OK Cupid for the uninitiated
April 3, 2015 2:06 PM   Subscribe

…and various other OKC questions and discomforts

I’ve had an OKC account for a few years, but so far I have only used it for short periods. About a week ago I resurrected my account again, and have the same issues I had before (a lot of replying to boring messages, weird sexualized stuff, my own cluelessness). I’m trying to make this round of OKC more edifying; please help make me interact with the site!

1. As happened before, the vast majority of messages I get range from completely uninteresting and generic (“Good evening. Any plans for the weekend?”) to annoyingly childish (“Hiiii how r u”) to crude. There are only a few that are nice/ interesting/ pleasant/ I would like to follow up on for other reasons. Is there any way of filtering out the ones I’d rather not see? There seems to be so much rubbish to wade through to get to the odd message that interest me that I don’t know if this is doable in the long run. Is there a technical solution to this?

2. I am in a country with very few OKC members, and those I have found are not great matches. I got a few messages from people who sound intriguing, cool, fun, whatever, but they tend to be several countries and sometimes an ocean or two away. Would it be ethical to respond to their messages? Should I make it clear in my response that I am far away and we would, at best, be pen-pals? I feel like I would be “using” them in some way: where I live I don’t click with most people on some issues that are quite important to me, and also there are some types of interaction that are just missing from my life here and which I long for.

3. Connected to the above: I read in an old OKCupid thread that “for new friends” is shorthand for “casual sex”. That’s what I have in my profile! And I am NOT looking for casual sex (especially not with people who are thousands of miles away from me!). Could this be one of the reasons for messages high on overly sexual content?

If yes, what should I replace that with? I mean, given the paucity of likely matches within a 1,000 miles radius, I am hardly going to look for short-term or long-term dating (though I have seen comments in previous MeFi OKCupid threads talking about how super-long-distance relationships that started on OKC & Skype and led to wonderful relationships years later, so I am not completely discounting that possibility. Just feels very unlikely and exhausting).

4. My profile clearly states that I am 41, looking for people between 35 and 50. About 50% of the messages I get are from people who are way out of my age range. Is this a common experience?

5. A similar question for “Match” percentages: most messages I get are from people whit less than 60% match, and most are actually under 40%. I would have assumed this says right away that we will NOT get along (and, in truth, the few times I looked at these profiles, there are huge, glaring differences in worldviews, what we want out of OKC, etc.). Is there something I am not getting here?

6. Because I wasn’t very present on OKC, my profile is quite barren; I just have a couple of pictures and have answered quite a few questions (none explained). The rationale was that I would only get high matches who went to the pains to actually look at what I think about stuff. Now I’m wondering if this has not, in fact, backfired – does a profile with few of my own words suggest that I am kind of dumb and open to dumb approaches? If yes, would it be enough to include some explanations with (some of) the questions? I’d really rather not fill in the front page, since I am incredibly verbose when I get started and I would end up hating it.

6. I decided to delete most of the messages I get without responding (basically, every message that is not more than “Hi” or “What’s up”, or sharing no doubt fascinating, but useless information about their penises). Is this incredibly rude? Should I make an effort? What about if I reply to a great initial message, but realize with the second or third message that I am not as interested in talking to that person as I thought?

7. And finally, are there other OKC etiquette issues that I should know about? Other “this is how you do OKC” hacks? Any wisdom on how to interact with other people there? Anything to watch out for/ beware/ pursue? I browse anonymously – anything I should know about that?

I have looked through some past questions, especially on etiquette, but the situation there seems to be about dating proper rather than more online-based, very long-distance (non-datey) interactions.

Thanks a lot
PS. Looking for “Match” percentages of ideally 90% and over, or at least around 85%. Is this unrealistic?
posted by miorita to Human Relations (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: First of all, you can set OKCupid to not show you messages from people you're not interested in hearing from. Assuming you're using the desktop client rather than the mobile one, this is on your messages page, in the top right corner. It's a grey box with a gear on it. It'll let you set age and match percentage filters which will get rid of a great deal of the stupid.

Ignoring messages isn't rude. You are never obligated to give someone your attention.

If you don't fill in your profile, thoughtful people who might like you are probably not going to message you and you'll be left with nothing but crappy come-ons from people who message everybody in the hopes that something will stick. You do have to put something into the process.

Finally, the reality is, OKCupid is a numbers thing. If you live in an area without a lot of members, it's just not going to go well. This is especially true since you're outside the core demographic for online dating. There's not much you can do about this other than find a different dating app that is more popular in your region. You can try answering the not-in-your-region folks, but unless you're really into sexting or skype sex, you're unlikely to get anything worthwhile out of that process.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:29 PM on April 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I've been using OKC for a little over a year, and lots of women friends use it as well. I usually talk about OKC experiences with my dates. I'm a male in my early forties. Here's my reaction to your questions:

1. Not that I'm aware of. There are a minority of men on OKC who just spam everyone with cut and paste messages. Since this takes very little effort, even if only 1% of men do it, it adds up to a lot of junk.
2. Since searches default to a distance filter, anyone who messages you from outside that distance has turned it off on purpose, so no, not really any obligation on your part, although I'm generally suspicious of contacts from far away.
3. My only comment here is that I think very few people are using OKC to find new friends.
4. Yes, people don't necessarily pay attention to the recipient's age range (to be fair, OKC doesn't even have a mechanism to filter results on this).
5. The match % comes from algorithm based on the questions you've answered. If you haven't answered very many questions the match algorithm won't work well. I'd answer at least 100 questions, making sure to hit the ones you care a lot about.
6. It's fine not to write too much in your profile. Personally, I read everyone's profile before sending a message, so if it's too long, I may be discouraged. On the other hand, if it's too short I may not find anything to start a conversation on.
6 part 2. No, you absolutely do NOT need to respond to all messages, even well thought ones.

On edit, seconding jacquilynne's comment about online dating being about numbers.
posted by justkevin at 2:29 PM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm going to respond solely to #6 -- yes, write more on your profile. You don't have to fall between only two extremes (barren or incredibly verbose), but it's nice to give potential matches a 'hook' that makes it easier for them to write a personalized, pleasant message. Describe your favourite pass-time, or a pleasant memory, or an irrational but innocent pet peeve. You can also ask them to tell you how they feel about something specific. It can be innocuous ("what's the best way to peel an orange?") but it will show that they read your profile and it will give you something non-generic to talk about.
posted by monkeymonkey at 2:29 PM on April 3, 2015

Best answer: 1. I never found a good technical solution beyond just immediately deleting them. I looked at the message and if it was actively a turn off (bad spelling/punctuation/grammar, crude) I'd delete it. If it was great or good or boring or bland I'd look at the profile. If based on those two things I didn't have any interest in meeting the person for a beer in the next two weeks, I'd delete the message. (I wasn't looking for penpals, I was looking to meet single men.)

2. Yes, ethical to respond! You should say, "You're so far away! I suppose we can be internet pen pals.:)" I suspect they may frequently visit your country or be looking for online/video chat of a sexy nature.

3. It could be one of the reasons. It could also be because of the local culture or just that it's online dating so you're going to get some of that. What are you looking for, if not dating? Are you looking for remote online, platonic non-romantic or sexy penpals? If so, I'm not sure that OKC is the right place to find it.

4. Yes, many people ignore what you are looking for and only think about what they are looking for. Feel free to delete them if you're not interested. But don't write a WARNING in your profile that you only want messages from people in your bracket. That will give off bad vibes. Just delete delete delete.

5. Again, delete delete delete! They are down to message/hook up regardless of your match percentage (they may be casting a very wide net). You are not down. You are right - aim for 80% and up, I think. Delete without answering! This is just a part of using OKC as a woman.

6. AHHH here's where we discover the problem. When women only post pictures my sense is that men perceive that they are there for casual sex or sexy photo exchanges/video chatting. You should totally write a fully-fleshed front page profile. You are clearly well-educated and articulate just based on this question. You are going to get more responses of the type you are looking for if you fill it out.

6. Not rude, totally normal. If your impression changes once the exchange is going...I'd probably just stop answering, TBH. If you want you could say, "Hey, sorry -- after a couple of messages here it feels like maybe we aren't so compatible. Good luck with your search!" I'd skip over exchanging lots of messages and go straight to grabbing a drink, though. You can't really tell anything till you meet them in person.

7. Yes!! Use the quickmatch. It's the best way to flirt and figure out who's interested in you. The equivalent of the eye contact and smiles from across the bar. Also have some full-body photos to show your figure.
posted by amaire at 2:30 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: re: PS - of course you can limit yourself to higher match percentages! Justkevin has it on the nose, work on answering enough questions so the algorithm has something to work with.
posted by msamye at 2:31 PM on April 3, 2015

Best answer: I can only weigh in on a few of these, but here goes!

3. It has been my experience in various US cities on OKCupid that people who are looking for "new friends" are often actually just looking for platonic friends. If you are looking for new friends or something more romantic, consider spelling it out in the text portions of your profile. If you are solely looking for platonic new friends, try saying "platonic new friends." If you put that and men (I'm assuming that you are a woman looking for men, but please correct me if I'm wrong) still send you sleazy messages, don't assume it's because of your wording. As a man, I assure you that many men are just sleazy jerks who didn't read your profile.

4. Yes. They are searching based on their age range, not yours. Maybe they didn't see your age range or maybe they didn't care, but this is not uncommon.

5. It depends how many questions you've both answered. I've answered a fair amount of questions on mine, and I frequently have very low match percentages with people who have answered very few questions because with a small sample size, even disagreeing on a few questions will tank the match rating.

6a. If you don't have much content in your profile, it's exceedingly hard to write an interesting opening message. I frequently don't message people because of this, but others that I know frequently revert to the boring "Hi, how are you?" messages that you seem to be trying to avoid.

6b. Don't ever feel guilty about not responding to someone for any reason at all. They are not your friends, they are strangers on the internet who have no claim to your attention or interest.
posted by cheerwine at 2:34 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: 1. IIRC, you may be able to set up a filter for messages that are under a certain number of characters. I'm not 100% sure if they still have that feature or how to set it up or even if I saw it on OKC. I just ignore them myself.

2. It's completely fine to be pen pals, some people use OKC for that.

3. You will probably get weird and inappropriate messages no matter what - I don't think many of those people are actually reading your profile. But you could change your language to something like "In addition to romance, I'm also open to meeting to friends who'd like to visit museum galleries or go to poetry readings with me" (replace with your own idea of fun activities that are very clearly not casual sex).

4. Yep, totally common. Ignore them.

5. This is a hotly debated point and it all depends on how you fill out your questions, and sometimes it can be off a bit. I generally assume that people who have a low match rating with me and also send me a bad message are just not that interested in connecting with me, and I ignore them.

6. Look for the happy medium between terse and verbose. You want someone who likes your ideas, right?

6. It is not rude to delete rude messages.

7. My personal feeling is that dudes who have next to nothing in their profiles are hiding something - something like a spouse or partner. Don't get too worked up about anyone until you meet them in person. Conversely, if they are polite and you have things in common and and they seem potentially attractive, meet them in person before you decide they are not for you. When you meet, meet during the day / early evening in a public space for coffee or a beer. If you really like them, you can have dinner afterwards, but do not agree to this or suggest it beforehand. Always have an exit strategy.

Percent of match - it all depends on the local population. Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 2:37 PM on April 3, 2015

Best answer: Some men (well, people, but mostly men) will literally message every person vaguely attractive in order to get responses. If you get weird/creepy/generic messages, it has absolutely no bearing on your own appearance or anything to said or checked on the site.

Some 40 year old guy with every "I'm so badass, I'm in a band" cliche signed up for an OKCupid account some time ago... with my email address. OKC lets you click through from email without logging in, or at least they did at that point, so I checked out what he was up to. Luckily he deleted the account by the next weekend, before I did anything really mischievous.

As to what he was up to? Well, he started at a particular age (I believe it was 21ish) and a 50 mile radius and messaged every single woman he found attractive with the same boilerplate message. Then he moved to 22 years old, messaged every woman he found attractive. Then 23. Sensing a pattern?

So yeah, guys.
posted by mikeh at 2:38 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Fill out your profile! That will give you way better filtering than leaving it barren. And, um, it's a dating site. It's not a friends-making site. I don't think it will be effective if that is your goal (and if it's not, why say it?).
posted by J. Wilson at 2:48 PM on April 3, 2015

Best answer: The culture of OKCupid offers very different experiences to men and women (and even more different experiences to those outside the mainstream gender binary); As a cis male, I can't offer any direct insight on other experiences, other than what I've heard secondhand. That said, I am a frequent user of OKCupid and have had several successful relationships that started there. Addressing your individual points in order:
1. You can indeed filter messages! Go to your messages page, and click the "gear" button in the upper right. It will let you filter to see only messages from people with a certain match percentage, and only people who meet your "looking for" criteria. If you have a paid account, additional options are available, but I think the first two will handle the bulk of the chaff.
2. It is always ethical to be up-front and honest about what you want and what you're open to in a response, especially if they initiated contact. Best case is "being penpals sounds cool, let's keep in touch", worst reasonable case is "oh, okay then, never mind", worst unreasonable case can be ignored and/or reported.
3. I've never heard this; there is a "casual sex" available in the looking for options, so it seems nonsensical that "for new friends" would be reasonably interpreted as "casual sex". Anybody who does so can probably be safely disregarded.
4. Again, I believe this is filterable in the message options.
5. Make sure you've answered enough questions; if you can work your way up to a few hundred or a thousand questions, the match percentages will be much more informative and useful.
6. This right here is the biggest factor in the problem you're having. A profile with only pictures will attract people who only care about pictures! As far as I know, nobody ever investigates other people's answers to questions on a first pass. An empty profile with just pictures will come across as shallow and only attract shallow interest; that probably signals "looking for casual sex" more than your "looking for" field does. Be verbose and articulate!
6(b). You absolutely owe nobody responses, especially the ones that are a few words or genitalia trivia. They put no thought into their message, spend none on a reply. If someone sends a message that is well-crafted and obviously has some specific effort put into it - asking things about your profile, etc. - then it is kind, but by no means expected, to offer a response; as a person in the "sending" demographic, it's far less disheartening to have my interest politely declined than to have my message vanish into the void. Totally up to you and what you want to spend effort on, though.
7. No particular tips, other than to please fill out text in your profile, with a focus on things that are important to you - whether that's work or hobbies you're passionate about, political beliefs, or anything else. That more than anything else will help you get the attention of the sort of people you're seeking. Also, a high-quality and intriguing face shot for your profile icon will help you get past the "first impressions" threshold.
PS: Narrow your match criteria as much as you like - my spouse, who I met on OkCupid, is a 99% match with me, and my other successful relationships have all been above 90%. Again, answering more questions will improve matching.
posted by NMcCoy at 2:50 PM on April 3, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks a lot for the answers, guys!

Just to clarify a couple of things I didn't make quite clear:

1. I am, indeed, mostly looking for platonic relationships. There are about 3 people who are good-ish matches in my area, and mostly their profiles don't speak to me (not even for pen-palship). Users who are good matches, have great profiles, and "like" me are all mostly very, very far away. I DO like some of these, but, obviously, I cannot date them (because of the distance - I'd sure give it a go if they were near enough!).

2. I filled in cca 800 questions. Should be enough for good matching, no?

3. I thought I'd give the pen-pal angle a go for three reasons: a couple of friends raved about the great platonic connections they made via OKC. Secondly - yesterday I had a lovely chat with someone I had connected to a while back via OKC (and previously via MeFi). Absolutely platonic. Made me realize how nice it is to talk to people without being all cramped up (I do have a number of friends scattered around the world who I am in touch with regularly, but they are all women and I am beginning to feel like I am part of some tribe of Amazons). Thirdly, I am very nomadic by nature, and tend to not stay more than a couple of years in one place (though I do regularly return home). So there is a good chance I'd be able to eventually see someone I met via OKC or elsewhere, at least once, even if not necessarily romantically.

4. Unfortunately, the OKC situation (few, if any, people I click with) is true of other dating/ meet-up/ social media sites in my current country, as well as of my real life, hence my enthusiasm for OKC at the moment.

Anyway, if OKC is definitely not the place for anything other than dating, that is also something I'd like to hear.

Thanks again for taking the time to answer this.

I'd be really grateful for any other "insider" tidbits on OKC, should it turn out that it is not a terrible faux pas to be there mostly platonically, as it were.
posted by miorita at 2:54 PM on April 3, 2015

Best answer: Everybody else has covered the basic things I was gonna say about internet dating in general, the way guys are, etiquette, etc.

But I'd just like to say that I am female, your age exactly, and used my profile much like yours, turning it on and off over the years. I found OKC users would send THE most boring messages evar! Unlike you, I always had my profile filled out with details about me that would be easy conversation starters. I still almost only got the generic cut and paste messages and incredibly boring, straightlaced, no imagination or humor whatsoever responses.

I would suggest creating a profile on at least one other site. I got better quality responses ANYWHERE else. Even craigslist.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 2:54 PM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My thesis on OkCupid is this: online dating sites model real-life dating. The problem on OkCupid as in real life is that women get too many low-quality messages and men receive too few replies. Men are thus incentivized to send low-quality messages.

Here's some anecdata. When I (a man) used OkC years ago, I spent the first few months trying to send personalized messages. I truly dislike small talk and getting-to-know-you banter so I thought this was a good approach. Then I found that my response rate for a high-quality message (e.g., "I see you like [band]. Have you listened to [other band]? [insert interesting-provoking anecdote]") didn't vary all that much from a low-quality message (e.g., "Hey, what's up? How long have you lived in [city]?"). This was a dismaying conclusion to reach, but it actually helped me to meet potential dates, because I stopped spending huge amount of time carefully considering whether or not to message someone.

I don't think there's really any way around this situation. Real life and online dating sites both have the potential to be meat-markets. The advantage of OkCupid et al is that you can cast a wide net, and there is a low cost of "replying" to a message, so to speak.
posted by deathpanels at 4:39 PM on April 3, 2015

Best answer: Oh, and I think it varies regionally on how much people use Okc for friendship. My experience is all in the US, but it implies to me that in huge metro areas, very few people user it for friendship, but in smaller cities is more common. It's worth a shot, but be up front about it in your messaging if you're meeting up with someone platonicly. Unless it's spelled out, people will likely assume that it's a date.
posted by cheerwine at 5:30 PM on April 3, 2015

Best answer: 6. I decided to delete most of the messages I get without responding .... Is this incredibly rude? Should I make an effort?

Here's my answer to someone who asked the same question recently.
posted by John Cohen at 7:32 PM on April 3, 2015

Best answer: Definitely fill the profile out. People always say OKC is a Numbers Game (TM) and I've seen a lot of posts here asking people to read profiles and suggest ways to make it more appealing to a wider variety of people. My method was the opposite. I was TOTALLY verbose, and didn't pussyfoot around much of anything. And I generally got much higher-quality messages than most other people I know, and a lot fewer. There were a few hooks in my profile (my, again, reeeeally long profile) that people would pick up on and ask about pretty frequently. If you want thoughtful and interesting messages, you have to give people something to start with.

Mind, I am in Seattle, in the US, so this won't work for everybody. But, again, why would you want to waste your time talking to people who would just get icked out when they found out over drinks that you had a bunch of pet snakes, or you weren't legally divorced yet?

Yeah, people ignore the age thing. I had a few very persistent suitors in their early twenties who were not put off by my 35+ listed preference, even after I explained it to them in messages.

On match percentages: so many of those questions are just silly, and some of them I may feel strongly about but not care if someone else feels strongly in a different direction. I haven't been on OKC for a while now, so I can't think of any examples, but when I realized how frequent these questions were I decided that match percentages maybe weren't quite the predictor people think they are. So, in defiance of the suggestion above, I took to investigating the questions answered by potentially interesting people who messaged me. OKC breaks the questions into categories, so you can see how similar another user is to you with regard to politics, or sex, or religion, or... some other things. If one of those categories is pretty dealbreaky for you (politics for me, for example, because I ain't bonin' no conservatives), you can tell right off. Whereas perhaps the match percentage is thrown off because he said he liked outdoor activities better and I said I liked to stay at home reading, but I mean I also like to hike sometimes and he also likes to hang out at home sometimes, so it's not even something that could really be a problem. It also offers you the option of looking at the questions where you both answered that you weren't willing to accept the other party's opinion and they differed. Those really affect the match percentage, and sometimes when you look at those you realize it's not actually a huge deal. In my case I ended up marking some answers as unacceptable because OKC would pop up messages at me strongly suggesting that I do so if I marked them all okay too many times in a row.

Lastly, most if not all of the people I have dated in real life, even the ones I was actually very compatible with, would have had a match percentage with me of less than 85%. Again, a lot of the questions are about personal opinions which don't really affect real life. And some of the people I met up with who were over 95% were really, really unlike me in many ways that counted, and totally boring besides. Don't put too much weight on match percentages as a single number. They are super-useful for making sure you don't meet up with someone who holds opinions you find repulsive, though.
posted by Because at 2:19 AM on April 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Thirdly, I am very nomadic by nature, and tend to not stay more than a couple of years in one place (though I do regularly return home). So there is a good chance I'd be able to eventually see someone I met via OKC or elsewhere, at least once, even if not necessarily romantically.

This is the kind of information that increases the usefulness of your profile. Some people will be more interested in corresponding with someone who they have some chance of meeting offline, and if other nomadic types see your profile, they'll know you have something in common.
posted by EvaDestruction at 6:19 AM on April 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: According to OKC chief data scientist Christian Rudder, from a male point of
view, the most effective way to send messages *is* by pasting generic
boilerplate into the message field. This, and more fascinating equation-free
math, in his book Dataclysm.
posted by morspin at 7:58 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

contact the boring messagers. you are filtering too much.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:57 PM on December 21, 2015

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