Distraction Magazine Writing Samples

The Online Dating Game

It’s rare to hear of college students logging onto Match.com or OkCupid in search of “the one.” In fact, most are quick to pity anyone with a dating profile. So what happens when a 21-year-old tests the waters of the online dating pool, regardless of Catfishers and the like? Distraction sent its Executive EditorAshley Brozic to find out.

On the list of all things socially taboo in America, online dating falls at the top. In fact, I think the only thing that might garner a more concerned stare from friends and family is if you told them you met your current beau at a porn store. And can you blame them? The world is still recouping from the bitter aftermath of online chat rooms, and MTV’s “Catfish” series has shed a new light on the creativity some have while using these sites. I mean, imagine the horror of finding out that the girl you’re about to go on a date with isn’t actually a girl at all. 

But even with all of the notoriety that follows them, online dating sites seem to be outrunning their tainted pasts as more niche sites are popping up everywhere. A friend of mine recently went on a date with a guy she met on a site for singles who like to exercise, although I’m not sure how attractive I’d feel (or look) after running a half-marathon. Sweat aside, though, the whole online dating process baffled me. Why was it so taboo? After all, people date other people they meet at bars all the time. They can’t possibly have learned about their eye candy’s criminal record while trying to compete with a DJ in the room. And besides, we connect through a myriad of sites online: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Couldn’t you find the same amount of creeps there as well? I was curious and so I decided to dive face-first into the digital dating pool. I just hoped that curiosity wouldn’t kill this cat.  

Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t go completely balls to the wall with this project. I set myself up with some standard rules: 1) Don’t speak to guys who don’t have a profile picture 2) Don’t accept rides from potential dates and 3) Absolutely no hooking up on the first date. No hooking up on any date, actually. I also gave myself a nom de plume: Riley Walsh. It might sound silly, and yes, it may have been a little awkward to admit that it wasn’t my real name, but I didn’t want to risk being Googled and stalked. To keep life simple, I stuck to three sites: OkCupid, a generic dating site; DateMySchool, a niche site for college students; and Grouper, which set you and two friends up on a blind date with another group of three. 

After I signed up for each of these sites, filling out personality profiles and questionnaires, I gave it a day or two before I checked back, relieved to find over 10 messages in my inbox on OkCupid and seven profile views on Date My School. It would be over a month before I heard back from Grouper. But while the sheer number of responses on these sites was decent, I could count only a handful that I was actually interested in keeping a conversation with. They were either too boring or too forward, sending me what felt like their dating cover letter along with all the reasons they thought we’d be the perfect match. I could tell they didn’t score very much. 

As a modern-day-girl obsessed with old-fashioned social graces, it was hard for me to admit that my take on dating had to change, as online dating is a much more liberal ballpark. I stopped waiting for Prince Charming to message me and instead put myself out there. After all, I had already opened the doors for judgment by creating profiles on not one, but two sites. The one drawback to using these websites without a subscription is that people can see when you’ve viewed their profiles. Personally, I used that to my advantage. To get a guys attention, I just had to click on his picture and scroll through his profile. He’d get the hint that I was interested, at least in his thumbnail. I didn’t have a flawless success rate; every so often my message or profile view was ignored. But when all you know about a guy is what he does for a living and what he likes to jam out to in the car, it’s a little hard to stay hung up on the whole thing. Online dating helped me grow a thicker skin when it came to rejection, as I was able to forget about every incident, except for one. 

He was a 26-year-old law school student at UM and I had proof: he had a debonair picture of himself standing outside Richter. If that didn’t prove it, I didn’t know what did. He was sarcastic and witty enough to grab my attention, plus his grammar was impeccable, which to me is the equivalent of chiseled abs. By the way our messages were going, I thought we were hitting it off. We exchanged our favorite colors and what songs we liked to belt out to in the car (Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” if you’re wondering). Silly topics, but in retrospect it’s the silly things that people included in their profiles that told me more about them than what they wanted to do for a living. But when I couldn’t provide the law student with a sufficient answer on where to get in trouble on campus in college, he bid me farewell. I had been virtually dumped. 

I won’t lie and say I wasn’t bothered; a guy I hadn’t even met rejected me! But with a magazine deadline coming up and little time to sulk about my loss, I found myself a rebound (or two). One was a grad student at FIU and the other owned a self-operating vending machine business while also attending college at Miami-Dade. They were polar opposites; the grad student couldn’t stop studying and the other couldn’t stop cracking jokes. I had the best of both worlds: a man who could focus and a man who could make me laugh. Now all I had to do was meet them. I gave them both my number and before I knew it, I had scored a date with the funny guy. The grad school student on the other hand, turned out to be a loose cannon. He came off as a sweet guy at first, but he couldn’t handle my greatest weakness: sloth-like texting skills. When I didn’t answer him for a couple of hours one day, he accused me of being difficult and asked if this was even worth it. Well, for a guy who I’d never met to be scolding me via text, I had his answer. The grad student was soon out of the picture. So the funny guy and I went out one night for drinks and a trip to the Miami Improv. The date started off great. He was making me laugh so much my cheeks hurt, but as the night progressed I found his one flaw: he was cheap. Now I understand the plight of the poor college student, but when you invite a girl out and suggest sharing a drink instead of buying her one, especially when you mention you have your own business, there is something seriously wrong. I got my payback at the end of the night, though. When he leaned in for the kiss, I went frugal too. 

So my first online date was a flop, but I wasn’t worried. After all, I had a Grouper date scheduled for that Thursday night, and I had two friends to be excited about it with. Grouper requires a $20 deposit in order to use its services, scans your Facebook info and asks that you fill out a few simple questions: are you looking for a hookup or your true love? Are dive bars your thing or would you prefer table service? Based on the information from both they pair you with another group of people, whatever your sexual preference may be, and set you up on a date at a swanky spot in town. Your first drink is on them. The only thing that could go wrong is a cancellation. And as Murphy’s Law will have it, that’s exactly what happened. We were a little disheartened, but a week later we were back on the saddle, sipping cocktails and talking EDM and baseball with a group of cute guys who had just moved to Miami. It was a cool new way to meet people, and going with friends took the edge off of it. The group dating trend seems to be taking off in Miami though, as we found the sextet sitting to our right were also on a Grouper date, although they didn’t look like they were having half as much fun. Like all blind dates, it’s either a big hit or an even bigger miss. 

About a month into my dating project, I had grown bored. Although I was having fun talking to different people and going on dates, the superficiality of the process was getting to me. There are only so many times you can have the whole “where are you from” or “what do you do for a living” conversation before you’re tempted to say you’re a goat trainer from Iceland who carves clogs on the side. I was about to throw in the towel, call the whole online dating thing off early and blacklist it with a dating article, when I received a little message from the aforementioned law school student. He asked if I was alive and I replied that I was still kickin’. He asked me out to dinner and as I was about to decline, he mentioned he would meet me at the Local, a prime dining spot in the Gables. I couldn’t resist - the way to my heart is through my stomach, after all. When I arrived, he’d already ordered an appetizer and round of craft beer. We were already off to a good start. The fact that we both went to UM gave us something to talk about and put us on a more relatable level, and so the conversations flowed and flowed, even as we pulled into Gramps in Wynwood (yes, I broke one of my cardinal online dating rules. I survived). We spent the night dancing to Jackson 5 and Fats Domino, and while his moves did resemble my fathers, I found him to be endearing. I wasn’t in love or anything, but I did realize that the whole online dating thing didn’t have to be about finding your soul mate or a one-night fling. If you were open to it, it could be another great way to try something you’ve never tried before, maybe making a friend along the way. 

After spending over two months on OkCupid, DateMySchool and Grouper, I think I’ve earned the right to have an opinion about online dating. It’s not as bad as your parents tell you it is and it doesn’t merit a look of pity, especially if it comes from your single friends who complain about their current relationship status, or lack of one. It’s just a different way of meeting people, not much different than meeting someone in a dark crowded bar, since the most you might learn about them is their beverage of choice and what their area code is.

But I will admit that I don’t think online dating is necessary in college. You’re surrounded by thousands of people in a three-mile radius every day. If you can’t find at least one person you’d be interested in going on at least one date with, then you should probably stop watching reruns of “How I Met Your Mother” and get out of your dorm, because you haven’t tried hard enough. But on the off chance that you have met all 10,000 students on campus, then I don’t think making yourself a profile is such a bad idea. At the end of the day, it’s not about how you meet someone, but about whom you meet. And it’s no mystery that the brightest of sparks always come from the least likely of places.