Sex, Love, and Loneliness on the Internet

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Nick Paumgarten, staff writer for The New Yorker, discusses the world of online dating. He looks at the ways programmers, mathematicians, and psychologists have made online dating sites more sophisticated, and investigates whether matchmaking can be reduced to a formula. His article “Looking for Someone” appears in the July 4, 2011, issue of The New Yorker.


Nick Paumgarten

Comments [35]

Arthur from New York

Hi Leonard, very Interesting, as a dating coaches, we heard are a lot of points that we could explain, that went un answered in the conversation.

We work with clients on online as well as offline dating. Mock dates, approaching, wing men and wing women. Let me know if you would like to talk.

Senior Dating Coach

Jun. 30 2011 06:49 PM
bocheball from Manhattan

I think Jane's comment was the most pointed. Patience. It's so hard because you must spend a lot of time searching for someone who you think might be a good match. It becomes like a job.
What has always surprised, and frustrated, me is that I get lots of responses from the
'wrong'(nothing wrong with them but not what I'm remotely looking for) women, and the one's I send to usually don't respond.
I have examined my profile to see why this is but to no avail. Usually I get so frustrated that I dump it after a few months.

Jun. 30 2011 12:47 PM
Shannon from Manhattan

I would love to see Chris' profile on OKCupid. I've always felt the same way he does. What also bothers me is when I read "I have a great sense of humor; I can be quite sarcastic." Since when is sarcasm a quality worth mentioning?

Jun. 30 2011 10:53 AM
Cyn from Manhattan, NY

Me, I'm sure I'm washed up. However I have a friend--a psychiatrist in her late 50's at the time that approached looking for a mate like a job or a numbers game--she went on 1 or 2 dates day. And that is the way she happened upon Mr. Right. They've been married for years now. :-)

Jun. 30 2011 01:46 AM

The most helpful thing in this whole discussion was Paumgarten's offhand comment: "It isn't always someone you'd expect." If I had seen my now-husband's profile on a dating website, I wouldn't have given him a second look. But I met him in person, by total chance (except for the fact that I had made the choice to go out and be around people). His warmth grabbed me right away -- all those factual details that would have been listed in an ad were not what mattered at all.

Jun. 29 2011 05:21 PM
caroline from uws

this was one of those segments when leonard lopate is supposed to lead a commentary and discussion on some aspect of life that is just not part of his universe, like when he's tried to relate to educated people who watch television.

i'm sorry but it's super-complex, and it's going to fall flat if you ask people to call or comment with "tell us what you think about" this complex aspect of life that has now been around and a very common part of everyday living in near to its current form for well over15 years. (i'm nearly 40, hardly a kid.) would you ask "tell us what you think about the telephone [in general]." or about politics or marriage? you can't make smart and interesting commentary on something that has so many nuances and interesting facets if you haven't the foggiest idea how it works. for example, "most people list middle of the road politics." this statement may be true of one site, but is actually mostly not true: people want to pick like-minded others out of a crowd, and don't shy away from stating simply how they feel about this, in broad terms like liberal, very liberal, conservative, democrat, etc.

it's painful to listen to segments like this. there are layers and layers of subtle things going on here, and you can't scratch the surface if you haven't spent a good bit of time at least looking into it. it's like asking someone who's never left montana to lead a call-in on the subway. either give him a real crash course--weeks of doing it--or stick to the usual UWS over-60 literary world stuff.

Jun. 29 2011 04:39 PM
bklynchica from Brooklyn

Chris, what is your user name? I want to see the BEST profile on OKC.

Jun. 29 2011 02:25 PM
desdemona finch from Brooklyn

As a woman with an attitude and strong writing voice, I don't know if that's an asset. I've inadvertently alienated many a man with my e-irony and sarcasm. Had they spoken with me on the phone or in-person they would have realized it. Via e-mail, you have to be sugar and spice and everything boring.

One thing I advise men is that there's a difference between showing your edge and being disrespectful. Do not be vulgar. Do not be suggestive. That's what inexperienced 15-year-olds with half-formed brains do.

I once got an email via from a middleaged "writer" (former Wall Street type with a golden parachute) who wrote, "Do you look like your photo? I'm looking for a permanent relationship but I wouldn't mind fooling around with you until then."

Needless to say, my immediate response was: "How could I pass a catch like you up?"

He claimed I was an angry woman, and he was just trying to get my attention. If he was such a great writer, he would have communicated his "edge" in a more respectful way.

I would much rather meet people in person. But it's anything goes there too. A few weeks ago, I "met" a 42-year-old "man" who seemed somewhat intelligent and interesting and had a normal job in a conservative industry but insisted on praising my lady parts in public at a fundraising gala. Gulp.

I resisted throwing a drink in his face because I was so surprised that a man that age would conduct himself in public that way. Respect starts with yourself, fellas. If you don't respect yourself, you won't respect a woman. Stay out of the dating pool until then.

Jun. 29 2011 02:15 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

i met my husband after a friend insisted i try online dating. i was registered with the ny mag site, which had some kind of liaison with nerve, on which my husband was listed.

algorithms aside, what we both felt helped us identify quality people out of the mass of those simply "cruising" was by being ridiculously explicit in filling out our attribute fields. it's not good enough to say one "likes books" or "enjoys dining out"; using specific references for ones passions is often the best lure for someone who's serious about using the medium to "put themselves on the market". if you feel your writing skills need help, enlist an objective friend. but go for details that make you the unique individual you are, because there are millions who "like NPR", so it barely differentiates a person. my husband says that specific references i'd made sparked his interest, and i can say the same about his profile.

there are, certainly, clues that someone who's responded to your profile might not be serious about a LTR; listing one's status as "discreet" is certainly one of them. otherwise, the methodology is one that can expose you to people you never would have met otherwise, and that, in itself, can help people "up" their dating skills IRL. don't give up--once you've met someone who seems worthwhile, ask those questions that make a difference to you--you have everything to gain.

also--make your profile pic current and plain. it doesn't have to be a glamour shot. make an effort. no one appreciates that pic you think is your best if they see you've cut your ex out of the pic!

Jun. 29 2011 02:00 PM

I've got to thank Chris, the caller who was so put off by 'boring' profiles. His arrogance was so over-the-top that I hooted out loud sitting here working alone at home. Hey, Chris, I LOVE to laugh, and you gave me a guffaw!

Jun. 29 2011 01:59 PM
Iguanaluv from NY

I know several women who met via online dating sites and ultimately married. However, I have many male friends who have had a horrible time meeting women online & couldn't even get a single date.

Is it harder for men to meet women online? I know it's not just about looks as the women I know weren't models, at all, but still had tons of offers. The men not so much. Why?

Jun. 29 2011 01:59 PM

oops. meant to say " ...AMONG the oldest... "

Jun. 29 2011 01:58 PM
Rdj from Long Island (Suffolk)

Dating sites are a great way for someone like me to introduce myself to people in a new area or in an area where I don't directly interact with.

When I moved to L.A. I was able to meet women relatively quickly and even keep in touch as friends. I recently moved to Long Island for a job from L.A. Needless to say it was a huge adjustment and the dating prospects are much lower than in NYC. Therefore, I have been able to meet women in NYC through these sites. This is especially important since I am well educated and tend to be slightly more introverted than extroverted (which also contributes to meeting people).

I find online dating quite useful but have yet to meet anyone interesting enough for a relationship.

Jun. 29 2011 01:57 PM
Julie from Brooklyn

The guy who is criticizing ladies' profiles on the radio is a total jerk. Perhaps the reason you haven't found anyone is that you're unfairly judgmental. Good luck. I wouldn't date YOU!

Jun. 29 2011 01:56 PM
sam from NYC

@ Liz My experience is that very many women post photos that were taken 20 years and 40 pounds ago.

What they call "average" is properly called fat.

A slightly high opinion of oneself is okay but,,,,

Jun. 29 2011 01:54 PM

haven't heard anything yet about::

-- (possibly the oldest internet dating site still operating, though it seems to have been acquired.)

-- ways couples have been met online over the years other than through formal dating sites.

Jun. 29 2011 01:54 PM
Janetta from midtown

I'm sceptical about the authority of someone who has never seriously engaged in internet dating, i.e. your guest.

One thing that is fundamental to internet dating, absolutely fundamental, is the photograph. Much will be determined by how good it is, and I don't mean photographically. -- If men are sending messages and not getting responses on, say,, they must look pretty dreadful.

Speaking as a 65-year-old woman, I can tell you that because my photo was good -- and new -- I got lots of inquiries. And btw, after 3 years of internet dating, I met my beloved...he was 67 and I was 63. We're still very, very happy together.

Jun. 29 2011 01:54 PM
Chris from east village

What annoys me the most are the cliches. The worst: "I love to laugh". Nooooooooo?! You have something in common with every other human being on planet earth?! What a unique and amazing individual you must be!!

Jun. 29 2011 01:47 PM
alex from west village

it's a good way to meet large numbers of people, but it's hard for people (both men and women) to settle for one person because there's always someone out there contacting you. so the sheer number of people out there is both a pro and a con of online dating.

Jun. 29 2011 01:44 PM
alex from west village

it's a good way to meet large numbers of people, but it's hard for people (both men and women) to settl for one person because there's always someone out there contacting you.

Jun. 29 2011 01:40 PM

Can the guest comment on ratios of men to women? I know several women who have been successful on these sites but as a man it feels like an uphill battle. They wait for responses but I have to send out 20-30 messages to get maybe one response.

Jun. 29 2011 01:38 PM
still looking

I've spent hours twice doing the looong questionnaire for eharmony (among others), and each time the "matches" they sent me had absolutely nothing to do with my preferences... things as straightforward as "non-smoker," and they send a smoker, and "only in NY," and they send someone in Minneapolis. It's a random joke. Did you check on the legitimacy of their systems? thanks!

Jun. 29 2011 01:37 PM
Liz from Brooklyn

I tried for about a year. I met several guys in person after some on line communication and was amazed at how untruthful their online profiles turned out to be -- for example, 20 year old photos of themselves, exaggerated job histories, etc.

Jun. 29 2011 01:35 PM
Julie from NJ

I had great success with eHarmony. My husband and I met online and got married on New Year's Eve of '09. We share the same life goals, spiritual beliefs, financial values, and more. Answering the questions and viewing each other’s profile led us to our first date, but it was in getting to know each other that we figured out that we wanted to spend our lives together.

One primary reason we both went the online route is because we’re both busy professionals. Neither of us had the time to go to the “typical” places to go and meet new people. We liked the science behind the matching and figured it would connect us to more like minded/ similar valued people. Meeting each other online was a great way to circumvent (and maybe even speed up) that process and really meet someone we naturally wouldn’t have crossed paths with.

Jun. 29 2011 01:35 PM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

You might also mention the video dating that preceded on-line dating. People Resources was very busy from maybe around the early 1980s (I saw them on the David Suskind show around then) to about 1992 when they were shut down by law enforcement (the District Attorney I think) for theoretically violating New York’s matchmaking law.

There are a number of people who met their spouses through People Resources.- I have good reason to know.

Jun. 29 2011 01:35 PM

I know someone who is on OK Cupid. He said it's the best algorithm out of a few other sits he tried, (well known). He said he trusts the "percentage of match" and thinks it's because of the questions asked that determine compatibility. The problem, he said, was that the potential matches were not too serious about forming a relationship. They were "fly by nights" and not wanting to settle down. But that could be due to location, (NYC), or the fact that it's a free service.

Jun. 29 2011 01:34 PM
Orla from manhattan

'loathe the taste of beer and would be most unlikely to have sex on the first date!

Jun. 29 2011 01:33 PM
Bill from UWS

I met my wife in '97 on Back in those days the male/female ratio was 2/1. I had just moved to NY, broken up with my previous girlfriend and knew no one.

NY is a great place to be a single guy--even an average-looking guy like me.

We've recommended online to all of our friends, and 5 have gotten married as a result.

Jun. 29 2011 01:32 PM
Sandra from New York

I'm African American and on Plenty of Fish over the past year, I've dated 5 guys. 2 have become good, long-term friends. However, I tried Black People and had no luck, just alot of "junk"

Jun. 29 2011 01:32 PM
jane from new york

if you want to meet someone through online dating, one needs to have GREAT patience. Most people whom I know with success stories were very motivated and spent years on these websites before meeting someone.

Jun. 29 2011 01:32 PM
mr nyc from nyc

If you meet someone at work or school, or if someone sets you up, and you go out on a date and it doesn't work out, it can then create a weird situation at your job, or school, or with your friends. But with an online date, if you go out and it doesn't work out, no problem! You never see them again and it doesn't have any social or even professional repercussions.

Jun. 29 2011 01:31 PM

I'm currently living with my boyfriend of slightly over a year. We met on an online dating website and he is the most wonderful person I've ever dated. We talk frequently about marriage and kids and I have no doubt we will be together for the long haul. That's not to say online dating is perfect; I certainly went on my share of terrible dates. That said, I'm glad I stuck with it long enough to find my perfect match. For anyone trying to find a true relationship (not just a hookup or casual sex) just be honest in your profile, never settle, and be very, very picky!

Jun. 29 2011 01:31 PM
Joey from East Village

@Gary, try OKCupid. It's free. Really. (Though while you can deactivate your profile, I'm not sure you can really delete it. Google search for Julian Assange's profile!)

@Dan, they don't. The algorithms work their voodoo to find people you might get along with, and then you look for the cuties! Fun!

Jun. 29 2011 01:29 PM
Gary from Upper Left Side

Here's the DIRTY little secret about online dating services:

The scam they all do is to allow people to post "free" profiles (but without email privileges until they pay) and then make those profiles "appear" as active members.

Thus, to a potential paying member, it seems like there are millions of active members, when in reality only a very small fraction of the profiles online are truly active. You find out after the fact and can't get your money back.

Moreover, many online dating services--like eHarmony--absolutely refuse to delete your profile, even when you call them and demand it. They want to keep the dead profile in rotation for new paying suckers.

Jun. 29 2011 12:49 PM
Dan from Midtown

I had a profile on "OKCupid". Once I contacted someone who was a "90%" match. His response? "This is obviously a failure in the algorithm".

How can these sites and the formulas take into consideration physical attributes of potential matches?

Jun. 29 2011 12:37 PM

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