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Cracking the code to online dating

Last night, quite inadvertently, my housemate and I cracked the code to online dating success. Of course, it all depends on how you define ‘success’ – if your interpretation involves a white dress, a white picket fence and a whitewashed sexual track record, then our approach may not be the one for you. If on the other hand you’re looking for messages, and messages alone, then may I introduce you to Gaby Driller. Low in literacy, high in libido, and surprise sensation with an alarming number of men.

We hadn’t actually planned this for Gaby Driller. Rather than setting her up as a cynical experiment – one designed to plumb the depths of how low blokes would go – she was created as a means to an end. She was meant to be a blank, featureless fake account that could flit about the site incognito. Perhaps not our proudest decision, but ultimately not as dodgy as men’s response to Gaby Driller.

OkCupid, the site we were using, asks its members a number of match questions, ranging from the personal (views on relationships) to the political (views on economic distribution) to the Key Stage 1 science test (“Which is bigger, the earth or the sun?”). Your answers feed into an algorithm which, while imperfect, does a reasonable job of pointing you towards your fellow polygynous capitalist Small Sun truthers.

Anyway, in order to read a fellow member’s answers, you have to answer those questions yourself. That’s all very well when it’s asking you ‘is homosexuality a sin?’, but is perhaps more galling when it’s requesting your views on ‘biting’. How could we sneakily discover our intended’s view on biting while remaining… errr, tight-lipped ourselves?

To begin with, Gaby Driller simply went through the match questions and answered all the X-rated ones, with no boundaries and no qualms:

Q: Have you ever tried any sexual roleplaying, such as student / teacher or patient / nurse?

A: All the time. It really turns me on!

Q: How does the idea of being slapped hard in the face during sex make you feel?

A: Nostalgic.

As Gaby answered the questions, a personality began to emerge. Originally envisaged as a joke cartoon nympho – somebody so extreme as to be obviously fake – she eventually began to soften round the edges. Gaby was a nice person. She cared about solidarity, and ate mostly vegetarian. She kept her promises wherever possible, and while professing to find politics boring, held socially liberal views. Think tart-with-a-heart or free-loving bonobo, rather than soulless sexbot.

From here, it was just a baby step to filling in her profile too. Nice though she was, Gaby Driller perhaps wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. The six things she could never do without were ‘mulberry handbags’ (presumably six of them); her typical Friday night activity was ‘shoppin’; and despite being mostly vegetarian, her favourite food was apparently ‘stake’.

All she needed now were some profile shots. Because Gaby was ‘lookin 4 casuel incounters only no timewasters plz’, we decided the most apposite pictures might be badly-shot phone pics that didn’t feature our face.

Now fronted with a shot of Jess’ cleavage, alongside my shorts-clad backside, our weird chimera was ready to face the world. We expected three, four, maybe five messages from desperate men with no standards. We couldn’t have been prepared for what happened next.

Screenshot 2014-07-21 09.06.02

Screenshot 2014-07-21 09.04.34

Gaby was a hit. Even when the cleavage shot was taken down, an hour later, by scrupulous OkCupid staff, Gaby was still a hit. Visitors popped up two, three, four, five at a time. Every time we refreshed the page more messages emerged. Just 24 hours after creating the profile, Gaby’s inbox (with 300 message capacity) was full.

The messages were… enthusiastic. The men of OkCupid wanted a piece of Gaby Driller right there, right then, with a cherry on top. And while some did want to see further pictures, or chat on something called ‘kik’, a jarringly high proportion wished to arrange a liaison without even having seen her face.

In total, 87 were keen to cut to the chase and meet that night. A further 27 referred to specific acts. She received two offers of holidays abroad, a rather plaintive request to “walk with me in the park and have dinner”, and six messages applauding her intelligence. Just two called out the account as a fake.

You may be less surprised than we were. It’s fairly obvious when you think about it: masquerade as a woman who is seeking ‘casual sex with men between the ages of 18-99’ and men between the ages of 18 and 99 will respond in kind.

But we found our experiment eye-opening, if not kind of depressing. Many of these guys seemed pretty normal, with some having previously messaged our real accounts. And while a fondness for casual sex is hardly aberrant, we hadn’t anticipated their fondness for Gaby Driller.

We thought Gaby’s illiteracy would be a turn-off. Her venality, her handbags; the fact she answered a question about communism with the phrase ‘wat is comunism lol’… All of these qualities, if anything, seemed to encourage rather than repel.

We also thought they’d waver when confronted with her lack of face. Even if you grant that for guys seeking a hookup, intelligence is a minor concern, physical attractiveness is surely up there. For all they knew, Gaby Driller might have been covered in warts from forehead to navel. She might have had hooves for feet; she might have had a crater where a nose is supposed to be. But 300 men in 24 hours gave her the benefit of the doubt.

This lack of selectivity was jarring. It didn’t square with what we’d seen in real life, and it didn’t square with what we’d seen on our dating profiles. Over the time that Gaby Driller received 300 messages, my normal account managed three.

I have always been of the opinion that male and female sexuality are, at base, far more similar than they are different. But if anything’s going to foster crude generalities, it’s hetero online dating, which operates along stark gender lines.

To put a generous slant on what went on here: most women, on these sites, are pretty guarded, meaning it takes a feat of nerve to make the move. Gaby Driller, however was direct. She was refreshingly to the point. She may not have had a face, or a brain for that matter, but she knew what she wanted and that gave men the green light.

Lessons learnt? Be clear about what you’re looking for, be that indiscriminate rutting or wedding bells or somewhere in between. Also, leaving the planet is a very, very good idea.


Categories: Dating Gender politics

Abi Millar

British freelance journalist living in the Netherlands

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