I am currently single. I don’t go out to bars, mostly because that entails staying out way past my normal bedtime. I don’t date where I work and all of my friends are happily married, and, so it seems, are all their friends. While I am often stopped and asked for directions – and this happens wherever I am in the world – I have never otherwise been approached in public, despite the miles I put in walking the dog. But this is only some background, not the real point.
I’ve been giving the online dating scene a whirl (in the spirit of disclosure – I met my last significant other online, so this isn’t my first experience with dating sites). And it occurred to my always working and somewhat convoluted mind, that Twitter and online dating are not dissimilar.
“both are a little like a popularity contest”
Both qualify as social networking, one within the broad universe of an diverse participatory online community sharing a variety of mutual interests, the other a group of seekers after a narrower, more specific, more personal connection.
Both allow you to search – one for a date and the other for friends or “tweeps”. Twitter is a little more like the happenstance of a casual meeting resulting in a desire to keep in touch to build a relationship based on mutual interests. Online dating is more like a shopping experience, in an artificial environment where someone else has decided what the format is and what the key qualifiers should be.
Both can be a huge time drain. You want to check in. You want to see how you’re doing. Did anyone follow you? Mention you? Retweet you? What’s the latest hot topic? For the dating sites, did you get mail? A smile or a wink? Has anyone checked out your profile? Who’s new? Who’s online? The fact that you get notifications makes you constantly aware of any action and it’s like an itch – you need to look to be satisfied.
Both are a little like a popularity contest. Especially for those with high affinity needs, the number of followers you have for Twitter or how many members you have connected with or are in the process of getting to know on the dating site can make, or break, your day.
You can represent yourself however you wish in each environment, disclosing as much, or as little, as you wish. With Twitter it’s more about being genuine, where on the dating sites, it really directly corresponds to honesty.
Both work better with pictures. Twitter, because it adds a level of credibility to have a visual of the person with whom you’re interacting. In online dating it is even more important, first to prove you are a real live person and secondly, because if you don’t have a photo it raises the question “What does this person have to hide?” Believe me, I struggled with this intitally when joining a dating site. I was worried about what a colleague or business associate might think if they came across my picture. My conclusion? If they saw my picture, then they too were a member, in a similar situation and those who live in glass houses know better than to throw stones.
In both cases, it’s much better if the picture is: 1.) Actually you – I have seen photos of Brad Pitt and George Clooney used as avatars both on Twitter and as personal photos on dating sites; 2.) Is recent – because it’s the honest thing to do and especially in the case of the dating sites, you might actually want to meet at some point. It’s sort of awkward if you’re not recognizable to the person with whom you’re hoping to enter into a relationship.
Participating in Twitter and online dating is less anxiety inducing if you assume everyone has the best of intentions and you strive to interpret every comment you receive the best light. Like the “fitness trainer” who dropped me a line on the dating site offering “to get me in shape” in return for some personal service from me; I chose to believe that he meant to help me get into better shape and that he intended to use traditional workout methods to do so. (I replied that if I were looking for a personal trainer, I’d go to a gym.)
“many people don’t really know why they’re on Twitter”
But here’s how they differ: People on dating sites know why they are on dating sites – they are looking for a hook-up, someone to hang out with, a friend, activity partner, a date, a spouse or their soul mate. Many people don’t really know why they are on Twitter. They feel they need to participate or they are there because everyone else is doing it. Many people don’t have a goal or a strategy and are probably not optimizing their experience.
Twitter, seems to be more open, honest and genuine, perhaps because it’s more public, but perhaps it is also because it’s a more casual association. The stakes are lower compared to when you’re looking for a life partner or even your next one-night stand.
Communication is easier and natural, more open and casual on Twitter, although there is a certain amount of shameless self-promotion and one-way broadcasting. But generally, agendas are less complicated, more straightforward and above-board than what you would find on dating sites, when the conversion may quickly get embarrassing personal. (Sorry, must sign off, my dog is scratching at the door to go out!)
Twitter lets you keep score of your connections, counting how many people follow you, how many people you follow, how many times you have tweeted and who has shared your tweets. Most dating sites let you know who has viewed your profile, but it doesn’t track other performance statistics.
And I think that’s probably a very good thing. My ego is fragile enough as it is!