A few weeks after I moved to Burlington, a friend encouraged me to try online dating. At first, I was hesitant. “You’ve got to,” she said, hijacking my computer. But the only successful online pairing that jumped to my mind was that of my high school history teacher, a bombastic, 5-foot-tall guy who loved to extol the virtues of Match.com, where he’d met his 5-foot-tall Thai wife.
I protested mildly as my friend began filling out a profile. Surely, I said, sunbathing wasn’t one of my regular activities and shouldn’t be included. But ultimately, I was curious about who I’d meet. And I was new in town. What did I have to lose?
There are a lot of dating sites out there, including Match.com, eHarmony and the Seven Days personals. I settled on OkCupid, which bills itself as a dating service that “uses math to get you dates.” Reportedly it’s a younger, more queer-friendly dating site that focuses on what you want in a match rather than pair you with someone of your age, race and income level.
For OkCupid to work, you have to fill out tons of questions about, according to the site, “lifestyles, ethics, sex, dating and other topics.” OkCupid plugs your responses into an algorithm and generates a slew of potential matches, each with a compatibility quotient: Someone with a 77 percent rating would be a match; 46 percent, friend; and 14 percent, enemy. Honestly, the enemy rating creeps me out.
And I wasn’t totally sold on the questions, either. They struck me as asinine, written by either computer programmers (“Do you own any dice with more than six sides?” Um, no.) or misogynists (“Is it OK for a girl to talk openly about her sexual exploits?” Seriously? What century are we in?). Other questions were somewhere between funny and absurd. “Is love overrated?” I don’t know, Cupid. You tell me.
Then there are the matches themselves. You click around the site and look at people’s profiles. Browsing is public, so you know who’s checking you out and vice versa. Weirdly, this open acknowledgment of online voyeurism kind of works. I was totally transfixed when I first opened an account. There were so many people to look at, and all of them wanted to go on dates!
OkCupid does require an epistolary introduction: You have to message back and forth with people before deciding to meet up. The messages I read ran the gamut, from long, literary tomes to creepy come-ons. I replied to just about anyone who could spell properly and indicated that they’d read my profile. The result: many invitations.
So far I’ve gone out with, in no particular order, a bearded, bespectacled TV cameraman; a bearded Adirondacker; a bespectacled vacuum salesman; an IBM engineer and gamer extraordinaire; a financier; a skiing devotee; and a bearded, bespectacled graduate student.
My roommate couldn’t keep them all straight. “How many dates have you gone on this week?” she asked sometime in mid-January.
“Four,” I replied.
“That’s ridiculous,” she said.
Nobody dated when I was in college, so the mechanics kind of elude me. Sometimes it’s pretty funny, such as when the graduate student, toward the end of dinner, received a baffling text message from a roommate about a pair of missing shoes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he began to type, only to look down and discover that the Patagonia sneakers on his feet weren’t, in fact, his own.
I had no mission when I started all this. I wasn’t trolling for a quick fix, or looking to pair up and hunker down. I’d simply hoped that OkCupid might jump-start a social life in a new city. After spending the entire month of January awash in dates, I feel pretty good about the whole endeavor. I discovered some new Burlington haunts. I blew my coffee and beer budget. I had some nice conversations. I made a friend or two. Romance? We’ll see — there are some things an algorithm can’t calculate.
Now I’m trying to get up the courage to message a fellow who’s looking for the following: “If you mix joie de vivre with serious smarts. An ability to play Simone de Beauvoir to my Jean-Paul Sartre, while very attractive, is not a prerequisite.”