On online dating, the genders, and the spreadsheet that launched 1,000 blog posts

The infamous dating spreadsheetEarlier this week, Katie J.M. Baker of Jezebel.com posted a cautionary tale, for both female and male online daters alike. A New York banker charting the waves of Match.com came up with a novel way to keep the women he was talking to on the site straight—he made a spreadsheet of the eight women he was corresponding with. He included their name, a photo, his initial impressions after viewing their profile, the dates when they’d exchanged winks, the dates of when they’d exchanged emails, and impressions of their first date. He color-coded the women according to who he wanted to “monitor closely ASAP” and who he wanted to “monitor casually.” He, of course, gave each woman a numerical score based on her appearance, getting so specific as to dole out three 7.5s and a 9.5. For one woman, he wrote, “Ok girl, but very jappy; one and done for me.”

Apparently, during a great date on April 4th with “Arielle,” a woman described on his spreadsheet as “very pretty; sweet & down to earth/great personality,” this guy let it slip that he had been keeping said spreadsheet. Arielle, of course, wanted to see it. He obliged.

He emailed her the spreadsheet after their date saying, “Well…this could be a mistake, but what the hell. I hope this e-mail doesn’t backfire, because I really had a great time and hope to hang again soon :) .”

Backfire doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Arielle sent the spreadsheet to a few friends. Who presumably sent it to a few friends. Soon, it landed in Jezebel’s inbox. From there, it went viral. As newspapers picked up the story, people stopped being satisfied with identifying the spreadsheet maker as “a Match.com member,” and revealed the poor dope by name—one David Merkur, 28, who works for a real-estate finance firm on Park Avenue. He now says that making, and sharing the Excel spreadsheet, was a “serious lapse in judgment” and that he is “deeply remorseful.”

While many, many on the internet have bashed Merkur, and a few others have applauded his sense of organization (like Jessica Wakeman at The Frisky), I think Merkur’s spreadsheet points to a larger sociological phenomenon here.

Not to get all Mars/Venus on you, but I think this spreadsheet is symbolic of the ways men and women approach online dating differently.

Here’s what I mean.

Before I (literally) bumped into my amazing boyfriend at a friend’s housewarming party a year and a half ago, and became so enchanted with him that other men hardly seem to exist , I was actually a big fan of online dating. I had profiles up on Salon.com’s dating site as well as on OKCupid.com. I loved the excitement that came when an interesting, good-looking guy took the time to craft a witty email. I liked knowing that, even if I was too shy to strike up a conversation with a guy on the subway, that there was still hope for me meeting someone. But most of all, I liked that online dating introduced me to guys far outside my normal social circles. In real life, I tend to meet a lot of other writers (read: slightly solipsistic, often neurotic). But online, I met the full gamut of men—sculptors, accountants with bands, male nurses, you name it.

Here’s how I approached online dating: I might be conversing online with two guys at the same time. But the minute I met one of them and felt that little spark, I’d halt things with the other. I wouldn’t return to the site for weeks at a time. I used online dating to meet a cool person, but once they were on my radar, I was focused on them.

Guys don’t approach online dating in this way. (And this is where I will note that, of course, there are exceptions. Naturally there are men who do, and I bet there is a female spreadsheet-er out there, too.) I think think that the grand majority of men—even if they are using online dating to find a serious relationship rather than just hook-up—think of online dating as a numbers game. They communicate with lots of women, hoping a few will pan out. They metaphorically throw pasta at the wall to see what sticks.

When I was online dating, I realized this on not-so-great dates when the inevitable question (one you would never ask someone you actually liked) came up: “So, how often do you do this?” While my last online date might have been a month prior, their last online date was generally far closer to “a few nights ago.” One guy even told me that he’d met up with another girl from OK Cupid the night before. The last thing most women ever want to feel? Like they have taken a number at the deli counter.

Once, crushingly, I realized that this had been the case with a guy I really liked. We had three magical dates within the span of a week and a half, at which point, he was heading out of town for work for two weeks. We had marathon phone conversations while he was gone and I was thrilled for him to come back so we could pick up where we left off. I (naively) interpreted the situation as: “Sure, we hadn’t had the exclusivity talk, but we were so on the same page how could either of us be talking to other people?” So imagine my surprise when, on a date a week after he returned, I asked him what he had been up the night before. He got a goofy grin on his face. “Actually,” he said, awkwardly rubbing his head. “I had another date.”

Five minutes later, we were over.

We became friends down the road, though. And as I heard him talk about online dating, I realized a big difference in the way he thought: Just because things were a “go” with someone didn’t mean he sent a “stop” to anyone else. He kept communication with them up, just in case.

When I talk to female friends about online dating, I hear the same complaints. Yes, they get pursued by men online. But the sad truth is that most guys who write you via an online dating site (a) are totally disgusting and write wildly inappropriate things in their first message (b) are fine, but do not at all fit the parameters of what you are looking for in terms of age, location, religion, etc or (c) seem cool, but obviously sent you a copied and pasted email that they’ve presumably sent out to a lot of other women, too.

And so smart, proactive women like myself think: “Why don’t I do the contacting here?” We send out emails to the guys who strike us as awesome. We wink at the ones who strike as potentially awesome.

However, I think a lot of us do this. This means that any guy with decent pics and the ability to write a good profile are getting A LOT of female attention. Enough that they might need to make a spreadsheet.

I have a male friend who seems to be caught in this cycle. A good-looking guy with an impressive job and a great sense of humor, he says that he often meets women online that he really likes. The problem is that, because he gets such a tremendous stream of interest, he gets distracted wondering if someone a little bit better is just around the corner. He can’t focus to Girl A because he’s too distracted by potential Girl B, Girl C, and Girl D. In my opinion, it’s led him to sabotage some pretty promising relationships by canceling on Girl A to make room for Girl F. Or hooking up with Girl C, then feeling awkward while out with Girl A and not being his normal, charming self.

One night, while out seeing a band together, I saw proof of this. He’d had three dates with a woman he was really into and couldn’t stop gushing about. But over the course of the night he got FOUR random emails—all so well-written and from very cute senders. (I know because I demanded that he show me all the messages.) He didn’t feel like he could just not respond to these new women. Because what if one of those happened to be “the one.”

This is a dangerous cycle, in my opinion. Because if you feel like women are in never-ending supply, I think it’s very hard to let yourself go and allow yourself to start to develop real, true, deep feelings for one person. Falling for someone is scary and can so easily be avoided if you get in your own way.

Here is why the spread-sheeting rubs me and so many others the wrong way: Love is not about comparison shopping. It’s more like being a bowling pin with a marbleized ball careening toward you. It’s easier to be knocked down if you don’t have things propping you up.

Even when you’re truly in love with someone, you will come across a steady stream of attractive people in your life. Staying faithful and invested in a relationship means feeling thankful for the person you have, and realizing that the connection you have is so very hard to come by. It means knowing that the gloss of first attraction fades (often quickly) and that there are very few people out there who you could actually establish a life with. It takes knowing that every human being has flaws, some you might not see for a very long time, and that they shouldn’t send you running for someone new. (Unless we’re talking big ticket items.) Loving someone despite their flaws is the beauty part of the whole thing, because surely you demand that your partner does the same.

All this isn’t to say that I think online dating is a bad thing. I just think it should be used as a diving board—a thing you bounce on to find a person who you can dive in with—rather than as a trampoline on which you just keep jumping. And I’m afraid that spreadsheet guy was setting himself up for a lot of jumping.

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4 thoughts on “On online dating, the genders, and the spreadsheet that launched 1,000 blog posts

  1. Kate R-Z says:

    I had spreadsheets almost exactly like this guy’s. I just wasn’t stupid enough to SEND it to anyone…

  2. katetorg says:

    Aha! I knew there had to be women out there who are more methodical than myself.

    Do you think online dating was a good thing for you, or not so much?

  3. Andrew F says:

    Kate(s), you might appreciate this article from some colleagues in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships –

    Relationshopping: Investigating the market metaphor in online dating.

    Heino, Ellison, & Gibbs (2010)

    In this manuscript we explore the ways in which the marketplace metaphor resonates with online dating participants and how this conceptual framework influences how they assess themselves, assess others, and make decisions about whom to pursue. Taking a metaphor approach enables us to highlight the ways in which participants’ language shapes their self-concept and interactions with potential partners. Qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews with 34 participants from a large online dating site revealed that the marketplace metaphor was salient for participants, who employed several strategies that reflected the assumptions underlying the marketplace perspective (including resisting the metaphor). We explore the implications of this metaphor for romantic relationship development, such as the objectification of potential partners.

    http://spr.sagepub.com/content/27/4/427.abstract?rss=1

  4. Vanessa says:

    I did online dating on and off for more than 5 years. I lived in two big cities during those 5 years and I had three substantial relationships come from online dating, as well as LOTS of dates with lots of men.

    It took a lot of experience to realize that it really is a numbers game in a lot of ways. I was not always looking for something better, but I was frequently going out with men who were great, but not great for me. What it did was keep me focused on what *was* right for me – it helped me narrow the field and develop more discerning guidelines for must-have qualities and deal-breakers. Because the truth is, even if there’s a spark with someone, it doesn’t mean that the person is relationship material.

    My best friend frequently told me that I needed to keep an excel spreadsheet of all the guys I had dated and was currently dating (when I was dating, I was usually going out with at least 2 men a week, and sometimes 4 different men) just so that I could keep track and so that she could keep track when we were talking about these guys. But I was dating too much to invest the energy in making a spreadsheet. I seriously considered it, though.

    When I met my boyfriend after exchanging a couple of messages on match.com, I had just been disappointed by two different men I met on match.com and OKCupid who seemed totally promising, but who were dating other women who they liked more than they liked me. I wasn’t expecting much because I wasn’t in a good headspace at the time. But I kept dating him for two months while I dated other guys who I also met online, until I was just not interested in dating anyone else. He was the right person for me. But I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t dated so many others who were not.

    Ultimately, I think that whether the person uses online dating as a diving board or a trampoline comes down to their own personality traits as well as their own readiness for a committed relationship. Not everyone online has the same motives. And it’s best to know that before diving in.

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