It was my first New Year’s Eve without an obligatory partner. Not that my ex and I ever did anything on New Year’s Eve in our 18 years together. Which was probably why people stopped inviting us.
Yet this year, someone had been kind enough to include the newly-single me among their invitees – albeit to a party that was 35 miles away on the diagonally opposite side of town. It was too far to Uber and there was no guarantee of a ride home, which meant I had to drive, which meant I couldn’t drink. But I was determined to start my new year off right. Who knew? Maybe there’d even be a hot man who’d make it worth the trek.
Amazingly, there was. Unfortunately, he was 10 years my junior and married to the hostess. The other guests were all gorgeous, 30-something single women, desperate to find just one decent Christian male who could hold his own in a conversation. One of them had even ditched her Evangelical roots as part of her quest, and was spending Sunday mornings attending Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Unitarian services in the hope of finding someone a little more intellectual and a little less complementarian. Another had been on e-Harmony for a whole year and had netted one solitary date with a recovering alcoholic who’d never had a job. And she was thinking of calling him again! Personally, I’d be calling e-Harmony demanding my money back, but each to her own.
I didn’t make it to midnight, but I did make some resolutions.
The market was weak.
The competition was strong.
Differentiation was key.
Firstly, despite my own Evangelical roots, I was no longer on the hunt for a Christian man. This significantly broadened the playing field and meant I could spend my Sunday mornings doing yoga. Secondly, my biological clock had already tocked, which made the whole thing a lot less frenetic. Thirdly, there was no way I was ready for a serious relationship. Hell, I just needed to get out. Fourthly, I had a cute accent. Admittedly it was somewhat Americanized, but I could work on that (mostly by banishing words like “cute” from my vocabulary). My pièce de résistance, however, was that while I hadn’t dated since the days of AOL dial-up, my clients had. And from them, I had learned a lot.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that all dating sites are not the same. Broadly, if you want to get married, get e-Harmony. If you’re fresh off a messy divorce, haven’t done any therapy and need another relationship right now, you need Match. If you want a hook-up, hook up with Tinder. (And when anyone who’s on Tinder tries to tell you that it’s no longer considered a hook-up site, consider the source). There are a bunch of others, of course, but here’s the secret: 90% of them are owned by Match, featuring the exact same technology with just a different paint job. And not only that, but those sneaky people at Match are also behind 90% of the articles and blog posts about the top dating sites to try, all of which feature, you’ve guessed it, Match-owned sites. All in all, given that most people sign up to more than one site, it’s quite an impressive business model. Or a racket, depending on which way you look at it. (For the record, I am not on the Match payroll. Well not yet, anyway. We’ll see how this blog goes).
But I digress.
My more sobering learning was that despite the amount of cash laid down for the privilege of having a profile on one or more of these Match-owned sites, the majority of them languished, attracting grammatically incorrect (and sometimes crude) messages from sad, lonely people seeking partners way out of their league. Occasionally a disappointing date would result – usually with someone 10 years older than their pictures suggested, the only redeeming factor of which was a dinner-party story for the price of a coffee.
But my most exciting learning was that a site named OKCupid seemed to buck this trend. While I was really bummed to discover that it’s apparently owned by Match too, the good news is that it wasn’t always, and the engine behind it is really pretty unique. And serendipitously, my first OKCupid date was with a techie who told me all about its brilliant algorithms (sexy stuff over a gin and tonic, believe me). Unfortunately the algorithms don’t account for user error, and it was a while until I figured out that I was swiping the wrong way, inadvertently “liking” the shirtless hairy bikers with the dead fish, while “passing” on the dreamboats. Once I got the hang of it, however, his information was gold-dust.
And thus began my new year.