(We don't know where we'll end up ... but we're all starting at single.)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ladies: Do you wonder why you get so many crappy messages?

 As one of the few veterans of our 'book club', I figure I'm the person best-equipped to provide a response to this question for all the (hetero) ladies who ask it. And as a hetero Gentleman, I can explain how online dating plays out from a man's POV.

First off, take heart: I can assure you there are far more normal, interesting, and attractive dudes out there than you might think. So why aren't you hearing from more of the good ones?  The answer is simple: because when we write to you, we rarely get any response at all.  There are two major reasons for this.

It's not entirely your fault, ladies.  There's a built-in lack of incentive for you to even be in a position to respond to our messages. This is particularly true when a dating site is free.

Free dating sites sound great in theory. Open up your pool of eligible singles, all at only a cost of your time!  But there's a hidden cost (no matter what articles the free sites have cooked up to argue otherwise): free sites provide little motivation for people to put in real effort to keep their profiles current.

(Sidebar: that article I linked to above is no longer available on Okcupid's site.  It was removed after Match.com bought Okcupid...probably because it didn't make much sense for Match to allow a subsidiary to argue that people should never pay for online dating.)

Think about it: if you're not paying, how much sleep will you lose if your profile isn't accurate?  I know the answer to this question already, because I'm among the guilty.  Since joining Okcupid a few years ago, I've been in 3 relationships ranging from 8 months to over a year in length.  Only once did I bother to change my status to 'seeing someone'. During the other relationships, I simply stopped logging into the site. When I used a paid site, I didn't let this happen.

The biggest problem with pay sites back in the day was they would leave inactive accounts up to boost their numbers. I have no idea whether or not this remains a major issue. But I do know women with abandoned OKC profiles who are living with long-term boyfriends. One of these women appeared in my Quiver.

In any case, there's a far more fundamental issue at play. As Okcupid has indicated, men who send out initial messages to female matches  only get responses about 30% of the time. (Race plays a role in response rates as well, but that's a subject for another post.) By contrast, women are inundated with messages (generally speaking).  Using both xperience and informal polling as a guide, 30% is too optimistic: for every 10 contacts a guy initiates, he's lucky if he gets even one message back.  He's even luckier if he can convert her response into a date.

This leads many men to choose quantity over quality when initiating contact. Naturally, this leads to poorer messages, which leads men to get even fewer responses. Okcupid called this the 'desperation feedback loop.'  To top it off, many women treat initial messages like resumes: every aspect of both your profile and your message might be used to eliminate you from consideration, including spelling and grammar.  Which makes sense in a vacuum where men are only writing to one woman at a time...but why would they be? Hence those short and/or generic initial messages so many women find frustrating.

So ladies, put yourselves in our shoes: If you were an enterprising, non-desperate man possessing both a life and a developed sense of dignity, how many times would you play this game when so many aspects of it work against you? How often would you put in the time and effort to write a thoughtful, clever opener when you consistently end up without a response either way?

Faced with this stark reality, some men employ my alternate strategy. I can't control the average response rate I get, but I *can* control how I present myself.  So I put a lot of effort into making my profile interesting and engaging. Then I wait for women to make the first online move.  I've found that when women initiate contact with me, it leads to a date about 50% of the time (assuming I want it to). This shouldn't be surprising: if a woman manages to wade through the typical flood of male online attention to send me a message, she's probably interested in meeting me in person. In fact, it's possible that NONE of my OKC dates have resulted from me initiating contact.

My M.O. probably results in far fewer dates for me than the men who send out lots of messages to lots of women get.  But it also means I'm wasting far less time communicating wth uninterested and/or unavailable women. (I don't write back to every woman who initiates contact; I apply my standards just like everyone else does.  I've found many women are just as guilty of the crappy opening message as many men seem to be.)

Men of quality do indeed await you on the interwebs.  They are smart enough not to degrade their efforts (or degrade you) by making this a pure numbers game. They can't invest massive amounts of time and energy into dozens of witty, clever, and ultimately unanswered messages.  But to find us, you might have to turn the traditional model of straight male/straight female relations on its head. If you see a guy you like, express interest by sending him a message or rating him highly.  You may learn that he's been waiting to hear from someone just like you.

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