Online dating: the virtual window shopping of romance

By Justin Surgent

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Justin Surgent/Daily Collegian

So I started online dating.

Usually when someone mentions online dating, the first thing that comes to mind is some lonely person past their prime, or one of those cookie-cutter couples seen in Match.com and Christian Mingle commercials. Following those images tend to be stories of serial killers luring unsuspecting singles into certain danger. I, however, like many other seemingly “normal” young people, decided to give it a try (mainly for the purpose of writing this article), despite the dangers involved. And after a summer of online romantic dalliance I am (still) here to share my thoughts.

When you break it down, online dating is not much different from well-known social platforms like Facebook or Twitter. High school and college students spend hours online every day communication to friends and strangers alike. We email. We text. We Skype. Social interaction is becoming increasingly less social and more media-based. It only makes sense that the most nerve-wracking aspect of youth follows suit, and as a result, online dating is born.

Some college campuses are even creating their own versions of online dating. Sites like datemyschool.com, founded at Columbia University, only allow people with .edu email addresses to join, keeping the scene college-friendly. At the University of Massachusetts, there’s UMass Flirts. Though officially unaffiliated with the University, the Facebook page allows anonymous “flirts” to be sent in and posted to its wall for all to see. Fear not: not only can you meet and flirt from your own house, but now you can do it wearing yesterday’s dirty clothes and eating a bowl of ice cream while hiding behind the veil of the Internet.

As I mentioned earlier, the first thing many people tend to think of when the term “online dating” pops up is lonely, older people with three to four kids and twice as many cats. And while I’m sure there are, in fact, plenty of that type of folk online, there is also a decent amount of unsuspicious college-aged kids showing off their pearly whites on your computer screen. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of people within my 19- 22 age range that visibly lacked the external qualities of a suspected lonely cat lover or bloodthirsty killer.

Now, as with any growing technological trend, options free-of-charge are popping up all over the online dating world. Online dating is no longer limited to the monthly bills of eHarmony, Match.com and the like. There are numerous different sites to try, all with a different flavor. Sites like OkCupid will attempt to match you by visible percentage with other living, breathing human beings, while sites like Plenty of Fish (POF.com) tend to simply show you some pictures and a tagline to snag your interest. There are other sites, like howaboutwe.com where you post date ideas and see if anyone is interested. Whatever your desire, the Internet can satisfy it— even in the dating world.

With so many different sites, you might start to wonder how so many people populate them. Most people have multiple online dating profiles, their presence spanning across numerous sites. In fact, if you sign up for more than one site, chances are strong that you’ll get matched with the same people across multiple sites. Whether you take that as a small-world coincidence or a romantic “so-and-so is the one” sign is completely up to you.

Naturally, filling out the information requested on these profiles gets pretty personal. Sites like OkCupid offer you space to fill in personal details in a pre-set format, but also have a seemingly unlimited amount of questions to gain better insight into the core essence of your desired love interest. These questions range from basic political and social interests to sex, and to even more in-depth, provocative questions such as, “Would you date a partner who has spent considerable time in prison?” or, “In a certain light, wouldn’t being homeless be exciting?”

Profiles are sorted by matching qualities and distance. Most sites have a filter so you can look for matches near or far. More advanced filters find additional specific qualities such as body type, where listings include options such as “thin,” “athletic,” “curvy” and “used up.”

Pictures are also an important aspect of the online dating world. If the eyes are the window to the soul, then profile pictures are the half-closed venetian blind into the virtual heart of online romance. Most sites actually offer you advice on how to post the best pictures to get you matches. Tips such as “your face must be in the shot” and “no nudes” help to clear up confusion for those who have trouble with those kinds of things. Other tips, such as including yourself doing something you love, can actually help your profile look more attractive. Most people tend to stick with a standard headshot.

One thing to remember is that, even though these sites offer you plenty of ways to share information, chat and get to know one another, the veil of the Internet still lies between you and your suitor. There is no guarantee that the beautiful young blonde you have been talking to for several weeks isn’t actually a chubby 40-something-year-old hoping to fulfill some kind of carnal desire reminiscent of many an episode of “Catfish.” So naturally, if you’re going to meet someone in person, be safe about it. Go out somewhere in public, like a coffee shop or public park— a place where people can hear you scream if your date ends up being the next “Craigslist killer.”

Throughout my three-month stint on the online dating scene, I went out with a few nice girls and made a few pen pals as well. One match I went out with is still a friend of mine, and we talk frequently. I still keep in contact with some of the other like-minded individuals whom I met virtually but never personally. There were some misses – very forward females who were solely looking for a bath buddy, intimate acquaintance or once, a partner for Insanity (the workout) – but generally, most didn’t strike out too badly. The truth is, for all the messages that I sent, I received responses to roughly 25 percent. So in the end, true love did not sweep me away, and just because a girl may have been calculated as a 96 percent match didn’t mean we would actually hit it off. I had more luck just going out with friends and meeting new people than going at it the online way.

In the future, I plan to keep my actual eyes open for potential matches, preferably those without direct percentages attached. Mainly, I plan to move away from the online scene because, “so I see on our profiles that we both like dogs, I actually have one, his name is…” across a digital platform doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Can I buy you a burrito sometime?” does in person. I mean, who could resist that?

Justin Surgent can be reached at [email protected]