The idea that online dating sucks for straight people is as old as online dating itself. A few weeks ago, as I watched Luciann Lajoie explain in great theatrical detail the (however brief) life of a frantic serial online-dater in Date, I was reminded of just what terrified me so much about online dating: a phenomenon I call "chasing the popcorn."
Stolen from a scene in 1992's fashionably grunge, pop-culturally inaccurate rom-com, Singles, "chasing the popcorn" refers to the idea that no matter how many provisions, expectations, rules and filters you put on someone to make sure they fit a "perfect match" criteria, you can't fake chemistry. In the scene below, Debbie spends a ton of time, money and energy on a dating service called "Expect the Best" (which should have informed her character from the get-go that things were going to suck):
Through the process of elimination and help from her friends, she picks Bicycle Guy to go on a date with. Debbie then completely transforms her exterior, appearing as a faux-cycling enthusiast in order to impress -- and falsely align with his very specific interests -- and ends up missing the date completely, only to later find Bicycle Guy at her apartment making popcorn with her roommate, Pammy from You-Dub.
Pammy essentially makes the popcorn (natural chemistry with Bicycle Guy), and Debbie ends up fruitlessly chasing the popcorn -- despite all her hard work.
Though Singles is set in a time before socially-acceptable online dating practices came into existence, it was a good indicator of the online dating outcome I'm ultimately afraid of -- trying too hard for chemistry. (It's also an excuse to relate more of life to a movie I've shamelessly loved since I saw it in seventh grade.)
As I learned when an on-and-off boyfriend eventually left me for my roommate with whom he shared a mutual love of watching sci-fi movies and reading Adbusters, you can't fight chemistry. You can't make it happen the way you want, when you want, with whomever you want. But online dating sure makes it seem that way.
The bigger problem, though? Online dating for straight people misses the most important point: Straight people aren't honest about what they really want. Not online, at least. If you are honestly just looking to get down with a stranger in some kind of modern booty call situation, Craigslist is an option. Except then you have to wade through dozens of camera-phone-in-the-toothpaste-backwash-covered-bathroom-mirror pictures of dudes looking for "Harry Pussy" or guys trying to lure a "cool chick" in with promises of crappy Jane's Addiction tickets. And dude, let me tell you, you can meet that guy at 24hour Fitness; you don't need the faceless ambiguity of Craigslist.
OKCupid seems to be doing the work formerly done by Myspace and Make Out Club (where I did once meet a boy I happily dated for a whole nine awesome and fucked-up months), allowing people to browse a database of seemingly normal people without providing a ton of information or money. But even then -- as a friend of mine recently experienced -- you might meet a dude who says he's looking for a long-term relationship, only to find out that he's just looking to bone. Which is fine. Except it seems that heteros have a big problem admitting that (or they end up looking like they put a Craigslist ad on OKCupid).
This is where gay dudes have it better. With gay dudes, there's no hidden agenda; If you wanna meet a bi twink (within eight hundred feet of you) who's DTF, you've got an app like Grindr. If you're into bears, leather men and, well, gays of more shapes and sizes who might want to hang as well as hook up, there's the Scruff app. Daddyhunt (or its companion app, Mister) lets you search for, uh, daddies, and Manhunt lets you search for anyone.
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It's all laid out for you, and what's more, when talking about these websites within a real-life social circle, it's okay to say you met someone on Grindr. It's okay to acknowledge that you were looking for someone to do it with in your car on a Friday night. There is little shame, and if there is, it doesn't seem nearly as prominent as the fear that straights have simply admitting to online dating.
The straight people I know who have used online dating fall into one of two categories: Either they do it on the down-low, hardly, if ever, revealing it to a another person in real life -- or they do it obsessively and tell everyone. Tell everyone, as in blurt out "I went out with this guy I met on Match [you even give the website a nickname], went home, brushed my teeth, went on a date with another guy I met on Match," to a room full of co-workers who never asked to know. It's just like how alcoholics eventually stop calling booze by its name on the label and start ordering "wake up juice" or "the usual."
I'm not getting all hetero-presumptuous and saying meeting people on the internet is cake for the gay community. I'm talking about one segment of the GLBTQ population I interact with on a daily basis, and I am speaking strictly from an outside point of view. But what stands out to me is the openness. Sure, I know dudes whose iPhones go dead daily due to Grindr's heavy necessity for GPS eating up every last percentage of battery. But I also notice that when my gay dude friends happen to meet someone on one of these apps or websites, they talk about it. In real life.
Yes, they, too sometimes end up chasing the popcorn when they want to be making the popcorn. But they're definitely more honest with the popcorn.