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Not Okay, Cupid

The pitfalls of meeting someone online in Memphis.

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Can we all stop pretending like we enjoy online dating now?

As a single lady in Memphis, I'm perfectly comfortable admitting that this city is a terrible place to date. Everyone knows everyone (who knows everyone else), and you run into the same people at the same places every weekend. You're busy, you're picky, and you're fed up. You buy paper towels online, so why shouldn't you be able to find a boyfriend there, too?

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I didn't come to the world of online dating intending to meet someone special; I was trying to find a way to present a lot of data in a given location in an endless scroll format for a mobile device (because these are the sorts of things I think about at my day job). I mentioned the problem to a programmer friend, and he recommended that I have a look at Tinder, a dating app that had an interesting functional approach.

You log in with Facebook, set a few parameters, like age and distance, select a few photos from Facebook and fill out a very short bio (or don't), and within seconds, you're presented with photos and info for people in your area, one at a time. You swipe left to pass on them and right to express interest. If they swipe to the right on your photo, you're matched and thus, you can begin a somewhat stilted conversation through the app's message function.

Aside from a few major usability flaws, it was a cool concept. It was fun at parties. But as I scrolled through photos of guys that matched my criteria, I noticed a few things. First, an incredibly large number of guys on Tinder choose photos of themselves holding fish. Second, and more importantly, I was willing to pass on guys for some very superficial reasons.

It wasn't just Tinder. During a brief foray into the world of OkCupid, on which you fill out a much more robust profile and are given matches based on said profile, it was the same. I would see a picture of someone decently attractive, read his profile, and then find that one thing about him that I just couldn't get past: his favorite book is by Ayn Rand or he has a goatee or whatever. I was making judgements on these guys based on a single aspect of their being in a way that I never would have if I had met them at a bar or a party or through friends.

When you meet someone in real life, you're much more forgiving. You're willing to talk to that cute stranger at a bar because he's cute, and you'll agree to a date because he had the moxie to ask you to a proper dinner. Maybe you'll get along, maybe you won't, but when you have a connection with someone in real life, you're more willing to look past a flaw or two that would be a complete deal breaker on the Internet.

In a study published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of researchers found that while online dating has its advantages, all of those fancy, scientific matchmaking algorithms are no more likely to predict whether or not people will be a good couple than when people meet the old-school way.

It's hard to talk to strangers in real life. I admit that it's much easier to message that cutie on OkCupid than it is to talk to him at a bar. But I propose that we start trying a little harder. When you come across someone interesting in real life, talk to them. When you come across someone interesting online, give them a chance even if there's one minor thing about them that's not ideal. Give people a chance. You never know when someone's going to surprise you. Also, the guys in real life don't send you weird, sketchy messages without actually talking to you first.

It's been a good experiment, and I've met a few lovely people, but I've decided to delete my profiles. If I meet someone, it'll be in a way that's different from how I buy paper towels.

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