The Travails of Online Dating Come Alive

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OkCupid veterans flock to Housing Works Bookstore Cafe to swap horror stories Studies everywhere are examining the same panic-inducing question-will online dating, with its guaranteed ability to let you endlessly shop around and tailor your perfect mate, ruin relationships forever? Last week's OkCupid Show (Stories of Love, Sex and the Internet) at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho wasn't able to answer that exact question, but it certainly offered up some interesting case studies and shed a little light on what it's like to date in the OkCupid age. Event co-host and comedian Adam Jacobson relayed to a packed house his own experience-an all-too-familiar scenario. At some point in your dating life you fall into a lull, he explained, one where you make a habit of going on two to three dates with friends-of-friends you meet at parties, only to watch things awkwardly peter out. You bump into them here or there, quickly accumulating a list of places you have to avoid for your own social and emotional well-being. Eventually Jacobson, like millions of other Americans, joined the dating site OkCupid. Around this time he was approached by friends, each of whom had a barrage of stories to share about their own experiences. Dating sites, Jacobson learned, apparently make some people act a little cuckoo. "Everyone had a crazy OkCupid story," he said. "I decided we had to put together this show." (Some of these stories, while entertaining, are not newspaper appropriate.) Jacobson explained a phenomenon of online dating he saw emerge during the course of his site usage; it allows people to become less invested in their relationships. One woman he dated simply disappeared for four months, while another broke up with him via tersely worded text message. Comedian Charla Lauriston said she's been using online dating sites for the past five years. "I assumed I was the kind of person who had to," she said, explaining she had long been an identical twin to one of the "popular girls" in school, while her own memories involve time spent alone in the corner reading the sci-fi fantasy novel Ender's Game. (On OkCupid, you have the option of searching for keywords, allowing you to find profiles of those who share your exact literary interests, for instance.) Lauriston started out with the site eHarmony, but was humiliated when after a long dry stretch, a site representative called to inquire about the lack of activity on her account. She then moved on to OkCupid, which offers its services for free and permits its users to slip through the cracks as they wish. "If you've been on OkCupid, these are not weird at all," Lauriston said, of her own dating escapades, which included a man who urinated in her Prius and another who "shamed her" for eating fried chicken in front of white people at a restaurant. Surely these tales resonate with many; the evening brought to light several points about the online dating experience. First, a paradox: while in some ways online dating seems to force people to hold out longer with an incompatible match than they otherwise might, it also encourages less investment with the ability to peruse seemingly infinite other opportunities. One storyteller speculated OkCupid actively tries to steer people away from their "best matches" because it would hurt the site's membership. Ryan O'Connell, the editor of Thought Catalog, said OkCupid gives its users instant self-esteem boosts and makes people "immediately open." No matter what happens, one thing remains true: Using OkCupid guarantees there will be adventure. Had it not been for OkCupid, Jacobson conceded he would not have had some of the most exciting times of his life, nor met his current long-term girlfriend. Some discussed yet another phenomenon which arises with OkCupid use-small niches of people who have dated the same users will band together, hash things out, and often forge unforgettable friendships. "You keep hoping it will work out," explained comedy writer Michelle Markowitz, "but ultimately you do it for these weird experiences."

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