Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Slim Pickins: Why There Aren't More "Quality" Men Online? You Girls Are Trusting Offline Instincts to Shoot Us Down Online!

My BFF, Cath, has also often bemoaned the lack of 'quality' men who are online dating sites and recently a very appealing 41 year old approached me on POF writing:
"Well you seem fantastic: eclectic and outgoing....  I hope you're having luck around here 'cause from where I'm sittin' it's pretty slim pickins!  Cheers, L."
Mr. Slim Pickens, RIP
Now Slim Pickens was a character actor in Hollywood many years ago, but I don't think anyone would have called him pretty, so I expect L. is bemoaning the same lack of quantity of quality men as Cath has.  The amazing thing was that she was about to prove herself to be a contributor to the problem rather than a woman trying to fix the dearth of quality men by modifying her natural offline reactions to adjust for the fact we were communicating online.

I replied saying that I found her profile intriguing and would like to meet, but got nothing back.  After waiting for four days over the weekend with sinking heart (having learned from long experience that when an initially enthusiastic woman suddenly goes cold, the more days that pass the less likely she's ever going to re-connect), dejectedly I wrote:
"When "fantastic & eclectic" turns to zero...

...as in: "I suddenly switched to having ZERO interest in you, Mr. Former "Fantastic, eclectic and outgoing!" ;-)

L., I'm always amazed how online dating, with a few lines in a reply, can inexplicably and instantly 'throw that switch' with you lovely ladies. I do suspect it's a prime reason that the guys get frustrated and, like me, 'don't work it that hard'. It's just less painful (and the odds of successfully getting to the next date are far better) to wait for a date to come along in real life. K."
Her response, while quite positive overall (she claimed to have been engrossed in reading my blog posts), ended with:
"Unfortunately now I have (almost) zero interest in getting to know you with the sudden toxic negative energy in the air."
Ahem.  My point had been that part of what drains the positive energy out of the men who attempt online dating is the speed with which many women shoot us down on the basis of some perceived (hyper-analyzed) 'slight' in what we've typed (with gradually increasing trepidation over time) into a 'wink' or into a note in reply to a wink.  We guys cannot win online as the proverbial deck is just stacked far too high against us.  Most guys with whom I've discussed this report feeling the same way and, after an initial flurry of activity and contact attempts, gradually stop using online dating sights all that actively (the exceptions are the players who look like movie stars -- they use it as a quick way to get a date when an opening appears in their busy schedule of one night stands).

Now Cath says this 'shut down' could well be that various posts in this blog of mine that made her sense that "MY deck was stacked against L." (apparently the 'written me' can be intimidating to some women) and that the most gracious retreat was for her to cut things off before I did so, or that she misinterpreted my tongue-in-cheek use of 'cynicism' to mean I am truly cynical (yeah, it an investment in reading to 'get me', I know  ;-), but ignoring the opportunity to hyper-analyze this particular exchange, it points to a much more fundamental problem with trying to select people to date online:
  • We humans are 'wired' to instinctively assess potential mates through a vast array of subtle visual, behavioural and pheromone cues.
  • We are hard-wired to 'trust our instincts' (if we weren't, our species wouldn't have survived).
  • We have NO instincts to help us assess each other by the way another person writes, what words he/she might happen to string together, or by still photos.  (No matter how strong your desire to believe otherwise might be!  See point immediately above.)
    After a couple of years of trying just about every site out there (I am, if nothing else, a marketing analyst!) AND attending many singles events, this is my experience:

    Meeting Face-to-Face? Fun and Stimulating! ;-)

    Struggling to Meet Dates Online? Soul-Crushing :-(

    I'm a frequent flier when it comes to soul-crushing (and getting crushed...)!  I get a wink from a woman with no photo posted and, no matter how elaborate and intriguing the profile description is, I 'click-delete'.  Does she have gorgeous photos but a one line description?  Trash!  If I can't get any kind of a 'read' on a woman, no matter how good she looks, I'm not going to waste my time.  Why?  Because after being online for two years I now know how much time I'll have to invest to cajole a recent full-length photo out of her only to be gobsmacked that she thought I'd become SO interested in her via text alone that her appearance wouldn't matter, or to exchange enough messages to get to know just how unfortunate her understanding of English is (not that I've got anything against new Canadians! I just have to be able to have conversations about saving the world).  If she hasn't supplied enough info or several recent full-length photos I slam the door never to return.

    What I'm getting at in this post is a very different thing, however.

    Humans are designed to judge each other incredibly quickly by what we notice visually in 'live' encounters.  We rely on subtle cues when we are face-to-face: an awkward smile, a turned-away torso, a momentary hesitation in answering, a 'bum leg' if we want a partner who can jog.  Those little things that we notice save us a TON of time we'd otherwise waste in polite conversation with people who turn out to not match our unique desires/demands.   
    • Offline we run through that analysis in a heartbeat.
    • Online we attempt to do the same thing, but it is entirely and completely counterproductive (although our brains will assure us quite the opposite!).
    I believe it is actually this that L. fell prey to and is really the second most insidious problem facing meeting a 'quality' partner online.

    L. not only had access to TONS of information about me through this blog and "An Unremarkable Life""Is Rex a Dog?", as well as via my professional blog and all my photos available online, she had actually invested time in reading some of it.  She had a MUCH clearer impression of what I might be like than she ever could have with most other guy's via their profiles, yet she proved as willing, in this online environment, to trash me equally as quickly as she would a guy with one ancient photo posted and a single sentence profile description.

    Maybe I deserved it, but that's not exactly what I'm getting at!

    Despite all that time invested in trying to get to know me and despite a wealth of information at hand, L. trashed me in a split second NOT because I'd really deserved it with anything I'd written to her, but because it's what all our brains are pre-programmed to do when meeting a prospective mate offline: assess the visual clues and, in the absence of pheromones, or eyes meeting, or behaviour to observe (he picks up a fallen child or tells a joke to a group of people), work with whatever we've got for our eyes to evaluate, in the case of online dating we work very hard to extract meaning from 'between the lines' of an instant message or email.

    Every moment of our entire evolution,  some several million years from our common ancestor with the great apes until Homo Sapiens Sapiens emerged about 150,000 years ago -- right up to the transformative moment arrived that we were sufficiently urbanized and literate enough to start sending letters with photos enclosed to 'blind dates' (which is essentially what online dating is), humans NEVER have been faced with trying to evaluate potential partners in any other way than face-to-face.  Never.  It is not something we are equipped to do, yet online dating attracts us like lemmings leaping off a cliff!  (Here's a good visual: stretch both your arms out to your sides, that represents the length of time we've spent evolving since split from the chimps, the length of the fingernail outgrowth on the finger that you broke the nail off yesterday is the amount of time we've been literate.)

    The moment L's brain got the chance  to do what we do naturally when we are face-to-face (and this is especially true of females -- no offence, but you girls are far more likely to go with an emotionally inspired 'hunch' than we lads are) and, sitting in front of a computer screen, make a snap judgment call  based upon subtle cues hitting the back of her retinas, she did so, shutting me down automatically and without much cognitive dissonance after the fact.  Sadly the only visual cues her brain had to evaluate were a few words with no real understanding of what I might have actually been thinking when I wrote them.

    Online we take an unintentional turn of phrase,  a misread ironic joke, a spelling error, or an unfamiliar reference and we make a snap judgment call that our brain immediately rewards us for by telling us how perceptive and smart we were to avoid a person who likely wouldn't fit with us.  Slamming the proverbial door shut on these crushed souls make our brains light up with reward activity, a bit of an adrenalin rush at having avoided danger, a few drops of endorphin at having taken decisive action!  Doing all this 'door slammin' is totally and completely wrong-headed, unfair  and misguided since a few words on a computer screen cannot possibly convey what that other person was really meaning or thinking the way we can face-to-face, but our brains treat the online interaction the same way they would a real life encounter in person.


    Perhaps the most tragic thing  is that we are also hard-wired to 'trust our instincts'.  This is an ESPECIALLY strong conviction when it comes to the subject of women choosing dates!  I have news for you, ladies, you cannot 'trust your instincts' if our species has no instincts related to this new medium.  Using your vivid imagination to read a hastily thrown together string of words banged onto a keyboard, sent through the Internet and read on a screen and imbue it with bizarre intentions and/or "toxic negativity isn't going to get you dates with interesting men.  It will get you dates with 'players' (formerly called 'playboys') who have figured out that they have to say as little as possible to get you 'onto the dance floor'.

    Sadly we all do this same 'shut down' thing over and over again unconsciously, yet the outcome is exactly the opposite of what we are on these dating sites to achieve: many of us actually want more dates with more interesting (often deeper and more complex) people than we'd meet at random out in the real world, yet those are the types we shut down fastest as they tend to write things that are more difficult to interpret without having them sitting across from us.  Having seen him interviewed often enough, I can say without trepidation that Stephen King is a really swell, nice guy in person, but from reading his books you'd be convinced he's a really scary character!

    Had you suppressed your instinct to apply offline brain processes to online encounters you might be on vacation in the south of France with an ideal partner, but there you go...  And the bigger picture outcome?  "Slim pickins".

    The 7 Fatal Flaws of Online Dating here.

    1 comment:

    1. Excellent writing and though. And helpful. Don't expect too much out of online exchanges. i had already emails are volatile and easily misunderstood.



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