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Okay, Cupid: My Experimental Life as an Online Dater

When I took on four of the roughly 30 million profiles on OkCupid, a popular, free dating website, I didn’t expect people to reply with such immediacy.

Words by Kelly Powell | Photos by Jana Life | Illustrations by Gina Leone

“Love that beautiful smile

id adore you if I had the chance.”

This message made it’s way into my OkCupid inbox just 10 minutes after creating a profile. Within the next week, I had 267 views, 372 “likes” and 43 messages. And that was only on one of my four profiles.

Don’t panic. I won’t be on the next episode of “Catfish.” I don’t recreationally online date between classes or on the weekends. The original purpose of these multiple personalities was to experiment with the age-old stereotypes that engulf our society. However, taking things into the digital age proved to perpetuate them further than I ever intended.

The idea was simple: I would rummage through my own closet, buy some clothes at Goodwill that fit the archetypes, get a friend to take some pictures of me on and around campus, and finally, set up a few profiles on a free dating site. I would bulk the pages up with some biographies, and then sit back and wait to see if anyone would send me a message.

 
Gabby Olson

Age: 21
San Francisco, California

Views: 471
Likes: 582
Messages: 63

Hi, I’m Gabby! I’m a junior exercise performance major at Pepperdine
University. I love running, spending time with my friends, and being a
member of my service sorority* 🙂

What I’m doing with my life
I hope to be a personal trainer one day, but for now, I just study it! I’m minoring in integrated health, which will give me the credentials to teach health in a high school!

I’m really good at
I’ve been running cross-country and track since I was in middle school, so I’d probably say that’s one of my biggest strengths.

Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food

Books: Hunger Games series
Movies: Forrest Gump, Remember the Titans
Shows: The Voice, Grey’s Anatomy
Music: Maroon 5, Fifth Harmony
Food: I try to eat healthy, but I can always binge on
Ben & Jerry’s every once and a while!

*EDITOR’S NOTE: Names of sororities have been removed.

“Wow ok you are honestly the prettiest girl I have seen by far gabby . oh I’m 23 by the way don’t know why it says 26 haha”

I jumped away from my screen a bit. I hadn’t even been Gabby Olson for a minute, and already, guys were using emojis usually reserved for messaging about “chilling” and changing their ages for me.

The character he was referring to was a girl who, according to her bio, lived in San Francisco, put running over everything else and studied exercise performance. She sported a side ponytail, a tank top with “HIKE” screened onto it, athletic shorts and running sneakers. All it took was putting on the clothes I wear to my one-credit-hour Zumba class and whipping up a fake past about my glory days in cross country, and a full inbox was born. Overnight, on Gabby’s profile alone, I received 91 views, 163 “likes” and 15 long-winded messages from guys claiming to adore running, wanting to know how my weekend was going and asking me, without any introduction, to spend time with them.

“You’re awesome! Let’s get coffee and go listen to vinyls? I love my vinyl player more than my ps4, and you have to understand I love my ps4,” an OkCupid user wrote.

I decided to take a hands-off approach and let their responses to my minor information do the talking. After logging out as Gabby, I crafted three other Gmail accounts to accompany the three additional profiles I was experimenting with.

 
Jacqueline Davis

Age: 19
Columbus, Ohio

Views: 409
Likes: 520
Messages: 62

Hi, I’m Jacqueline! There’s nowhere else I’d rather be than in a coffee shop or a record store 🙂 Currently studying graphic design at the Ohio State University. Looking for someone who will adventure, take pictures, and bike with me!

What I’m doing with my life
I’m in my junior year of college, so my life right now is basically just studying, working later hours in the studio, and when I can, spending time with my friends, normally going downtown and spending time at Kafe Kerouak!

I’m really good at
I’d like to think I’m really good at identifying music from the very beginning of a track, and I kinda like to brag about my Instagram sometimes.

Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food

Books: Perks of Being a Wallflower, No One Belongs Here More Than You
Movies: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, anything by Wes Anderson
TV Shows: Portlandia, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Music: The Decembrists, Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire
Food: Sandwiches

Profile number two was “jacdavis94,” an ultra-hipster, coffee-guzzling, Fleet Foxes-listening aficionado. Just as with Gabby, the men who messaged Jacqueline completely conformed to her interests. “Hi Jacqueline! I’m sooper into photography and I tend to brag about my Instagram too, haha. You seem like a cool and funny gal. Maybe we can compare shots over coffee sometime? :)” a 21-year-old Columbus resident asked.

 
Briana McDowell

Age: 21
Maumee, Ohio

Views: 114
Likes: 197
Messages: 25

Good vibes and nature are all that matters to me; “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” —Buddha

What I’m doing with my life
I took two gap years to decide what path I wanted to take. I’m currently doing a lot of philanthropic work with Greenpeace and just living life!

I’m really good at
I think I’m really good at accepting people for who they are. Your inner spirit is what is most important and I believe that I can see that in people 🙂

Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food
Books: Brave New World, Walden
Movies: Yellow Submarine, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Shows: That ‘70s Show, Cosmos
Music: The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix
Food: Subs, Arizona tea

“Wanna help me center my chi?”

It made me start to wonder what the men of OkCupid would write to my third character, Briana McDowell. Pulling off this one was simple. I bought a quasi-drug rug at Goodwill, rolled my blue-stained jeans up, took my shoes off and donned a beanie. All it took was my attempt at a meditation pose by a tree and a quote by Buddha to establish my reputation on OkCupid as an activist/hippy/nature lover. Apparently that particular population is low on this site. Briana accumulated the least messages whenever I would log in to get a count. Compared to the other girls who were just as much “me” as she was, she would average about 1/3 of every number they would receive.

 
Katie Thomas

Age: 21
Kent, Ohio

Views: 541
Likes: 674
Messages: 71

Hey, I’m Katie! I study fashion merchandising at Kent State University, and I’m really involved with my sorority. Trying to soak up every last minute of my time here!

What I’m doing with my life
I work heavily with our sorority’s philanthropy, the Painted Turtle camp, and I’m looking to work for a fashion magazine in the near future!

I’m really good at
I would say that I’m really good at organizing events. My sorority recently
appointed me to the events coordinator position, which is a huge blessing!

Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food
Books: The Fault in Our Stars
Movies: Titanic, The Notebook
Shows: One Tree Hill, Pretty Little Liars
Music: Taylor Swift, The Weeknd
Food: Chipotle, Munchies

“Listen, I know these pictures can’t be yours. Can you at least get me the models name so I can try to convince her to dinner?”

And then there was Katie—my attempt at the profile of a slightly preppy, fittingly philanthropic sorority girl. I did a quick outfit change into a Kent State T-shirt, my black skirt and some bright pink lipstick. Even with the lipstick, my appearance didn’t transform that much compared to the other profiles. Yet without fail, it was Katie’s profile that got exceedingly more attention than the rest of them.

“It scared me how quick these men were. It scared me how quick OkCupid was.”

“So I was on the phone just now while I was driving and a cop came and pulled me over. When he asked me what I was doing on my phone while driving I showed him your profile. He smiled and told me that he’s giving me a warning and that I better get your number ;),” one OkCupid user wrote.

It was as if by typing in eight letters, s-o-r-o-r-i-t-y, I was being pursued by more men than I would’ve been if I would’ve left that out.

At this point, I started to question what attracted so many people to these 21-year-old, Ohio-residing (with the exception of Gabby), monogamous-relationship-seeking individuals. It was the same person, but these men had no way of knowing that. I began to wonder what their thought process was when deciding to hit “send.” Their messages on every profile ranged from friendly to more than friendly. But what did I expect from someone whose username mentioned his love for the ladies?

I know this experiment was meant to analyze stereotypes, but instead, it brought about a different “S” word: scare. It scared me how quick these men were. It scared me how quick OkCupid was. It scared me how quick I was to come up with these characters’ interests, general information and “type.” What’s stopping anyone else from doing the exact same thing? And the most astounding thing? Even when I didn’t reply to these men, they wouldn’t cease to double-message me, sometimes with days in between.

When, “besides your looks, what are your three best qualities?” didn’t work, one user followed it up with another attempt. “Hey! How about a run!” he asked. Had these people become invested in me? Or maybe they were contacting me again as I was part of their own experiment? I wondered for a minute if I wasn’t the only one who was conducting some test of humanity by creating profiles that didn’t reflect who I truly was.

My expectations of this activity were entirely shattered—what I thought would result in a discrimination of at least one stereotype ended up being what some people would view as a total flattery fest. Not one user was rude to me. Every one of them essentially perpetuated the main reputation a free online dating site could gain: young men and women who just want someone to connect with. Whether that is as a friend, friend with benefits, or a significant other is up to them, but it simply boils down to humanity’s cry for acceptance.

“Someone would fall for her, too.”

You know, I thought about making another account. I thought about dressing up as a medieval-loving, purple-lipstick wearing, League-of-Legends-playing woman wizard. I would write excessively about my love for the “Eragon” series, fortune telling and “Once Upon a Time.” Maybe this person would bring me the dirt I was expecting—men judging this girl differently, giving me shocking responses and displaying to me the true, face-value nature of humanity. Maybe this person would confirm what I thought would happen with all of the other personalities that I created. Minus Briana, every girl got a considerable amount of attention, maybe because of their supposed normalcy. Maybe this girl could add some shock value to my online dating saga, which, so far, had been kind of stagnant.

However, I decided against it. Because someone would fall for her too. Someone would find her before she even finished filling out the pre-quiz after sign up. Someone would send her emojis and one-liners and corny compliments. Just like athletic Gabby, hipster Jacqueline, hippy Briana and preppy Katie, medieval Claudia would find her place.

“How’s your sunny Monday going? :)” Pretty good, OkCupid triple-messenger. What about yourself?”

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