I moved to Bristol in the Summer, and apart from one very dear (female) friend, I knew no one. I was working non-stop, often not getting home until 8 or 9 in the evening - by which time the last thing I wanted to do was get dolled up, go out, and perch on a sticky bar seat waiting to get hit on. Sitting at home on a Sunday afternoon, hungover from a solo night of drinking and feeling wholly sorry for myself, an eHarmony ad came on the TV and I actually thought twice about joining. But be it romantic pride, or egotistical narcissism, I couldn't help believing that I, as a 22-year old, vaguely good-looking, fairly intelligent, normally-formed human being could have trouble finding a date. Were romance and serendipity completely dead? Not yet for me, it would transpire. I met my boyfriend in the soulless smoking area of a cheap pub a few weeks later - which, while not romantic in the traditional sense, was at least a physical, tangible introduction. But while I thought I was in the majority for wanting the real-life, chanced, first meet, a large amount of the population - including a surprising number of friends - don't seem too bothered. In fact, online dating seems to be, dare I say it, preferable.
So in the name of investigative journalism, or at least curious blogging, I decided to take the plunge and see what all the fuss was about. With the arrival of smartphones, online dating no longer has to mean sitting at home bathed in the depressive glow of a desktop monitor. You can now search, flirt, or reject, potential matches at work, on the loo, in bed, and anywhere else you can get a 3G or WiFi signal. As someone who's iPhone has become a virtual extension of their own wrist, the convenience of a dating app seemed to make the most sense. So I downloaded the four most popular: Match.com, Plenty of Fish, eHarmony, and Tinder. Here are my experiences, laid out in all their reluctant glory.
2/10. Way too depressing.
2. Plenty of Fish
Although it claims to be the World's largest online dating site, I had never previously heard of Plenty of Fish. The name, presumably referring to the phrase 'plenty more fish in the sea' (although could equally be alluding to 'reeling in a catch' (creepy)), conjures up images of childhood board games like Hungry Hungry Hippos. And the childhood analogies don't stop there. With a homepage that looks like it's been designed by a twelve year old, and an iTunes Store screenshot of 'babes' that don't look much older than that, PoF is starting to look pretty sinister. Certainly, PoF is much more image-conscious and materialistic than Match.com. They don't really give two hoots about your views on marriage, or your favourite hobbies. They'd rather know whether you'd date someone who describes themselves as having 'a few extra pounds', if you do drugs (both 'Yes' and 'Socially' are options here), and what your income level is. If Match.com's were like a job interview, PoF's questions are about as comfortable as an airport cavity search. But hey, at least I'm not being berated to hand over my credit card; PoF is completely free (although I imagine you probably pay for it in other ways). At the end of your probing questionnaire, you are finally required to write a mini-essay about yourself. Examples include:"Mr Romantic - LOL! My names Joey I am a bit of a tart but theres nothing wrong with taking pride in your appearance My hobbies are Shopping! Clubbing! Tattoos!" and "Heyyyyyy get at me if you want to knowwwwwww more ppl. I'm always up for a little chin waggggg :) don't be scareddddd it's only banter :p hollaaaaaa.Love money, cars, football, work, keeping fit..." And on that note, I'm off.
5/10. Might be higher if I was a self-obsessed whore.
eHarmony's USP is based upon the romantic, but unrealistic, philosophy of it's what's on the inside that counts. As a non-subscriber (subscription is £20 a month - for access to both app and website), I couldn't see any photos of my 'matches'. Which is kind of a retarded incentive to subscribe from a company that claims to not be about image. This having been said, the user experience and design of the app is actually quite pleasant. It looks nice, it doesn't ask you probing questions or makes you write a mini-essay about yourself. Put it this way: your profile doesn't reek of desperation. In a couple of hours, I've already received some tantalising emails with subject lines like: "Rob's Interested - Are You?" and "Johnny Wants To Get To Know You". What I like about eHarmony is the lack of personal contact at the first stages. Instead, someone contacts you with a list of 5 multiple-choice questions, you answer, send some back, then ask some more, then ask some open-ended ones, and then you have the option of eHarmony mail (which is only for subscribers - another clever marketing ploy). You don't get the perverts asking for pictures of your tits because there simply isn't a multiple choice question that exists for that. Also, doing it in small doses like this makes it - dare I say - exciting; only heightened by the fact you can't see their face (unless, of course, you pay £20 a month to be potentially disappointed). eHarmony is a curious one. It takes the desperation and embarrassment out of online dating, because it's neither sleazy nor depressing. It's actually quite fun - if you liked watching Cilla Black's Blind Date and enjoy filling out questionnaires, both of which I quite enjoy - in small doses. The trouble with the survey questions is that there aren't enough - you end up asking and answering the same ones over and over again until you realise why sites like Match.com and PoF decided to just put this information permanently on your profile. I guess you just can't win.
8/10 - although I can't help feeling my score would go down if I could have seen people's profile pictures.
Tinder. I saved the best 'til last. I'll be honest, I've heard mixed things about Tinder, most people reporting it as a guilt-free dating/hook-up (balanced more towards the latter) app that allows you to judge a person based entirely on 5 photos. While this sounds banal and backwards, I can confirm that it has become one of the most used applications on my phone - simply for pure entertainment. When speaking to my friend about it, he put it simply: "it's funny how you could go to a club and get hit on, and rejecting those advances would be an unpleasant thing to do, but with an app like tinder you can invite it and make it enjoyable." And it's exactly that. There's something incredibly liberating - albeit cowardly - about having the power to 'next' - or 'nope' - someone based purely on one photo. Balding? Nope. Fat? Nope. Photo taken with someone who is probably your wife? Nope. The fact that you can just swipe to the left to discard someone is so deliciously dismissive that it's positively enjoyable. Like eating a pound of chocolate cake enjoyable. Or overtaking a policeman enjoyable. Within an hour of downloading, I'd already been 'matched' with 4 people. Bearing in mind that I was being ridiculously picky (no selfies, not too many topless photos, not 'fit-but-you-know-it', not too many tattoos, not younger than me, not too many photos out clubbing…), this was quite a confidence boost. I soon got a message from a guy called J. He looked kind, and we talked about photography and travel. Certainly not the sex-addict and pervert chat I'd been expecting. A few days later - after an enjoyable afternoon spent with my mum laughing at various profile pictures…
|(such as these)|
…I was matched with one of the most beautiful human beings I'd ever seen. No offence to my boyfriend, who is handsome in a rugged, manly way, but this guy could have been Freddie Ljungberg's better-looking younger brother. At first conversation started out fairly innocently; where are you from, what's your job (Footballer. -1 point) - but it soon became apparent what he was using the app for. When I declined his request for a FaceTime, he became aggressive and started accusing me of being a fraud… I guess trawling for tits gets you a lot of old man dick. Tinder's redeeming feature is that it allows you to 'block' people from contacting you - even after you've been matched. But let's not be too harsh on the handsome mini-Freddie. Personally, I think it's great that young pervs like him have a stage in which they are free and unashamed to put themselves out there. Before the arrival of online dating - and it's various darker satellites - fetishes, perversions, and even sexual liberties and liberations were confined to damp basements and dodgy alleyways; premium-rate phone lines and ads at the back of dog-eared men's mags. It makes for a much safer sex industry to have it all out in the open. And at any rate: if you don't like the heat, Tinder makes it very easy for you to get out of the kitchen.
9/10 - Yes there's a sleazy side to it, but it's young, fun, and largely safe. My mum and I have never had such an entertaining afternoon together.
What are your thoughts on The Dating Game?