Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Science of Internet Dating

(How I Ended Up with my Face on the Internet)

Phase One: September. Matt and I listened to a recap of Maria’s recent dates. We’d just arrived in Paris, and this Italian stranger had lent us her apartment for the weekend while we conducted our housing search. Over tea, she described the wonders of web dating. We concluded she must be crazy, but asked questions to be polite.

Phase Two: October. Matt, Nicolas and I hatch a plan to write about internet dating. We would go on ten dates over the course of a couple weeks, and document our experiences. All we were missing was a lesbian to have full coverage of the internet dating scene.

Phase Three: Mid-October. Phase Two is completely abandoned by all parties in question.

Phase Four: November. Matt signs up for an internet dating service, and when made fun of, reminds us that he is “just looking for love in this cold and dark world.” He goes on several unsuccessful dates, including two in one night. As things get crazy with a couple women, the situation looks grim; his subscription runs out in a month’s time. When all is said and done, he finds himself a nice girl. This was December; they’re still together.

Phase Five: January. Cousin Professor also finds a woman. Before settling down and ceremoniously removing his profile from the internet, he sends me the low-down on each candidate via email. Surprisingly, they seem normal. Experience seems similar to shopping for a new car.

Phase Six: March. Phases one through five somewhere in the back of my mind, bored one afternoon, I make up a profile, post three pictures. Call myself Lily after a character on my younger brother’s SuperKids tape. I decided I would, from a purely scientific standpoint, of course, go on a few dates. Worse case scenario, I get to practice my French.

Testing Conditions

I picked the most popular French site, a veritable smorgasbord of cyberlove outlets. I took the site tutorial. You could search by selecting criteria, so if you wanted a well-educated vegetarian who likes Japanese food living within five miles of your house, you could pin them down. (Search results: 0.)

Once you find your dreamboat, you have a variety of ways of contacting them. For the shy or the lazy, there’s what’s called a “flash”. (On the site Matt used, this was called a “virtual kiss.”) The person in question receives a list of flashers, that is, those who liked his/her profile.

More bold is the message option. (See samples below.) Yet even bolder and perhaps the most annoying of the options is the chat option. (Dew u hv a webcam?! …Rule number one: Don’t talk to people who spell like this.) Aside from these contacting options, you can put people on your black list, put people on your elite list, see whose lists you appear on, and so on and so forth.


Thirty-six hours after their posting, I had received no fewer than eighty-four emails. I ended up deleting all eighty-four, though I did read them all.

Here are some of my favorites (translated):

Hi Lily. I find your photos charming. Your smile makes me tingle. Look at my profile. (delete)

Lily, I’m a forty-three year-old, attractive man with a girlfriend your age. We’d like to share an experience with you. (delete)

Dearest Lily, I would like to propose a night of musical love. I have two tickets to the Kylie Minogue concert in April, and a hotel room nearby, just in case you want to take a rest. After the concert, we will sleep together. A night of love-making and shared music. What do you say? (delete) From the looks of this guy, I doubt he’ll have any takers. If anything, some Kylie fan will go with him to the concert and then get lost in the crowd. Poor guy.

Lily. I permit myself to write to you because I feel you might be my soulmate. I know that I’m thirty-seven, but I act a lot younger. I think that maybe I’m actually twenty-six, and that’s near your age. Please write me back.

Lily, I’ve written you a poem:

Onto your page, my look so befell
Seduced by your beauty, and your profile
To thank you for this experience so great
I offer you verse--are you my soulmate?
In all sincerity, I write these lines
In the meager hope that you will be mine.

Like you, awhile back, I boarded this train,
Walking around this mysterious plain,
I look for everything, nothing and all,
Wond’ring what fate has in store for us all.
At the station of love, I will debark,
Along with my soul which is no so dark.
The question is this: will you be with me?
Only your heart can answer this plea.

(delete. This wasn’t a joke.)


I decided that rather than be shopped for, I’d do the shopping myself. I picked a twenty-five year-old journalist (no photo), a cute twenty-four year-old vegetarian (so rare in France), and a soon-to-be PhD in some sort of science. Within twenty-four hours, I’d scheduled three dates.

The Journalist.

“Emily, get a photo.” Wise words from Nico and Matt. Rather than tell him the truth (I’d like to screen you for our date), I asked Journalist to send me a photo so that I could recognize him when I got to the café. The return email came: I’m on the right, in black. My internet hopes were dashed as soon as the file finished loading. The guy was huge, and hugely unattractive. The photo showed a man with his red eyes partially rolled back, halfway sticking his tongue out of his enormous face. Upon reflection, this description is mean, but accurate.

I hit a serious case of what-have-I-gotten-myself-into. Though my friends told me to never respond and confirm the date, I couldn’t let the guy think that his picture had scared me away. And so last Saturday, I went out for what is now called the Sympathy Date by the locals.

I made sure not to give him my number, or even my real name. Call it female intuition, but I had a feeling this first date would be our last.

And it was. I found myself largely unable to concentrate on his words, distracted by the floating goatee--the only visible sign that the man actually had a chin.

He turned out to be less of a journalist than he’d let on. In fact, he was out of work and working on his novel, some story about a guy who finds old things in the basement and starts to live in the past. It’s a novel about the past, see, and the present, and how they’re actually the same thing. The guy’s twenty-five, and having some sort of early mid-life crisis, so he wants to live in the past, which is actually the present. It’s me, you see? I’m the main character! Sounds interesting. (delete)

The Vegetarian

Now this guy, I could go for. He was just my type: a scruffy-faced, long-haired, sloppily-dressed vegetarian. Old habits die hard, what can I say.

Though the above qualities rendered me temporarily blind, the realization eventually came: this guy was dumb as a post. Our conversation was punctuated by remarks like, “I don’t really like reading”, “My all-time favorite actor is Jean-Claude Van Dam”, and “I’m a security guard.”

As it turns out, I’d met him before; he was the security guard a newspaper office I’d been to before.

After coffee, we saw a dubbed version of Hitch. By the end, neither one of us had learned enough about love to sufficiently secure a second date. He was more attractive than me, and I was smarter, and well, it just wasn’t meant to be.

The PhD

Here comes the anti-climax, the exception to the rule that makes this report largely inconclusive. He’s smart, he’s good-looking. Instead of providing me with more material for this post, the guy kept me interested for a full three hours. Our date was fun, full of good conversation and lacking in awkward silences. I tried to understand the thesis of his dissertation, he listened to me babble about postcolonial identity in Francophone literature. We drank a couple of beers, and he even let me pay for myself.


Despite all the hype, Internet Dating sucks. Let’s do the math. I spent about seven hours total on the site, reading messages, looking for interesting people, weeding out the losers, etc. Add in the other five hours of bad dates, you get twelve.

7 hours internet time + 5 hours bad date time = 12 hours of my life gone

3 hours, those spent with the PhD, were enjoyable.

With a ratio of 12:3, or 4:1, the reader can easily see that the amount of boring-time was approximately four times the amount of interesting-time.


At 5:00 PM, Anonymous Toinou said...

Wow, I love these sociologic studies that you do just for fun!
You are some kind of society explorer.
Your PhD friend seems rather cool, I would love to known him...

At 5:04 PM, Blogger noricum said...

I am always amazed when people actually do find someone good from an internet dating site. I know several people who have. There does seem to be a lot more chaff than wheat, though.

At 5:32 PM, Blogger Trish said...

Thanks for the laugh. I loved this posting and it is very true. Just wanted to let you know that I love your blog, keep it coming....

At 5:40 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Financial analysis:

+ 3,50 Coca-Cola, Date One
+ 2,50 Green Tea, Date Two
- 8,50 Movie, Date Two
+ 2,00 Beer, Date Three
- 2,00 Beer, Date Three
- 3,50.

Therefore, Internet Dating is also not a sound choice financially.

At 5:40 PM, Blogger The Michael said...

Dearest Lily,
I was most flattered by your inquiry, but I'm afraid I have at least 387 e-mails to slog thru before I can get back to you. I should be well settled into the nursing home by then and would happily entertain a visit to jog my failing memory as to what life was like back in my enternet dating days. Thank you for your kind enterest, I hope your search for the perfect mate in this imperfect world is more productive than mine has been.

At 5:41 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Oops, that makes -2,50. Anybody need a math tutor?

At 6:32 PM, Blogger cdretska said...

My my, this is a popular blog. I read it almost right after it was posted and was about to comment, but thought I would lounge about the apartment for a while first. I come back not that much later and there are already 6 comments!

I have to say that although I have never subscribed to a dating service per se, I have posted a "missed connection" on, not really expecting to hear anything back but rather for the fun of it. I have also met tons of people off friendster. By far a large majority were people with whom I was "closely connected" meaning we really did both know the person we knew in common, but also a few random people that I was just bored enough to harass into entertaining me for a bit.

In any case, even the mediocre to horrible dates give one good blogging material afterwards, and often a story to tell your friends at the bar afterwards. In Emily's case, I think she shouldn't have met the journalist in the first place. Just get lost in cyberspacenowhereland... then you could have cut short the time investment into something you knew was going nowhere fast.

I have the nasty habit of developing crushes and delusions about what the person is like. They are often manlier, taller, and have deeper voices than what I end up meeting, if I end up meeting them.... which sets me up for a disappointment before I even have a conversation with them. Ah well.

Ema, you're too nice, don't meet the people that send you fat photos of themselves... that should be rule one!

Much luck for your further research into the science of Internet Dating. And cross your fingers for my own investigations!

At 6:42 PM, Blogger emaleejayne said...

I've never been on an internet date, but I've been on a couple of blind dates. Similar results: bad conversation, boat shoes with no socks, a foot shorter than me. Very unsuccessful.

At 6:51 PM, Blogger Emily said...


My experiment is over. I just can't figure out how to delete my damn profile. Oh well.


At 7:56 PM, Blogger eb said...

If you can't delete your profile, I'd suggest changing your photo to this, but that might just attract crazy art historians.

At 8:37 PM, Anonymous Stuart said...

Dear Emily,

What do you mean, it was a bad use of time?! It took you only *three* dates to find someone you liked a lot. If you have five more dates with him, add up those hours, and the ratio of good time to loser time will seem very different.

As a reporter, you must understand the dangers of trying to make the story fit your pre-conceived notions ...

Some advice: if you can't figure out how to take your profile down, then change your personal information to make it ridiculous. This will save people the time of composing serious emails to you. now thinks I'm a 99 year old smoker from Uzbekistan.

At 11:22 PM, Anonymous ben wolfson said...

Medusa had a bloody nose?

At 1:40 AM, Blogger Emily said...

True, true. Profile advice well-taken, Stu and EB.

...As for the "composing serious emails" part, don't give the guys too much credit. Whereas you might have written seriously to the laides, most of the emails I received were definitely cut-and-paste jobs. Maybe that's why you had so much luck.

At 2:09 AM, Anonymous eb said...

Well, not everyone says she had a bloody nose. And over here you can color her nose however you want. And then there's this, which could be used as a description of a previous date.

At 3:51 AM, Blogger Tony said...


I'm a security guard :)

Anyway, I had my profile on yahoo, but the girls that wanted to date me were extremely unnatractive and I was too stingy to pay for the subscription fee in order to write to the girls. Eventually I took that crap off.

In the last three years I have gone on one (horrible) blind date and one curtesy friend of a friend date.

Even though it sucks to be single sometimes, most of the time it's great!

anyway, good luck with your love life

At 7:51 AM, Blogger Emily said...

It wasn't so much that he was a security guard, it was that in his profile he said he worked for a newspaper... that's really misleading!

Plus, when I asked him what he did with all that time behind the desk, he said, "Nothing, I just sit there."

"You're not allowed to read?"
"I don't read."

At 6:02 PM, Blogger cdretska said...

what, you don't like the strong silent stoic type? maybe he's meditating. meditating on what i cannot imagine,... but it may be that he has difficulty expressing his deep thoughts about the building that he is keeping safe?

At 11:07 PM, Blogger Matt said...

That was a great sociological experiment you conducted. I myself wish to perform a study over the homeless. How much money do they make in a day on the street corners? I am willing to go undercover and find out.

At 12:03 AM, Blogger Emily said...

I had a similar idea recently when I saw a guy that stands on the street corner of Rue Casette dining in a café even I can't afford.

At 7:43 AM, Anonymous Chris said...

I think this is my favorite post yet- probably because it reminds me of the time my friends and I baited perverts on craigslist with ads with headlines like "SWF unsatisfied with marriage. Can YOU help??"

The anonymous email account we set up to receive responses was FULL in a matter of five minutes. And as it turns out, poetry is not just for women withering away in country bedrooms- it's alive and well in the cut and pastes of aspiring internet date rapists. Oh so seemingly personal- and yet strangely anonymous at second glance.

So we deleted the ad and made a new one demanding pictures in every response. Good times.

At 6:50 PM, Anonymous nathan said...

Good Job ! In french, a very good adress on the subject :

A guy telling his experience on a very famous dating site in France.

At 8:17 PM, Anonymous Susan said...

It is so bizarre to me that you are dating around - Internet aside. I thought we were long-term partners. By which I meant we both are always hopping out of or into really long-term crap, not that we are together as long-term life partners. Although, as I've said before, it couldn't hurt. Except in the belt area.

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Josie said...

My favorite actor is Jean Claude! Man that made me laugh.

Well, I think there's possibilities in internet dating. You did find one good dude out of three. My brother-in-law who is too shy to meet ladies in the conventional way, umm... go up and talk to them... found a wonderful lady on yahoo personals, and I think she was #5 of his dates. They've been together almost 2 years. So I think his return finally outstripped his investment. :)

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Susie Q: I know, I know. Here are the two main reasons I think we get into long-term things quickly:

1. We largely date guys who are, at least initially, friends. So we have time to build the initial bond.

2. Generally speaking, we're great, so the guys want to commit. ...Until they find out we have that weird, Bryn-Mawr-related freak-out factor. You know the one: when the guy says "[insert something nice]," and we're like, "Uh, I have to pee."

So why the dating around?

First of all, I only have two straight males in my Friend Repertoire, one of whom is my roommate. So not many choices there.

Second of all, French guys aren't like, "you're great," they're like "you're weird." Chalk it up to not being demure. (Don't bat those Southern eyes at me.)

So I experience the Three-Date Curse. Date one: I'm a little shy, so the guys think I'm great. They follow up immediately, saying that they had a great time and so on and so forth. Date two: I know the guy likes me, so I'm more myself. I'm the one who does the follow-up. Date three: Very clearly the last time I'm going to see the guy. I'm myself, and he's like, "Um, I have to pee." I send some kind of follow-up like, "Where did you go, did you fall in?! Everything come out okay?! LOL!!!*"

What if all French men are actually Bryn Mawr women inside? Wait, no--that's not it; they don't wear capes or speak in midieval English.


*If you can't read the tone of this, you're more French than you think.

At 5:03 PM, Blogger Emily said...

PS. Looks like I've stepped on some toes. I would like to, at this time, officially apologize to the following: Kylie Minogue fans, Bad and Good Poets, Jean-Claude Van Dam fans, Security Guards, Older Men Dating Younger Women (OMDYW), Hitch fans, Non-Readers, and why not, Pubescent Boys with Cracking Voices.

At 7:42 PM, Anonymous Nicolas said...

Just for the record, I am still up for carrying out the internet dating experiment discussed in October. On y va!


At 9:53 PM, Anonymous nicolas said...

PS regarding your apology to Kylie Minogue fans, Emily, I think your hyperlink to the Kylie is the supreme final touch to this entry... I thought it was just a kind of worn-out metaphor to talk about pop stars made out of plastic, but this bitch looks like she really IS an industrial byproduct... does her manager have to wind her up in the morning or does she have a self-starting mechanism?

At 7:20 AM, Anonymous Pubescent Boys with Cracking Voices said...

Apology acc-EEHPTED!

At 4:37 AM, Anonymous Alexandra Huddleston said...

Emily, I saw your comment on my site "on photography". Are you friends with Maribeth G? She is my other source for funny stories about the French.

At 7:57 AM, Anonymous Charley said...

Emily dearest, congratulations on your weblog exposure! Do capitalize on the windfall and retain your added viewership with new postings.

At 1:35 PM, Anonymous warofart said...

" With a ratio of 12:3, or 4:1, the reader can easily see that the amount of boring-time was approximately four times the amount of interesting-time. "

Better ratio than this blog ha ha ha ! . (Let's call it " male loser's meetic revenge ")
La revanche du laissé pour compte des sites de rencontre .

At 7:05 AM, Blogger Smooth Operator said...

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