Are you in a loving relationship? Not me. Why? Well, it may have something to do with not having mainstream interests, working in an industry dominated by males, not drinking, not able to withstand loud music, and not noticing subtle nonverbal cues. Just maybe. (It also doesn't help that I'm not in great shape right now, although I hope that this will change in the upcoming months with my recent gym subscription.)
So the possibilities to seek and find love in normal life are rather limited to me, and boiled down to a single question: where do women matches with similar interests to me are likely to be? Many people have suggested to me to subscribe to a few group activities that I would be interested in, but I always ended being with people way too young, of the wrong gender or already in a relationship. Meanwhile I've seen people find their partners using online dating services, and being very technology-savvy myself I felt this was the best way I could find love.
I have spent countless hours actively on 4 different online dating services and reading about what works and what doesn't, and the only date that I was able to get ended up with the girl not even showing up.
Maybe I could have found a hookup on Tinder during that time, but considering I was looking for a serious relationship, I eliminated that service straight away due to its design of selecting candidates primarily based on looks. Also note that I also eliminated premium services as well since my research suggested that they were actually slightly worse than the free/freemium alternatives.
So with that in mind, let's analyze what happened.
I chose this service first because it was one of the longest-running, had many users and was the only one in which I could search and read profiles before creating a profile myself in order for me to assess the quality of the service, which seemed good at first glance.
The first issue I encountered was how tedious finding candidates are. It seems like a lot of single girls are really into traveling for some reason. Personally, I'm not into it, and I can't justify the costs associated with this hobby. Therefore, I passed hours and hours reading through profiles and looking at their pictures, and that was just for this one single criteria; I still had to weed out smokers, dog owners (we just don't get along), fanatics, extremists, prostitutes, and so on. Only then could I start looking for potential common interests. And to be honest, I found this task so laborious that I was too exhausted to contact most of the remaining candidates.
The next issue that I found is that most girls I did contact just don't reply. Ironically, the only replies I got were from people with an obvious antisocial issue listed on their profile - I'll spare you of how those went down. Similarly, I only got contacted by spammers. I eventually figured out one of the big reasons of this lack of communication: girls in big cities are bombarded by messages from guys, usually exclusively for a hookup. They don't have much of a reason to search for candidates themselves, and more in-depth messages are just going to get lost in hundreds of low-quality messages.
I concluded that these two issues together make it not worth the time investment. I decided to look for an alternative that didn't have those issues.
Coffee Meets Bagel
I chose this service next because it seemed to solve the two issues above in novel ways. First, profiles are officially prioritized by the proximity of Facebook connections, so they are more likely to match. Second, unless you're part of the LGBT community, guys are limited to look at about 3 or 4 candidates per day, while girls only see guys that liked them and are the only ones that can initiate a conversion. This seemed reasonable to me as this system encourages everyone to take the time to read profiles before the first contact.
Of course, there was a major issue right away for me: a Facebook account was required, and I didn't have one. I already expected that I would get worse matches due to this and I felt that I could live with it, but I didn't expect the requirement. The official explanation I got from their support staff is that Facebook is used to ensure users are real people, which turned out to be totally false as I was able to create a Facebook account without any identity verification whatsoever. Speaking of which, it took me about 2 hours to create the account and set it up to be as private as possible because I didn't want to use it for any other means. Not a good start, but at least it was a one-time thing.
The next issue that I got was that after using the service for a few weeks, I still didn't get any matches, despite constantly making improvements to my user profile and despite stumbling on quite a few profiles that seemed compatible with me. I just got more and more frustrated, and then it dawned on me that the whole system didn't benefit user experience at all, but rather the service's freemium business model. The limited quantity of candidates per day was the hook to keep coming back daily and also the reason you'd want to throw some cash in to bypass it. It didn't make dating better, it just made it slower.
As I was at the verge of giving up, another unexpected issue suddenly came up: the mobile app started to constantly crash at launch. I first thought it was a temporary issue, but days passed and the issue persisted. I tried to clear up the saved data just in case it got corrupted, but then I got a generic error every time I tried to sign in. Even reinstalling the app didn't work.
I eventually figured out that the version of the app I was using was not the latest version, but an older version from 2 years ago. But guess what? The Google Play Store still told me I had the latest version! It appears the latest version was not compatible with my Android device, and I was only able to figure this out by looking at the Google Play Store from a web browser instead of through the Android app. After contacting support to verify if they silently dropped support for my device, I got a surprising answer: it's actually a bug! Of course, they never fixed it, despite sending them the actual Android developer documentation about device compatibility months ago.
In the end, I had to contact support again to close the account.
This service is very similar to the previous one in concept, with one major difference: there is no limit to the number of candidates to review. Therefore, it seemed to fix the issue I was having previously with the latter.
However, I immediately got a red flag after downloading the Android app: it requested way too many permissions than it should have. For instance, there is absolutely no reason for a dating service to have a copy of anyone's personal list of telephone numbers, and yet it did request mine. I initially rejected this service due to the security risk, but as I was growing desperate and coming to the conclusion that there wasn't much private data on my phone I cared about anyway, I did allow it.
Once I did that, I stumbled on yet again a Facebook account requirement. And it's not like it's used for better matches this time around - it's exclusively used for identity verification. Again, the official word I got from them is that this is this to ensure only real people use the service, but as I have explained earlier this is false.
After signing in with my mostly-empty Facebook account, a tutorial appeared explaining that I needed to swipe right to get to the next screen. I bring this up because they couldn't even get that part right - you had to actually swipe in the opposite direction to proceed. The worst part is that I saw multiple 1-star reviews on the Google Play Store of people stumbling on this exact problem and giving up, with official responses suggesting that it was user error.
Then, the app asked me to turn on the location feature on my Android device, which I did. It then asked me again. And again. And again. And again. And... you get the idea. I believe what was going on is that I only enabled GPS location, not Wi-Fi nor mobile network location as I didn't feel safe sharing the other two, which confused the app. Eventually it gave up and I got prompted to write my location manually. And then, I got prompted to enable location again. And again. And again. In fact, after this point, I got a required prompt to enable location every single time I switched to a different screen, which required pressing on a button to go to the Android settings page, then switch back to the app without performing any changes. That's about every 2 minutes on average. Needless to say, I didn't use the service for long. Oh, and actually turning off location prevents using the app completely.
At this point I was supposed to fill my profile. First, I had to import some of it from Facebook. This didn't go so well as it was mostly empty. At this point, not only did I get a bunch of errors, but I was not able to fill in the information manually. Worse, one of the fields was stuck to "null". As for the other fields, I was limited to about 200 characters - way less than what I felt was necessary to describe myself on a dating profile in a clever way.
Next is the photo verification feature. It's not required but it adds a mark on your profile that it's genuine. The process is interesting: the user is asked to perform a selfie (you can't pick an existing photo) while in a specific unique pose, which is then sent privately and used exclusively to verify the pose and to compare the person on it with existing profile pictures. If all tests pass, you get the mark. I'm not sure if the final verification is done by a human or an AI, nor if it takes into account deleting all pictures and uploading unrelated ones, nor how many possible poses exist, nor how reliable this verification is, but I kinda liked the idea... until I tried it.
My photo verification challenge was to take a full picture of myself in front of a mirror standing up, with the front camera of my device pointing at it, the arm holding the device straight down, the free hand of my other arm placed on my forehead, and the elbow of that arm bent as far away from me as possible. I can't tell you which hand was which because it wasn't clear from the directions if the diagram was supposed to match my real self or the mirrored image of the selfie photo, or if it mattered at all. First, I had trouble finding a suitable location. Second, it's hard to look at the device to determine if the angle is correct. Third, it's extremely difficult to press on the shutter button in this position. Fourth, you still fail the test if the picture is too dark; I had to wait daytime on a sunny day to pass the test. Finally, every single shot taken is saved on your device without your knowledge, with an additional copy saved when submitted. Was it worth the trouble? Definitively not.
But all of those are technical issues. What about actually finding matches? Well, guess what: I still got nothing. After discussing my frustration with the person that recommended me this service, he showed me how he used it... and I was in complete shock! I realized the ultimate strategy for guys is to like everyone as fast as possible, and filter only after a match occurs. You don't even need to look at the screen to do so - just swipe with one hand while multitasking with the other. Worse, with a free plan, girls only have 24 hours to like back before they lose the opportunity, so it breaks the whole system.
That was too much for me and decided to close my account, and there came the final nail in the coffin: after asking feedback about why I was leaving the service, the app suddenly closed. No goodbye message or anything. That was probably the first time I experienced a piece of software that was rude to me.
I'm not sure why it took me a while to try this one. I don't recall stumbling on it for a long time, and yet it had very good reviews. Plus, it had a feature that seemed to solve the whole sorting issue that I was having: matches based on answers to personal multiple-choice questions. Not only were there thousands of questions that can be optionally answered (15 being the minimum), but in addition you can specify which answers are acceptable from a candidate, their degree of importance, and an optional explanation field. It seemed like the perfect solution to me.
First, let's just say that answering thousands of questions takes a long time, and sometimes the questions were open to interpretation or did not feature an answer I wanted to pick. Also, some of the questions were way too specific - I stumbled on one applicable only to New York residents for instance.
But then the data was used in very strange ways. I was still matched with tons of travelers and dog owners despite my answers stating that I didn't want to be matched with such people. I was often matched with transgenders even though I was only seeking straight woman. Also, even though I'm not religious, I once got recommended a Jew that was only seeking other Jews, and apparently we had a 99% religion compatibility because we both answered that we weren't Christian, nor Buddhists, nor Taoists, etc. Oh, and according to the service's own stats, compared to other users of the same gender, orientation, and age as me, apparently I'm in the top 5% sex-driven and the bottom 2% friendly while maintaining a 99.9% match compatibility. I'll let you come to your own conclusions about that one.
As for actually finding matches, I got a few but nothing concrete, with girls dropping out of the conversation for seemingly no reason despite it being promising. As for the rest, it seemed like every useful feature was locked behind a paywall. With a free plan, you could like but not send messages nor see other likes until a match occurred. If you did get liked, which happened to me about once per full day of activity, then the only option was to go through a seemingly-random list of profiles while not being able to check their answers to individual questions, and hope the person was near the top of the stack and without knowing if you passed them already. Oh, and of course you need to pay for more exposure through that list yourself. Apparently most of those features were introduced fairly recently, with other convenience features to find candidates removed, which is a real shame.
I'm not giving up on online dating. What I'm giving up however are dating services whose business model are not to create relationships. Instead, every single dating service I've seen so far, both online and offline, are about monetizing exposure or bypassing artificial limitations. I know relationship creation is something intangible, but maybe one day I'll find a service that can meet this requirement.
Since then, I visited a dating agency, which was my solution of last resort due to its very high price. Basically, the agent started enumerating every single thing that I hated in life as potential interests to share with partners, and followed by strongly suggesting to me that I needed to completely change my personality otherwise there was no point for me to hire their services in the first place as it would most likely end in failure as well. I really don't think that would end up being healthy.
Update 2019-02-03: Since I originally wrote this post, my thoughts have clarified, and my original conclusion is no longer relevant. I will describe my updated thoughts below.
First, I've yet to come up with a solution to solve my original problem aside from talking to random people I cross path with in public, against all odds linked to this approach. However, I started attending speed dating events to optimize this process. I got quite a few matches so far, but nothing that went beyond a few dates for now.
What I've come to realize however was that I was focusing on the wrong problem. I was incorrectly assuming that sharing at least one common interest was a prerequisite to sharing pleasant moments together. I now believe that similar core values and a compatible lifestyle is much more important.
Maybe one day I'll meet an open, smart and independent woman that meet such criteria with which we could share a loving relationship. In the meantime, I can only hope... and not remain passive about it.