Right now, there’s a man within 2,000 feet who is looking to have sex with me—or with another man. He doesn’t seem too particular. It doesn’t really matter what day or time you may be reading this, he’s still out there, although it isn’t always the same guy. See, there’s always some guy within 2,000 feet who’s on the prowl, probably because I live in a gay-friendly neighborhood and in walking distance to a busy pizza joint and a popular night club.
I know about these men thanks to the wonderful world of online dating, a realm of human interaction that can either crush your spirit or restore your faith in love. If you’re just horny, though, you can quickly learn how many men are looking for a little something and how close they are at any given moment. How much information you can learn all depends on the kind of site that you join, and I joined them all. Well, not quite all, but a few.
I was inspired to do so after a friend suggested that I join Adam4Adam, since I am now single and had mentioned that I didn’t get out much. I assured my friend that I really wasn’t interested in a new relationship, as it hasn’t been a year since my partner’s passing, but he insisted that I would make lots of new friends, and really, what’s wrong with having more friends?
So, I joined and joined, with the intention of meeting a few people who could be friends—just friends. Shortly thereafter, though, fascinated by what I was seeing, I started joining sites for research’s sake, even sites I knew would hold no interest. To see what types of profiles drew the most attention, I varied the content of my different profiles, from prudish to promiscuous, sparse information to TMI (Too Much Information). I felt some guilt about posting statements that would mislead others to assume I was looking for things I wasn’t, but I found out that isn’t uncommon, so I actually fit in. I never outright lied, but was selective about what and how I said things. On some sites, those that were least sex-oriented, I posted the “real” profile, stating specifically that I was just looking for some friends.
The first thing that struck me was how many men there were in Louisville, Kentucky, who are members of these sites, especially Adam4Adam (A4A). Maybe we should nickname Louisville the Fire Island of the Ohio River. With this many members, a quest to meet at least one new friend should be easy, I thought. What I had yet to realize was that the world of online dating is disassociated from reality, an almost make-believe world where fact is fiction and vice versa.
(I should note that I considered joining a lesbian site under an assumed identity, but couldn’t justify engaging in that deception.)
I am not so naïve that I don’t know that deception occurs online; I just wasn’t aware of the wide variety of forms that it can take. It seems that people will lie about anything – or everything.
According to the article “Online Deception: Prevalence, Motivation, and Emotion”, about one-third of users engage in deception of some kind, with those most likely to lie being younger and frequent users of such sites. (Caspi and Gorsky, CyberPsychology & Behavior. February 2006) Another study found that those who do attempt to deceive offer cues. Among those are inconsistencies in their personal descriptions (for instance, stating that you are in your 30s, but mentioning going to college in the ‘80s). In addition, deceivers tend to keep their personal profile statements short, and they focus more attention on characteristics or accomplishments about which they have not lied, redirecting attention away from their lies. (Toma and Hancock, “What Lies Beneath: The Linguistic Traces of Deception in Online Dating Profiles”. Journal of Communication, February 2012)
One prime area for lying is personal appearance. Take, for instance, those sites that allow users to list penis size. If you are a male who already has worries of size inadequacy, joining a gay dating site isn’t going to do you any favors. Using the profiles I read as the basis for this conclusion, the average erect human penis is 8”, and there are a surprising number of men who should be doing John Holmes porn remakes. One user’s profile asked the pointed question, “Are we measuring penis size by the metric system?”
Another issue that was actually raised as a complaint in numerous profiles was the old photo trick, in which a user posts a picture (pic) of him or herself from a decade or so ago, thus giving the impression of being the youngest looking and most vibrant and active 60-year-old outside of a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayans. Variations on this pic trick include the “steal someone’s profile pic and use it on another site as yourself” trick and the “copy a pic off the internet and claim it’s you” trick.
Pics are an integral part of the online dating world. I posted a picture of myself in a t-shirt and shorts, no face. The failure to show my face was an automatic deal-breaker for many, according to their profiles. The failure to show everything else is a deal-breaker for others, and on some sites, it wasn’t uncommon to receive requests for either a face or crotch shot. However, mindful that I that some of my college students might be on these sites, I chose to keep those things private, at least the adult pics. I would send face pics once I had chatted or emailed with someone a few times.
This exposed me to harsh reality about gay men, the extent of which I didn’t realize. Gay men can be extremely unrealistic and superficial when it comes to appearance. Let’s face it, there are only so many college jock types on the down-low, and they aren’t looking for ordinary CPA types, computer geeks, or middle-aged men who still think they have the same bodies they had when they were 25. Yet, so many men have overwhelming delusions that they are next on the list for a visit from the college jock type. Conversely, those jock types tend to be extremely elitist, usually failing to acknowledge communication from anyone but others like themselves.
Thus, those of us who fall into the “average looks” category are frequently ignored, even by other “average” men who are off chasing the jock. On more than one occasion, I would be in a site chat room, only to notice that the less attractive, nerdier, older, or heavier guys were being ignored, so I would attempt to engage them. My own ego took a few hits when I emailed face pictures to men I had been exchanging emails with, only to never hear from them again. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Am I so unfortunate looking that merely gazing upon my face will cause people to flee?” Maybe I just don’t take good pictures.
That said, the truth is that, statistically, I am a typical online dating site user. According to research published in CyberPsychology and Behavior, the average online dater is between the ages of 30 and 50, validating that the first of the computer-raised generation is reaching middle-age. The study also found that the average user has low dating anxiety and transcends socio-economic boundaries (in other words, rich and poor use such sites alike). (Valkenburg and Peter, “Who Visits Online Dating Sites? Exploring Some Characteristics of Online Daters”. December 2007)
No matter the user’s demographic characteristics, veracity and sanity are missing characteristics in far too many users. These delusions aren’t just restricted to rampant lying or unrealistic expectations, they also come in the form of bizarre behavior. It was stunning how many people I spoke with online that made me think, “Oh, another one escaped from Crazy Town.” One such man IM’d me and told me he wanted to strip me naked inside an adult bookstore, put a collar and leash on me, and lead me around on my hands and knees servicing whomever. I generally find “Hi. How are you?” to be a better ice-breaker, so I declined and wished him good luck in finding a willing participant.
Perhaps no one was crazier than the guy I came to refer to as “Mr. Boring”. Mr. B and I had spoken on the phone, during which he regaled with explanations of his favorite YouTube videos, so when he asked me to go to dinner with him, I thought there was no chance that he was looking for a sexual hookup. I made it clear, though, that I wasn’t interested in dating, only friendship, and he agreed. We met for dinner and had two hours of uninspired conversation. Afterwards, I promised that I would contact him and we would have dinner again sometime.
When I failed to contact him soon enough though, he emailed me and accused me of being a liar and game-player and asked why I had even gone on a date with him. He then revealed that he was actually ten years older than his profile (and I’m the liar?), but when he went too far was when he told me that my late partner would be ashamed of me. We didn’t have any further contact, except for the one last email when I told him, “Here’s your ticket back to Crazy Town.”
In fairness, though, there are many good, respectable, non-insane men and women on these sites; it just takes vigilance to find a healthy sampling.
Should one be interested in joining a site, it’s best to understand that not all sites are equal. Many offer great free memberships for a week or month, then bump you down to a basic membership if you don’t agree to pay for an upgrade. The limitations of not paying may include limited emails on the site, inability to view other profiles or a limit on the number viewed, or restrictions on certain site features. Most sites offer multiple levels of membership, with those paying top dollar getting a variety of perks, their profiles featured or personal valet service on any hookups they find with a bowl of rubbers in the back of the limousine—I think I read that on some site.
Some I looked at but didn’t join were for those with specific sexual proclivities: bondage, wrestling, masturbation, cross-dressing. There is variation in how sex-oriented sites are; it doesn’t take long to figure out which ones they are by reading profiles. Looking at profiles will also tell you how active a site is; if most members haven’t logged onto the site in over three weeks, there’s not a lot happening there.
Perhaps the most well-known and popular site is Adam4Adam. Based on my examination, a large percentage of users on the site are interested primarily in the “hook-up”, the one-time or occasional sexual encounter that comes without obligations or expectations for future interaction. In contrast, Match.com, which caters to straight, gay, and lesbian users, has little mention of sex, focusing on those who are seeking romance or friendship. If you can’t find a date on Match.com, it’s not because they didn’t try. They’ve emailed me so many profiles with descriptions of why the men would be a good match for me, and gee, don’t you want to email him right now? No, well, how about this one? Still, their site was most in line with what I wanted.
Knowing what you want when you join a site will save time and money, and a little research will inform about the nature of online sites and the type of people you will find on each site. Beyond understanding what type of site you want to join, you should have a grasp of what or who you want to find once there. According to the research by Wu and Chiou, the more search options you employ within a site, the worse your search experience will be. Users who were specific in what they wanted and limited search options to those characteristics found their online experiences to be less frustrating and more rewarding. (“More Options Lead to More Searching and Worse Choices in Finding Partners for Romantic Relationships Online: An Experimental Study”. CyberPsychology & Behavior. Jun 2009)
Ultimately, looking back, was my experience on these sites rewarding? Yes and no. My ego took more hits than I care for, certainly more than I would ever experience in face to face interactions. What’s more, I developed a rather jaded opinion about the gay community, having spent a little too much time being exposed to lies and vanity. For those reasons alone, I won’t be back.
The big question, then, is whether I met my goals in joining. To the extent that I learned a great deal about the sites, more than I could ever have learned through just researching, I met the first goal. Did I have any hook-ups (which I’m sure has been the burning question for a small group of readers)? Well, that wasn’t my goal, and even if I did, I sure wouldn’t be telling you about it here. I would save that for the autobiography.
I did make two really great new friends from my memberships and there are a couple of other men who have said they would like to get to know me as a friend, so ultimately, I met my primary goal. In the end, though, it was largely an experience of wading through profiles, exchanging innumerable pointless emails, and warding off sexual deviants of all varieties (to each their own, but OMG).
If you’d like to check out one of my profiles and get in touch, too bad – they’re all deleted or stripped bare (some sites won’t let you delete the profile, just the content on it). Except for the one about dressing up in a kangaroo outfit and having my pouch rubbed while watching racy silent movies and listening to Maria Callas. If you know where to look for that ad, we’ve probably already chatted.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.
// Marginal Utility
"The social-media companies have largely succeeded in persuading users of their platforms' neutrality. What we fail to see is that these new identities are no less contingent and dictated to us then the ones circumscribed by tradition; only now the constraints are imposed by for-profit companies in explicit service of gain.READ the article