I started online dating in 2000, at the tender age of 18. I was a fan of TheSpark.com—a site largely known for humorous "science" projects and CliffNotes-style study guides—and when they launched SparkMatch (which, as it happens, was the precursor to OkCupid), I found myself intrigued. SparkMatch wasn't like the other online dating sites I'd seen before. It was friendly, it was unintimidating, and because of its affiliation with The Spark, it was easy to say you'd signed up just for laughs. Emboldened by this degree of plausible deniability, I made a profile and started perusing the site. Within a short period of time, I was on a date with a man who'd ultimately become my first serious boyfriend.
Over the years, I've also set up profiles on Nerve.com, OkCupid, and How About We, just to name a few. Though I haven't exactly kept count, I'm sure my number of personals-enabled first dates ranges in the three digits. Given those stats, it might seem natural to lump me in with the constantly searching, never satisfied online daters profiled in Dan Slater's "A Million First Dates." Yet on my end, Slater's vision of online dating is exactly the opposite of what I've experienced.
My reasons for online dating are pretty simple, and rather neatly summed up by an early slogan of Nerve Personals, which reminded potential users that "Bars are for drinking." I've never felt particularly comfortable approaching strangers in bars, and dating friends of friends has always felt a bit too incestuous for my tastes. Online dating offers access to a wide swath of people I might not otherwise come into contact with. More importantly, it offers access to a wide swath of people who I know are also looking for dates. More than anything, it's an efficient way to cast a wide net in the search for a potential partner. Is it a flawless system? Of course not—but as far as methods of consistently finding new people to date go, it's the least flawed one I know.
My attitude towards the world of internet dating tends to follow a rather predictable cycle: At some point—because I'm fresh out of a relationship or otherwise feeling a renewed interest in putting myself out there—I find myself approaching the task with a strong sense of vigor. Paging through profiles, it seems like there are numerous people who, even if they aren't my future life partner, might still be fun to hang out with for an evening. Enthusiasm running high, I find myself scheduling numerous dates; sometimes booking engagements on every free night I have available. During one particularly exuberant period, I managed to squeeze six dates into the span of four days, though that was a lot even for me.
And with my spirits high, I go on these dates and hope for the best. More often than not, I have a good time; almost as often, there's no second date. Online dating may make it easier to connect with attractive singles who share your taste in pop culture, but it doesn't guarantee a lasting interest or deeply felt connection. And after awhile, I find my enthusiasm beginning to fade, as it becomes harder to gin up interest in meeting a stranger for an evening that's unlikely to lead to anything of consequence. Unlike Jacob, the longer I engage in online dating, the more I find myself craving some semblance of genuine connection; the more I find myself desperate to find someone I truly, deeply like so that I can break free from the endless, exhausting parade of first dates.
Which brings me to the strange irony of my experiments with online dating: Though an online dating site landed me my first serious relationship, in the 12 years since, it's never led to one again. Oh, it's brought me brief flings and best friends and plenty of interesting experiences, but—despite the sense of possibility, and continued feeling of promise—it's rarely paired me up with anyone I felt a deep, lasting connection with. Online dating may offer up the illusion of infinite choice, but it quickly reveals itself to be a world full of close calls and near misses. And though some may see that as a reason to continually dig in search of an endlessly more perfect match, to me, it just makes even the hint of real commitment feel all the more precious. And when I find myself in the presence of someone I actually, genuinely feel for, I'm hardly inclined to dive back into the morass of Internet dating to see if there's anything better: no, when I find something that wonderful, I hold onto it and run as far away from the online personals as I possibly can.
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