April 9, 2014

KUSSMAN | Okay, Cupid: My Adventure in Online Dating

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This spring break, while my friends embarked on adventures in the Caribbean sun, I embarked on a journey of my own via the World Wide Web: My first venture into online dating.

Prior to this experience, I never would have considered meeting someone on the Internet. The closest I’d come to online dating was when my sophomore year roommate and I both made OKCupid profiles for shits and giggles, only to deactivate them a week later after receiving dozens of unsettling messages. But as more of my friends accept job offers in unfamiliar cities and try to meet people out of college, I hear more about more about people turning to social media to make connections.

So, over break, when my friend Clara gushed about a guy she’d met on OkCupid, I decided that I was going to give it a try.

Clara warned me that out of every 15 messages she gets, maybe one will be worth looking into — which is why I wasn’t disheartened when all of my initial matches seemed questionable. It took a few days, but eventually I was matched with a guy named Scott who seemed the least threatening of the bunch. We started messaging and made plans to meet up within the week.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I was terrified. I made sure at least three friends knew where I was going (Starbucks in Union Square), and I was preparing myself for the worst: He would be totally sketchy and/or make me uncomfortable by suggesting we go back to his apartment. What I was not prepared for, however, was the seemingly normal guy who walked into Starbucks, looking a little nervous himself.

I recognized him from his pictures; he looked just as good in real life as he had in jpeg format. He went to shake my hand, I went in for a hug and we were off to a good start.

We sat down and began with the basics: where we grew up, where we went to school, etc. It felt strange — but oddly refreshing — to start from zero with someone.

It quickly became clear that we were in two very different places in our lives. He was in a suit, having come straight from work at a large financial institution; I had come from browsing around the Forever21 across the street. He was thinking about pursuing an MBA; I get heart palpitations whenever I think about the end of undergrad. He was considering investing in a friend’s company; I was considering running back to that Forever21 and investing in a pair of high-waisted jeans. But for one hour that evening in a Starbucks in Union Square, our worlds collided, and we shared a few laughs. If nothing else, it was my first glimpse into what life after college might look like.

Halfway through our conversation, I asked him why he uses online dating apps. He explained that his work schedule is so demanding and hectic that he hasn’t had the opportunity to meet anyone. It was the same reason my friend Clara had made her profile — and it was one that made sense.

You would think that in a city like New York, meeting someone would be easy.  But the unfortunate truth about big cities is that you can go weeks at a time without talking to anyone at all. The subway is full of fascinating people, but trying to strike up a conversation with a stranger on your morning commute is like waving a big red flag that says: “I am unstable.” In my 21 years as a New Yorker, only two people have ever approached me for my number. One was a 50 year old engineer from Colombia, and the other was a guy who claimed to be on the New England National soccer team (but was mysteriously missing from the online roster). Not a great track record. So if the online dating can help two people connect against all odds, maybe there’s something there.

Obviously, online dating isn’t without its share of imperfections. It’s superficial at best, and dangerous at worst.* It won’t do everyone justice; some people take awhile to grow on us, and the snap judgments we make online don’t afford them that opportunity. But bearing all this in mind, it may have something to offer after all.

As for Scott, who knows what will happen? We may make plans to see each other again — or, if we want, we can chalk it up to a one-time-only, unlikely meeting of two people. After all, as Scott said (in reference to some financial conundrum that largely escaped my understanding): “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

If that philosophy is all that I take away from my foray in the world of online dating, that’ll be okay.

*AUTHOR’S NOTE: Always meet in a public place and tell someone where you are going.  Make sure your phone is charged, and have an excuse ready if you start to wonder if the “J” in “JDate” actually stands for “jail.”