True Stories: Getting Offline

After resisting for years, I turned to the internet to find love.

By Tim Kreider

I finally broke down and decided to join a dating website after meeting my one millionth attractive, intelligent, funny woman who turned out to be married. To me, going online to meet women felt like a final abdication of dignity, but my friend Ben dismissed this squeamishness. "You and I are old enough that we think of internet dating as a last resort, for losers. The young people have no such stigma about it, and they are online," he told me. "And they, my friend, are having sex." 

“They are online," he told me. "And they, my friend, are having sex."

This argument was persuasive to me. The site I joined encouraged me to answer a series of questions to narrow my range of preferences and find more ideally matched partners, questions that ranged in subject from personal values to sexual mores to factual knowledge. I dutifully answered all of them until I got to a simple arithmetic problem that, for me, might as well have been Fermat's last theorem. I was also asked to rate how I wanted prospective partners to answer the same questions, and to weight the relative importance of their answers. The only response I rated as "mandatory" among my partners was to the question: "Which is larger, the earth or the sun?"  

If you spend enough time perusing online-dating profiles, patterns begin to emerge. These are all broad, unfair generalizations, since they're based on an unscientific sampling of astronomically literate women between the ages of twenty-eight and forty-five whom I happened to be attracted to, but they might still be interesting to bat around: 

A lot of women's self-descriptions read like horoscopes, abstract and metaphorical, appearing to describe someone elusively unique, but in fact universally applicable: "I am a paradox: a centered seeker, a grounded vagabond," etc. This was mostly true of women still in their twenties, who haven't actually done enough yet for their selves to coalesce.

One of the blanks you're asked to fill in on your profile is, "The first thing people notice about me is: _____________." In answer to this question, a bizarrely high percentage of women make some self-deprecating reference to either how tall or how short they are. This seemed inexplicable to me until I noticed how many women had also laid down persnickety parameters for their desired partner's height. They were projecting their own preoccupations onto the men they imagined looking at their profiles.

This is a fallacy common to both genders: wrongly presuming that the opposite sex wants the same things you do. This is also why some men send unwelcome shirtless photos to women — because they'd be thrilled if women were to send them topless photos of themselves. There's a kind of lunkheaded innocence to it: How surprised and pleased she will be to receive this picture! My naked torso cannot fail to woo her. (A cynical genius of online dating would reverse-engineer his own profile based on a study of women's: "The first thing people notice about me is: How I tower over them. I am a lonesome Lothario, a gallant Goofus, etc.") Ladies, rest assured that your height is not the first thing any man has ever noticed about you. 

Commentarium (44 Comments)

May 13 11 - 12:07am
tyco bass

great piece: funny, wry, so so true!

May 13 11 - 1:13am
Who knew

This was a really well-written piece, thoughtful and insightful. I've joined - and unjoined - the same site, felt the same unease about looking for romance via what amounts to a dressed-up google search, had the same odd experience of seeing someone IRL whose face I recognized from the world of online dating. I'm glad I'm not the only one that finds the whole thing a bit off-putting.

May 13 11 - 1:48am

Being on that site gave me a lot of hope actually. I had it in my head for the longest time that the real "catches" of women were few and far between. The varitable meat market, and it was pretty much that, of a dating site proved me incredibly wrong. There are so many wonderful human beings to approach that it's almost overwhelming. And in realizing that, made me a lot less tentative about approaching one of them in real life.

The patterns are what really got me though. I got bored one day and did a few dedicated searches. "Shy at first" got me 112,000 results. Unbelievable.

May 13 11 - 2:11am

REally wonderful. I love it.

May 13 11 - 2:28am

Eh, the article was decently written and honest, but I wish it was written by someone who was really planning to give online dating a chance. It seems like the author never got passed his perception of it as a sad way to meet a partner.

May 13 11 - 8:02am

I'm with you on this one.

May 13 11 - 9:22am

I use online dating, personally I think it's a wonderful resource and can do wonders if you let it and not care, i.e about any sort of stigma you might have over it, but this article is too hilariously spot on on alot of things that I can relate too what or who I have encountered or dealt with on said sites.

May 13 11 - 9:34am

An excellent piece. Much higher quality than the usual stuff on this site.

May 13 11 - 10:35am

the author has an interesting perspective on internet dating. he conveyed how i think i've felt about it but never knew how to formulate in words.

May 13 11 - 11:43am
Mike Pringles

"The whole warm complex animal gestalt of her..."

Was your dating profile littered with gems like this? See also: "I can be quite the sarcastic, well-read, well-traveled person with a love for flea markets and I clean up real good."

May 13 11 - 1:22pm

I'm petite yet when I read "The first thing people notice about me is" my thought was "My smile!", never thought for a second about my height. Now I know what to answer if I ever need to use a dating site.

May 13 11 - 2:03pm

Don't forget to also tell people that you love to laugh, hate writing about yourself/filling these things out, like all music except country music/rap/heavy metal, you don't play games, don't take yourself too seriously, like sushi, like Eternal Sunshine, and that sometimes people can't handle your honesty.

Then you'll pretty much be good to go.

May 13 11 - 2:14pm
*That* Guy

I was also confused by the number of people describing themselves as "sarcastic" on their profiles, as if it were an attractive asset. Eventually I figured that people were conflating sarcasm with wit and humor. Turns out, I was the one in error -- as any viewer of today's higher-rated sitcoms could tell you, contemporary humor and wit doesn't really extend that much beyond reflexive sarcasm.

May 13 11 - 2:21pm

Love your writing!!!!

May 13 11 - 2:44pm
Fun T

I really appreciated the Inigo Montoya quote, made me smile. Thank you

May 13 11 - 4:10pm
Your Sex Fairy

So great! I agree that it's important to 'get close enough to smell' someone, and to see their 'real' self, not just online persona-words.
Great job!

May 13 11 - 4:40pm
G Unit

This guy is clearly a verbose dick. The person he stood up was not a "virtual" person but a real one as well. The dating site women are better off without him, including the 'Salinger' Celtic.

May 13 11 - 7:12pm

Seriously. And what's wrong with sarcasm, as long as it's in good-natured fun and isn't intended to hurt?

May 14 11 - 4:44pm

Nothing wrong with sarcasm as long as it's not a substitute for wit. Also, calling yourself a "sarcastic person" is pretty much meaningless, unless, maybe, you're so obviously a robot or alien that someone calling you a "person" would be doing so sarcastically?

May 13 11 - 8:38pm

Brilliantly observant and alive with intellect–Loved this piece. Tim, you're a catch!

May 13 11 - 10:59pm

Admitting to the throat closing loneliness...not something I expected out of this. But it's true all the same.

May 14 11 - 12:29am

Well written. I connected personally with the content, which probably added to my enjoyment. Definitely a piece for singles.

May 14 11 - 1:26am

of course this is all erudite and gorgeous as usual, but what i find shocking is that someone like TK had any trouble whatsoever scoring chicks

Feb 10 12 - 2:27am

and I say that-and this is directed to some of you harsher critics- because i happen to know the author personally and he is the lovliest, sweetest person you will ever meet (and absolutely adorable to boot).

May 14 11 - 2:57am

Nicely written, although I wish he had given it more of a chance. My own experience with online dating was enjoyable because I did it with optimism and a sense of fun--two things notably missing from this account.

May 14 11 - 3:31am

loved the piece. while I was reading a nervepersonal popped up in the top right corner of a very attractive woman whose username was "tallgirlnyc" and her blurb alluded to her being well-read ha. With that being said, the majority of young people(22-26) who use online dating use it to get laid.

May 14 11 - 7:09am

I'm on that site referenced in the article (which is spot on); I really really loved this piece. (For the record, my profile references none of those commonly noted profile cliches, but I read about 30 of them a day).

May 14 11 - 1:51pm

Very well written and enjoyable article!

May 14 11 - 4:08pm

My favorite True Stories so far! Really enjoyed reading it.

May 14 11 - 7:21pm

To repeat many others before me, this was truly enjoyable to read. Well written with astute observations.

May 14 11 - 9:59pm

As one of the "young people," I was (1) surprised you didn't just name the site and also were so intrigued by it (it's OkCupid, for anyone who doesn't know), (2) gave up before actually going on any dates. I would have thought that would be a prerequisite for any judgements.

May 14 11 - 11:17pm

What's up with this statement? "[W]omen still in their twenties...haven't actually done enough yet for their selves to coalesce."

May 15 11 - 1:49am

Interesting to hear a different take on internet dating - not pro - not against - just real --- Four women in four cities take on 365 dates between them. Visit to find out more!

May 15 11 - 8:44am

"it's either a Yes or No" true. (great story)

May 15 11 - 9:40pm

Well written, but as others have said, it would have been nice to read an article by someone who was serious about trying internet dating. I am mid-fifties, was divorced ten years ago, and had a wonderful time dating women close to my own age I met on dating sites. Six months ago I married one of them. Once you learn the etiquette, it is much easier and less awkward than getting set up by friends or meeting people by chance.

May 16 11 - 12:34am

Beautiful ending.

May 16 11 - 12:48am

Good work. Nerve needs to ditch some of its low-brow blog content and get back to the essays and photography it used to run back in the day.

May 16 11 - 1:52pm

Nice essay. They really do need a "So what's your problem" question if only to make reading profiles even more addicting.

May 17 11 - 1:32am

I thought that this was a very thoughtful article, and it did highlight a lot of the difficulties of online dating. However, I do think that you gave up a little too quickly. From personal experience, I've been very pleased with the end result of going to that same dating site. Sure, I had a lot of awkward conversations via email and spent a long time stressing over the contents of my profile (and had a handful of terrible dates), but it lead me to a wonderful man who is sweet, has a wicked sense of humor, and thinks I'm awesome. I don't think that online dating is right for everyone, but I don't think that it is inherently inferior to meeting people offline. Anyway, great writing and the Princess Bride reference made me smile.
P.S. Also, not every young adult uses it for casual sex. I'm 20, and a lot of the guys around my age group seemed to be interested in having a girlfriend/boyfriend relationship. Of course, that is my subjective view of it, so take that as you will.

May 18 11 - 11:03am

It was a true, not true and sometimes condescending. Try being a person living in a strange city knowing only one or two people then tell me dating sites are are just for people who want to get in relationship or casual sex. There is always that but I've met some great people and friends off that same site. It doesn't make me a sad, lonely person, it just makes me human. I've met a lot of ppl on and off the site but honestly some of the best friends I've made have been the truly honest ones, they're there if you care to look.

May 18 11 - 2:23pm

Interestingly enough, the only person I've had more than maybe four dates with from a dating site (same one, OKC), I met exactly in this way. He was moving cross-country to my town, and looked for women in his new area to give him the low-down. This quickly went from compelling virtual friendship (as he prepared to make his way here, and I did some forward scouting on his behalf) to... well, things deeper. I believe removing the Sword of Romantocles was the best way for this to have happened.

May 22 11 - 3:17am

Well written, but over-thought.

Start over with the last paragraphs about the girl you met in person who you liked. That's how you should lead.

You need more love in your heart, man, not your mind.

Jun 14 11 - 10:55pm

I found this hysterically funny. A mini ethnography of the experience of looking for *love* online on nerve but especially a parody So biting and gentle at once. The last time I was Nerve, every man I met had read Things Fall Apart. Agreed. But to advertise it?

Jun 26 11 - 6:01pm

Wow this was extremely well written and very insightful and descriptive. I whole-heartedly enjoyed reading this.