Around a year ago, at the behest of a number of my friends who had enjoyed successful experiences, I signed up to the online dating site Plenty of Fish, known affectionately by its millions of users as “PoF” (poff). It followed an all-too-familiar Saturday night scenario: spot attractive girl in bar, ingest copious amounts of booze to pluck up courage to speak to said girl, watch as Hottie marches off in horror at my drunken seduction technique which effectively amounts to dribbling manically in her face.
Eager to break this depressing cycle and end a lifetime of perennial singledom, I signed up to PoF, confident in the conviction that online dating is no longer an admission of desperation and ugliness but a mainstream activity – the natural domain of the 21st century’s beautiful young things, not just the ageing, perverted or socially inept.
Now the first obstacle to overcome before entering this brave new world is constructing a standout babe magnet profile. Obviously the main hook which reels in the ladies will be the photo – shouldn’t be too hard, I reason, I’m an attractive enough guy. First snag. The only place with a sufficiently voluminous catalogue of photos is my Facebook page and I’m hammered in nearly all of them. Isn’t this my problem in real life, precisely what I need to avoid? I trawl through the past six years of my life to pick out a modest sample of snaps which capture me at my best. Through trial and error, I eventually stumble across the perfect solution: a display picture of me holding my sister’s pocket-sized Chihuahua puppy. To my astonishment, it works. The profile views roll in – girls really do love puppies!
The next challenge is populating the unnerving “About Me” box with honest appraisal and engrossing narrative. As an aspiring writer and hoping to filter out any riffraff, I take the time and trouble to make my description as witty, engaging and grammatical a yarn as possible. After several drafts and much self-analysis, I submit my finished profile and hurl myself unprotected into the wild.
Five minutes later I receive my first message, the Inbox icon on my screen illuminated invitingly with a seductive red (1). Excited and flattered to be receiving attention within a matter of minutes, I open the message. “Your [sic] rather handsome” it reads in its entirety. Although not the most loquacious opening line, I’m intrigued by the archaic compliment and take a look at her page to glean more information. According to her profile the girl is 18 and her interests include cutting herself and masturbating five times a day. Sounds a keeper but I’ll swerve on this occasion, thanks.
Unperturbed, I do some ‘fishing’ of my own. I alight on a profile where the girl’s interests are listed as ‘murders and executions’ – I recognise the reference to American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. A friend of Patrick Bateman’s is a friend of mine. I fire off a message, she replies straight away. I check out a cute blonde with a quirky profile. I’m quirky and blond too, let’s give it a whirl. She replies back immediately as well. Two out of two! This is going to be easy! I always knew one day I would unleash my inner Adonis and finally I’ve found my outlet.
The conversation with American Psycho bird tails off – there are only so many quips about meals at Dorsia one can make and I get bored. Blondie stops replying after just one message but I can see she’s still online in what I come to call “second message syndrome”, a frustrating pattern that will repeat itself over the coming months. What did I do wrong?
It’s soon apparent my initial success was beginner’s luck. It’s true that I’m receiving a steady trickle of messages and ‘yeses’ but most of my admirers look as though they’re rather too partial to a hog roast for my liking. There is plenty of talent on the site but the age-old problem of chatting up a woman in a bar is just as acute online as it is in person: what are you actually supposed to say to them?
Slick compliments have never been my style and they feel just as awkward over the internet as on a dancefloor. Swallowing my revulsion, I try them all the same: ‘deleted’. Careful perusals of profiles and subsequent attempts at humour also go unrewarded. I seethe as my carefully crafted responses are junked. Most of those that do reply fail to ask me anything about myself in return. This irks me – why should it all fall on me to spark witty conversation, isn’t it basic manners to ask questions back? I weigh up whether to continue the stunted dialogue because she’s hot or decide that she’s not worth the effort. I opt for the latter but it’s clear there’s no place for pride in the merciless jungle of online dating.
Despite the many irritations, I’m hooked within a matter of days. One night as I’m absent-mindedly flicking through and trigger-happily rejecting the various female options that pop up on my PoF iPhone app, The One suddenly presents herself on my screen. 21 years old, her profile description is a flawless work of art, textual velvet, and she looks just like the gorgeous Tina from Corrie. Here’s a woman I can do business with. This is a serious job, the phone won’t do, and I log into my laptop to message her. The pressure is immense, a stunner like this must be inundated with interest. I establish contact and wait nervously. I refresh the page and can see she’s read my message. I refresh again and now she’s viewed my profile. Please please please. Moments later: (1). BOOM!
Her reply lives up to expectations and acerbic banter flows naturally over the ensuing fortnight. I think I’m in love. Anxious to take it to the next level, out of nowhere she provides me with her mobile number and asks me to call her so we can arrange to, in her words, ‘play’. I’m excited but deeply unnerved by the request – I’ve never called someone off the internet before and would be more comfortable arranging something online. But I understand she’ll probably want to establish beforehand that I’m not a balding sex offender and so resolve to man up and call her. I try but can’t summon the nerve and decide to turn to my old friend alcohol for assistance. Six Stellas and two generous shots of tequila later I am becalmed, now endowed with the courage of a lion and ready to dazzle. Calling…
THE ONE: [high-pitched, little girl voice] Hello?
ME: Hi, it’s Nick here. [Awkward pause] From Plenty of Fish.
THE ONE: [nervous giggling, unintelligible squealing]
ME: [Panicking slightly and feeling stupid] Erm, well I guess I should start by asking your name as you’ve never actually told me.
THE ONE: [deranged giggling, higher-pitched whining] I, I, I… I never told you cos, cos, you don’t like meeee!
ME: [taken aback, defensive] What do you mean I don’t like you? I’m calling you aren’t I!
THE ONE: [laughter’s turned to tears, total meltdown in progress] Erm, erm, erm…I don’t know what to say!
[Line goes dead.]
She’s cut me off! I call back. No answer. What just happened? Instantly my old prejudices resurface – with communication skills like that no wonder this loon had to turn to the internet to get a boyfriend. Weeks of buildup and anticipation shattered in 30 humiliating seconds.
Recovering from this unsettling experience, I’m determined this needn’t be the end of my online adventure. But even if The One did turn out to be a nutter, I never do find anyone who matches up to my expectations of what I wanted her to be. The weeks roll by and I come to resent having made the effort to compose a thoughtful profile, which feels so affected and pompous in a sea of endlessly repetitive and inarticulate banality. I tire as PoF continues to serve up the same daily menu of orange girls pouting in front of the mirror, their identities meshing into one as they spew out the same vapid epithets time after time. ‘Banter’, ‘bubbly personality’, ‘YOLO’, ‘r u my Christian Grey lol’…that wasn’t funny the first time I saw it. Their listed interests become blindingly predictable, usually restricted to ‘socialising, music, family’, as if enjoying a decent tune and a laugh with friends is somehow an alien concept to the rest of us.
The most annoying thing of all is that it’s obvious they are getting results regardless; their Inboxes brimming with so much activity they need a secretary to keep on top of it, whilst I survey the small cluster of ignored desperados who inhabit my own. Just as in the pub on a Saturday night, the men drool while the women take their pick. I thought this is what I was escaping from. My mood turns mutinous and the backlash begins.
I’m viewing a pretty girl whose profile contains a now-familiar diktat: “no topless pics please.” Of course, I would never dream of inflicting an upper-half as unsightly as mine on the unsuspecting ladies of PoF but I decide to jokingly point out the hypocrisy of such a request when her own pictures are comprised of the female equivalent: cameraphone ‘selfies’, the lens carefully pointed down towards her breasts. My hopes that this attempt at playful teasing might ignite a meaningful conversation are quickly dashed, my light-hearted tone clearly not rendered in text as I’m met with a string of abuse. ‘Cock’, ‘desperate virgin’ and ‘pathetic loser’ among the more printable reactions I receive from this feisty young thing.
Chuckling forlornly to myself, I realise I’m exactly where I was when I signed up three months ago: hopelessly single, with women thinking I’m a dick and recoiling in disgust. I decide to retire from online dating – it’s been an experience but I can get this for nothing in the real world.