OKCupid and the paradox of choice
August 14, 2011 6:37 PM   Subscribe

OKCupid and the paradox of choice.

I apologize in advance for the long question, but I want to be as clear as possible about what exactly my problem is ... and isn't.

Background/context: I’m a 30-year-old straight man in NYC. I moved here at the beginning of the year and had only lived in much smaller cities before. I had a breakup around the time I moved here, and have been single since then.

I’ve used dating sites for years and have generally been very happy with the results. I've been in fulfilling relationships with wonderful women I never would have met if not for OKCupid and other dating sites. (These days I mostly use OKCupid and HowAboutWe.)

Yet I’ve been surprised at how hard I’m finding dating in this city.

When I started dating in this city, I expected the main difficulty to be that although there are (fortunately for me) a huge number of awesome single women, they also (unfortunately for me) have a huge number of awesome single men/women to choose from. Which is true, of course. But that isn't what's bothering me.

I’ve gone on 16 dates this year. And I could have easily been even more proactive in asking women out. I’ve been happy with the response rate to my messages.

In other words, I have no problem getting dates in the first place.

I also enjoy going on these dates and I think they tend to put me in the best light. I’m good at following the “be yourself” advice. Although I’m generally introverted and shy, I do very well as long as I can have an excuse to have a personal, one-on-one conversation with someone over drinks. I’m exactly the kind of person online dating is great for.

So, what is my problem?

The problem (and yes, I know it’s “a good problem to have”) is: I have so many options I have a hard time dealing with them.

There are two main situations where this comes up: (a) deciding who to make an initial online contact with, and (b) deciding whether to follow-up after a first date.

(a) I often find myself hesitating to contact anyone on OKCupid (or HowAboutWe) because there are always so, so many women on these sites I’m potentially interested in. But this problem is relatively easy to solve. If I want to force myself to message someone new on any given day, I can do it.

(b) What I'm struggling with the most is the situation after a first date. If I feel like the date was just "fine," I'm going to feel apathetic, not motivated to act. And so, the most common result has been that neither of us contacts each other.

I made a list of all 16 first dates I’ve been on this year, and these are the numbers:

1 of the first dates led to us seeing each other fairly regularly for a couple weeks. She seemed interested in getting serious, but I gradually realized we were incompatible in several ways, so I broke things off.

After 4 of the first dates, I was definitely interested in her and asked her out on a second (or third) date, but she didn't respond. (I’m not distraught about this; rejections go with the territory in dating.)

After 11 of the first dates, neither of us contacted the other.

Among those 11, I see two main subcategories. With a few of these women, I saw some kind of deal-breaker and firmly decided we weren't compatible.

Now we're (finally!) getting to the crux of the problem: with most of those 11 women, there were no major red flags. If she had followed up with me, I would have been reasonably happy to go on another date and see if things go somewhere. We had stuff in common and seemed to enjoy each others’ company. I found her reasonably attractive. I didn’t follow up because I just ... didn’t.

On one hand, I feel bad about this. Didn't I miss some perfectly good opportunities?

But should I feel bad about this? Or am I just being reasonably selective because I'm fortunate enough to have a lot of options?

I’ve read other AskMe threads about choosing whether to go on a second date (previously, previously), so I know that some people are of a school of thought that says as long as the first date isn’t horrible, go for the second date. But I’ve never followed this. If I go away thinking, “Well, that was fine, not much better or worse than the average date I’ve gone on,” then I’m probably not going to feel motivated to try for a second or third date. I’ll think to myself: Why should I spend my time trying to nudge ourselves into relationship-ville if she doesn’t especially stand out to me?

I do think if I had gone for the second date with everyone who didn’t have a deal-breaker, I would have ended up going on more second dates. But my goal isn’t to maximize the number of second (or third or fourth) dates I go on. These early dates are fun nights out, but my goal is a serious relationship.

But I worry I may be shooting myself in the foot. Is 16 fruitless dates such a large number that I need to readjust my approach?

Or could it be that this is all fine, that I should wait till I feel more of a spark, and that I should keep going on plenty of first dates but being selective about who to follow up with?

Look, if I thought things would keep going like this for, say, another year, and then I’d meet my next long-term girlfriend, I’d be happy to stick to this.

However, if I thought things would keep going like this for another ten years, I would be unhappy and would try to make some kind of change.

Again, I know I have a very fortunate “problem.” Most single men would love to be able to say their biggest complaint about dating is having too many options and finding it too easy! However, I’m still concerned that the abundance of options for someone using online dating in a huge city has made me overly apathetic.

So, I’d be interested in advice from anyone, especially if you’ve been in a similar situation before.

(One request: please don’t turn this thread to turn into a referendum on whether online dating is a good idea. There have already been a thousand Metafilter discussions about that. The premise of this thread is that I am using online dating as my dating method. I’ve seen the results I’ve gotten in the past from online vs. IRL. Online allows me to go on as many dates as I want, and I’ve been in full-fledged relationships that resulted from online dating. In contrast, before I started using online dating, I spent a good 5 years with no dating life to speak of. So to those who would tell me to just stop trying and wait for things to happen by magic, I have to say: thanks, but no thanks.)
posted by jejune to Human Relations (28 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You are putting WAY too much energy into dissecting this. If you weren't compelled to ask these 11 women out again, then you weren't that interested.

You have a good response rate, a number of good first dates, and a few that have gone beyond that. Honestly, it's really just a matter of time. You will find someone. Statistically, more than 93% of people end up married, and I'm sure you'll eventually meet someone with whom you really get on.

I would also submit this: consider how you're choosing people to message in the first place and respond to when they message you. Is it a gut feeling? Is it based on this idea you have in your mind of your "ideal type"? Is it based on attractiveness? Online profiles are hard to read, and often are a bad measure of who a person actually is. Also have someone who knows you well look over your profile to see if it is demonstrative of who YOU actually are. This problem could be as a result of a discrepency between who you are and who you present yourself to be.

I know it's easy to sit on the other side of the equation and say "Just wait - it'll happen," but that's all I can really say here. You will know. Keep on keeping on. I know it sucks. Before I met my husband, I used match and had a similar experience to what you're having. I think everyone who uses internet dating feels like you do at times. It's a whole new cultural situation and the rules have yet to acheive permanency.
posted by guster4lovers at 6:50 PM on August 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

You say, "But my goal isn’t to maximize the number of second (or third or fourth) dates I go on. These early dates are fun nights out, but my goal is a serious relationship."

It occurs to me, although I'm no expert, that the only way you'll end up in a serious relationship starting from one of these dates is if you make the effort and go for the second date. What was different with the one person you did see for a few weeks? Did she initiate the second date?

How do you think relationships should begin, in general? If you want to feel, after the first date, "Wow! That was amazing/way above average/different from anything else ever" before you consider a second date because you think that's a prerequisite for a successful relationship, well, OK. Your current approach is fine. But it might also be a good idea to consider that successful relationships can grow from just OK first dates. Not everyone is good at presenting themselves on a first date, etc. Giving things more of a chance might be a good thing to try, just to see if you maybe missed some opportunities by not giving average first dates a chance to grow into something more.
posted by MadamM at 6:56 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not very experienced with online dating, but I have a suggested solution - when you go on a first date, set a rule for yourself that before the date finishes, you should make a conscious decision about whether you are interested enough to seek a second date, and try to initiate those plans within, say, 24 hours afterwards (I was gonna say in person, but that might put too much pressure on either one of you).

But yeah, my impression, without much experience in the matter, is you've gotten lazy because you can organize all this from home, online. Like so many other things, the ease of the internet makes people forget that any good reward always takes a bit of hard work.
posted by mannequito at 7:04 PM on August 14, 2011

Look, if I thought things would keep going like this for, say, another year, and then I’d meet my next long-term girlfriend, I’d be happy to stick to this.

However, if I thought things would keep going like this for another ten years, I would be unhappy and would try to make some kind of change.

Continue doing it the way you're doing it until you don't like doing it anymore, be it 1 year or 10. There's no way to know when or how you will come upon the next person that will turn into a long-term partner.

On one hand, I feel bad about this. Didn't I miss some perfectly good opportunities?

But should I feel bad about this? Or am I just being reasonably selective because I'm fortunate enough to have a lot of options?

The first question is unanswerable. The second set of question is only answerable by you. Are you just being selective? Why would you feel bad about it?

Honestly, what you're describing sounds fairly par-for-the-course to me. Compatibility is hard to find and 16 misses (a quarter of which you were interested in, and one of which you did date for a little while) really doesn't sound that high to me if what you want is a serious, long-term thing.
posted by wansac at 7:04 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I actually don't think you have a problem here.

Imagine online dating didn't exist. Imagine that every time you met a woman in your age group, you had to go on a date with her. Now think of all the women in your age group you know. I bet there are way more than 15 who you would probably not have wanted to have a long term relationship with, if you were dating the way I just suggested. In other words, since online dating means you are basically meeting someone you don't know at all, I think the chances are, fewer than 1/15 will be good matches for long-term relationships.

Unless you are in a HUGE hurry to find someone right now, I'd keep doing what you are doing, and only following up with people who you think are more interesting or more attractive than the others. Sure, there's a chance that among those 11 you were kind of 'meh' about, some of them would have become more interesting as you got to know them better, but I think that is probably only true for a small minority. Since you are having no problem getting first dates, you are better off holding out for someone who is an obviously good fit.

One thing to consider, though, might be OBJECTIVE ways of distinguishing women in the 'maybe second date, maybe not' category. For example, it is well known that people with highly similar backgrounds have, on average, longer lasting marriages. So of two women who are kind of a good fit and who you are kind of attracted too, follow up with the one whose parents had similar jobs to yours, and who grew up in a similar culture, has a similar education level, etc.
posted by lollusc at 7:39 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gah, 'attracted to', not 'attracted too'. Sorry.
posted by lollusc at 7:40 PM on August 14, 2011

A little off-topic, but: Maybe you need to do something different on your dates. Meeting people online is inherently weird--it's difficult to shake the sense that your first cup of coffee with the person is anything other than a job interview for the opportunity to be your significant other (at least, it always felt like that to me--both that I was interviewing and being interviewed). When you're in a sitaution like that, it's easy to get overwhelmed by a lot of fairly accomplished, attractive people on their best behavior.

What helped was to go do something we were both genuinely interested in doing or trying. It deflects the focus off of the interview process and instead emphasizes the shared experience. Shared experience is what builds intimacy, more than just sitting around talking to each other. I mean, if you end up just doing that, great, but maybe try going to a concert or going bowling or anything else that would be fun regardless of the company. That's when the fun/weird/unique parts of a personality come out. Also, when you do something together with a shared goal, you'll feel more invested in each other.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:41 PM on August 14, 2011 [14 favorites]

I agree with thinkingwoman. Meeting for drinks or coffee doesn't really allow you to get to know a person. I don't think that I would have had a spark with my husband if we met for a date like that after connecting on a website. He's the type of person who it takes time to get to know. In fact, the first time I met him was out at a social gathering at a bar, and I didn't even remember his name afterwards, nor did I think there was any potential for a love connection. I became friends with him later and realized what a kind, caring, funny person he is, and even then, it wasn't until I had been dating him a few weeks when I realized that even though we had been friends for 6 months beforehand, I had a few fundamental misconceptions about what he was really like, and we turned out to be a much better fit than I would have expected. The moral of the story is that I don't think you can make a judgment on whether a person is The One from a casual meeting as much as the movies would have you believe.

Also, I'm sure if you were living in a small town you would have asked some of these people on further dates, because you would be more worried about the likelihood of meeting more women you liked in that situation. But, seeing as it sounds like you're planning to stay in NYC for the time being, there are always going to be many more women there for you to meet, so you're doing fine.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:23 PM on August 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Is 16 fruitless dates such a large number that I need to readjust my approach?

I think "fruitless" may be a little strong. It's true your first dates didn't blossom into an LTR, which is what you ultimately want, but perhaps you did receive benefits from those experiences -- meeting new people, practicing dating, going new places, etc.

I wonder if maybe trying to be more selective would help you. What are your criteria for messaging someone? What does your profile say? Are you very clear up front about yourself and what you're looking for? Online dating resulted in a long-term relationship (now marriage) for me when and only when I wrote an extremely specific profile explaining exactly what I was all about and exactly what I was looking for (after a very long soul-searching/journaling session process in which I got Crystal Clear about wtf I wanted to fine). That profile was so different from most of the other profiles on the same site (which were all like "I'm pretty cool! I like cool things. Let's hang out, or not, whatever.") that I got many fewer responses, but much better quality responses (where quality = a better match for me specifically).

It sounds to me like you're both overthinking and underthinking this. Overthinking in that you made a spreadsheet or whatever of the results of all the first dates you've had in the past year; math is probably not going to be the big secret key to get you where you want to be in this realm... underthinking in that you are very casual about how you meet lots of people who seem cool and you could probably go message someone right the fuck now, even, if you could just get off your ass. Instead, maybe you could try being extremely selective about who you meet and come up with some criteria -- somehow trying to appeal to your statistical-minded sensibilities, but applying them differently.
posted by pupstocks at 8:26 PM on August 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I have to agree - you're wayyy over-analyzing this. Speaking as someone who has been the online dating thing off-and-on for quite a while now, it sounds like you're having a pretty common experience. I also live in a large city, and my experience has been similar - lots and lots of "meh" first dates, but the occasional really awesome date too...it's a numbers game, and sometimes it takes a while to find the right one.

Personally, as long as there are no major red flags, "stuff in common and enjoy each other's company" seems like enough reason to try to get a second date. Chemistry doesn't always happen at first sight, and you can always break it off after a couple of dates if you're still not feeling it.

Oh, and I'll second pupsocks - take the time to write a really good, concise profile. Something that's very specific about who you are, what you're looking for, plans/hopes/dreams, etc. Really take the time to do it right, it'll pay off in the long run. I revamped mine multiple times and it's helped a lot - I don't get a ton of responses, but the ones I do get are a pretty good match.
posted by photo guy at 8:39 PM on August 14, 2011

But I worry I may be shooting myself in the foot. You are.

This sounds suspiciously like you're saying there's no "spark" in those 11 fine but not thrilling dates. I guess I do believe sometimes that thing happens, but mostly that's a thing we get from movies.

Besides, what if these people turn out to be pretty cool people that are fun to hang around with, even if it's not a romantic relationship? Or are you of the opinion you have enough "just friends" now? Sometimes starting as friends leads to the best relationships.

Why not try a second date, with the understanding - as mentioned above - that you really can't get to know much about a person in a couple hours, in a single situation. Chances are, fewer than 11 would have agreed to a second date. I mean, just because you're having zero problems getting dates doesn't mean there isn't a fairly small pool of people who will appeal to you at the same time you appeal to them. (Not to be mean! I'm sure you're extremely [enter positive traits of choice here]. The same is true for all of us.) ;)
posted by Glinn at 9:23 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Um, your ego is showing. I suppose the charitable explanation would be that you’re embarrassed and insecure that you had to ask this question and you’re overcompensating by explaining a little. But I don’t think so. I got the sense that you genuinely are a little too comfortable with the belief that you’re hot stuff.

I completely understand the feeling. My ego has vacillated wildly over time depending on where I am and how lucky I’ve been and what company I’m with and a bunch of other factors. I finally figured out that this is not a natural reflection of my status and to be expected. Rather, it meant I didn’t actually have ANY real self-esteem because it was all based on external trappings. I feared what I came to think of as “the void” – meaning lack of external validation OR derision. As long as people were reacting to me, I thought I knew where I stood.

Now, confession time. As a woman, I used online dating to “ping the void” so to speak. It’s like ordering a fix of knowledge that you’re desirable. Put up the photo, get the messages, feel good for a short time. Not to get too armchair on you, but I suspect it would be quite easy as a man to use it the same way, only slightly differently-send the messages, get a response, feel desirable. Online dating really encourages this mindset and makes it numerical. It’s all about pegging everything down and knowing where you stand, knowing your place, based on a large numerical sample of other people giving you feedback. I read this mindset in your question- you went five years without dating, and that may have made you long to “ping the void” like me. You count everything, break it down into percentages, you want to know what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. You want to know the future almost like it’s an equation- will this take one year or ten if I continue in this pattern? The problem is, there is never a large enough set. There’s never a definitive placement in the entire world for you. That's why basing your self-esteem on this type of information is doomed to failure.

The best type of self-esteem to have is a healthy understanding that you’re good enough. That’s all. Knowing that you’re “better than most people at x” or “the best” or “in the top 15%” or whatever else is completely and utterly useless. You start splitting hairs. All you really need to feel like is that you’re just as good as anyone else, that you’re a normal, standard person. Yes, this takes away that thrill of knowing you’re better than the guy next to you. Yes, it feels different- less exciting, less of a rush, more of a comfortable ease and security. But it’s a much better way to go through life. And it STAYS even when everything around you changes. It stays in place no matter whose company you’re in.

Another thing about online dating- some people photograph well, others don’t. Some people who look great in photos have completely off-putting ways of walking, moving, laughing, terrible voices, personal tics or the wrong pheromones, all of which only come across in video or in person. And EVEN THEN, it’s very difficult to get to know a person until a significant amount of time has passed. I’ve lived with people who I thought I knew well on a superficial level, and then three months in, I find out something that completely changes them to me- their mom is living in poverty and they’re sending checks home and that’s why they are so anal and work such long hours, or they were sexually assaulted and that’s why they turn down every guy that approaches them. You find out what really motivates people’s actions, and that context can change everything. It can also work in reverse. You talk to their sister and find out that sob story was fabricated or at least the truth was stretched a lot. You find out the reason they stay friends with all their exes is not because they’re a great, caring gal, but because they’re a user. On and on. The longest this process has taken has typically been about three months to six months, but that’s just my personal experience. For all I know, it could easily take longer sometimes.

The longer I’ve lived, the more I have come to realize that I’m probably wrong about everything. I have learned more and more, to operate on that assumption. I’m probably wrong about everything, especially my deepest, most cherished convictions, and I try to give a little more leeway, a little more generosity, a little more doubt. This works in all areas of life. I used to mourn the loss of that feeling that you have in childhood, that safe feeling combined with constant wonder and excitement at the world. You know what causes people to lose that feeling? Comparing themselves to others, and becoming certain that they’re right. The more you think of yourself as “good enough” and yet keep in mind that “I’m probably wrong” the closer you get to that great feeling that life can still surprise you, that everything is wondrous.

I know this isn't really specific advice and seems like a bit of a digression, but I hope it helps in some way. I would keep using online dating and yet still keep trying to meet people in the real world. But I think you should also be learning from this. You shouldn't be thinking "this is static and if I continue along this static path for x amount of time, I will hit my winning number." Your mind should be broadening and changing with every person you meet.

But of course, I could be wrong.
posted by Nixy at 10:12 PM on August 14, 2011 [54 favorites]

You followed up with 5/16 (31%)? That seems like a fine proportion to me. I suppose if you really wanted to be analytical about this (which clearly you do), for the next 16, you could note whether your instinct is to put them in that "follow up" pool, the "dealbreaker" pool, or the "fine but not special" pool. But for this 16, follow up with the "fine but not special" pool, too. Then, after a few more dates, see if any of them are now firmly in the "would like to date" pool versus the "fine but don't care if we date" pool that they started in. That would give you the error rate of your initial impression and a sense of what you might be missing. (The reason I suggest this is from a few hiring processes I've done; very few people have turned out to be the workers I thought they'd be up front.)

An alternative would be to not be analytical about this, trust yourself, and assume that your instincts are telling you something important. I say this despite my parenthetical above, because despite the uselessness of my first impressions in business, I have found first impressions to be very useful in dating.
posted by salvia at 10:44 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is the sort of thing that I personally think shared hobbies are for. You have to have something to talk about/do, something you're excited to talk about/do. I mean, one can get along with anyone reasonably well during a nice casual personal chat, and basically a lot of people are somewhat attractive, and, like you said-- eh. I'm like that easily. People in general are 'eh' to me in practice even though I find most of them interesting in theory.

The thing that really changes this situation is having bonding experiences. I know it sounds cliche, but that's how people get that first spark of being 'close' enough to bother getting closer. There's 3 kinds of bonding: 1) proximity/repetition (being physically in each other's space for long-term periods); 2) extreme/challenging situations (bonded by adrenaline) and 3) shared hobbies/interests, and passionate ones at that. Without at least one of those, you're in a tough row to hoe. So yeah. I'd say this:
- limit your pool rather than keeping it wide
- chat with people online more before/after the date (to get more of a basis to build from)
- try to be friends (as an attitude) regardless of whether it 'works out'.

Thinking of it as an interview type process (I think) narrows and limits the potential for real connection to be made, especially during one date. If you start a conversation about something other than yourselves that both of you are into, you can feel like continuing it later, 'cause almost certainly, you won't be finished 3 hours later (or whatever). If you and they avoid spilling the beans on all these deal-breakers/personal nuggets immediately, you give the relationship the chance to grow and develop at least over the 3 dates it'd take for you to figure out the basics-- and you'd have more fun meanwhile chatting. This may cut down on the number of your dates per year, but deepen your enjoyment and connection.
posted by reenka at 1:20 AM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you don't feel like following up with them, don't.

You have no moral or procedural obligation to try to stoke an attraction that's not really there.
posted by tel3path at 1:34 AM on August 15, 2011

I don't know how long your previous relationship was, but please consider that all this beanplating is just your (fine) way of keeping your distance from a new, exclusive relationship. Maybe you are just not ready for the next one.
posted by thinkpiece at 2:32 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

On one hand, I feel bad about this. Didn't I miss some perfectly good opportunities?

It's likely that you did. But that's okay.

Sometimes you feel like following up and sometimes you don't. I dated online in NYC for a long time, and my perspective oscillated between loving it and thinking it was a total drag. I had a few outstanding dates, some bad ones, and many, many that were like the 11 you had that were fine, but not spectacular.

My husband (shout out to aerosolkid!) and I both had that 'not bad' feeling after our first date. I was surprised to find that within two or three weeks, my feelings had completely changed, and I couldn't get enough of him. Chances are that could have happened with someone else earlier, when I was being much more picky about who to see a second time. But then I wouldn't have this wonderful life that I've got now!

I'm firmly in the 'it all works out for the best' camp. Do what's right for you at the time, and it will for you, too.
posted by Wet Hen at 2:39 AM on August 15, 2011

Sounds to me like your real problem is that you don't actually want a serious, long-term relationship. You think you do, but you don't. Not really. People who spend a lot of time thinking about "dealbreakers" or comparing this date to that one aren't pursuing a relationship. They're window shopping.

You're couching this in terms of choosing between a number of potential dates, but that's not what's really going on. Rather, in each instance, you are choosing whether you would rather be single or be in a relationship with that person. Remember, the default position for you is being single, so when you're considering your "options," what you're doing is deciding whether this particular person is sufficiently interesting/sexy/attractive/whatever to convince you, not to choose her over other people, but to choose her over being single.

Turning back to the shopping metaphor,* consider how people who have decided to make a major purchase behave. Say, for example, someone who has decided that they need a car, to the point that they're buying one in the next month. They'll spend enough time considering their options to get a good feel for what's out there, but because they need to have that car in a specific time frame, they'll make a decision, aware that it may not be the perfect one, and just deal with it.

But if they're merely thinking about buying a car, but haven't actually decided they're going to do it in any given time frame, they'll look around, potentially endlessly. Maybe they'll buy this week, maybe they won't. Test driving is fun, after all. But unless they've already got exactly what they want pretty well worked out, i.e. "I'm not going to buy anything until I see this," it's unlikely that any particular car will just jump out at them and say "I'm the one you want!" I mean, it happens, but it's unusual, and odds are decent that if it happens, it will be something you can't afford anyway. Like relationships, buying a car is a big decision, and the vast majority of people can't just go out and buy another car on a whim. Rather, if they do buy, it will be because something changes, such that they need a car this week.

Well, "shopping" for people is even harder than shopping for cars, because people don't come with a finite range of features with fixed price tags. Knowing exactly what you want in a relationship partner is pretty hard, and many times people surprise themselves. More than that, the worst thing that can happen if you buy a car you don't like is... you wind up with a car you don't like. Big deal. Making a poor relationship choice can completely screw up your life. So for a lot of people, fear is a big factor here, i.e. is this person [whatever] enough to make me overcome my fear that being with them would be worse than being single? Together, these things mean that unless you've already made the decision that you really want to be in a relationship, you're likely to just keep window shopping, either because you just don't have the motivation, or your motivation isn't sufficiently strong to overcome your fears. So the answer to why you're still single is not "Because I have too many options!" but because "I'd rather be single than be in a relationship."

*Which is, admittedly, unpleasantly transactional, but you seem to be treating it that way, so...
posted by valkyryn at 5:58 AM on August 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

Sounds to me like your real problem is that you don't actually want a serious, long-term relationship.

Sounds to me like he wants a serious long-term relationship, he just wants it to be with someone that he's excited about. If the car lot is full of beige Saturns, it's pretty easy to not want to feel excited about buying ANY of them.

It's okay to have a high percentage of your dates be the only date you have with that person. If that percentage gets too high, 1) examine whether you should be using different criteria to decide who to go on a first date with and/or 2) give the first dates that were pleasant but not exciting a second or third date.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:53 AM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

If the car lot is full of beige Saturns, it's pretty easy to not want to feel excited about buying ANY of them.

Believe me, know the feeling. I live in Indiana. But the OP specifically said he's got plenty of decent options, and he's in NYC for crying out loud.

Still, I concur with the "check your criteria" bit. Barking up the wrong tree can be a problem regardless of location.
posted by valkyryn at 9:49 AM on August 15, 2011

Those 11 women didn't follow up with you either.

So why feel bad? You weren't that interested, they weren't that interested, move on.
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:09 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the answers, everyone. It's been interesting to see people's very different reactions to the post.

I'm going to go with the answers I marked as "best."

chickenmagazine: I don't assume that if a woman doesn't follow up with me, she isn't interested. She might be waiting for me to follow up based on traditional gender roles. I'm not endorsing those gender roles; I just think they might come into play.

Nixy, I'm glad you correctly perceived that I have high self-esteem and realize I can afford to be very selective in the dating world. Of course I have an "ego" (everyone does), and yes, I realize that I'm better than most people in some respects. I just don't understand the suggestion that any of this is a problem. I'm happy with who I am.
posted by jejune at 10:49 AM on August 15, 2011

valkyryn: I do want to be in a relationship. It isn't true that I'd rather be single (though as long as I am single, I appreciate that there are some benefits to it). The decision about whether to enter a relationship is in many ways different from a decision about whether to buy a car. If you need a car, you probably need it very soon. I don't need to be in a relationship, and I certainly don't need to be in one right away. Also, when you're buying a car, it's fairly easy to get a broad overview of the whole market, with all the prices and features, then pick the car that makes sense. If you have enough money, the salesperson will sell it to you. Dating is a much more complex, prolonged, and emotional process. You seem to think I view dating as "transactional," so I should accept the analogy to commerce. But just because I describe dating in terms of rational choices doesn't mean I see everything in rigidly economic terms. Everyone makes coldly rational decisions in dating; I'm just more explicit than some people in admitting I make these decisions.
posted by jejune at 10:57 AM on August 15, 2011

I should have phrased that differently. It isn't that you don't want to be in a relationship at all as much as you want that less than you want other things. As you point out, desire is not a binary condition. So let me put it this way: Your desire to be in a relationship, period, is insufficient to overcome your desire not to be in a relationship with a person who is less than the optimal choice for you.

There are a lot of people for whom this is decidedly not the case, and many of them can boast of a series of failed relationships. We all know these people, and they're frequently bona fide drama farmers.

But there are also plenty of people where those two desires are more in balance, and a lot of them wind up in healthy if not completely ideal relationships, many of which last for life. Some people call this "settling." Others call it "growing up." Pick your spin.

Then there are people who are pretty strongly averse to being in a relationship that's less than perfect. A lot of them wind up staying single a lot longer than they would prefer to be, but they stay single nonetheless. I would put you in this category if what little you've written here is representative of your outlook.

So again, you probably do want to be in a relationship, but for whatever reason, your desire for that is currently outweighed by some combination of your desire to be single and your desire not to be in less than an optimal relationship. Either that balance of desires is going to have to change, or the perfect woman is going to have to come along, for that calculus to push you into getting into a serious relationship.
posted by valkyryn at 1:08 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

My brief experience with online dating was that it's an unnatural way to meet people. In theory you can get to know someone better -- and you have all this data -- but it's confrontational. You meet, you tell each other your story and -- what's left for a second date? You have too much information, and too many reasons to say no.

When you meet in real life, you are doing something and she is doing something, and you only find out bits and pieces as you go along. That's more interesting. Also while you are no doubt evaluating whether you like the person, you aren't immediately deciding whether to get romantic. You're deciding, first of all, whether you like her.

Instead of going to a restaurant or coffee shop, where the conversation is going to be about each other, and therefore about whether you should get romantic, do something for a first date. Go to the zoo. Build a house for Habitat for Humanity. That takes the romantic pressure off and you can build up some shared experience. You can be friends before you have to decide whether or not you want to be lovers. I think that way you won't feel the need to immediately evaluate whether this gal is Ms. Right.

As a side benefit, you'll make friends with some of these gals, and if there's no spark, they may know Ms. Right, and hook you up with her. That's how it's supposed to work.
posted by musofire at 5:42 AM on August 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

I'm going to preface this by saying that I'm female, living in a reasonably-sized (but not NY-sized) city, and that like you, I have a healthy dose of self-confidence.

So here's my deal with online dating. I'm attractive, physically fit, clever with words when I feel like putting out the energy, highly-educated, and I have several minor talents in cool things like music and cooking and wilderness survival. Therefore, I can make an Internet dating profile that will result in my getting a lot of dates.

However, there are also a lot of things about me that are important but are completely off-putting to many people. I can be loud, I have ADD, I spend a huge amount of time either buried neck-deep in work or outside doing dangerous recreational activities, I'm kinky in ways that most people are completely not into at all, I keep guns in my house, etc.

So, I ran an experiment. I started explicitly mentioning my not-universally-appreciated traits in my OKC profile. And you know what? When you talk about these things, many fewer people are interested in you. But the ones who are still interested? It's not that they are necessarily desperate, it's that they actually might be compatible with you. Before I started trying to "scare people away" before the first date, I went on probably 15 dates with people from the Internet in a three-week period. Some of them were nice people, all of them weren't what I was looking for, and I went on zero second dates with any of those people. After I started being more explicit, not just about who I was looking for but also about who I am, I got way fewer visitors per week, way fewer messages, way fewer responses to messages I sent out. But that was okay, because the contacts I actually made were much higher-quality: closer to what I wanted from the internet. So, even though I only went on four first dates after that, my success rate was much higher: one boring date, one date so awful that it was actually a good thing in that I now have an amazing story to tell at bars until the day I die, one date that resulted in my having an awesome new friend, and one date that resulted in my current relationship, in which I am extremely happy.

I am a fairly extreme case in terms of superficial attractiveness vs. number and quality of potential dealbreakers. However, there are probably several important things about you that are not the most desirable traits to everyone in the entire world. I'd talk about yourself specifically and honestly, and see who's interested.

I guess what I am trying to say is that there are two major approaches to Internet dating: shotgun vs. sniper rifle. You can make a profile with broad but superficial appeal (shotgun approach), that will get you a lot of dates. Or you can make a narrowly-targeted profile that will get you dates with the kinds of women that you want to date (who also want to date you). The second approach usually works better if you want a relationship, rather than a night out or some casual sex.
posted by kataclysm at 8:16 AM on August 16, 2011 [11 favorites]

Data point: My best friend is almost 30 and pretty close to being engaged after a year in a great relationship. Though a gregarious person, he told me that of all the people he has ever met, he has only seriously considered a relationship with 11 people.
posted by lover at 1:35 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

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