I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
I have been online dating since I first learned there was a way to semi-anonymously contact another person online. I began with AOL personals and moved up to Yahoo personals. On and off, I have followed the evolution of online dating – from the 90s when it was taboo and had the stigma of being only desperate axe-murderers to now where there are commercials on television advertising everything from 18 year old women to christian dating to sites that cater directly to people who want to cheat on their significant others. Who could have ever imagined that one day with a simple flick of a finger on your phone, you could find someone to hook up with that very night. I never could have imagined such a questionable and hedonistic time. Glorious, isn’t it?
I have put in my time in the trenches.
Quite literally over a thousand dates in almost 20 years. Sometimes three to four dates a day and there was a period over four months where I went on 200 dates – which averaged to 1.6 dates a day. I am equally impressed as I am dismally shocked to type that. But I don’t regret any of it. I have made some amazing friends, had some crazy adventures – some I barely escaped, and ended up falling in love here and there. But that is not what this is about. I have already written those books. What this is about is to explain a certain aspect of the dating game that is constantly called into question – the dreaded cut-and-paste message.
I guess I wanted to just break it down for all of the women who wonder why it’s so difficult for a guy to simply write a well thought out message. And today, kids. As a former cut-and-paster, I am here to give you my confessional.
Let me put it to you in a way that might help you empathize. Okay, I would like to cautiously say that in certain lights, on like the 3rd Sunday of every month, I border on what a handful of far-sighted women might reluctantly refer to as relatively attractive. I’m not a totally unattractive guy but I would be considered relatively average on most dating websites. Somehow I have managed to convince a handful of women throughout my life to actually desire to kiss my stupid mouth. And from my average guy perspective of years of research, that gives me the grounds to share some legitimate insight.
Still doubt it?
Well in my nearly two decades of online dating, my conservative estimate of one thousand dates seems like a lot, almost an exaggeration. But it’s really not if you consider the time, effort, and energy I have invested. There were years where I would wake up and spend 2-4 hours just creeping around dating websites, then anywhere from 2-6 hours before bed. It would not be unheard of to spend a collective 8-10 hours a day messaging people. Look, there are downsides to being your own boss.
It’s a numbers game.
But I kept track. I would begin to write down statistics. I know that comes off as cold, but if you have a curious nature and the time to make online dating your job, you want to understand your efforts. So for every 20 messages I would send, I would receive an average between five and seven responses. Out of those, about three to four that would eventually move to texting and out of those, I would meet maybe one to two people for coffee.
Now let’s do the numbers.
We will go with the conservative one meeting per 20 messages. If I have had over one thousand dates, the amount of messages I have sent would be somewhere around 20,000. Sometimes there were days when I would send 140 messages in one night. How do I know? Because at the time, OkCupid had a 140 message per day limit and when I would see that little warning pop up on my screen, well, that was when I knew I had been probably going a little too hard and needed to get off the couch. Now it would only take 133 days of going that hard to to hit 20,000 messages so while that number seems almost ridiculous, I assure you, I was ridiculous guy going through a bit of ridiculous time. So you can see that 20,000 messages isn’t too difficult to believe.
Well now that we know that.
Do you know how difficult it is to compose a witty and charming message specifically tailored for twenty thousand people? I mean, I’m sure you’re a wonderful and amazing woman, but… I don’t know that yet. You may be intelligent, funny, and accomplished, but odds are we are probably not compatible. But that shouldn’t discourage any of us. Because dating helps us define and refine our constantly evolving tastes. Meeting strangers takes us out of our comfort zone so we can see how we handle sitting in front of stranger while being grilled and scrutinized. It makes us acutely self-aware. And more often than not, traits we didn’t believe we could tolerate in others become strangely and suddenly attractive. We should always take any and all safe life lesson opportunities, so to maximize those opportunities, we have to learn to craft the most intriguing initial hello we can come up with. It’s a process. Certain lines will evoke better responses than others. And we think, oh, if that sentence got her to respond maybe if I add that sentence to the next message it will work again. And when it does, it is that positive reinforcement of thousands of reply messages that have refined our opener and simply becomes the most practical and useful way to say hello that we can come up with. If it worked hundreds or thousands of times before, it really wouldn’t make much sense to change the formula, right? Now can we tailor it to your profile? Sure. We could easily comment about your club pictures or your picture with your friends at Machu Picchu – but honestly, you are the 108th profile we have looked at for the night and we are already being distracted by the next cute woman whose picture just popped up on the right side of the screen. I know that is harsh to hear, but I think it’s important for people to understand the dynamic of online people shopping. Crass, maybe. But definitely truthful for the majority of people who you are clicking on. Male or female.
But what you need to know is that just because you begin as profile number 108 or a cute face on a profile we have skimmed, it isn’t representative of our potential compatibility. I understand that the cut-and-paste gives the impression that you are not special. Because you know your value and you believe you are worth more than a simple cut-and-paste. And that might be true but we don’t know that. And if you’re playing a numbers game, you want to maximize the opportunity to meet people. And the best way to do that is to say the things that have worked in our past to make someone intrigued enough to begin a conversation.
Look, I’m not saying that it’s right.
Is this something I’m proud of? Of course not. But I think that it’s important for people to understand that it’s not as sinister as one might think. While I was deep in that phase of my life, I wasn’t in it just to have sex with everyone. I mean, I did have sex with people but that wasn’t my main goal. When women would ask what I was looking for I would respond with something to the effect of, “I am open to whatever comes my way. If that means we end up as friends, cool. I could use more good people in my life. If that means we just end up as make out buddies, cool. If that means we are so compatible that I can’t see a life without you, well, you might end up as my wife. But I certainly don’t like to put the burden of heavy expectations upon a simple coffee date. I would rather be pleasantly surprised than consistently disappointed.” And I got compliments on that response. Women would often praise my writing then say that the response seemed too well thought out and that it must have been a cut-and-paste. And of course it was – but it wasn’t a lie. It was precisely how I felt. That response was truly me. But did type that to other women who asked me that same question? Of course. Because while it was a cut-and-paste, it was genuinely the most accurate way to describe and explain my intentions.
Yes, the cut-and-paste message comes off as lazy. But for me, it was literally years of trial and error and there was something about you that I liked. Whether it was your color run 5k picture or your picture with your niece, something about your profile interested me enough to say hey. So instead of sending you a “hey” or “sup” or “your hot” (yes, that was intentional) – I chose to send you years of research. The best that I could come up with after thousands of emails. Something charming and humorous with a slightly cocky tone. Nothing too long that would make me look like I memorized your profile and nothing too short to seem boring. And guess what? The positive reinforcement of the cut-and-paste worked. I dated some wonderful and fascinating women who taught me things I didn’t know and who made me believe in love again after a terrible break-up. And I made so many friends – many that I still keep in touch with. And it all began with the message –
So, explain to me how we live so close and we haven’t started flirting.
What, are you trying to avoid me? 😉