Putting the spikes back in the homogeneity.

Hello again.  It’s only been, what, three years?

I read an interesting article about online dating earlier – it’s vaguely related to what I’m going to talk about, so for credit’s sake have a read of “Love or desperation?  Why dating sites disgust us” if you’ve got some moments spare.

If you don’t have moments spare, the key point is that people don’t sit down and ask themselves “what kind of person do I want to meet as a result of this endeavour?” before they crack on with creating profiles and sending messages.  And for me, I don’t think the dating sites do much to encourage that line of thought.  Indeed, on most, that’s a model which is actively destructive to your prospects.

To distill the status quo into two cynical bullet points, it would be this:

  • Send lots of messages.
  • Don’t give anyone a reason not to respond to them.

Actually I oversimplify a bit, it’s a ridiculously gendered field, and that’s the male experience.  If you’re a girl, the prevailing wisdom is to sit there helplessly doing nothing, while not giving anyone a reason to skip sending you a message.  It sounds like a parody of a 1930s village hall dance, but that’s the system and most seem content to work within the confines of it.

It’s crap.  It’s crap because not only are we collectively failing to identify what we want, we’re failing to even state what the options are in the first place.  There are a series of keywords it’s been deemed safe to use in the context of not wanting to turn anyone away (travel, baking, gym, food)… they are common interests, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have at least one uncommon interest, and it’s these – the quirks and abnormalities that are the cornerstone of a close relationship – that are getting ignored in the quest to appeal to the everyman and everywoman.

Why, though?  How did we ever think that was a desirable outcome?  Bland everywoman does not get to have a relationship with me, a dislike which is almost certainly mutual.  I do things that are muddy, wet, and dangerous; I’ll walk an hour in preference to a ten minute car journey; I have a taste in music which amazes me every year by how much more broken it’s got; and sometimes all I want to do is crawl into my study and play a bus simulator game for six hours straight.  But that is me, it’s an important nay critical part of who I am, and there are people out there who want and appreciate that, who value a long walk in the countryside talking about intersectionality in computer games way more than a gym session.

Yet there are thousands, hundreds of thousands like me.  People who, cognisant of all this, log into a dating site and think, “better put just the usual travel and restaurants, because my board gaming hobby might turn someone off” – and we’re all sitting there, this homogeneous sea of perfectly generic people all with no signifiers as to who we should message.

We could change this.  If you have a dating profile, put your favourite unusual hobby or personal characteristic on there.  If you get hassle for it from someone, ignore them, patiently explain the concept of a filtering mechanism, or flat tell them to fuck off – your choice, but you have a right to be yourself.  If you get fewer messages (blander profiles are, sadly, more numerically successful) remember the classic mantra of quality over quantity.  And when you see someone else following this advice, who as a result of following this advice is perfect in every respect apart from that one dealbreaker, roll with it.  If most of the spikes are good spikes, that’s going to be way better than the flatness of nothing being better or worse than okay.

Or we could not.  Online dating will devolve via the models of Match, with its postage-stamp photographs and single line profiles, and the information-devoid finger swiping roulette of Tinder, to something little better than randomised matchmaking.  Which will be sad for something that promised a brave new world away from that 1930s village hall.

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