Q&A with a Hardcore Online Dater

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Harriet Smith is a fake name for a real person. She is 32 and lives in New York City but she is planning to move back to her (smaller) hometown before the end of the year. Harriet has had two serious boyfriends: one in college and one post-college. Both men she met organically: one in class, one at a party. When she wanted to start dating again, she found out what so many young adults discover post-college: organic meetings no longer occurred.

“I had this idea, and still have it, really, that the way it should be is, you go to a friend’s house for a little party and there’s a man in a sweater sipping a beer by the window and ah-ha, that’s your husband,” says Harriet. “But that was never my experience. The parties were all women, or if there were boys there, they had girlfriends or boyfriends. And then eventually I wasn’t even going to parties, I was spending time with just a few friends, and never meeting anyone new, ever. So I went online, which at the time, seemed like giving up. But now everyone is online. It doesn’t matter.”

Harriet and I chatted about online dating, Or rather, dating. It hardly needs the modifier—is there any other way to do it these days?

Logan Sachon: Okay, Harriet. Hello. We are here today to talk about online dating. Please talk to me about your online dating history.

Harriet Smith: I think when I started out, I was really high on it and eager and just kind of dazzled by the possibility, so I would basically date whomever. I wasn’t as strategic as I could have been. I have a friend who would do three exchanges by email/text, tops, and then do a 30-minute coffee date. I was more like, great, you like whiskey? ME TOO! Let’s talk for hours. But then I burnttttttttt out. The last time I was dating online, I think I maybe answered one out of every 30 or 40 messages. And then went on dates with maybe one out of every 10 guys I talked to.

LS: How did you pick who to respond to, or go out with?

HS: I would start searching by things that were super specific, like “enjoys Friday Night Lights.” So it was like, oh, you don’t? Well this will never work. Or I made a rule that I wouldn’t talk to anyone who didn’t have at least one female author listed in their favorite books, which ended up being stupid because it really cut down the playing field. Online dating has a very short half-life, I think, before ennui sets in.

LS: Just from like, exhaustion?

HS: Exhaustion and disappointment, yeah. It’s really not very fun.

LS: Did you have any truly bad dates out of it?

HS: Yes, I had one, it was in the first round. He was just extreeeeeemely pushy. We had dinner and then he wanted to go elsewhere so we walked to a bar and I remember he held my hand? Which I hated, but I was still trying to just “experience” everything and then he was licking my neck at the bar.

LS: Noooooooo.

HS: Yes. Like, full licks. And then insisted on taking me home in a cab, despite living in the opposite direction. I told him he wasn’t coming up but he basically gave me a blue balls speech in the car. “This is so special, don’t you feel how special this is?” and I was like, call me tomorrow if it still feels special. Never heard from him again.

LS: Thank god.

HS: Right. But that was really the worst, and it wasn’t even that bad. I was just not very good at saying no back then.

LS: Um, I think that sounds pretty bad!

HS: Well, I didn’t have any of the like, “And then he showed up wearing a parrot on his shoulder,” or anything like that.

LS: Oh yes, the classic guy with a parrot story of online dating. I feel like these stories of quirky guys get thrown around, but really the worst part is always just getting out of slightly uncomfortable situations you’d rather not be in. Did you come up with a good way of getting out of things eventually?

HS: The dates I would just sort of suffer through, if they were bad, or hope they got better. I developed a copy and paste note that I would use in texts when I didn’t want to go on a second date. “So great to hear from you! I had a lovely time last night, but I just didn’t feel like we had the right energy. Good luck out there!”

LS: Oh that’s so kind!

HS: But I developed a better gut check. I feel like I did get better at it over time, but also … I’m still single.

LS: Do you think you’ll do it again?

HS: Yeah, I’ll do it again. I’m moving to a new city soon and I don’t think we as a species have any other way of mating now.This is basically it if you are over the age of 25.

So back online Harriet will go, and once there, she’ll join the 10% of American adults who have online dating accounts. Of those, nearly 60% are between 25 and 44, right in Harriet’s age bracket. And then there’s this: A University of Chicago survey of 19,000 couples married between 2005 and 2012 found that 35% met online. Online dating is the future. And it isn’t fun, but perhaps meeting a stranger for a drink has never been fun, no matter how the date came to pass. Harriet holds out hope for her be-sweatered suitor, but it’s more likely, she knows, the first connection won’t be eyes across a room, but a swipe across a screen.