Thursday, August 20, 2009

Surprising Results from OkCupid

Some people may call it desperation. Some people may call it being practical. I prefer to call it an experiment.

I did not join okcupid with the hope of meeting the love of my life. In fact, I didn’t even join it to go on dates. To the contrary, I just wanted to know what all the online dating hype was about. In the past several months, I have had several friends highly recommend I try this method of “meeting people” (people being Men), and so I finally acquiesced and set up a profile for myself. I figured the worst that could happen was that either nothing notable would happen or I’d dislike what I saw, and then I’d simply be no further along than when I started.

Setting up the profile was simple—the equivalent of signing up for facebook, really. You upload some photos (although I’ll admit I was a bit more concerned about what I uploaded here—what impression was I trying to give?), write a mini personal ad (i.e. “describe yourself”), answer a few questions about your interests, and then wait for responses. To help the site “match” you with other people, you then answer a series of questions that first asks you your opinion, then asks what you would like your Perfect Match to answer, and then asks you to rate how important that other answer is to you. You wouldn’t think it, but this is a pretty challenging exercise if you try to take it seriously!

I’ve been signed up on the site now for a few weeks. I’ve had a few Inbox conversations (the equivalent of email, only hosted on the site) with a few strangers. I’ve accepted and rejected a few people who have “matched” and “winked at” me. I have not gone on any dates. I have not fallen in love.

What I have discovered, though, is something very surprising—something I did not expect to learn about myself from this experience. I never considered myself someone who had biases toward or against particular types of men. When anyone asks if I have a “type,” my only answers are, “tall please,” and, “just not overly bulky.” However, I’ve always found all different types of guys attractive, and because when I meet and get to know someone, their age/height/ethnicity cease to matter, I simply thought those things never mattered.

As it turns out, when I’m “shopping” for guys—as opposed to learning who they are with time and interaction—I do have unconscious opinions and biases. I never would have realized this but for the fact that as I scrolled through the men on okcupid, I found myself making instant judgments about them based on very few factors…and the judgments I was making surprised me.

The three factors that determined whether or not I would read the rest of someone’s profile were (in no particular order): age, height, and picture. Age: had to be over 22 and under 30. Height: over 5’10”. Picture: …here’s where things got really surprising. I discovered that in spite of my best efforts to be an unbiased, unprejudiced person, when it comes to instant judgments about the attractiveness of certain ethnicities, I still have them.

As a result, white guys have an indisputable advantage. I guess we instinctively feel at ease with (or least threatened by?) what is most similar to ourselves, so I must admit that I was more inclined to find white guys attractive than any other ethnicity. (Although this is not to say there wasn’t a plethora of unpleasant-looking Caucasian gentlemen on the site, either—notably more than there were attractive ones, truth be told.)

My second “preference” is for Eastern Asian men. Not all East-Asian men by any means—there is no such thing as a generalization on this subject—but some Asian men, particularly if they are athletic and tall, can be attractive. Perhaps I am more accustomed to being around Asians because of my most recent group of friends and roommates, and this is why I find them more appealing on the site, but I grew up surrounded by very few Asians, so I am not sure this is necessarily the reason. (Perhaps there is no reason—although my scientific mind is disinclined to accept this answer.)

For whatever reason, I do not find Middle Asian/Middle Eastern men (i.e. Pakistani, Indian, etc.) appealing. I am not sure why, but when their pictures appeared on this site, I immediately passed over them.

I did the same for Hispanic men. Of course, Hispanic men tend to be short, which does not work in their favor even if I were inclined to find their faces attractive in the first place.

And then there are African-American men. I will be the first to say I find Usher one of the hottest men on the planet. However, as I scanned the faces and profiles on this site, I must say that I honestly did not stop at many African-American profiles. And this was not due to feelings of repulsion or any lack of attraction; rather, I have to admit that what I felt was a sense of intimidation. I'm not entirely sure where this comes from--perhaps it is from my experience growing up and the community that surrounded me throughout my years of public school education. However, it's hard for me to believe I could feel intimidated just from looking at photographs. It's not as though all of these guys were posing like thugs.

Ultimately, all I can say from having explored the online dating community is that I learned a heck of a lot more about myself than I ever expected. I'm not sure what I was expecting in the first place, but it certainly wasn't to uncover biases I never believed I had. I still do believe that being open to knowing a person and "shopping" for one are completely different mindsets, and with that in mind, I am still convinced that I would NOT care what race or age or height my imaginary future boyfriend would be. However, if forced to create him from scratch, I guess I would be forced to have a "type" after all. And if forced to pick him from an online lineup, one thing is for sure: he will not have sloppy grammar.


K said...

In my opinion, OkCupid is not one of the better online dating sites because it is free. My theory is that if you are serious about meeting someone, you'll pay for it. (This is also a good indication that they have some money to spare.) My friend Jennie found two tall, attractive, highly educated and interesting men on

Also, you have the EXTREME advantage of being in NYC where there are millions of people. If I tried to do online dating in Pittsburgh, I'd only be able to find the 40-year-old divorced men.

prudemermaid said...

I joined this for a while, out of spite when a certain person broke up with me.

Mostly... I just got annoyed having to sift through SO many messages, and feeling like I had to respond to them all out of politeness. After a while, though, there were certain things that would automatically make me hit "delete."

1.) Someone asking for more pictures or my weight.
2.) If someone asked me out immediately.
3.) Misspellings (oddly enough, I may have spelled that wrong).
4.) Stupid opinions, or stupid books listed as favorites. This one guy had "How to Talk to a Liberal, If you must" or something like that... Nah, not even wasting my time.
5.) Didn't even bother with things that weren't a message. Woo? What the hell is a woo? If they're too cowardly to even start a conversation...

prudemermaid said...

Oddly enough, being told I was gorgeous by a bunch of men who were 10 years older than me and somewhat creepy did not do much for my self esteem...

Though some of the guys seemed really smart, I don't know -- and thoughtful, but most of those types were much older than me.

prudemermaid said...

Oh, and one more thing...

I know what you mean about trying to confront your own racial biases. I get mad, thinking about how a smart, thoughtful, polite African American man might have trouble with a woman just assuming he wants sex -- the "playa" stereotype is too pervasive.