By Naomi Roper
So this is a bit more of a personal piece than will generally be featured on The Geek Goddesses but I feel that writing it will be cathartic and I’m rather hoping that someone, some day will find it useful.
Earlier this year I had what would have been described in olden times as an “attack of the vapours”. Basically I just went down a rabbit hole where I became very depressed. Getting through the days was like wading through treacle and I became convinced that my life desperately needed to change, that I wasn’t where I wanted to be in life, that I needed a new career and that essentially I was an unsophisticated, troll looking thing and that life was terrible. This was of course complete nonsense. I have a good job that I worked very hard to get, own my own home, am well travelled and have lots of lovely friends but it was a struggle getting myself to understand that. In the olden days I would have been sent away to a nice seaside town to convalesce with a ton of heroin which to be honest sounds quite fun but in modern times I just had to drag myself out of it with a ton of will power, a total lack of assistance from the world’s worst therapist and the help of a couple of amazing friends one of whom went above and beyond when I was spiralling crazily and deciding that I was going to jack it all in and go to acting school and conquer Hollywood (as you do).
During this time as part of my desire to change things up a bit I started on-line dating. I thought I would join up, start talking to people straight away and have dates lined up in a week. I know I can hear you all laughing hysterically as I type. The reality was wildly different and because I wasn’t really prepared I found the whole thing deeply confidence shattering. The lack of responsiveness, ghosting etc that is so prevalent on all these apps wasn’t something I had really read about or anticipated and so it all seemed deeply personal when it happened to me. So having gone through this misery I thought it would be helpful to share my thoughts on on-line dating and the various websites I used in the hope that it might help someone else in the future. Because when I was looking for articles on on-line dating and reviews of the various sites I found it extremely difficult to find any that wasn’t a 20 year old writing for a glossy mag or a review site which seemed to have been paid by the dating site/app to review them. So here’s my thoughts on the main sites/apps out there. For each of them I’ve set out the length of time I used each app and what it cost me. I was mostly looking for men but on a couple of the sites (Hinge, Plenty of Fish) indicated I was happy to meet anyone. Most interactions were with men which is why they get the lions share of the mentions
Length of Use – 3 months
Cost: Paid – £64 for a 3 month membership
This was my initial port of call and seemed like a no brainer. I like the Guardian and Soulmates tends to feature left leaning, media types which is the sort of thing I’m looking for. The website requires you to fill in quite a detailed profile which was helpful as it meant you could glean a lot about a person from reading their profile which is by no means a given on any other site. But there are issues. Firstly it’s pretty dead, over the course of a 3 month membership the number of profile views I had was pretty low, easily under 100. It wasn’t unusual for people you’d considered before to crop up time and again as a suggested match, it’s clear the pool of active users was limited. The men were incredibly unresponsive and those I did strike up a conversation with were pretty flakey. There was the guy who messaged constantly all throughout his holiday and then ghosted the second he got back. The guy who responded on a 2 week turnaround period who after he finally agreed to a date then ghosted me. And the charmer who got very excitable, messaged me non stop, couldn’t wait to meet me, cancelled me at 24 hours notice for a “sports day” and then ghosted. Not one to recommend as a starting point given it’s quite pricey and the number of active users seemed limited.
Length of Use: Opened occasionally when I need a confidence boost.
Rating: As a confidence booster or if you want to hook up 9/10. As an actual user friendly dating website 1/10
Ah Tinder the world’s biggest thirst trap. I’m not denying that opening Tinder is a great confidence booster. Open the app, sit back and watch yourself get more likes in 5 minutes than other websites serve up in 3 months. It’s great. And if you want to use it for its intended purpose (which is to hook up) it’s very useful. The people on there are all rather attractive and diverse (and probably completely fake obviously it’s Tinder) and it’s free to use which is helpful. You swipe right on who you like and if you’re lucky they’ll swipe right on you too and romance (or at least an entertaining evening) will blossom. My very loved up, happily married friends met on a Tinder date so it’s not all catfishing and hooking up. To use Tinder you have to be very committed though to swiping through hundreds of profiles and swiping right on a large number of them. Which to be honest gets dispiriting after a while especially as the profiles are usually completely blank so you are basing everything purely on a photo which may or may not have been stolen from someone else on the internet. Unfortunately you can’t go through and see who has swiped as liking you unless you pay. Tinder had a horrendously agist pricing policy which I believe they’ve had to can after a court ruling where you paid substantially more if you were over the age of 28. Currently you can now pay for Tinder Plus where for £79.99 for 12 months (the most cost effective option) you can see who liked you and control age, distance etc. If you like Tinder as a concept then perhaps paying that would be worth it to you. Certainly Tinder is hopeless as a proper dating app without these features. However if you are at the point in your life where you are considering paying for Tinder that is the point at which you need to turn your phone off and go and do literally anything else instead. Use it for free as god intended.
Length of Use: 3 months
Cost: £26.99 per month for a 3 month membership
Match.com is the “all you can eat” buffet of dating apps. It favours quantity over quality with an enviable number of users. You are served up a variety of matches every day and have to decide who you like and message accordingly. Irritatingly you can’t browse anonymously without paying more money (and it’s not a particularly cheap site) which means every time you turn on the app you are inundated with messages. That’s something I’d expect from a free site but not one you have to pay for. People tended to skew a little older on here (the majority of messages were from people in their 50’s and 60’s despite my profile stating a cut off of 45) and there’s a vast number of people to wade through and there are limited filters for age, distance etc. There’s just so many people on it it’s a touch overwhelming. Trying to pick out the gems isn’t an easy task. Match do events where you can meet up with others and do an activity but with the exception of one free speed dating style event (which gets booked up very quickly) most were relatively pricey.
Length of Use – 48 hours
So basically I joined this in a fit of extreme masochism. The idea is you submit a picture and only the most attractive get in. The existing members vote for you with a choice of “beautiful, Hmmm OK, No and Absolutely Not”. Then you get to watch others judge you in real time. Yes I know, why in god’s name would you put yourself through that I hear you. What can I say I was in a weird place. I got in (although everyone who clicked the “Absolutely Not” button can go fuck themselves). However when I got in I found that I could do very little without paying and it would be fair to say that the gentlemen contacting me were less Tom Hiddleston more the creepy guy from the Black Mirror episode USS Callister. Basically if you ever feel like being judged by a group of creepy incels this is the site for you. Otherwise avoid.
Length of Use – 3 months
You know the bit in Event Horizon where they flash to whatever is going on in the hell dimension? Where they hired a bunch of porn actors and amputees to go wild and most of it ended up on the cutting room floor? That’s what opening your inbox on Plenty of Fish is like. It’s the wild west here people. It’s free, so anyone can join and contact you which means it’s dick pic central. You need a strong, strong stomach to open that inbox. So why have I given it such a high grade? Well this was the one site that actually resulted in proper conversations and several dates. Couple of girls and three guys. I think people want to on-line date they just don’t necessarily want to pay for it. I found that on here people acted more like they do in reality and it was quite easy to speak to people. The site/app itself is easy to navigate and has on-line messaging software and despite being free you aren’t limited in the number of messages you send. I’ve heard OK Cupid (which is also free) is a step up on Plenty of Fish and is something I might consider for next year.
Length of Use: 1 month
Bumble bills itself as feminist Tinder. The idea is like Tinder you swipe on who you like and vice versa but the men can’t contact you. The women have to make the first move. The idea is to take the stigma out of messaging for the women and protect them from unwanted messages and empower them in the dating arena. Sounds great in theory but in practice I didn’t quite get the “girl power” vibe they were no doubt hoping for. See on any other site the decision as to whether or not to respond to a message is an equal thing. You’ll send messages that might not get a response, you’ll receive messages that you don’t feel the need to respond to, but it’s an egalitarian thing. On Bumble the power to respond is placed solely in the hands of the men. The women get to do all the hard work with the messaging and the guys get to sift through and decide who they deign to respond too. I hated it. I hated the vibe of it so much. There was something genuinely awful about watching your connections vanish in real time (if you match and message someone and they don’t respond in 24 hours then they vanish from your match list). Men can also unmatch you. The whole thing was utterly demoralising. Of all the apps on here Bumble was the only one that made me feel sad using it. It’s the equivalent of women screaming endlessly at men “talk to me, talk to me” while the guys choose who they can be bothered to respond to. Awful.
Length of Use: 1 month
Rating 4/10 (tricky to use but has potential)
This is a new one that I haven’t played with that much. It seems to be aimed at the Tinder crowd but encourages more detail so for dating rather than hooking up. I didn’t find it hugely user friendly and couldn’t quite work out how to find out who had liked me. There didn’t seem to be an easy way without paying. It also skews very young. But it seemed like one to re-visit. It’s easy to search for men and women on here and the profiles I saw looked decent.
Length of Use: 4 months
Cost: £190 (this is for a 24 month membership)
Eharmony boasts that it has a huge number of users and that it matches them using its “scientific” formula. You fill in a compatibility test and it then serves you up 12 matches a day. These are the people that you are supposedly compatible with. Unfortunately I’ve found the experience deeply underwhelming so far.
Firstly the vast majority of the men on here (you can only search for the opposite sex) have profiles which contain no more info than your average Tinder profile. Obviously Eharmony can’t control what its members do with their profiles but don’t assume that just because you pay you get a better class of match because you don’t. All the profiles rather blur into one after a while – everyone on here likes running, sport and keeping fit and loves their family and friends. That’s nice. But there’s rarely much to catch your eye in terms of profile details.
Eharmony provides “ice breakers” – suggested messages to send to people. Again nice idea to help people who might be shy about making the first move but they’re all the sort of questions you might get in a job interview or on some sort of godawful team building exercise – “Who are you most grateful for right now?”, “Who is most likely to know all of your secrets?” Jesus mate just say hi FFS. I’ve also found the members to be quite block happy. If you match with someone and don’t want to see their profile anymore in your matches or if you don’t want to communicate with a match anymore you can choose to block them. It shows up in your profile as “so and so has moved on” But what it means is blocked. Which is a weirdly aggressive option to have. Just before Christmas I was half heartedly exchanging pleasantries with someone I had initially contacted 3 months before and who hadn’t responded. I then got a message on Christmas Day that they’d blocked me (emailed as a notification – thanks guys merry fucking Christmas to you too!) The last thing I said to him was “Happy Christmas”. Blocking me was the equivalent of exchanging polite chit chat with someone at a bus stop and then turning around and screaming “BLOCKED” in the other person’s face. It’s a weird, aggressive option for the site to have and not one that’s really needed.
Eharmony is also bad at paying attention to your geographical filters – I can barely cope with going into zone 3. If you want me to date someone in High Wycombe they may as well be on the fucking moon.
But the main issue with eharmony is that despite what they say I’m not convinced how many active members they actually have. Because I pay I can see when messages have been read. For 3 months I messaged 2 of my matches every single day just to see how many of the messages would get read. I would say over two thirds of the messages haven’t been read. Which means that either those members are super inactive, non paying members or completely dead profiles. It got to the stage where I was shocked when a message showed as having actually been read. And my profile views are Guardian Soulmates levels. If you remove those who are looking at me because I checked out their profile first well my Linked In account is seeing more action. I’m sorry I just don’t believe that they have anything like the number of active members that they claim as the stats I’m seeing from my account just doesn’t back that up. I got more views in 5 minutes on Match than I did in the past 4 months on Eharmony.
So what wisdom have I gleaned from all this? Look I went into this very naively. I assumed that because all I was looking for was a person (gender non specific) between the ages of 28 and 45 who lives in London, is moderately attractive and likes film, theatre and TV that I would have no problem at all on these sites and would have endless dates. I mean the bar I set was so low not even Ant Man could limbo under it. But I really really hadn’t appreciated just how much hard work it is even getting to the date stage. This is supposed to be fun but I’ve found it all a bit of a dispiriting slog. The lack of responsiveness and the ghosting really threw me. It’s very much a part and parcel of on-line dating but I hadn’t realised that. I was operating under the misapprehension that people on dating sites (particularly paid ones) would be super responsive and excited about meeting new people. But I’ve found that actually mostly they’re not. Some are up for meeting, some seem to want to have someone to chat to on-line for a bit, some are super enthusiastic and then vanish off the face of the earth. For me going into this not at my best or strongest these rejections and disappearances felt deeply personal, like a complete rejection of self. It made me feel very unattractive and unsophisticated and definitely worsened my mental health. I found myself wanting to scream at my friends who would make comments on how I hadn’t really tried (because they couldn’t see me on dates) when in reality I was messaging a daft number of people and getting absolutely nowhere. I was looking for a degree of etiquette and commitment that simply wasn’t there and that was a tough lesson to learn. I also found on-line dating quite cold and stilted. Because people are generally super bad at filling in their profiles you find yourself making decisions on who to contact purely based on relative attractiveness in photographs and there’s something quite unpleasant about that. Certainly in real life I’ve found tons of people very attractive because of their personality that I probably wouldn’t have looked twice at in a profile pic. I also find the whole messaging stage a bit painful. I suspect this is simply because I haven’t met the right person but it’s all so stilted and false. It feels like work. And this is meant to be fun!
So what suggestions would I have for anyone looking to date on-line?
Maybe instead of jumping into on-line dating look at ways to expand your social circle and broaden your horizons in a different way. Find a course on something you have always wanted to do or learn more about and join. Have a look on Meet Up for groups in your area and pop along. Yes it’s terribly nerve wracking at first but I think it’s a more natural way to meet people than most of these sites. I got a date from the first meeting I went to of one group. He wasn’t for me but it showed that actually it was easier to meet people organically than I had thought. Even if you don’t meet your true love hopefully you’ll make some new friends and acquire some new skills on the way.
If you are going to opt for on-line dating don’t do it unless you are in a place where you feel strong and confident in yourself. My critical error was embarking on all of this at a low point. Learn from my mistakes and don’t do that to yourself. I found the constant rejection, ghosting, weird messages etc all incredibly hard to deal with. But if you’re feeling ace about yourself none of that is going to matter. On-line dating can be a riot but you have to be in a very strong place to get to the point where you can have fun with it.
If you’re going to do on-line dating don’t bother paying for any of the sites. I actually found people more genuine and interesting on the free sites. The paid sites may be better in terms of protecting you and reducing the number of fakes but I’ve not really found the experience or the quality of the members on the paid sites to be sufficiently better to justify the cost of paying for them. If you insist on paying then Match.com is probably your best bet. Don’t fall for Eharmony’s science-y nonsense.
Remember that you absolutely positively do not need a partner. You are amazing and fabulous just as you are and you don’t need anyone else to complete you. That has been a hard lesson for me to learn this year and it’s a work in progress but it’s an important one. If you’re feeling under pressure to be coupled up work out why that is. What’s making you feel that way? For me in all honesty it was instagram which seemed to be eternally full of beautiful people having endless sex with other equally beautiful people at parties in beautiful private clubs you’ll never be invited to. I was spending too much time on there and feeling like a dumb, ugly hick in comparison. But of course it’s all fake, it’s people serving up carefully stage managed images of perfection. Once I started muting the worst offenders and started spending less time on there I felt better. You don’t need a man (or a woman) to be happy and content. Do things that make you happy and if someone lovely comes along then that’s ace but don’t view being single as a barrier to you being happy or having a successful life. The world has changed so much in the past few years. So many people now are still living with family in their 30’s as they can’t afford their own places, working less secure jobs, having babies in their 40’s and 50’s. Things have changed beyond recognition and yet we still peddle this ancient notion that success for a woman is having a husband and kids by the time she’s in her mid 30’s. I will have no more of it. Don’t let your light be dimmed by others telling you that you need to have something you’ve been quite happy without.