When I first signed up for FetLife, I was shocked at the seemingly countless kinky choices I could list on my profile: wrestling, pin-ups, play rape, face sitting/smothering, distress. While technically it’s a social networking site, I’m including it here because lots of people use it for finding dates and hookups. Plus, those choices exemplify my problem with online dating in general: How do I sum up what I’m about, sexually or otherwise, in a few words?
I did mark off my favorites, such as bondage, breast/nipple torture, pain, pinching, spanking, talking dirty and vibrators—but really, how much does that tell you about me? I’d imagine not that much because even though I was given choices like being into or curious about these fetishes, or giving, receiving or watching, to me, that is just more than a stranger needs to know about my sexuality.
It’s certainly not something I’d discuss on a first date, and that’s why I only use FetLife for professional purposes. I’d be extremely dismayed if I did decide to sleep with a date and they just assumed they knew what made me tick because they’d read about me in such a limited form. I’m much more about the excitement of the slow reveal, à la a burlesque act.
Despite my reservations, this year I ventured into online dating for the first time, thinking that maybe I’d been too hasty to reject it as a potential option. After all, there are millions of people in New York City and my social circles tend to overlap (and, okay, someone I had a little crush on was on there too and I thought I might “bump” into them).
I tried OkCupid first, and was immediately stumped. The toughest part was filling out the profile, followed by a list of numerous inane questions that seemed more like Zen koans than actual guides toward how a person thinks.
After almost backing out, I finally managed to create a self-summary that says, “I’m a fun-loving workaholic looking for a serious relationship” and the most private thing I was willing to admit is that I used to drink four to six liters of diet Coke a day. When I reread my profile now, though, I hardly sound like someone I’d want to befriend, yet I feel I’m an inquisitive, sensitive person who is looking for a relationship where I get to dote on someone else (and be doted on in return). It’s just hard to say that without sounding foolish on OkCupid.
The first guy to contact me there actually sounded very appealing, but he wasn’t asking me out, just wishing me good luck on the site. After that, it was largely downhill. Apparently it’s standard to just write, “What’s up?” or something equally bland. I deliberately left my profile pretty vague and didn’t get into my sexual preferences because is that really something someone needs to know before they really know my name, rather than sweetthing2010? I’d say no. But of course some guy who recognized me wrote to ask, “When are you going to let everyone know how kinky you are?”
And there’s the rub. Too many people know that, because I’ve put it out there in my work. I don’t regret that per se, but it leaves them with an unfair advantage, not to mention assumptions. He wasn’t as bad as the one whose attempt at a compliment—“You look like you’ve lost weight recently!”—was an utter failure.
The truth is, if I found the love of my life and wanted to be with them, I’d forgo kink in favor of true love in a heartbeat. I only like doing BDSM with people who are equally as ardent about it (or are open to learning). I’m just coming away from a relationship where I thought my boyfriend was into rough sex, but apparently wasn’t, and that’s made me more than a bit wary about oversharing with people I’m dating.
I’ve heard plenty of horror stories, but just this week I ran into a friend who last I’d heard was going hiking on her second date set up via a dating site, and now they are talking about moving in together. They just happen to share a love of travel and many other interests. I had some wonderful dates with a girl I met on OkCupid, but I only responded to her because I’d met her briefly at an event and recognized her photo and handle, otherwise I most likely would’ve checked out her profile, but been too nervous to respond.
I asked Cara Bruce and Shawna Kenney, co-editors of the anthology Robot Hearts: True and Twisted Tales of Seeking Love in the Digital Age (Pinchback Press, 2010), what they’d recommend regarding online dating (even though both women met their husbands the old-fashioned way).
“First of all, take everything that anyone says with a bucket full of salt. People lie and unfortunately the Internet only makes it easier. Second, be aware of anyone who seems to grow attached very quickly; also, watch out for people who probe you for information but are reluctant to give any.”
They are totally right, and it’s good advice offline, too, but some stubborn part of me doesn’t want to approach people from a suspicious POV.
For all that, there is something incredibly seductive about meeting people online. Just this week, after feeling totally disillusioned with the medium, I got an email from a man who, in his profile, anyway, seemed like everything I’m looking for: smart, spiritual, self-actualized, and old enough to know what he wants.
Within two minutes of reading his profile, I found myself responding and already pondering when we could meet in person. Especially when someone posts that they want children, which is otherwise a tricky topic to bring up, it can seem as simple as click, meet, mate.
There’s also a communal aspect to online dating. A friend in Denver told me to check out a certain Cuban/Jewish cartoonist who she thought I might like. You can compare notes with friends if someone sounds too good to be true or you’re curious about their reputation, though it is also a little bizarre.
I also realize that there are many factors that go into how we’re perceived online. Kia Matthews, who’s black, posed as a white woman with a new profile and the same answers, and has blogged extensively about the results. She also brilliantly skewers some of the very dumb questions OkCupid asks (because in whose mind is: “When is suicide okay?” relevant when it comes to a date?). I wonder if I wrote that I’m kinky, bisexual and don’t want to get married would skew my results?
Ultimately, I doubt that I’m going to meet the love of my life online. I enjoy getting to know new people, whether the dating/sex side pans out or not, but online dating makes me feel like I’m being judged. Of course, people make judgments all the time, but I feel more in control of how I talk, dress and act in real life than I do within the confines of a profile, no matter how much it lets me ramble.