meaningless one liners to see if it stuck. For the women, well, for me, I made a bit of an investment in the whole process and expected more from it than just a meat market of available ‘singles in my area’.

  5. I really enjoyed this, a lot of it rang true. I’ve been ‘OLD’ for some years now, on and off, and mostly find it a dispiriting experience. I do though use different sites for different aspects of me – one that is more relationship-seeking, the other not – but that’s indicative of a online world where one can’t be all the things you truly are, not my desire to segment myself. I have had a lot of fun out of OLD but a) that’s been few and far between and b) what i hate is the compartmentalization of the forms, profiles and algorithms. there’s no room for nuance with OLD.

  6. Hey Miss C – im pleased to hear my experiences arent limited to just me – but also disappointed to hear you’ve found the process as dispiriting as me. I think my big frustration with the whole process was that I thought OLD would be different from IRLD. I thought that rather than being hit on by gross older men, or just feeling part of a conveyor belt of advances, It might be the hunting ground for a better suited partner, exactly like you say, a nuance. I had though that OLD might be more ‘fair’ and would reward less superficial characteristics… but it didnt, it was just another ‘platform’ for them to thrive on. Which is fine, and if you can plough the energy in, im sure it’s rewarding (ive heard from lots of people today how success they have been online), but i wanted to escape the pettiness of IRLD not..experience online. Thanks so much for reading the post x

  7. Really enjoyed that TED Talk – and it was reassuring to know that these sites have access to all these data points to turbo charge their search functionality and match you up with someone ‘appropriate’! And of course her happy ending proves that it CAN work – you just need to not hold any expectations that ‘online’ dating will offer any real alternatives to RLD….

  8. i love this post and the conversations online dating sparks. i’ve had luck online (two serious relationships), but also experienced feeling defeated at times. i personally believe it’s what you make of it. if you’re feeling confident and in a happy place, that’s who you’re going to attact. it’s another avenue to meet someone, it’s not going to hand deliver the next great guy in your inbox. the douchebags who aren’t into a woman who messages them first, are only into much younger women (or put heavy weight on age at all), or “spray and pray” become very easy to spot. it only takes ONE great guy to make it all worth it and i’ve found the online process helps to weed out aspects of a personality i’m not interested in (that can often be overlooked when chemistry gets the best of you in person) much earlier. it can be a lot of noise, but there are likely just as many men wondering why online dating is full of duck-lipped women looking for men who make $200K+ and want to travel the world.

  9. I didn’t have that experience at all. I have some fairly specific interests which while I’m sure narrowed down my options, meant that most of the messages I received (both as first messages and replies- most men and women seemed happy to respond if I made the first move) were relevant and interesting. I’ve been dating my boyfriend for a year now, and we met on OkC.

    On the other hand, two friends tried the same site and had less luck. I think there’s no way of knowing until you get there. But I’d definitely try again if necessary.

  10. Hey KK, thanks so much for taking the time to read + comment. I 100% am not saying that OLD cant result in finding a well suited, brilliant partner. A lot of the responses i’ve received today have been from people who met Mr/s Right (Now) through OLD – and i dont dispute it doesn’t work. For me, the problem stemmed from thinking that OLD would offer a less complicated, more honest, more ‘fair’ approach to the dating question. I thought it might bypass all the boring superficiality of real life dating, when my experience simply reinforced it. If i was prepared to persevere and treat it as just another ‘meeting people’ forum – along with going to bars, parties, book clubs and nightschool, I think it would be fine…but I think it was because I wrongly expected it to be another dating on a ‘higher plane’.

    And also to your point, i’m sure there are a tonne of men who have found only dating equally as disappointing and ‘base’, a really interesting view to consider.

  11. Thanks Sophie, and so good to hear that OLD worked out for you. I think that now my ‘expectations have been managed’ I would consider trying it again in the future, i just need to remember that it’s no different from being in a bar/ nightclub/book club…!

  12. I really enjoyed this blog, perhaps it made me chuckle because, as they say, ‘it’s funny because it’s true’. I’ll just contribute one reaction I had… We all know there is more to us than our appearances and the sexy yet predictably formulaic comments they can provoke, but whilst I see how they can cheapen a meaningful connection, I wouldn’t knock it! I spent years on gay dating sites, meeting platonic friends, dates and even for more adventurous sorties… When I was young and more photogenic that was what people logged on for. But after ballooning and passing 25, the compliments dry up. I think people mean it genuinely and intend to compliment when they say you have ‘tasty pics’, which I think is something to feel boosted by and celebrate (oh, to be objectivised again…)!

  13. The vaguer your interests, the more it’ll welcome people to impose theirs on you, and the main interest on there seems to be sexual in nature. I think the more efficient way to go about on a dating website is to be as specific as possible. Granted, you won’t get nearly as many winks or whatever that way, but the ones you do get might be more interesting to you. There are also websites that are more specific in what they offer, and in my experience, there are more interesting responses on there, because the website is a filter in itself.

    I met a person I am currently seeing through Tastebuds, a social networking site for people who like similar music and are looking for people to go to gigs with. The conversation started about music, and then evolved into films, opinions, etc… So I suppose the rule of thumb for the efficiency of a dating website is the more interest focused it is, the better (probably^^)

  14. Hey Rebecca – I agree its soul destroying but I do think its also down to the website you register with – I found my new man on line and we are coming up to a year now so maybe worth trying again. Another “village lady” has also found herself a very lovely man through one of the more popular sites. The free sites are the ones to avoid

  15. The premise that online anything changes human behavior is flawed. It just exposes new aspects of human nature and she hasn’t gotten the handle on it yet. Yes, online dating will expose you to new horizons and planets of creepy neckbeards and basement dwelling underlings, but the fact that out of that sack of shit, you might find someone you can date forever, when, once upon a time, you could never have, is the cool part. Keep digging.

  16. I had an interesting conversation with a male friend midway through a stint of OLD about two years ago. I observed that as a “curvy” lady (label of choice on these websites), I could quite literally be removed from the eyeline of most men. I’m not obese but I’m certainly not slim, so curvy seems about right, but everybody knows that curvy = fat = repulsive so it would be easier for them to just ban my offensive form from their immediate vision and select only “slim” and “athletic” women.

    My friend said: “Yes, but women judge a man based on his income. You’d be amazed how many women reject me because I’m in the “Under £25k a year” camp”. I wasn’t sure which made me angrier: men refusing to entertain me as a possible date because I have back fat, or women refusing to entertain my friend as a possibility because he can’t afford to buy them diamonds. Women must be slim and beautiful, men must be tall and rich. Sexism rears its ugly head yet again and EVERYBODY LOSES.

    (Incidentally, I now have a boyfriend of a year, whom I met . . . at a book club. I didn’t join it to meet men, I joined it to talk about books, but there you go. Life’s funny that way).

  17. Seriously? Your website is all about “five ways women can improve their online profile photos”. Every one of those tips are just as applicable to men as women. What on earth makes you think that only women make those mistakes?

    And what sort of dating websites do you use in which women stroking enormous cocks in their profile pictures are a commonplace occurrence?

  18. Ive been online dating for a decade now, and it has never been my experience that guys dont like “aggressive” girls on there. Maybe misogynistic jerks who have to be “the man” dont like aggressive girls, but the vast majority of times, if i emailed someone who wasnt WAYYY out of my league, he happily replied.

    If a man doesnt reply to you he is either
    - dating someone already
    - thinks he is too good for you

    for the most part this seems to always be true. Maybe the guys who don’t like “aggressive” girls exist, but I haven’t really run into them. The only example I can think of is one guy who i can’t even remember his name or his face, but he DID reply and at one point of our date he said that -I- emailed him so i was THROWING myself at him and must WANT sex. I don’t think I met up with him again after that….which is why i can’t remember his name or face… see…misogynistic jerk

    in conclusion, ive found that waiting for someone decent to email you is not going to bring any success, because let’s face it…witty attractive guys don’t need to waste their time searching on the search option of the website and writing out emails. They get more than enough emails…pretty much every successful match i have met on a dating site, was due to MY initiation. Because if i didn’t initiate, i would just end up with an inbox full of gang bangers, pervs, and illiterate army folk

  19. Well, in my opinion online dating doesn’t end with so bad experience for everyone and it is always full of excitements. There are several singles looking for their love over various dating website, but not all of them get success. It doesn’t mean in my opinion that nobody can get success. I have tried a website availing Iranian men dating at, which appeared nice for me and availed me with a great experience as well. So, according to me, it’s you only who decides your success over dating website.

  20. You’re quite right Robyn – and I don’t mean that men do NOT make these mistakes. Those are examples I have *really* seen and that’s way I wrote that article.

    The women stroking an enormous cock – Hot or Not.

  21. I know how you feel. I tried online dating for nearly three years on several sites and stumbled from one disaster after another – which I can assure you were not initiated by me (however dumping one or two of their sorry asses after realising what a crock of shite they were spouting WAS initiated by me). Without going into too much painful detail here, it was a meat market just as much as going to your local bar or club is. And the majority of the men spouted crap – despite their platitudes of wanting commitment and longterm etc it really wasn’t true. In the end I found my partner totally outside of the online dating scene, in a house just two streets away from mine. It’s a funny old world.