You mentioned to me that you do a little online dating, but where else do you interact with others online?

I’m on Twitter (small, infrequent frenzied bursts) and LinkedIn (does that count?) and Facebook.

Oh, and I also do online courses here and there. A big part of those courses is contributing to a discussion online.

I’m doing a course on food as medicine through FutureLearn right now.

You must be very busy!

Well, when I say ‘doing a course’, I really mean that I started and found it fascinating and then got behind in my reading, watching and discussing… The discussion spaces are interesting. You can ‘like’ comments and reply and follow people, etc. You quickly find like-minded people and people that you know you won’t agree with.

Like mini-social media environments?

Yes! The people running the course usually set a task, like, “tell us about a time when…”, or “what are some examples of x in your experience…” 

An advantage of online discussions for learning is that there is so much time to think and respond.

Can you see how many people are following you?

Yes, you can!

Does that impact on what kind of comments you post?

Hmm, well, I’d like to say no, that I’m completely open and honest, but I really do take care not to dismiss or disparage. I mean, I think I’m an over-discloser by nature, so I’m not too guarded.

If there was a physical classroom environment, would you be as likely to speak up?

Probably not in such volume! An advantage of online discussions for learning is that there is so much time to think and respond. I mean a thread can go on for days or weeks!

And the number of learners (hundreds in a course) means that there’s a huge diversity of thoughts being expressed. It’s exciting! You don’t get that in a physical, 1-hour class.

It feels like there is less of someone to grab onto online sometimes…

You mentioned that there are like-minded people, and people you may not agree with… do you interact with one group more than the other?

Definitely! I definitely talk to people who say things that I want to learn about! It’s nice to share experiences.

I was thinking about this the other day though. I heard someone say that they purposefully follow people and news sources that they know are going to express views that they don’t agree with. They thought it was of more value to understand those people than just agree, agree, agree. So maybe I should try to engage with the full diversity for a better experience.

In some online courses, you have to do group assignments. Those are really tricky online! It feels like there is less of someone to grab onto online sometimes and I often need to move to a phone call.

Less of someone to grab onto online… are you able to elabourate a little on that?

It depends how much you’ve communicated I guess, but for doing group work, I feel like I need to be able to make some predictions about how someone is going to work, express themselves and even the level of care they will invest in the work. It can be difficult to get a feel for that with some people.

I guess it is hard without body language…

Yes! A phone call can help, but meeting in person is the fastest!

People can get really close online. It can feel really safe and anonymous for as long as you need, and people can also skip to very direct and open communication very quickly.

Do you think it is possible to become close with people online, without that face to face interaction?

Yes, for sure! Online dating is testament to that.

I think, especially in a context designed for it, people can get really close online. It can feel really safe and anonymous for as long as you need, and people can also skip to very direct and open communication very quickly.

Which dating site(s) do you use?

I was on RSVP and Match for a while. But then I moved to Adult Match Maker (AMM).

Was your profile anonymous – or did you have face photos up; use your real name?

I have a pseudonym and no public photos at all on my personal profile (a photo of my face in a private gallery). I also have a profile with my partner and for that one we use a pseudonym but converse with people using our real first names. We have public photos that are fairly anonymous (not much face detail) and private photos of our faces.

What sort of things are important to reveal about yourself?

For me, politics is pretty important. I feel very uncomfortable trying to get to know someone, even if I know it will be a once off physical meeting, if I find their politics abhorrent (or if I know they find mine abhorrent).

Something that is strange about those profile questions, is how binary they can be.

I guess one of the great things about online dating sites is you can weed out the political beliefs pretty easily.

Yes, on sites like RSVP, it is one the profile attributes that you fill in. You can identify as left or right-wing or middle of the road.

Something that is strange about those profile questions, is how binary they can be. The options for religion or ethnic background, for example, are listed, and you might not fit neatly in. Or extrovert/introvert. That’s always a tricky one. Or body type, that can be a delicate push and pull on any given day.

How do you go with that, fitting yourself into a neat box on a website… does it change how you have to represent yourself?

I find it tricky. I find myself elaborating in conversation fairly early on.

It’s a weird process really, because it’s an interesting mix of wanting to be noticed by someone nice, but wanting to avoid other contact. In ‘the flesh’ I tend towards being less noticeable, so it can be difficult saying much at all about myself. In the longer-form bits of a dating profile, I focus more on what I’m after than what I am.

Do you ever consciously think about… let’s say a strategy, for lack of a better word… for finding the right match?

A little. But I think I’m more in the ‘it’s ok if you don’t like me’ than the ‘you should like me’ camp. If that makes sense. I certainly see strategies in action!

I’ve seen statistics about the proportions of men and women on dating sites, particularly ones like AMM, and maybe it’s because I’m female that I can get away with having no big strategy.

There read that there are complaints from men who were sending hundreds of messages with no response, while women often don’t send many messages at all, and don’t have time to respond to all the ones they receive.

Yes! Men complaining about the lack of replies, or attempting to start a communication with ‘will you be one of the nice ones who takes the time to reply’, is really common!

That’s quite an opening line.

Yes. Perhaps only marginally better than ‘hey babe’!

Actually, marginally worse.

Do you experience much passive aggression like this in the online dating scene?

Yes, usually passive. Usually a message that I’m a time-waster, or not a real person if I don’t respond. Nothing too horrible, although I have spoken to women who have experienced more aggression. People might attack the way she looks or express some sexually violent sentiment if she doesn’t respond.

Do you take the comments you get to heart or just wave them off?

I wave them off! These people don’t know me, so I can’t take anything to heart.

Men often talk about getting into conversations with ‘bots’, people overseas, or people trying to make money somehow. I haven’t come across that. I have met people that misrepresented themselves online – usually with a younger photo of themselves.

One man asked for date-stamped photos and another asked for a video of me following an instruction. Both to verify that my photo would be of me and up to date.

How’d you react to that?

Well, I did both at the time. I guess I can understand the paranoia a little.

One man told me that he organised to meet someone and couldn’t find her at the designated location. He called her and heard the phone ring next to him. It was a completely different person than portrayed in the online photo! I wonder what people expect will happen in that situation.

If you like someone, it’s hard not to reflect what you think they want.

Does knowing about this kind of thing make you think about how you portray yourself online?

Sure. I can’t imagine using a photo of someone else, and I try to make sure that I look like myself in photos! That tangles me up sometimes! I might take several photos and choose what I consider is best. But then I start to wonder how accurate a portrayal it is! I usually ask someone else if it looks like me. Even the image that I see in the mirror every morning is probably not accurate. For one thing, I’m in reverse! And for another, I have inanimate mirror face on!

I guess written profiles are really like this too. They draw an image of a person, but maybe well-coiffed image at best, and possibly not a real one at all.

But the same can happen in a more drawn-out, perhaps less obvious way in the flesh anyway. If you like someone, it’s hard not to reflect what you think they want.

I really wonder how I look. Images are so curated!

I think there are challenges both online and offline. Think of a job interview or a real-life date. Even just conversations at work or on the train. I think we manage our outward-facing bits most of the time. Not always well!

I once came across a dating profile that was written by someone’s mum. I guess that might have its own inaccuracies.

Images aside, do you think your friends and family, the people who know you offline, would recognize you based on how you describe yourself in either your dating profiles or in the forums for your course?

That’s a good question! I’d really love to test that! My dating profile would be too sparse. They might suspect it is me by my excessive enthusiasm for nerdy topics and ridiculous exclamation-mark use!

I once came across a dating profile that was written by someone’s mum. I guess that might have its own inaccuracies.

That’s an interesting way to write a dating profile.

Yes, interesting and a little off-putting! They were upfront about it! Dating profiles can be so great to read! Do you think so?

I think maybe that the way we present to the world, online or off, can be really conscious and deliberate, but I think less so with time and familiarity.

I find it really interesting what people decide to share about themselves.

From having a couple profile with my partner, it’s been interesting to me to see how he is online with other people – in a profile and in conversation with men and with women. It’s so fascinating! We all have such different styles and ways of being and interacting.

I often skirt around and try not to offend, and my partner will just say, not interested, good luck. I wonder if that is a self-preservation thing that I do. Anticipating male anger or something.

Did your two identities merge?

Yes. Writing the profile was excruciating for me. We wrote a little paragraph about each other and then what we wanted. But I notice how direct he is when talking to men. And his language. It’s different when he talks to women. I guess we’re all like that, but it’s interesting to notice!

And you know what we spoke about before, about the way a man might react if you don’t respond? I (I wonder if all women do) often skirt around and try not to offend, and my partner will just say, not interested, good luck. I wonder if that is a self-preservation thing that I do. Anticipating male anger or something.

I think gender on AMM is really interesting. Also, the sexuality that someone might identify as. I’ve found that a lot of people say they’re straight, and are really more bisexual. It’s almost weird for people to be completely binary. In my own biased sample anyway. AMM has straight, gay, bi and bi-curious categories. But it doesn’t really cover the gamut!

When men talk to each other, about sex, they seem to negotiate all of the complexities (what is on offer, who will top etc) really easily. It’s interesting.

Do you think this is kind of a reflection on how women are in a way? 

Oh, for sure! Some women are good at it, sometimes only with men. I find it difficult with men or women, loathe as I am to be so stereotypical! I find it endlessly fascinating though!

 

 


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