Monday, May 31, 2010

Tainted Love

I just had to write a post about this, as I have so many thoughts and opinions about it I can barely contain them. The reason for my mental overload is the following email that I received from the dating site OKCupid this morning that stated the following:

"We are very pleased to report that you are in the top half of OkCupid's most attractive users. The scales recently tipped in your favor, and we thought you'd like to know.
How can we say this with confidence? We've tracked click-thrus on your photo and analyzed other people's reactions to you in QuickMatch and Quiver. Your new elite status comes with one important privilege: You will now see more attractive people in your match results.This new status won't affect your actual match percentages, which are still based purely on your answers and desired match's answers. But the people we recommend will be more attractive. Also! You'll be shown to more attractive people in their match results. Suddenly, the world is your oyster. Login now and reap the rewards. And, no, we didn't just send this email to everyone on OkCupid. Go ask an ugly friend and see."

I had read in the newspaper recently about OkCupid's new "rating system", but I never imagined I'd get such a message. At first I was surprised and a little bit flattered that I was considered to be part of the "good looking" tier on a dating website - nice boost to the self-esteem. However, this pride was tempered with discomfort once I considered the rather alarming fact that this website "ranks" people based on their inate attractiveness, and in a way gives them an advantage (or not) in finding a mate. In my opinion, there is something very wrong about that, and by the time I got to the end of the email and read "go ask an ugly friend and see", my pride of inclusion had dwindled down into a feeling of shame and disgust.

For one, what place does a dating site have to rank users and base their experience on how attractive they are? Isn't a dating site supposed to be democratic, open to anyone who wants to upload their information and/or pay the money (if it is a paying site, which OKCupid is NOT) and who has the desire to find a date? Maybe I'm being idealistic here, but essentially isn't it supposed to act as an open forum for people to pursue whomever they choose for whatever purpose they prefer (within reason of course)? There is nothing democratic and open about giving "better looking" people "better" matches and grouping users in different wings as if they are 1st, 2nd and 3rd class passengers on the Titanic. As you can read above, they even describe me as now having "elite status", which is an automatic class distinction right there.

Second of all, who died and made OkCupid the Master of Determing Attractiveness? Attractiveness is a completely subjective thing - one person may think I'm incredibly ugly, while another may think I'm incredibly hot. They say they figure out who fits in this "elite" group by tracking "click-thrus on your photo" and analyzing "other people's reactions to you in QuickMatch and Quiver", but is this really a good measure of how attractive I am to these other people? I suppose the 2nd one could sort of be analyzed in this way, but I don't see how "click-thrus" on my photo proves that someone finds me attractive. Someone could click thru to my photos and go "blech, no thanks" and move on. How do they know?

Plus, they say that my matches will now be "more attractive" and I'll be shown "more attractive people in match results". But again, who determines that these people are more attractive than other non-elite members? How do they know that I will find these matches more attractive? The fact is, they don't, and I'm willing to bet my matches from now on will look pretty much the same, meaning I'm pretty sure I'll find the same number of them attractive as I would have before my "upgrade".

Besides the subjectivity of attractiveness, I think we can all agree (however corny it sounds) that looks are NOT everything. Sometimes the people that are not considered conventionally "attractive" are the most interesting, smart, accomplished people around and, frankly, some of the more attractive people are vacuous, immature and self-absorbed (I say sometimes, mind, I'm not trying to pigeon-hole anyone).

And don't get me wrong, you of course have to be physically attracted to someone in order to have a relationship with them, but I feel this is something that can develop over time, and it isn't the MOST important thing. I wouldn't even consider myself conventionally "attractive" - sometimes I would just love to be taller, or 40 lbs thinner or not have such chubby cheeks or such a wierd nose - but I also want to be seen as more than my looks, and would like a partner who is more than looks as well.

Online dating is already hard enough between people rejecting you before they even know you, the sites serving as a breeding ground (no pun intended) for people cruising for one-night stands or for anti-social/agoraphobic wierdos, and the ease with which potential dates can "embellish" their profiles and/or avoid commitment to any one person. But now the sites themselves are sitting up on high horses and proclaiming who deserves to have a good mate and who doesn't? And for no real reason other than because they can? Way to make things even harder and more complicated for us weary daters, OkCupid (and I didn't even think that was possible to achieve. Congrats and cue eye roll).

I'm not going to lie to you, I got a twinge of hope when I read that I would now start to be shown "more attractive matches" (let's be honest here, even though looks aren't the most important thing, it's usually the first thing that attracts you to a person, and when you're online you really only have looks to go on to start). But soon all these questions and concerns started to pop up in my mind and this point became moot. I suppose I respect the fact the OkCupid is trying to be innovative, and is looking ways to improve matches for its users (and really when a site is free, you can't necessarily demand the same level of service and decorum that a pay-site like eHarmony does), but I just don't think it's their place to determine who is a match for me and who isn't (um, hello, I'm a big girl and can make my own decisions, thanks).

I think what digusts me most of all about this message, is the statement that "suddenly, the world is your oyster" - implying that finding an "attractive match" and being considered an "attractive match" yourself gives your life meaning and possibility - totally out of nowhere you are someone and you mean something! On the other hand it implies that your "ugly friends" are not entitled to have such meaning and possibility in their lives - they are 3rd class people, and as such only deserve 3rd class treatment and experiences. No one's worth should be based on their physical attractiveness. This root of bigotry in our society is one on which crises such as eating disorders, reality television, suicide, and mental health issues grow.

I've tried every popular dating website out there - Plenty of Fish, LavaLife, eHarmony, OkCupid (of course) - and I've found good and bad experiences with all of them. Overall, I haven't had a terrible experience and have met some nice guys (or "attractive matches" I guess you could call them). But I've also never met anyone who stuck. I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing (the be-all, end-all of my life is certainly NOT finding a mate; I have a great life on my own), however it does get very old and demeaning after a while and I'm at the point where I wonder why I'm still doing it.

Segregating people based on criteria over which (for the most part) they have no control, and which really has no bearing in whether they will find a match in any case is appalling. This only serves to perpetuate and nurture qualities of arrogance and insecurity, depending on the person in question. How about perpetuating and nurturing an environment of non-judgment, acceptance, and individual preference? Dating is hard - how about you make it EASIER for us, OkCupid, not harder? That is, after all, your job. You seem to have forgotten that so consider this a friendly reminder to keep in mind next time you want to "improve" our experience.

7 comments:

Allison said...

I find this interesting because (and forgive my ignorance, I have never online dated) I always assume that the stereotypical "attractive matches" would be the types who would have no problem dating through organic, real-life situations. I'm not saying that online is for so-called ugly people.

But I feel like by ranking people based on attractiveness they are applying the real-life mentality that the beautiful people get top choice and that the less attractive (though this is totally subjective) must be forced to settle for what's left (or they'll die alone).

I always assumed that people online date to get away from those types of situations. Maybe I'm wrong. Well, in real-life I'm sure I'm not ranked on anyone's "attractive match" list. So I guess take it as a small victory...

Cynthia said...

Ewwww. Creepy. What are they thinking with this? And seriously, how can their research methodology be considered sound?

I'm with you on the dating sites... I've tried a couple and have ended up chucking them all - I never quite got over the feeling I was putting myself up "for sale". And, it's nice to be in a position of enjoying your own life.

Keep on writing, sister!

Cyndi

Kim Humes said...

Allison, you're right that this method also applies in real life - it's sad to say so but attractive ppl do tend to get top billing and I suppose OkCupid is just following that. I got into online dating because I found it hard to meet people face to face, but obviously it doesnt make things easier. I'm not convinced that one way works over another - I think different things work for different ppl and it all comes down to timing a lot of the time. Cynthia - I totally agree that their research methods aren't sound, which I guess is where I have a problem. They are so vague about how they get this data. I mean I'm considered "attractive" so I guess I should be happy, but I just don't think this kind of ranking is necessary. Thanks for your comments! :)

Anonymous said...

I think you are reading too much. Showing people matches with the similar level of attractiveness would help people save more time and increase usefulness to people who are dating.

Also, they are trying to do exactly what most people do online and real life. Look at pics who they find attractive and then read their profile and connect with them. ( I am sure they have data about the exact order people follow).

Now, you argue that their ranking system may be flawed. But if it is flawed, then it will not result in any improvement in matches. So this ranking can only improve the matches for majority of users. Whole idea of Okcupid is to find people who match well with you because most big cities have 1000's of people on this website. So this is just one more criteria to increase the relevance of match.

There is nothing democratic about life or dating except may be right to vote. Rich people socialize with rich, date rich. Same goes for attractive people.

Benny said...

I disagree with the last comment.

I don't know if it's the same in Canada, but in America, we're constantly bombarded with images of the same type of "attractive" people, and, from an early age, many conversations are about "Was she hot?" rather than "Was it fun to make out with/feel up/fuck her?" (depending on your age, of course)

I honestly believe that many years of angst would have been spared if I'd grown up in a culture where I didn't get the feeling that success was measured by the assigned value of the person you were associated with.

I used to use OKCupid. Never met anyone through there. But I remember it feeling like a pretty democratic place.

This new feature seems like a ploy to keep users by making them feel special and/or encouraging them to keep adjusting their profile so that they can get more clicks and become "more attractive."

Anyway, nice blog. I'll keep reading it. I've got two if you'd like to check them!

Benny said...

I disagree with the last comment.

I don't know if it's the same in Canada, but in America, we're constantly bombarded with images of the same type of "attractive" people, and, from an early age, many conversations are about "Was she hot?" rather than "Was it fun to make out with/feel up/fuck her?" (depending on your age, of course)

I honestly believe that many years of angst would have been spared if I'd grown up in a culture where I didn't get the feeling that success was measured by the assigned value of the person you were associated with.

I used to use OKCupid. Never met anyone through there. But I remember it feeling like a pretty democratic place.

This new feature seems like a ploy to keep users by making them feel special and/or encouraging them to keep adjusting their profile so that they can get more clicks and become "more attractive."

Anyway, nice blog. I'll keep reading it. I've got two if you'd like to check them!

Cynthia said...

Ewwww. Creepy. What are they thinking with this? And seriously, how can their research methodology be considered sound?

I'm with you on the dating sites... I've tried a couple and have ended up chucking them all - I never quite got over the feeling I was putting myself up "for sale". And, it's nice to be in a position of enjoying your own life.

Keep on writing, sister!

Cyndi

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