Pick Up Artists, Frat Boys, and My Life as an Online Dater

[content note: mention of rape and domestic violence]

I’m on OkCupid. I’m not ashamed of it, but it’ll be a cold day in Texas before y’all get to see my profile. I used it when I lived in Chicago because it was an easier way to meet people. I left it up when I moved back to Sioux Falls because why not – at least it gives me something to look at when I’m bored in the evening.

I’ve noticed a pattern as a cisgender, white woman in dating online – you end up becoming privy to a lot of the ways in which men devalue women or treat us as less than human. I consistently get messages that ask me nothing about myself, fail to provide for an interesting topic of conversation, and give me nothing to go on. And, almost assuredly, if I click on the profile of the man who sent me such a message, I’ll see that they’re “just a nice guy, looking for their partner in crime,” or a “laidback dude looking for an adventure,” and so on and so forth with the clichés.

(And that’s ignoring the messages that are outright perverse.)

There’s a lot to be said in favor of online dating – it makes me feel safe and secure knowing that I can just block a dude if he goes off the rails, and see red flags easily from behind a computer screen. This doesn’t mean no creepers get under my radar – I’ve had some dates that would raise the hair on the back of your neck – but that the process, for me, is generally safer.

How many men present themselves in online dating (and in dating scenarios in general) tends to reflect how they view women as a whole. Quite often, that view isn't pretty. When I speak to men about online dating and ask them what strategies they use for messaging, I consistently get clinical, cold responses about “return on investment” and “time invested versus response.”

A friend once explained to me why he thinks form messages are a good idea on a dating site – if you’re a guy, he reasoned, you probably outnumber the amount of girls on the site, and any girl you’re interested in is probably getting 3x as many messages as you are. So why, then, should you invest oodles of time reading her profile and crafting a personal message when, chances are, she’s not going to respond anyway?

And the messages I get reveal that this attitude isn’t unique – most of the ones I get on a weekly basis (which is about 3-4 total) contain some kind of obvious form or lack of personalization. And I never respond, because if you’re not bothering to get to know me (via the things I’ve said in my profile), why, then should I invest time in reading your profile?

(The tragic thing is when these messages come from men whom I might otherwise be interested in, but they’ve shot themselves in the foot by sending me a generic message that is obviously copied and pasted to multiple women.)

Now, I’m not saying that this is an exclusively heterosexual (or even exclusively male) phenomenon, but that I can only really speak for my experience. This experience seems to reflect a particular power dynamic that uniquely affects male-female romantic relationships – entitlement. Heterosexual, cisgender men seem to feel entitled to my time and energy in ways no other people group is. This entitlement is the root of problems with everything from street harassment to rape to domestic violence. This idea that men are important simply by their very existence, whereas all other groups have to earn their right to exist as human beings. And this is exemplified by my online dating adventures.

I get messages from men who appear totally uninterested in me as a person, but still expect me to text them to arrange a date.

I get messages from men who volunteer information and opinions about what I should write about, regardless of what I actually have said I’m writing about.

I get messages comparing me to other women, obviously hoping to flatter me by telling me how “not like other women” I am.

I get messages from men wanting me to reassure them that I think they’re a good writer even though they’re not published or haven’t taken the time to work on anything (that one’s a doozy).

I rarely, if ever, get messages from men who have taken the time to read my profile carefully, decide whether or not to pursue communication, and then actually ask me interesting questions about my work or my life while providing something interesting to respond to. Most of the dates I’ve gone on from OkCupid? Were ones in which I contacted the men first and did exactly what I just described.

In other words: I go on dates when I feel like I’ll be treated as a human, not a stand-in for the label “potential girlfriend.”

But it seems, from my own experience, that there are a lot of men who don’t quite get that yet, and I think our entitlement culture is responsible – the culture that tells men they deserve to have a pretty lady on their arm, that wives are a trophy to be won, that a relationship is not two people working together, but a woman responding positively to a man.

This is not how the real world works. This is not how relationships work. But it is how the patriarchy works.