Online dating nightmares

Article @ Save Our Souls, published 1 June 2016

“What is society coming to when someone as hot as you has to be on here? Seriously, you give man boners that could drill through mountains!”

I got this opening message on online dating website OkCupid over a year ago. It was so preposterous I actually felt tempted to reply. Who was this man who dared being so boorish it actually happened to be funny? Unfortunately the other day, a copycat or the same user (I don’t recall who the first author was), sent me the very same thing again. The magic was broken. I shall never believe in wit again.

First messages on online dating sites are infamously known for being artificial, obtrusive and often plain crass. Regardless of the website or app used, there is no one on the online dating scene who has not been propositioned something extraordinary – from a threesome with a couple married for 25 years, to requests from substantially older or younger daters to use you as prop in their wildest sexual fantasies. And then there’s misogyny, casual homophobia, stalkers, unacknowledged racism, and the good old dick pic.

This phenomenon is unquestionably more common in messages sent from straight men to women. Believe me, I asked. Just the other day, as part of the fist date ritual questions, I asked a straight man in his late 20s and on a few dating websites, whether he ever got something outrageous through his inbox. He thought for a little, his beer hanging mid-air, and then, just before going for a sip he said: “No, not really, not that I can remember.” That was that.

In comparison, during a recent interview with veteran online dater, Ruby* told me she once got catfished by a man whose original advances didn’t appeal to her. Confronted with a no the man swiftly created another account, and started chatting her up with the sort of topics he knew from her profile would tickle her interest. This story ends well. The man just happened to be very shy and yet very certain the two would get along outside their computer screens. And indeed it happened to be the case, the two being good friends today and the farce long undone. But it could have ended on the front pages of the Evening Standard. “Online man kills young brunette.” Who knows.

These two cases help explain one of online dating’s biggest predicaments. That while online dating, alongside Sex and the City, has helped make women’s sexual promiscuity nearly as acceptable as men’s (at least as far as the big urban centres are concerned); so too, like in everything else in this damned world, have straight, (more often than not) white men come to online dating and shat their sexist privilege all over the place.

To far too many straight men in the city, messaging on online dating has become the virtual equivalent to shouting scurrilities out of their cars. An assertion of sexual prowess, masculinity, male power. And regardless of whether the women targeted reply to these advances or not, the dating troll perseveres. Because every man who starts a conversation with “nice tits” is not thinking of his success rate on OkCupid, but really rather reminding himself, reassuring himself, that he can still, despite all this women’s rights malarkey, say whatever he damn pleases to a woman. Unfortunately I doubt many of the men who sent me completely inappropriate messages online have an inkling of what is going on in their pea-sized brains. Were it so and maybe something could still be done to rescue them.

Now, unsurprisingly, the question is – what is to be done? Some women have taken to telling these Tinder tragedies off. The internet is full of screen-grabs of courageous sisters explaining to men on online dating websites how and why they have been vile sexist pigs. Others, like myself, have taken the route of exposing them. Cmd + shift + 3, crop out names and profile pictures and bang them on Twitter. It’s more comic relief than feminist rebellion, but it works.

The truth is, while there is sexism in this world there will always be men taking over spaces and trying to ruin everyone’s fun. The fight for less unwarranted dick pics is done on the streets demanding and end to sexual violence and equal pay; is done by smashing the glass ceiling and calling out sexist (or racist, or homophobic) state policies making women’s lives even harder. Online dating dickheads are only the end product of a society in which patronising women is still considered “banter”.

[End redacted – if you wish to read the whole piece please purchase a copy of Save Our Souls #2]

*not her real name