So, this thing called the Internet. I know you’ve heard of it. It’s a pretty crazy little thing, no? I mean you can do so much stuff on it. Read stuff, listen to stuff, actually watch stuff, buy stuff, it’s insane. It dawned on me that this Internet thing is starting to significantly change my life when I spent an entire weekend dedicated to it. Clicking on it, searching through Google, reading random Wikipedia entries, laughing at cats (seriously, cats?), playing music, watching old TV episodes, finding old friends, stalking old boyfriends (he married her?!?)… I did a whole lot of stuff on it. And I realized I was willing to forgo a beautiful spring day in NYC, a gorgeous walk in the park followed by a sunset slice of pizza, just to be with this Internet thing. To seek what might just, maybe, perhaps, possibly, unfold for me across this galaxy of terabytes. And then I discovered one of the greatest inventions millions of people around the world have to truly thank computer nerds for: Online Dating. Yes, I said it. Now, let me be very clear, we’re not talking about anything salacious or adult here. Neither are we talking about classifieds/personal ads or anything of that nature.
Whilst online dating is still nascent in Kenya, globally the online dating industry is worth $1.049 billion a year, currently dominated by eHarmony.com and Match.com here in the U.S. and the mobile dating market is expected to grow to $1.4 billion by 2013 (to you Kenyan entrepreneurs out there… there is your cue).
Now that is clear, where do I begin? Let’s start by putting things into context so you may understand where I am coming from. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it again and again; New York City is a very strange place. You may walk onto the street and approach a beautiful woman, and a) it’s highly likely she is single, b) it’s highly likely she would rather not be, and c) if you ask her why she’s single it’s highly likely her response will be something along the lines of: “There are way too many women compared to men in this city!” or “All the men are either gay or taken!” or “All the women here are so beautiful and ambitious!” or “It’s so hard to meet a decent guy in this city!” or ” Dating in NYC is so, sooo hard!!!” And yes, she would be correct.
According to statistics collected by the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, single women currently outnumber single men in New York by 149,219. The good news is that this number has actually decreased from 2008’s woman-surplus of 210,000. Lucky us. And yes, NYC actually does have the highest population of gay residents of any city in the US currently at 272,493, according to estimates based on American Community Survey data (though, not the highest percentage of the city’s population, San Francisco holds that title). And yes, by nature of being the business capital of the world, New York does tend to attract alpha type females and males, often well educated, tremendously competitive, savvy and attractive.
Basically, it’s a war zone out there. And as ‘commander-in-chief’ of your heart, on the journey towards finding true love you have to pick your battles, know your enemy, think strategically, keep safety a priority, maximise enjoyment and happiness, and minimise financial cost, and above all else, heartbreak (aka, internal casualties).
Which is why rather than prowling through the thousands of bars/coffee shops/book stores/gyms/and what have you to be approached by, or approach potential suitors, many ‘enlightened’ people like myself have opted to discover the more proactive, efficient route. We rush home each night, curl up in our pajamas, and log onto www. please-helpme- find-adate- in-nyc. com, or in my case www. please-help-njeri-find-a-date-in-nyc-witha- nice-sane-man-please.com. Everyone who has ever ventured into this digital dating universe has similar stories to tell. Some have hated it, some love it, some have been entertained, some have been bored, some have been satisfied, some have been horrified, some have been heartbroken and millions have found their soul mate.
Firstly, there is the equally tedious and amusing part of the experience that you don’t get in the physical world: the ‘relationshopping’ search process for potential partners (the term comes from a research paper by Rebecca Heino from Georgetown University). It is, essentially, human relationships reduced to consumerist terms – the basics of a person’s appearance, characteristic and qualities, reduced to an image, a headline, a paragraph or two and some checkboxes. As you keep clicking through this relationship catalogue, each person often starts to mold into the next; apparently, despite this diverse world we live in, most of us happen to be ‘funny, smart, easy going, adventurous, down to earth, fun loving’, etc. Because those are the words you see over, and over again on both male and female profiles, and this is how many choose to describe themselves in the hopes of attracting the opposite sex.
And so soon enough you find yourself clicking through potential dates as you would browsing for shoes, it’s a 10 second spontaneous decision: “Nah, this one looks too serious… Eh, this one’s headline sounds kidogo shady… He’s not even 6ft?… He didn’t write enough… He wrote a whole book!… Boring… Boring… Ugly… Boring… Hmmm, maybe, oh wait, he misspelled that word…” After a while of this you find yourself wondering why so many of these profiles are so similar and simply average? Is it that at the end of the day, we really all just do have the same range of core characteristics, undistinguishable on paper, and we only come alive as individuals in person? But surely, how hard can it be to describe oneself in this digital environment? And shouldn’t the fact that you can add a few tiny inaccuracies here and there make things easier (you know, add an inch or two to your height, choose that one picture taken three years ago where the lighting makes you look much thinner)?
Actually, I soon discovered it is pretty daunting and not that easy at all. Building your online profile is like making a speech about yourself in front of a one-sided mirror. You have no idea who is on the other side, it could be thousands of potential dates, it could be five, it could be your future spouse, it could be your next dating nightmare. Thus, I learnt why so many people opted for generic adjectives to describe themselves on a vague, superficial level; it’s so much easier. The question here isn’t how much of yourself you’re willing to present, but which parts of yourself you are willing to let surface to the unknown. And, how authentic you really are, or allow yourself to be.
And unlike normal social situations where one might meet people, you don’t get your friends to galvanize you. You don’t get the glass of wine or a beer to give you liquid courage. You don’t get the extra coat of lipstick, or spray of perfume to give you a boost. You just get you, as you wish to present yourself. Of course, here you can continuously edit, you can lie, and you can be who you want to be. Which you can do offline too, by the way.
But the funny thing is how nervewrecking it is to describe yourself in the hopes of appearing as appealing as possible, and then you picture all these people clicking through your profile thinking ‘nah, not interested’. So I personally set about being super original and the very best version of myself. Because one thing I am not is a plain, average pair of black heels. Hence I spent hours perfecting an extra witty, charming, informative yet mysterious profile that was pure me. Rather, the 150 per cent version of me. Which is to say, not actually the real me. But hey, this is all about marketing myself, right? As long as I was 100 per cent honest, doesn’t that make me 100 per cent authentic? Um, not really.
As we embark on the possibility of new personal relationships, be it friendships or romantic, we would all prefer to present the 150 per cent version of ourselves, at least initially. Sure, the 100 per cent is great and all, but it also has its flaws, its weaknesses, its quirks, its complexities, its cracks, and its notso- pretty-sides that people really don’t need to see. But what if those areas of weakness, those quirks, those fault lines that run so deep, are where the truly authentic, molten layers of ourselves and hence our pathways to love lay?
Now, I’m not at all saying I will put it all out there and let my fault lines be exposed on www.please-help-njeri-find-adate- in-nyc-with-a-nice-sane-man-please. com, anytime soon. What I am saying is that perhaps presenting my 100 per cent self, rather than the overly edited 150 per cent, might just provide the best results in the digital and physical world, even if people do click through and decide they aren’t interested.
And what has actually materialised from my online dating escapades and how have I been doing as ‘commanderin- chief’ of my heart? Stay tuned.