Computer Love

In which The Author makes some imaginary friends

I decided recently to grasp the nettle and sign up for a couple of dating sites. Before it came out (one of the few perks of the trade), I read a great book by a chap named Paul Reizin entitled Date Expectations. It’s his account of his adventures (and misadventures) in the strange world of online dating. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s a cautionary tale for the unwary singleton.
I’ve seen the adverts, of course, for the likes of eHarmony, match.com, and scores of similar sites. They’ve all got onto the bandwagon which seems to have started with Dateline. This was a long-established UK company which used to advertise regularly, particularly in Private Eye for some odd reason. Computer dating itself has been around for a long time. There was a sketch in Round the Horne, dating from the mid-60s, in which Kenneth Horne decides to try his luck with a company run by none other than Julian and Sandy. (His ideal match turned out to be Edwin Braden, the show’s regular musical director.) When the Internet came along, it was possible to combine the original spirit of mechanised matchmaking with the networked society.
In theory, it seems like a decent enough idea. After all, at least one married couple I know met online, and they’re perfectly happy together, with two young boys. I’ve got a couple of female friends who are signed up to Plenty of Fish. They seem to get plenty of interest – if not exactly action – from guys wanting a bit of no-strings fun. Mind you, I already knew that there about were twenty guys (at least!) signed up for every woman member.
I did sign up for a site a number of years ago, when I first got online. I recounted the story of my one and only ‘hit’ in From Russia With Love. I also found where one could meet Japanese women. I’ve always been fascinated with the country, and have spent several flirtatious interludes with Japanese students over the years. I thought I might be able to combine my interest in the language and culture with my TESOL Certificate, and maybe get the odd shag as well. (How’s this for a coincidence? Out of the blue on Tuesday evening, I received very lovely smiles from three young Japanese girls when I was on the way home. I’ll have to give them some of my Proofreading business cards if I see them again.)
I also had to bear in mind that the likes of match.com or POF might not necessarily target the right audience. After all, the sort of woman I’m interested in can’t usually be found looking for a partner over the counter at Iceland (at least openly.)
[A digression: Having said that, twenty-odd years ago I spent the day in Bristol. My friend Anna E. had been nagging me for ages that she wanted a whip to hang on her bedroom wall. There was a stall in St Nicholas Market which I knew would cater for her needs. It sold T-shirts, badges, jacket patches, ornaments, jewellery, smoking paraphernalia, and bondage gear, for this was the time of the Second (or Third) Punk Revival. Anna’s birthday was a few weeks away, so I bought a whip and put it in my bag. After stocking up on hard-to-get records (see Snap, Crackle and Pop) and books, I made my way back towards the bus station. I decided to buy a copy of the evening paper to read on the way home, and called into a small convenience store not far from the Colston Hall. There was a rather attractive dark-haired girl, a few years younger than me, behind the counter. I went to pay for my paper and some odds and ends, and noticed that she was wearing a badge on her t-shirt. It said:
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but whips and chains excite me
For a moment I was very tempted to show her the results of my shopping trip and strike up a conversation. I let the moment pass. It would have been a bit of a trek to meet up for coffee once in a while.]
Anyway, thus forewarned, I signed up for Plenty of Fish about two months or so ago. So far, I’ve had one tongue-in-cheek response to my profile. It came from someone in Canada, asking which of the two individuals in my profile picture (me, or the Dalek) was me. Judging from my latest login, there are apparently plenty of attractive single women within 25 miles of Aberdare with at least one interest in common with me.
Needless to say, all these sites are ‘free to join’, but that’s as far as you get. You can ‘wink’ at someone, but without forking out for the subscription, it’s strictly one-way traffic beyond that point. If you see someone you like the look of, the ‘free membership’ ends abruptly.
If you want to read your ‘private messages’, or check out another member’s profile, you’ll need your credit card details to continue. Similarly, if you want to do ‘live chat’ over IRC, the price goes up again. Video chat is top-whack, of course. Most of these sites seem to charge £20 or so a month (at least.) It may be cheaper than going to a dodgy ‘singles night’ in a bar in Merthyr every week, but at least there you’ll get to hear their voices in real time.
Yesterday’s experience was interesting, though. I signed up for a ‘specialist’ site which popped up on a Facebook sidebar ad. If I was going to meet a genuinely kinky girl, rather than a naïve Valleys bint who thinks 50 Shades of Grey is an explicit memoir, that seemed more promising.
To my surprise, within minutes of creating my profile, I was getting ‘winks’ and ‘private messages’ flying in from all directions: the West Coast of Scotland, the Midlands, London, Manchester, Cornwall… Of course, I couldn’t access any of the messages without ‘upgrading’ my membership, so they were pissing into the wind. However, I could ‘browse’ members living in my area. I typed in a lower and upper age limit, and selected a suitable radius for the search zone.
Unbelievably, there seemed to be literally dozens of submissive women positively gagging (pun intended) for an older man with a good spanking arm. Some of them looked rather tasty, in fact, so I decided to ‘wink’ at a couple of them before setting up the more detailed part of my profile. Immediately, I pointed out that I had no intention of paying to use the site. (I’ve never paid for sex, and I don’t want to pay for just the possibility of sex.)
I also said that I wasn’t interested in meeting couples, or being someone’s bit on the side. I want a relationship, remember (as I outlined in Fool’s Mate) and just not a quick grope with no further development. When it comes to sex, I don’t do ‘no strings attached.’ In my case, it’s chains attached all the way.
Then the site started generating ‘suggested matches’ based on the criteria I’d entered on the questionnaire: mutual likes, dlslikes, interests, kinks, and so forth. The first one was a complete non-starter – a grotesque fifty-something creature with her knickers around her knees. If she’d come into the pub, I think most people would have run a mile. The site asked if I was ‘interested in meeting her.’ My answer was a most emphatic no! – which the site somehow interpreted as a ‘yes.’ I somehow managed to alter the setting before moving on.
The next dozen or weren’t anything to write home about either. Their profile photos looked as though they’d been taken during a rugby weekend, when their husbands were away, and they’d got pissed with their pals and started taking embarrassing pictures of each other.
I started wondering what had happened to all the hot young brunettes living within a five-mile radius. When I got the last ‘wink’, supposedly from a 27-year girl in Noel Park, London, with an exotic-sounding name, I decided to have a sneaky look at her brief profile. To my surprise, it had been ‘deactivated.’
I’d had similar experiences when I was still using MySpace back in the day. I used to get friend requests from impossibly stunning women in the USA, who were all into hip-hop music, nightclubs, going to the gym, and hitting the beach. After I compared a few of them, and found that the words on each profile were identical, I realised that they were spambots targetting naïve users of the system. After a little while, I deleted my account entirely and moved over to Facebook.
The notification from the ‘woman’ in Noel Park had come through barely two minutes earlier; it had been deactivated in pretty short order, in that case. Immediately I realised that the ‘women’ who’d been winking at me and messaging me weren’t women at all. They were simply bogus profiles designed to lure men like me into parting with their cash. (Actually, they weren’t targetting men like me – because I’m smart enough to have seen through the scam. Why on Earth would I be interested in cyberdating with a woman from the Western Isles, or a weird suburb of North London which I had to look up on Wikipedia?)
I also realised that the photographs I’d been browsing through have probably been gleaned from Facebook, Flickr, or Photobucket, and assigned to fictitious identities generated by the host computer. After all, Aberdare’s a small town. If there were that many kinky women living locally and up for fun, we’d surely have crossed paths before now.
I deactivated my own profile a few minutes later. When I got to the point where the site asked ‘Tell us why you’re leaving’, I typed in, ‘Because I don’t believe any of these people are real.’
I deactivated my profile on a similar site a few minutes later, which had come up with even more unlikely suspects on my first ‘browse.’ Just out of interest, I had a quick look at POF earlier today. It hasn’t suggested any matches for me at all.
Finally, Fetlife, which someone described as ‘a kinky version of Facebook’, claims to have ‘hundreds of members’ within our county borough. It seems to bear out my assertion that there are at least a dozen guys for every woman. I’m one of them. I haven’t had a single wink or a single message from a woman on the site since I joined it back in the autumn. If anything, at least I suppose it proves that they’re real people.
REIZIN, P. (2006) Date Expectations: one man’s voyage through the lonely hearts. (London: Bantam.)
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