19 June 2014

Tinderella and the Bottomless Pit of Men

The trouble with online dating is that since its beginnings, it's been so easy for people to pretend to be something they're not.  Take what happened to my friend Mags, for instance.  I was discussing online dating with her and our mutual friend Lana just last month.  Mags is in a long-term relationship with my friend Gordon, and Lana is happily married to her college sweetheart.   We were discussing the question of rules and "deal-breakers," various experiences we've been through while dating.  When I asked about "non-negotiables," Mags didn't pause didn't think, didn't bat an eyelash but said, "He has to have hands."

Lana and I stared at her.

"Hands?" I repeated.  I supposed that hands were, after all, a nice thing to have, but that was still an odd qualification to give for a potential love interest.

"Hands," she affirmed.  "A couple of years ago I tried online dating and met up with a guy and he didn't have hands."

"Well…that's odd," I said after a moment, trying to be politic.

"Did you know about it before meeting him?" Lana asked.

"That was just it. None of his pictures on his profile showed the fact that he didn't have hands.  It was a birth deformity of some sort.   I went back and looked, and not one of them showed his hands."
"Or…lack thereof," Mags finished awkwardly.

"Did he say anything about it?" I asked.  After all, that was probably a difficult thing to talk about and he had probably had unfortunate experiences due to that in the past. Which didn't excuse being misleading on his profile, but….

"Oh, no!" Mags exclaimed.  "You guys know me, I would have been the first one to crack a joke about it if it were me and the elephant would have been out of the room, but we sat through the whole date without him ever acknowledging it.  All I could think about was how he didn't have hands.  It was the most uncomfortable date ever!"

In other words, what made it uncomfortable was not the fact that he didn't have hands, but the fact that he had lead her to believe he did, and then didn't acknowledge that rather striking fact about himself. There is most definitely a person out there for this man, but until he stops trying to hide who he is, he's never going to meet the girl who is really interested in him.

But it's understood, isn't it?  You meet a lot of people online who are pretending to be something that they're not or hiding certain parts of their personality.  Brad Paisley has an entire song about it.

Understanding that online dating is a whole other battle field from the usual world of dating, and having already tried both eHarmony and Sparkology, it was with some trepidation that I joined Tinder last fall.

At first it was actually great.  Tinder allows you to post five photos, list a brief about me section, and then link to your Facebook page.  Everything that you have "liked" on facebook then becomes a part of your profile, as well as your location.  You set a perimeter for the radius from your current location that you are willing to search (for example, up to 10 miles away, or up to 50 miles away), and then Tinder does all the work from there.  You are provided a steady flow of profiles near you, and you either swipe left if you're not interested or swipe right if you are.  After swiping right, if that person has viewed and approved your profile, then you become a "Mutual Match" and can chat with each other through tinder, in and IM feature that mimics texting on an iPhone, essentially.

I was in New York City.  It was a smorgasbord.  An actual buffet of men.  And I can't lie to you, it was a total power trip.  I could swipe left or right on a complete whim and never have to deal with the very worst part of online dating: rejection.  Whether you're the one being rejected on Tinder or you're the one turning the other person down, the wounded party need never know.  You ONLY get a notification from a mutual match, and even if you never actually have a conversation with that person, it's a total thrill and adrenaline rush because "Holy frack this person who I thought was sexy thinks I'm sexy, too!"  It's awesome.

I also have to commend Tinder for popularity.  I was unsurprised by the bottomless pit of options I was presented with in a densely populated area like NYC, but even when I took my phone home with me to the tiny little town of Salem, South Carolina, all I had to do was change the settings from 20 miles to 30 miles, and I still didn't run out of men.  I didn't know there were that many men in my immediate vicinity!  I had no freaking clue!

So Tinder beat out the other dating sites by a long haul because it accomplished one thing the others simply could not: I had fun with it.  Actual fun.  Stick-in-the-mud me, having fun.  I'm surprised hell didn't freeze over.

Here's where it fell through: While most people on the site are only looking for hook-ups, I do believe that there is a decent portion that is actually interested in dating and potentially seeking relationships.  However, there is no way to tell who wants what, unless they specifically state it in there profile, which, so far as I can tell, no one really does.  To me, this seems like it would be such an easy fix, too.  It surely would not take the average tech-wiz that much trouble to add an option to profiles saying "Looking for:" and then offer a choice of "hook-ups" or "dating."  Or whatever.  Perhaps some people like the ambiguity.  I'm not sure.  I didn't.

However, Tinder managed to accomplish something else the other dating sites did not.  I actually met up with someone and went on a date.  Don't get too excited, although Mr. South Africa (a communications student from Johannesburg) was nice enough and took me to an interesting hole-in-the-wall restaurant (knowing from talking to me that I'm a foodie) and we had a nice enough time, it didn't go anywhere.  I think Mr. South Africa realized that when I declined an invitation to join him at his friend's party after dinner, he wasn't going to get anywhere with me that night, and sort of lost interest.  It's okay.  We had some interesting conversation, but ultimately, just weren't really compatible.  I also felt bad because I was on call for work at the time and kept glancing at my phone to make sure Crew Scheduling wasn't trying to contact me.  I explained it to him and he was understanding, but I know it was terrible etiquette for the first date.

Speaking of terrible etiquette, my meal cost $5 and he didn't pay.  I get that he's a student and that the budget is tight, but I was a new hire flight attendant living in NYC!  I can safely say that my budget was just as tight.  If he really couldn't afford a $5 meal, he easily could have suggested 101 things to do for a date in New York that are 100% free.  I would have been more than happy!  Once again, I must emphasize that on the first date, people should be on their best behavior.  If the girl doesn't offer to pay, she never will, and if the guy doesn't insist on paying, he never will.  I realize that in this economy, things are a little different (and I certainly don't expect someone to pay every time if you're seeing the same person—that would be absurd!), but I have spoken to dozens of people, younger than I am, older than I am, guys, girls, etc.  Everyone seems to agree with that rule.  That said, my mother probably hit the nail on the head when she pointed out: "If he already realized he didn't want a second date before the check came, he probably wasn't interested in being on his best behavior anymore."

Still…c'mon, Mr. South Africa, it was five dollars!  Even a student can afford that!

Ah well.  It was still a relatively huge accomplishment for me to go on a date and not completely regret leaving the house.  That was a nice change of pace.

As for Tinder?  Eventually the high wore out.  I realized that I just didn't know how to determine what men were looking for what, which was frustrating, and I further realized that I didn't need a bottomless pit of men solely to boost my confidence.  I just want one.  Eventually the novelty wore off (for me, at least—I know plenty of people who still love Tinder!), and I deleted the app from my phone.

And so, children, Tinderella returned home, both glass slippers in tact, pumpkin once again as it should be, and no one any worse for the wear.  All was normal in the kingdom once more.

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