OkCupid, at least, is rife with nerdy graduate students, Epic employees, the outdoorsy types, and near-east-siders who like biking, gardening and beards. But even if you manage to narrow in on your perfect on-paper match, there is still that one intangible and mysterious thing even an algorithm can't predict: Yet, nearly a year into my on-and-off relationship with OkCupid, and despite many dates and one short-lived "thing," I still haven't felt that in-person magic with anyone. In fact, the man with whom I've had the highest compatibility score turned out to be on a very different page.
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The offline spark is difficult, perhaps impossible, to replicate online. It may be the part of the relationship initiation process where conventional dating will always trump the virtual version. But then you meet in person, and you don't really groove with each other," says Phin, According to Toma, social psychology research casts doubt on whether algorithms, which essentially measure personality traits, can actually say anything about compatibility.
No two-dimensional profile can convey the full complexity of a person or of human interaction. And, with the curated nature of profiles, there is also the risk of false advertising. Toma's research has focused on the prevalence of deception in online dating. Their fibs were pretty minor, however. Men tended to exaggerate their height by an inch, and women fudged their weight by about eight pounds. Toma called this strategic lying, or explainable compensations for perceived shortcomings.
Fortunately, the Madison men I've met appear truthful, although I've never carried a measuring stick with me on dates to be sure. A handful of my interviewees haven't been as lucky; the most extreme surprises included a possible mental disability, an apparent psychological disorder and a certain crime record.
The initial plunge into Madison's online pool can be invigorating.
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The options seem endless, and the attention is flattering. Then the weeks pass, the number of new and interesting faces dwindles, the messages slow to a trickle, and the challenge of dating resurfaces. A former New Yorker, Max has found Madison's petite online dating scene both charming and frustrating: Indeed, the probability you are already connected in the real world to whoever has caught your eye in the virtual world is high in Madison.
Online dating gives her a more direct way of talking to a girl she is interested in, rather than scoping her out through friends. When he first joined OkCupid, Harry's immediate top three matches were women he knew personally. Inevitably, you'll also end up recognizing complete strangers on the bus, in the Jenifer Street Market, at Alchemy, at a friend's house party or [insert other real-life Madison location], only to realize you've viewed their profile.
Even online, geography may still determine whom you meet in Madison, a city seemingly zoned by stereotype.
I am also a near-east-sider and a former UW-Madison graduate student. I too have found it likely that the gentlemen I choose to meet live nearby. The closest lived half a block from me. Madison's size also makes dating overlap comically probable, especially if you and your friends have similar tastes. Emily, a friend of mine, ended up sharing dates repeatedly with a mutual friend of ours. Once I had my eye on one man's profile and had been considering making the first move, and then I found out a good friend of mine had just had a very romantic evening with him.
A few friends of mine have even jokingly discussed creating a shared Google spreadsheet of the men they've met online, to compare notes. I think they were half-serious. As the profiles become increasingly familiar and the first-maybe-second dates pile up, the Madison dating pool starts to feel not just small, but also crowded, creating another high probability: When he first joined OkCupid, Sean identified as bisexual.
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A little while into one of his first dates with a man, it slowly dawned on him that he had been out with his date's sister the week prior. An awkward conversation confirmed his suspicion. There was no second date with either sibling. Sarah once ran into two former dates in the waiting room of a doctor's office, on the same occasion. As I was writing this article, a man I had corresponded with months ago but never ended up meeting sat at a table next to me in Ground Zero Coffee.
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