Monday, February 15, 2010

Video Chat Just Might Make Online Dating Viable...

You may be here to read "Some Online Dating Advice from a Marketing Strategist" or "Why do all the Couples in eHarmony Ads Look Like Brothers and Sisters?", in which case just click on the preceding titles, but here's a thought about improving the online dating experience.  A friend of mine who's single has been comparing notes with me and we've come to the same conclusion:
Online dating simply doesn't work in its current state --  video dates BEFORE an initial face-to-face could fix it!
Oh, it SEEMS like it is the perfect alternative to the bar scene, or to blind dates set up by friends, or being single forever, but talk to dozens of singles who have tried it for a significant period of time and they'll all report the same things:
  1. It is extremely time consuming IF you actually want to make any progress (hence the tendency of a lot of guys to start playing the numbers game and firing off dozens of one liners hoping to get any response at all).
  2. No matter how many photos the other individual has up (or sends you), or even videos of them talking to camera, it all comes down to the first meeting when the way they interact, move, body language, look, smell, meet your eye, etc. makes or breaks it within a few seconds or minutes, so you waste an incredible amount of time trying to suss out decent prospects!
The other day I heard a female dating advisor being interviewed on the radio who was telling girls to stop being so quick to click 'delete'.  Her point was that women cut out 95% (if not 99%) of potentially ideal partners online because they use criteria they'd NEVER use in face-to-face, accidental meetings with new guys: "No, he has black hair. No, he says he likes sushi.  No, this one looks shifty in that one picture.  No, he says his favourite city is LA -- I can't stand LA!"

Hey, I do the same thing.  Why?  Because there are simply so many profiles out there and I can't pick up on the cues I'd normally get in meeting a woman in person offline.

And there's the rub!  The premise of online dating is SO seductive that we all fall for it hook, line and sinker.
"You mean all I have to do to find my ideal mate (hugely unrealistic expectation, but we all feel it subconsciously) is fiddle about online in my spare time and I'll never have to hang out in another bar?  Sign me up!"  
Yet what we all forget, just like the people telling us that 'social media' are going to be the future of marketing efforts -- NOT! -- is that we are human, first and foremost social creatures, but we evolved interacting face to face, not in an environment that cancels out virtually all human social cues.

Think about it.  The very best relationships any of us have ever experienced or heard about just about ALL began as friendships and gradually (or all of a sudden) evolved into physical and romantic attraction.  'Love at first sight,' despite the fact that so many women of a certain age are, quite literally, addicted to the notion (just listen to a heroin addict talk about her first hit and a woman talking about her first experience with 'true love' -- which so often was actually no more than a post-pubescent, hormonal infatuation -- both types of addicts are desperate to re-create/find/re-live that initial high), is based upon a TON of dangerously seductive, but emotionally unhealthy, things.

In their profiles so many women say, quite correctly, that it will 'all come down to chemistry at our first meeting,' but, think about the expectations they/we are setting up!  Instead of being truly open to the potential of the other person, we walk in with every nerve ending on intense high-alert, our brains are processing every incoming signal like a navy frigate's computer defense system.  Few guys (or gals) are ever going to get through that electronic cloud of hair-trigger "IS THIS LOVE AT FIRST MEETING" sensors!

Many, many times what people remember as 'love at first sight' was actually something quite different, 9 times out of 10 what could have become one of those stories never happens because the other person just walks on by.  Love at first sight only gets talked about when BOTH people happen to feel similarly about the other in that initial encounter -- most of the time one person's eyebrows fly up in recognition when faced with someone they are instantaneously hot for, only to have the object of their desire walk through the doors of the bank and disappear forever.  Given that we're often most attracted by our mirror reflection (see the post about why eHarmony is the biggest rip-off ever, below), many, many times people who report having felt love at first sight are talking about someone who looks like a sibling.  Most often, however, so-called love at first sight was not quite.

We humans are incredibly highly evolved in social ways that we often fail to understand.  The scientists and sociologists have long known that two people can be attracted to each other in a crowd simply via pheromones.  60 people at a party and two of them find themselves oddly drawn together.  They might brush past each other a few times without even noticing each other, but there's something happening in the base of their brains due to miniscule 'parts per million' floating in the ether.  She sits where he sat and is strangely attracted to him when he returns to give her a hard time about taking his seat, etc.

People SAY it was love at first sight, but what it really was was more than a dozen glances, eye-meets, wry smiles and head movements across a room, or noticing the other person telling a joke at a distance, or hearing that he/she is Chief of Surgery, surfing instructor, author, etc. before setting eyes on him/her.  The way he took your hand, the way she moved in when you kissed her cheek upon being introduced, a head flick, a put-down, feigned (or real) initial disinterest -- all precursors to love at first sight.

So what does all this say about online dating?  That it can (does) consume an INORDINATE amount of time and delivers very low potential success of a first meeting.  My 'online dating advice' post was a laundry list of things you can try in order to improve the odds, but looking back, while all the 'tips' are essential to attempting to beat the odds, you still can't compare online dating to meeting potential partners at a singles function.  Even 'speed dating' isn't all that effective since it overwhelms the participants and means they're still pissed off at the last person's arrogance as they meet the most ideal potential partner ever, or they end up just too emotionally exhausted by #5 to be in any way engaging with numbers 6-10.

It's grist for another post, but I won't even get into how addictive this artificial world of online socializing becomes for many people.  They stop even bothering to accept invitations to go out for drinks with single friends so that they can 'focus' on their online prospects.  The ego-boost that comes from having 20 men/women sending you flirty mails each day can make people check their profiles 30 times a day.  This 'arms length' interaction starts to make people feel like they are back in high school again, but this time they're actually being flirted with by EVERY player on the football team!  (It's not real, folks!)

So here's a new idea, NOT online video speed dating, per se, but BEFORE you have a coffee date with an online contact you've found attractive (from pics) and interesting (from their profile description), you both agree to a minimum of three 2-way video meetings a few days apart:
  1. The first is max. 5 minutes
  2. Second is max. 10 minutes
  3. The last before deciding to meet in person is max. 15 minutes
The time limits vastly improve the odds that neither will make a critical faux pas due to nervousness that you would not once familiar with the other person.  (I find it's also important to state upfront that you should both have very low expectations -- what might come out of this might be nothing more than realizing you have single friends you'd like to introduce the other person to.)  The point is that the video dates should help deliver cues to each other that you'd normally get from 'across the room' that should help to cut out a bunch of wasted time on 'coffee dates' that are almost guaranteed to go nowhere because people look differently in real (live) life than in photos, move/behave in ways you don't (or do) find intriguing, etc.

Will this 'Graduated Video Intro' concept work in improving the chances that 'coffee dates' won't end before they really get started?  I don't know, I haven't tried it yet!  I'll update here once I have, but Skype video is free and USB video cameras are really inexpensive these days.

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