I found that online dating did not force me to be nice—it required me to be mean. And the process of ferreting out the weirdos was oddly cathartic.
Around this time two years ago, I created an online dating profile. Why? I was becoming curmudgeonly, and lazy. I had a busy social life, a job I liked, smart friends, and a general aversion to committed relationships—and no incentive to clear the way for dudes. I wasn’t opposed to dating, but I had exhausted the friends of friends category. Getting set up ended only in awkwardness. Men in bars got the stink eye.
Then my friend Priscilla—an attractive, normal, and well-socialized young woman—signed up for OkCupid. She advised me that online dating probably wasn’t the path to a relationship, but it would get me out of my dating rut. “It’ll make you stop being such a judgmental bitch,” was how she put it. “You’ll have to be nice to people.”
Online dating was, in my bitchy and judgmental estimation, for women who wanted to get married, stat, and were willing to settle for whatever turned up a few clicks away. On the other hand, real-life dating had so far led me to a former frat boy who got jealous when a homeless man talked to me, a gay guy who was looking for a woman to bear his children, and a 40-something singer in a Rick James cover band who once pooped his pants on The Jenny Jones Show.
I didn’t have much to lose. Besides, someone to ice skate alongside in Bryant Park sounded nice. So I logged onto OkCupid, uploaded some flattering photos, listed a bunch of pretentious favorite books and music, and waited. It didn’t take long.
“There are 20 angels. 10 are sleeping, 5 are flying, 4 are playing and 1 is reading this,” one of the first messages read. Within a day, I had received dozens of new communiques. Most days, I would scroll through them for a minute or two, then get quickly overwhelmed and click “close tab.” For every 20 or 30 messages I received, I responded to maybe one.
I soon found that online dating did not force me to be nice—actually, it required me to be mean. And the process of ferreting out the weirdos was oddly cathartic. Offline, women are socialized to Be Nice (or at least to be polite and respond to advances). Men are socialized to Hit Anything That Moves (or at least to consider having sex with any interested woman). Online dating offered a new playing field. For women, OkCupid is both a less-intimidating medium for asking men on dates, and an easy out for evading creepy suitors. You’re entitled to select a date you are interested in and attracted to, which means you don’t have to respond to a guy’s advances just because he’s taken the time to advance upon you. The sheer volume of potential mates helps turn the tables even further. At a time when women are told that we’re getting too old and successful to find suitable partners, online dating offers us the buffet of options men have traditionally enjoyed.
Of course, buffet-style dating strikes a lot of people as overly consumerist: You’re evaluating potential mates not based on any real-life connection, but on a set of characteristics they list on a website and a curated set of self-shots. It can be limiting in that regard, but the little things can be significant. Online dating informs you from the get-go if your potential companion enjoys the musical stylings of John Mayer, thinks The Da Vinci Code counts as a “book,” or voted for Ron Paul. People lie—despite the appearances of my tightly curated online profile, my typical Friday night is not actually spent out drinking whiskey, but rather downing a bottle of $10 wine on my couch. But at least you get a sense of the kind of person a potential mate can be when they put their most dateable face forward.
In my two years on OkCupid, I’ve gone on a handful of dates and been treated to hundreds more hilarious, offensive and often bizarre messages. I’ve noticed the same themes playing out among the worst online daters. Some men have learned to obscure the ugliest parts of their personalities on online dating sites, hoping you won’t notice their jealousy issues, racism, or stupidity. But they’re never that good.
Here’s how to spot the red flags:
Red Flag: The list of all the things one doesn’t want in a partner. This list often includes the phrase “no crazy chicks.”
What It Means: I’m not so stable myself.
Most online dating sites have a “what you’re looking for” section. If someone uses that section as an opportunity to vent about everything they hate, they are a bad-finder who will sniff out all of your faults. The worst among these are the “no crazies!” men. Dudes who are positive that bitches be crazy are also dudes who are willing to write off anything you say as “insane” if it’s something they don’t want to hear. They’re convinced that much of the female population is mentally unstable because they have on occasion run into females who believe they are entitled to their own thoughts, opinions, and rights—and exercise the right not to be interested in No Crazies guy. If you are a reasonably intelligent woman with some amount of self-esteem, you will eventually be branded as “crazy” by No Crazies Guy. Because, frankly, No Crazies Guy is crazy. See also: Men who refer to women as “females.”
Red Flag: The shirtless photo.
What It Means: I’m a cheesy narcissist.
We’re all animals here—looks are a big part of the online dating game, so I don’t begrudge anyone for trying to look sexy. But an equally important component of the online dating game is sending visual cues to potential dates about what kind of person you are. The shirtless photo says, simultaneously, “poor judgment” and “The Situation.” See also: The “look how desirable I am because I am surrounded by hot girls” photo.
Red Flag: Grammar, punctuation, or capitalization carnage.
What It Means: I’m not very intelligent, and/or I’m lazy.
Grammar rules exist for a reason. When you message me to say “letds f cvk,” it’s unclear whether you would like to have intercourse or associate with the law firm of Cosgrave Vergeer Kester LLP. If you are borderline illiterate, that is legitimately unfortunate. Chances are, though, it’s a laziness thing. If you can’t even put the effort into spelling the f-word correctly the first time you contact me, I think it’s safe to say that you may not give your all when it comes time to bring that word to life. See Also: Messaging like a sixth-grader texts; emoticons.
Red Flag: Racial commentary.
What It Means: I’m a racist, a fetishist or both.
I realize not everyone’s parents taught them this growing up, but “what are you?” is not an appropriate question to direct toward a stranger. Neither are comments about a person being your sweet juicy fruit Nubian black queen. Don’t comment on anyone’s hair. Don’t call anyone “ethnic” or “exotic.” The people who do are interested in finding someone they can introduce as “My Black Girlfriend Jean” rather than plain “Jean.” See also: Commentary on how much he loves women with your body type.
Red Flag: Bisexual commentary.
What It Means: I spent my college years yelling “KISS! KISS!” at sorority girls in bars.
I mostly date men, but my swing-both-ways pals have some horror stories. So for men who like girls who like girls: You like lesbians and bisexual women. Great! But I’m pretty sure you aren’t messaging me just to let me know that you support basic civil rights (although you might be messaging me to let me know that you’re a homophobe). I understand that mainstream pornography has led you to believe that any woman who says she’s bisexual is down to touch anyone’s genitals, anywhere, under any circumstances. In fact, I will not make out with another girl just to impress a stranger on the internet; nor will I tell you about the last time I had sex just so you can jerk off while we OkCupid chat. The internet is a delivery system for any kind of pornography imaginable. Google it. See also: The sex message.
Red Flag: “I’m a nice guy.”
What It Means: I think that holding the door for you obligates you to spread.
Oh, Nice Guys. You are such an internet stereotype, and yet you don’t stop proclaiming your Nice Guyness. A dater’s comment about how he is Such a Nice Guy is inevitably followed up by a lament about how women only like jerks—i.e., any guy who is not the Nice Guy. How does he know that women like jerks? Because he sometimes does nice things for women, and they do not have sex with him in return. So he brings up his Niceness as a way to guilt women into sex. See how nice he is? Then, he includes this information on his internet dating profile. See how totally not manipulative and fun he seems? See Also: “Negs” you in his message.
Red Flag: All of the user’s favorite authors, directors and musicians are white men, except that one rapper they like.
What It Means: I am totally steeped in White Dude Culture.
Yes, we’re all steeped in White Dude Culture, but date-worthy men and women should at least make an effort to escape a little bit. Read some books by women. See some films made by directors of color. And if you’re a woman who dates men, recognize that a man who only cares about Dude Things may not care so much about your things at the end of the day. Double negative points if the favorites include Bret Easton Ellis or Norman Mailer. See also: Follows the Paleo Diet.
Red Flag: Comments about a woman being young, tiny, or child-like.
What It Means: I’m a pedophile, or I like my women weak.
Yes, women are socialized to believe that they need to look 18 forever and aging makes you ugly. Yes, men are aware that women are socialized thusly, and may conclude that it’s a compliment to say, “Wow, you look so young!” Actually, it makes him sound like a mustachioed uncle who shouldn’t be left alone with children. Men who sexually fetishize women who look underage aren’t just fetishizing underage girls—although that’s disturbing enough. They’re also fetishizing what being underage stands for: Lack of physical and social power, malleability, weakness, deficit of life experience. In other words: Not dating material, unless you have a lot of extra money you would like to give to a therapist while you work out your debilitating daddy issues. See also: Men who list their preferred age range as anywhere from 15 to two years younger than themselves (i.e., the 38-year-old looking for women between the ages of 23 and 36).
Even though no relationship materialized from my stint online, it was a success. Many words have been spilled on How We Date Now, but internet dating is really just one more tool in any dating arsenal. It forced me to identify the reasons I was rejecting a potential date, and seriously consider whether they were justifiable or needlessly judgmental. And it helped me realize that a little judgment isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The process can be grueling. Some nights, you’ll spend hours clicking through duds—about the time you’d spend deflecting the advances of dudes with gelled hair at the neighborhood bar. Some nights, it will feel like a mystery that the human race has made it this far. But some nights, you will make out in the back seat of a taxi cab while the sun comes up over the Brooklyn Bridge. And if you can find that guy on the internet, it’s worth a little carpal tunnel.