“I’m going on a date,” my friend Whitney told me the other day.
“A date!” I said. “How exciting. Where did you meet him?”
Long pause and then she said, “Plenty of Fish.”
“Are you in a fishing club?” I asked. I scrunched my face in confusion.
“No.” she laughed. “I met him online. Plenty of Fish is an online dating service.”
Long pause. I didn’t know what to say. We are in college. Do college kids join dating sites? Don’t only weirdoes and freaks sign up for that stuff? My friend isn’t a weirdo or a freak though. She’s young, attractive, and one of the coolest people I know.
“You really joined a dating website?” I finally asked. I regretted my response immediately. From the look on her face, I could tell she sensed judgment in my tone. Was I judging her?
“It’s always been on my bucket list to meet someone online, and I haven’t had a boyfriend in awhile,” she said defensively.
Yep, I’d definitely upset her.
“You know 58 percent of women use online dating services in America,” she added.
Statistics. Why is that always the first thing people jump to when telling their friends about online dating? Shouldn’t it be more about “the site is so convenient, and it is a way to truly see if I would be interested in a person so I don’t waste my time going on a date to only find out we have nothing in common.” But no, they defend it with research and facts.
I wished my friend well on her date, and apologized for the judgment. Who am I to tell anybody how to date? It’s not like I’ve been raking in the men lately. As a matter of fact, I haven’t had a boyfriend in two years.
A day later, I found myself seeing Plenty of Fish ads online. Every site I was on, there it was—Facebook, Blogcritics, etc. I couldn’t escape it. Instead of realizing that advertisements are everywhere and inescapable, I took it as a sign that, yes, I am fated to join this website. I have been socializing online since I was in the seventh grade—MSN messenger, Myspace, and now Facebook— it makes sense to use an online dating service. Right?
So, I went fishing. I registered on Plenty of Fish (POF). I answered the profile questions. Gender—female. Seeking—male. I am looking for–long pause as I considered my choices—hang-out (eh), long term (possibly), dating (most likely), friends (already have too many), intimate encounter (yikes!). Dating seemed like the safest answer for now.
I had no problem answering most of the questions.
Marital status: single
Eye color: brown
Education: some university
Do you drink: socially
Do you do drugs: no—there was no “well there was this one time” choice. But, that’s nice that POF allows even the dopeheads to find love.
The harder questions took a little time.
Body type—groan. Am I thin, athletic, average, a few extra pounds, or big and tall/BBW? First off, what is BBW? I did a quick Google search to find out it means big, beautiful woman—Oh, well that’s a nice way to phrase it. I really debated this question and went back and forth between “athletic,” “average,” and “a few extra pounds.” I passed over “athletic”—if only I still played sports and had a rocking hard body—cringed at “a few extra pounds,” and finally selected “average.” If I started working out again, I could change my answer to “athletic.” Nothing wrong with wishful thinking.
Moving on to the next question: POF asked, do you want children? Geez Louise, I have to figure out my life plan right now, for goodness sakes, I have no idea what I want. Before I got to in-depth deciding—if I wanted kids—if I even liked kids—I saw the open/undecided choice—click.
Finally, I reached the essay section. First one—give a description of yourself. This section had a “for your own safety” disclaimer.
POF stated, “Do not include your name, phone number, or address.”
Well thanks Plenty of Fish because I didn’t realize that telling people my personal information was a safety issue. Could there possibly be a chance that an ax murderer/rapist could come to my home and kill me? No, that would be crazy talk.
I wrote out a deep and meaningful description of my personality, what I was looking for in a man, and my goals and aspirations—in hopes that someone would read it and fall hopelessly in love with me.
The second essay was interests. I tackled that easily enough, and then moved on to the first date description. Hmm, I pondered, what would I like to do on a first date? Dinner and a movie—lame, I could do better than that. The zoo could be fun. I added in batting cages, swinging at a public park, and anything active. If the date turned out to be a disaster at least there would be an activity to focus on.
I submitted my profile and uploaded a recent picture. I wasn’t finished, though. Now I had to fill out a 73-question survey for POF to find appropriate matches for me. This was taking more time than I expected.
Finally done with creating my account, I was ready to get down to business. Watch out, boys, here I come.
I began looking at my matches, reading their profiles, and scrolling through their pictures. Disappointment was my first reaction. I concluded that most of the men did not put as much time and effort into writing their profiles as I had.
Many of the descriptions said, “I am not that good at describing myself. If you have any questions just ask.” Are you kidding me? I’m supposed to waste my time sending message upon message, asking questions to find out if we have any of the same interests because you couldn’t put the effort in and give me some kind of explanation of the type of person you are?
I was excited to read my first inbox message that had quickly appeared after completing my profile. Playaboy69 wrote me saying, “R u a virgin? Want to hook up?” What has gone wrong with the men in this world? What in my profile gave you the impression that I wanted to hook up? Playaboy69, did you skim past the section on my profile that states, “I am not looking for an intimate encounter?”
I received four more messages with the only word being, “Hi.” Feeling grossed out and discouraged, I hesitated before opening my next message. The username was Austin398, not a bad start—better than Playaboy69. I was surprised to read a message so well written and thought-out. He described himself, encouraged me to read his profile, and asked me to message him back if I thought I could be interested in talking with him. OK, I guess POF isn’t totally sketchy and worthless.
I spent the rest of the night playing around on the site, learning how to use its features. The hardest part I found out was figuring out what to say in a first message to someone. No wonder those users had only sent me “Hi.” It was a daunting task trying to present myself to another person I found interesting.
I found out that the users that had something interesting or unique in their profile made it easier for me to compose a first message. Otherwise, I added the user to my favorites or selected “I would like to meet this person” and let them make the first move.
The “meet me” feature on POF shows me a picture of a user, and asks would you like to meet him? My options are yes, no, and maybe. It came down to one question: “Is the person attractive enough in this picture for me to want to meet him?” My process of deciding was this: if the person was hot, automatic yes, if the person’s picture was so-so, then I clicked to read his profile and made a judgment based on his personality, if the man was completely unattractive, automatic no.
I spent 30 minutes using the “meet me” feature before I realized how superficial and shallow it was. I felt ashamed because I am usually not the type of person to decide a person’s worth on looks, but at the same time, there does have to be a certain amount of physical attraction to make a relationship work. So it is a necessary evil.
After two weeks on Plenty of Fish, I have come to many conclusions about online dating. It is a great way to feel good about yourself. When I logged on and saw that I had messages, and better yet, some that said how pretty I was, it made me feel wonderful. It is nice hearing compliments about yourself. The service also makes you realize that it is not a fantasy world where you always win. There will be people you really like who won’t message you back. Reality check: not everyone in life wants you.
There is also an expectation versus reality adjustment. I built up expectations of the people I talked to online, organizing their messages and pictures into a built-up person, and upon meeting them was disappointed when they didn’t live up to my idea.
Dating online is very different from experiences with men I meet in person. I am used to hanging out with a potential boyfriend as friends and slowly building up a relationship, hoping that friend likes me too and wants to date. Online, there is no slow understanding of potentially dating one another. It is blunt out there. We are both here to date and to find out if we like each other. If we do, it leads to a second date; if not, then we both move on and continue searching.
I’m glad I tried online dating. It was quite an experience. I finally got over the stigma of online dating being weird. At first, upon seeing people I knew on the site, I became immediately embarrassed about using the service, but then concluded that I shouldn’t be embarrassed because hey, I’m single, and I want to date. That person is doing the same thing.
We are in an age of online social networking. It makes sense for us to date online. Even though you will encounter people that lie about their height or what they really look like, you will also encounter the genuine ones that are honest and looking for someone to share their life with.
You will get out of the service what you put into it. Are you willing to search for the people that you could enjoy talking to and possibly dating? Plenty of Fish is a free service. You are not paying the service to actively seek out perfect matches for you. That is your job, and you can put as much effort into it as you like.