October 10, 2013
Finding Love Online, Nine Years On (He Says)

Is online dating a consumerist experience? After nine years in the game, this guy believes so. It's taught him one lesson: How to juggle dates like a pro.

by Bambang K. Aksa
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I wish I could say that those nine years have led me to the doorstep of my future wife. Instead I’ve found myself rather lost in the crowd of online daters. So for anyone reading this article looking for a shortcut to find love on the web, look elsewhere. For everyone else wanting to know where I stumbled, tripped and fell along my search for a date online, come closer and I let you in on a little secret.

Don’t let technology fool you. Dating sites are good at finding singles but they're so good that sometimes common sense takes a backseat. In fact, the best features of online dating are the worst ones to rely on. Now if that doesn't sound convincing, below is how I figured it out the hard way.

It was in my late twenties, before there was Facebook, that I joined an Australia-based dating site under a pseudo-name. My profile pictures were kept in a so-called backstage mode, meaning they were accessible only by my permission. Online dating back then was a clandestine operation. Few dared to come out on stage and say ‘tadaa’, check me out.
 
Needless to say, not much was happening.

A few years later and after meeting a grand total of two women, I switched to another site. And this time things really took off. The site was so popular, with the number of members reaching in the hundreds, that it was impossible to read through all their profiles.
 


So I tweaked the search filter to focus on the single piece of information that trumps everything else in a profile: The face. This is where online dating shines. Browsing through a list of pictures to select the prettiest faces seems too good to be true. But it works, rather too well.
 
If you were to select a date from among a hundred pictures of people, would you target the ugly ones or even the ordinary ones? I don't think so either. So I ended up messaging
beautiful women who, most of the time, didn't bother to reply. Imagine then the surprise when one of them did reply and the disappointment when that person turned out to be a complete ignoramus. This was bound to happen when judging a book by its cover alone.
 
Unfortunately, glancing over pictures is also the only fastest way to browse through members. And there's another problem to this approach. While good looks go a long way, the road to marriage and beyond is longer still and that lends personality its enduring importance. We all know this.
 
Too bad then that people with interesting personalities often go unnoticed. Wedged between hundreds of other members and without an attractive face to put out, they have a hard time getting visitors to their profiles. Dating sites are trying to give personality a bigger play with gimmicks such as shared hobbies. If they are serious about it though, they should abolish profile pictures altogether. See how many members that’ll get them. Until then, the majority of members will continue to vie for the attention of a few good looking ones with little more than their average face to rely on. After nine years of trying, I can testify that this is as difficult as it sounds.

How I Became a Juggling-Meister
 
The other advantage of online dating is the ability to line up dates fast. Although what this really does is hand you a recipe for disaster on the sly. There was this time when I had two appointments within a few days apart. I thought to myself, heck why not. Over the next few weeks however, I found myself messaging back and forth with two women, both of whom seemed genuinely interested in me.
 
I can see your head shaking in disapproval. It took a great deal of discipline to slowly ignore their messages, ease them away and extricate myself from a potentially messy affair. The risk of multiple dating, if one could call it as such, becomes lost amid the more palpable concern of not finding a date at all.

Online dating sites don't tell you how to use their features responsibly. You’ll have to bring your own judgment for that. This brings us to the biggest appeal of online dating, which incidentally is also its biggest weakness. Dating sites are places where singles go to and where everyone is just a mouse click away from each other.
 
What's the problem here? Precisely because of the availability of choices and the ease with which to contact everyone, online dating doesn't encourage the level of seriousness required to work on a relationship. Why waste time and energy on a person when a better one may be just around the corner? Valid as this question may sound, it belies the demand for instant gratification that makes online dating more of a consumerist experience. It's sad.

The above examples show that some of online dating best features can detract people from being responsible and judicious about their search for a date. It's not easy to realize this at the beginning, and more so for those with little experience in love and all its intricacies.

So with that out of the way, what tricks have I learned during my nine years? I wonder that myself. For now, it seems that no wife, no tips, sorry. To be sure, I have only myself to blame for staying single this long, the reasons for which I won't explain here. What I can say though is that over the years I've met many women some of whom I feel honored to be friends with.

Eventually, that’s what online dating sites do best, helping us meet new people from the opposite sex. Now, to those of you unsure about online dating for fear of falling prey to the above-mentioned technological traps, I say fear not. Those traps I have clearly marked out, didn't I? What's left then is to take the first step. You'll meet plenty of lonely people out there whose greatest joy is in finding one another.
 
So once you sign up, upload a picture and pen down a catchy profile then maybe, just maybe, you'll find me one day standing at your doorstep—along with five other dudes.
 
About Bambang K. Aksa
Bambang is a Jakarta-based reporter who has been writing about Indonesia for more than a decade. Considered to be every editor's nightmare, he harbors evil ambitions to become a famous writer. Fortunately, he's big on procrastination, small on talent and long overdue on getting married.