So I recently deactivated my OkCupid account, after having maintained an active profile for several years. For most of those years I was using it to kill time, take stupid quizzes, etc. I didn’t expect to actually meet anyone because I was either living in the middle of nowhere (thus unlikely to encounter anyone I actually could hang with in real time) or in a monogamous relationship (thus uninterested) — but I also had an overriding skepticism about the idea that I could meet anyone interesting on the intertubes. After the end of aforementioned relationship, I put that skepticism aside, partly because I had met the fella in question (along with many, many other dear friends of mine) through a Website. Not one devoted to dating, mind you (though so many people hooked up because of that site that friends and I have often joked that its only real success was as a dating site) — but clearly, my bias against Meeting People On the Internet had proven somewhat ill-informed as well as hypocritical.

Anyway, for the last year and I half I’d actually made several efforts to Meet People through OkCupid, and experienced varying degrees of success. I ultimately quit because I’d noted that successful online dating — at least to degree I experienced any success with it — requires one to market oneself a certain amount of cheekiness and come-here-go-away swagger that were very much reflective of my mindset and approach to dating like a year ago, but no longer.

That said, I found the site — over online dating sites — super intriguing. Partly because of the blog, which, dude, is just super awesome, partly because it’s not afraid to occasionally call out its userbase for being jackholes, and even applies its data to other arenas.

Now, on That Other Website, there were points! And a level system based on those points! And without getting into the dull and nerdy details, these points were based largely on what other people thought of your writing. And this led to so many tantrums and dramas and hurt feelings and NOBODY HERE UNDERSTANDS MEs I cannot even tell you. Me, I figured out pretty quickly that sometimes something I’d tossed off in 10 minutes while I was annoyed and waiting for class to begin, a piece of writing I didn’t care about or actively thought was stupid, would get way more upvotes than a piece of writing I’d worked on for a week, combing over every word to make sure it said exactly what I wanted it to say.

Other friends who wrote for the site noticed this, and it actually made them angry. (Which seems really silly in hindsight, because it was really silly, but you have to remember that writers, myself included, are a bunch of egomaniacal and wildly insecure crybabies.) Me? I thought it was hilarious. I started gaming the system – both consciously and unconsciously, I think – trying to figure out what people would respond to, and what they wouldn’t. Eventually I determined that spending so much of my creative energy telling this really limited audience of geeks not just what I thought they wanted to hear, but what I thought they wanted to hear from me — that it had outlived its usefulness as an exercise, that it was limiting my growth as a writer, and I moved on to work on other projects.

At which point, by the way, I learned that the same phenomenon occurred over and over in the Real World of Professional Writing. When I went to work at my first newspaper job, I was sometimes astonished at the high praise I’d get (from editors, readers, whomever) for a column I’d dashed off in 10 minutes on no coffee and no breakfast and whose contents I could care less about, and at the vitriol or apathy I’d receive for pieces into which I’d put a great deal of care.

I’m going somewhere with all this young-writer wank, I swear. The thing is that because I really wasn’t look for, or expecting to find, my Soul Mate, on the OkC, anymore than I was expecting to launch a major writing career over at E2. So I decided to play with the system.

I’ve heard of other people doing this with fake identities and such, experimenting to see what responses they’d get if they fudged their identities a bit. I didn’t go that far, but: inspired by this, posted different pictures, changed the tone of my profile, took different approaches to interacting with others (sometimes deliberately lying low and just giving people star ratings or winks, if anything; sometimes messaging aggressively; changing my “what I’m looking for, etc.).

And while I didn’t really draw a lot of useful data from all of that, a few of my experiences corroborated what the authors of the blog said: the holy grail was a flattering, somewhat high-quality photo of me smiling; unflattering, poor-quality photos of me smiling still won over flattering, high-quality photos of me looking thoughtful. Glib-bordering-on-hostile profile language won out over glib-friendly. Sincerity was a total nonstarter. All of these things have a lot to do with the reasons I left, actually. It’s not OkCupid’s fault that glib, grinning hostility gets a girl so much more attention than kindness or sincerity, or that it got this girl attention of a sort she no longer wants. These things are just as true in bars as they are on the Internet.

Shortly before I left, OkC sent several users (note: I was not among them, but a couple of my friends were) an email announcing a new tool sorting the attractive wheat from the less-attractive chaff. Both friends who said they got this e-mail were slightly and understandably incensed at the language it used; one said she wrote them and said she had no interest in being matched with pretty people: they’re entitled! They’re a pain in the ass! Another was annoyed with the idea of physical attractiveness as a sorting factor. So was this writer.

What I found interesting is that in all this indignation about “false beauty standards,” no one was wondering (nor was OkC, in its email, reporting) how attractiveness was defined. People almost seemed to assume that the site admins themselves were sitting around looking at photos and deciding who went in the “hot” file and in the “not” file. Which I kinda doubt. It seems instead that they’re trying to sort based on this information and maybe even mitigate some of the problems identified in the post.

Still. It could be that the very reasons I can’t get all that incensed about this — the idea that a dating website is talking about attractiveness and trying to put attractive people in touch with each other — is not just that I suspect the criteria for that sort are a lot fairer and less punishing than folks are giving them credit for. There’s something underneath it that probably also has to do with why I left OkC: users of online dating sites are incredibly fickle (I don’t except myself from that) and one’s experience on those sites is stunningly easy to manipulate.

Assessments of (physical) attractiveness are no less arbitrary in the real world; people (maybe men especially, but don’t quote me on that) know when they find someone attractive, but are often unclear on the specifics. It’s true out here in meatspace — how many times have I been complimented on my blue eyes (when actually, my eyes are a rather dark hazel)? Or asked if I got my hair cut when actually, I’m just wearing contacts instead of the glasses I normally wear? Or been complimented in some other specific way that gets the specifics totally wrong?

I love that, though. I love that it’s such a messy, inexact science. I love the way a completely ordinary-looking person will make you howl at the moon if they’re really funny or kind or carry themselves a certain way, how a model-pretty person will have the opposite effect if they’re stupid or treat service people badly or just have a terrible fucking speaking voice. I like how all the superficial and not-superficial aspects of ourselves balance to make us interesting and attractive to other people — or not-interesting and attractive to other people, or interesting and unattractive, or something. That’s more true in meatspace than it is in the world of online dating, I think, though if you’re a good enough self-marketer you can make any flaw attractive using any medium.

But that’s just it: maintaining an online dating profile began to feel like a particularly grueling marcom project, with endless experimentation and revision and then saying, “Okay, WELL. THIS branding strategy is gaining us a lot of market share in THIS demographic, and losing us a lot in THIS demographic, though it’s probably this OTHER demographic we want to seek out really, so how do we do THAT?” It’s, ultimately, fucking brutal and I need a break from it, maybe a permanent one. But I actually totally dig OkC’s attempts to in some way mitigate that brutality. I dig that they’re totally honest about what a brutal business they’re in.

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