Monthly Archives: November 2014

Most Online Dating Advice is Terrible

Online Dating

In my guide to OkCupid, I included the following:

PROTIP 2: DO NOT TRY TO MAXIMIZE THE AMOUNT OF MESSAGES OR DATES YOU GET! Most online dating advice will give you tips on how to broadly increase your appeal. Don’t fall into this trap. I’ll probably write a full post on this topic later, but for now, remember: you are a unique person, with strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and weirdness. Don’t try to make a profile that appeals to everyone. Instead, try to make a profile that appeals to only people who would actually be good partners for you. In other words: be honest about who you are. Instead of trying to make a good impression, try to make an accurate one. To the right people, that will be a good impression. You’ll also waste less time on bad matches, because they’ll all be scared off after finding out that you’re not what they’re looking for.

There is plenty of advice out there that advises the opposite. The first offender is Amy Webb. Webb created multiple fake profiles and crunched the numbers on 72 different data points. She took all of her data and created the most appealing profile she could. She offers ten pieces of advice. Some are ok, but most are terrible, and will virtually guarantee you bad matches. Webb got lucky and met a guy she actually likes, but I guarantee you, unless you have no personality, these suggestions will not help you meet the right people:

Amy Webb's TED talk

Amy Webb’s TED talk

5. Don’t use specifics. Avoid mentioning specific comedians, shows, books, musicians or movies unless those are top-tier attributes on your list. It’s possible to be generic about what you like while still being specific enough to sound interesting. Just because you like Louis C.K. or Kid Cudi doesn’t mean that a potential suitor does. Unless that comedian is one of your deal-breakers, leave him or her off your profile.

No. Seriously no. Remember in high school, when you would ask someone want bands they like, and they would say “I don’t know… what bands do you like?” Don’t be that person. Say what you like. That sort of thing really matters to some people, so it’s better to tell them sooner rather than later.

6. Avoid taboo topics. If there’s something in your life or personality that may be controversial or taboo, leave it off your profile. Perhaps you are an avid NRA member, are passionately Pro-Choice, or a strong advocate for medical marijuana—you may want to leave out things that someone could potentially interpret that information in a way that disadvantages you. Odds are you may turn off more people than you attract.

This is the single worst piece of advice I’ve ever seen. This is basically advising you to hide what you care about until you’ve already “caught” your mark. If you’re passionately pro-choice, why on Earth would you want to date someone who has a problem with that? Ideological compatibility is important! And OkCupid is one of the best tools for figuring it out! This advice will not help you meet people who like you. It will help you meet people who don’t like you, but just don’t know it yet.

7. Save your accomplishments for later. If you’ve won a Pulitzer or climbed Mount Everest or for some reason own a jet, this is wonderful news—just don’t share it online. These are the types of details to work into a conversation on your first or second date. If someone introduced himself to you at a party, would the next thing out of your mouth be items off your resume? Of course not, so don’t act that way online. Let your personality win someone’s interest, not your bragging rights.

This… offends me. This advice seems obviously gendered. Webb’s experience is as a hetero woman, so her advice is most relevant to hetero women. Men are notoriously threatened by women who accomplish more than them. Webb’s advice? Just downplay your accomplishments! Then you can land yourself a nice, patriarchal, head-of-household to father your children! Barf.

9. Use the 20 hour rule. If someone instant messages you while you’re online, go ahead and IM back if you want. Otherwise, wait 20 to 23 hours between e-mail contacts for the first few messages. Webb found that successful daters waited that amount of time and as a result still seemed eager without coming off as desperate.

Don't be this guy

Don’t be this guy

I’m gonna let Urban Dictionary take this one: “a rule used by douchebag guys who think that waiting three days after a date to call means that the girl will want them more, when really it just pisses them off.” But hey, now it’s for women too! Don’t play these games. If you want to message someone, message them.

Offender number two is Chris McKinlay. McKinlay was having trouble meeting women online, so, being a mathematician, he decided statistically calculate (with the help of several sockpuppets and bots) how to appeal to women. He focused on match percentage. To his credit, he answered all questions honestly, but he manipulated the importance ratings to boost his match percentage with the right demographics. He ended up with over 10,000 90+ percent matches in L.A.

Bad dating advice, now with math!

Bad dating advice, now with math!

Next, he wrote a script which would cause his profile to visit 1,000 profiles per day. Users can see who visits their profile, so this got him a lot of attention. He started getting hundreds of visitors per day and tons of messages.

Here is where you can tell that McKinlay’s strategy is hare-brained: he started going on dates. Bad dates. He started cramming in 2-3 dates per day, and still had no luck. Ultimately, he went on 88 first dates. Out of 88 dates, he had four second dates, two third dates, and one person who he was still dating a year later.

That… is not a good track record. Out of 88 dates, he had 4 second dates. That’s a success rate of 4.5%. That’s terrible! And it’s exactly the kind of thing that happens when you try to appeal to large amount of people instead of only to the right people. I’ve been on OkCupid for about four years, and I think I’ve only been on about 50 first dates. That’s about one first date per month. If I’d needed 88 to meet a good match, I still wouldn’t have made it! However, almost none of my dates have been unpleasant, over 50% of those have led to second dates, and a substantial amount of them are people that I’m either still dating or are friends with. The reason is that my profile only appeals to people who have a good chance of actually liking me (and vice versa).

McKinlay wasted huge amounts of time on bad matches because his profile wasn’t designed to scare away people that don’t like him. So what happened was neither he nor his date were able to tell that they weren’t into each other until actually going on the date. For a guy who is all about efficiency, that seem terribly inefficient. Unless you’re really into going on bad dates, it’s much better to let those people sort themselves out before they even write to you.

The actual effective part of McKinlay’s strategy was that his profile visited 1,000 women’s profiles per day. Anyone could do that and end up with a lot of interest. If he’d only designed his profile better, his matches probably would have been much better, and we wouldn’t have needed to invest so much time in bad matches before meeting the right one.

If you want some good advice, read Erica Jagger. Jagger wanted casual sex. So she made a profile that hinted at her desire for casual sex, until some dickhead wrote to her about how “unseemly” it was for a 50-year-old woman to openly have an interest in sex. Not one to be bullied, she added a section to her profile making her interest in sex absolutely explicit.

Adding this clause did exactly what it was designed to do. It has given men who are really just looking for sex permission to contact me and say just that. It has attracted men who have a sense of humor and who respect a woman who owns her sexuality. It has prompted conversations about the wasted time and hurt feelings caused by the lack of sexual transparency. And, I’m happy to report, it has not elicited a single outraged response from a man who thinks he has the right to regulate my sexuality.

Owning my sexuality, both on OkCupid, and in real life, has been profoundly empowering. It’s a gift that has come with age. I was so crippled by social conventions when I was young that I compartmentalized my sexual persona — a move that killed the chance for true intimacy with any man.

The only regret I have about coming out of the “good girl” closet is that it took me until I turned 50 to do so.

If you’re reading online dating advice, go with the person telling you to be yourself, not the person telling you to pretend to be someone else. You’ll meet better matches, you’ll waste less time, and you’ll have an overall better experience.

Consent-Based Relationships

As part of this year’s Beyond the Love polyamory conference, I gave a presentation on relationship anarchy. Most of the content has already appeared on the blog in my previous posts about relationship anarchy, and it drew heavily from my posts about rules and decision-making.

The presentation closed with a discussion of how anarchic relationships actually work in practice. The main idea is that anarchic relationships are completely consent-based, down to the smallest details. This is how I visualize it:
anarchic relationships

As you can see, the idea is that “a relationship” consists of the activities that both people genuinely want to engage in. Anything that I want to do that you don’t want to do, we don’t do. I either do that with someone else who consents, I do it alone, or I just don’t do it.

This can sound somewhat harsh, but in practice it isn’t that far from what most people believe. What I want to do is infinitely changeable. The fact that a partner wants to do something can easily move something into the “I want to do that” category. There are many things I do with my current partners that wouldn’t be enjoyable without them. Just knowing that something would help a partner to be happy is often all the motivation I need to do it. But sometimes it isn’t, and that’s ok too. And that’s the key difference in a consent-based relationship. When your relationship is based on consent, you will affirm and support a partner’s decision to say “no” to you.

I don’t actually know too many people who disagree with this outlook. But I know a LOT of people who will get angry at a partner for not doing what they want. My theory is that the anger is inspired by the fact that their happiness is not a sufficient motivating factor. I also think that people are very good at fooling themselves into believing that their partner is acting free of coercion, when really their partner is just doing what they want to avoid a fight or other negative consequences. It’s easy to say “I’m angry because you wouldn’t come with me to my cousin’s wedding.” It’s more complicated to say “I’m upset because my happiness wasn’t enough to motivate you to want to come to the wedding.” In the former, the solution is easy – just go to the wedding! With the latter, there is no clear solution, and you may just need to adjust your future expectations to reflect the reality of the situation.

Despite that, however, I think it’s a good idea to affirm the general idea that a consent-based relationship involves only activities that both parties genuinely want to do. If you find yourself doing things that you don’t actually want to do, it’s worth thinking about why you’re doing them. If fear of consequences imposed by your partner is motivating you, it may be a sign that there is a problem in your relationship.

It is my firm belief that all ethical relationships are consent-based. Coercing a partner into doing what you want is never an ethical thing to do. Just as consent is the foundation of sexual ethics, consent is also the foundation of relationship ethics. It forms the base on which all other relationship ethics are derived. Relationship anarchy is about ensuring the maximum freedom for everyone, and that starts with respecting everyone’s consent.

Adventures in Therapy: Is that Strawberry Alarm Clock I Hear?!?

As I mentioned, I went to the doctor yesterday to talk shop about changing/adding meds. She agreed with my assessment and we decided that I would keep the Zoloft going at its current dose and add the lowest dose of Wellbutrin to see if it can help counteract some of the side effects. I’m seeing her again in a month and we will continue to figure out the best course of action (will I be lowering the Zoloft dose? Is this the right additional med for me” etc).

So, it’s Day One of a new medication and that old familiar adjustment period is here. I was told that this stuff is activating. Somehow, I thought that it wouldn’t be too noticeable because of the Zoloft, but I was wrong about that. I took the pill around 7am and by 8am I was feeling pretty zippy. It reminded me of the first time I took Sudafed for congestion…but without the congestion and background illness. This extra energy felt a little like anxiety but not overwhelmingly or primarily so and so far that aspect has been nothing I can’t handle.

I had to hop into action doing various things and it was a little harder to concentrate than usual, but I managed. Then around 10am, I found that it was becoming increasingly difficult not to stare off into space or pass the time by poking myself in the face. By noon, I felt pretty stoned.

This is, at least for me, par for the course now when adjusting to meds like this. Granted, my only other experience has been with Zoloft, but seemingly my body/brain has a relatively predictable pattern when responding to chemical changes. I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry, so I went and wandered around Target for most of the hour. I was drawn to all sorts of things, and was enjoying inspecting the soft, fuzzy blankets for sale now that the weather is getting cold. I wandered all through the store, being fascinated by pretty much everything and laughing at myself for how aimless the entire trip was. In short, “stoned” is a good way to describe it. Slightly delirious is another good way to describe it.

At some point, I had an inkling of a thought that I was hungry and figured I should eat, so I grabbed a sandwich and went on with my day. I’m still out of it but I’m functioning.

It’s times like these that I am really glad I decided to get my education in chemistry. Sure, I hated school, like, a whole lot BUT I am grateful for the way focusing on chemistry wired my brain to think about the world and my body. It makes responses to medication like this not so scary. “Some of your subroutines are being rewritten. Your feelings are nothing but a bunch of molecules in various states of imbalance or equilibrium.” It’s quite calming and while wandering around like a jackass in Target I could rest assured that it was simply because of a reaction running its course and that everything would reach a baseline soon enough.

Whether that baseline will be the baseline I want still remains to be seen, but in the meantime, everything is A-OK. One of the things I really appreciate now is that I’m not stigmatizing myself for needing medications like these to be the best version of myself. I take other medications for other bodily needs and I don’t see these as anything different. I’m still doing all the other work to be my best, but in the end none of that work can shine through with all that chemical noise in the way.

Since it’s Day One, I can’t really say if it’s doing what I need it to yet, but I can say that I’m not experiencing anything nasty. I’ll take it. An easy day on the journey, ey?

Beyond the Love: the Midwest’s Only Polyamory Conference, and One of the Best Anywhere

BTLlogoBanner800x180This past weekend (November 7-9, 2014), I had the good fortune to be able to attend Beyond the Love, a three-day polyamory conference in Columbus, Ohio with Gina, Jessie, and Amber. Jessie I attended the first-ever Beyond the Love last year, and were totally blown away. The organization did a great job putting together an engaging and enjoyable program, and they exceeded expectations yet again this year.

The con started on Friday night with an Intro to Poly orientation. My partners and I arrived shortly afterward, and participated in the human scavenger hunt meet & greet, which was a variation of what they’d done last year. They gave us a list of ~20 items such as “someone who has performed in a burlesque performance,” “someone who can juggle (prove it!),” and “someone who has the same birth month as you.” The idea was to get people talking to each other and asking questions, and it works great. Everyone got up from their seats and moved around the room, interacting with everyone else. It’s a great idea, and I’d like to see it used more often.

Opening ceremonies were next, where Sarah Sloane gave a terrific keynote. Highlights included:

Opening Ceremonies
This was followed by a poly speed mixer. We were all divided up by our dominant love language, and sat across from each other. After a few minutes, one side would shift down a seat. I got to meet a bunch of interesting people. Between the scavenger hunt and the speed mixer, I’d somewhat effortlessly been able to meet a good portion of my fellow attendees, which is always appreciated by out-of-towners like me.

The BtL staff also did two other things to encourage flirting amongst the attendees. First, they offered red, yellow, and green stickers that attendees could put on their badges to indicate that they were open to flirting, unsure, or were not open to flirting. I sometimes worry that those kinds of systems can backfire, but this one seemed to work well, and nobody (that I know of) took a green sticker to mean that consent wasn’t important.

The other innovation was the flirt board! Attendees could write their name on an envelope and tack it to the flirt board. Anyone else could write something on a scrap of paper and drop it in their envelope. It’s an incredibly simple system, but people had a lot of fun with it, and it was a very low-pressure way to signal interest in friendship, flirting, or any kind of interaction with a person.

After the opening ceremony was the relationship styles summit, where the staff put balloons around the social space with different relationship styles on them. You could hang out at the balloon that represented your style, or you could go around and try to learn about other styles. It was kind of a cool idea, and I had fun hanging out at the relationship anarchy balloon and fielding people’s questions.

The last activity for Friday was a burlesque show, by Big Girl Burlesque. I only caught the first few numbers, but Jessie saw the whole thing and loved it. After the show, I was able to spend some time with some new friends and some friends that I’d met last year. I didn’t get to sleep until 4am.

Saturday, classes started at 9am. I attended Billy Holder’s class “Coming Out Poly – Why?” Billy runs Atlanta Poly Weekend, and was recently featured on several news outlets. He told us about what coming out meant for him, and what it might mean for us. I’ve been out for years, so I didn’t need to be convinced, but I really liked Billy’s message. Highlights included:

Coming Out Poly

For the next sessions, I jumped around between a few classrooms. I started in “Poly as an Avenue for Growth” from Michelle Vaughn. She had some good things to say about how nonmonogamy can inform our values and change us as people. Then I jumped over to “For the Love of Labels: What Does it Mean to be Poly?” from Dr. Antoinette Izzo. I was only there briefly, but it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the con. Dr. Izzo discussed how labels can mean something to us on multiple levels, reflecting knowledge, feelings, identify, and practices. I often struggle to identify with people’s attachment to labels, and Dr. Izzo was able to shed some light on that for me.

Next, I went to Jessie’s presentation: “Healthier Hierarchies & Communicating Compatibility.” This was a two-part class exploring hierarchies in relationships and how they affect our partners. Part two was focused on metamour relations. Some highlights:

Healthier Hierarchies
After Jessie’s presentation was my presentation on OkHacking: OkCupid for the Polyamorous. I’ve done it a few times before, including a Beyond the Love last year. It went well, apart from a few brief technical difficulties getting the projector to work (I’ve since ordered a TouchPico, so I shouldn’t have those problems in the future). If you’re not familiar, it’s in written form here.

After the class session, VIP ticket holders were invited to eat with the presenters, then there was an evening program where people were invited to ask any questions they liked of the presenters. The audience didn’t seem to have many questions, but such is life. We then moved on to Rent a Presenter! Staff and presenters had been given “Love Bucks” at the start of the weekend, and were encouraged to hand them out for good deeds, participation, and otherwise beneficial behavior. Saturday evening, attendees could use their Love Bucks at an auction to rent a presenter for a 15-minute Q&A session. It was a cute idea, and people had fun with it. I volunteered (of course), an I was rented by a very cool woman going by “Snu Snu.” I traded her OkCupid tips for Muay Thai instruction.

Saturday night was the masquerade ball, which finally gave us an excuse to wear the Carnivale masks that Jessie and I got for everyone in Venice on our honeymoon. The ball was great. The dance floor was in heavy use, song selection was good, and everyone seemed to have a great time. Afterward was more socializing. This time, I stayed up until 5am.

Sunday had some great-looking classes at 9am… but they were at 9am, so there was no way that was happening for me. At 10:30, I gave my Relationship Anarchy presentation. I had a great audience (standing room only!), and after a few more projector difficulties, the workshop went great. This was the first time I’d done that one, and I wasn’t satisfied with how my RA presentation went in Atlanta, so I was nervous. It ended up going very well, the audience seemed engaged, and I had a few people tell me afterward that it really gave them a lot to think about. If you’re curious, my writing on the topic is here, my presentation slides are here, and a Relationship Anarchy Facebook discussion group is here.

We had an 8-10 drive ahead of us, so we had to go shortly after my presentation. On the weekend, I had only two small disappointments: first, nobody presented on consent culture. Polyamory as a community is still in its infancy, and now is the time that we’re going to decide what kind of community we’re going to be. Top priority for me is that we end up being a consent-focused community. There was some great discussion of what that would mean at Atlanta Poly Weekend, and I was disappointed that Beyond the Love didn’t include it.

Second, most of the classes that I and my partners attended seemed rather beginner-level. Nothing was exactly Poly 101, but there also wasn’t a lot that was that informative to someone who’s been active in the community for 4+ year (though I did find Dr. Izzo’s class on labels to be very relevant). Next year, I’d love to see some more advanced concepts that assume the audience is familiar with more intro-level ideas. I’m already trying to think of presentations I could give that would appeal to the more experienced crowd.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, and I’m still riding a bit of the con high. I got to see some old friends, I made a lot of new friends, and I got to spend the weekend talking, communing, and flirting with like-minded people. I would recommend it to anyone who can make it next year.

Adventures in Therapy: A Change of Scenery

Over this past weekend, Wes, Jessie, Amber, and I went off to Columbus, OH for Beyond the Love, a polyamory conference in its second year. Wes and Jessie went last year and came home with rave reviews so I was looking really forward to my chance to go this time around. All in all it was a really well done and well run conference. It was a nicely structured event with lots of time built in for socializing and meals. The classes were good, though the subject matter for most of them was geared more towards people new to polyamory, so I’m hoping that in the coming years more “advanced” stuff will be presented.   They also debuted some great things for consent culture at the event. First, they had a red, yellow, green system for each person to be able to declare how open they were to being approached/flirted with. It seemed like it worked well and I’m hoping they got a lot of good feedback. They also had a “Flirt Board” which allowed attendees to pin an envelope with their name on it and people could leave them little messages to flirt, compliment, say hi, whatever. I thought that was brilliant because it took so much pressure out of that aspect of the conference. I hope they do that again too.

Overall I had a great time. I spent most of the weekend hanging out with Amber which is generally a pretty great way to spend a weekend (or a weekday or anytime really). The only thing that struck me as odd was at the end of everything when it was time to say goodbye, I didn’t really have anyone to say goodbye to (other than the people I already knew). I had participated in lots of things at the conference, but I hadn’t really connected with anyone…I didn’t really make any new friends. This experience showed me how introverted I have become in the last year.

Luckily for me, Amber is a self-proclaimed introvert and we were able to be at the conference together and weren’t focused much on finding new people to hang out with. It’s just that I’m not historically an introvert. I’m definitely more on the extrovert side of the spectrum, but over the last year I have noticed that I have more energy loss when I go into social situations with a lot of people I don’t know. I needed multiple trips up to our room or out of the conference to recharge.

I’ve been thinking about these kinds of things a lot lately because I’ve been thinking about changing my medication. See, when I was first put on Zoloft I was so happy to have not experienced any of the acute side effects associated with it and it really has helped me. But over the last few weeks I have been feeling like another raising of the dose might be necessary soon (Zoloft historically does not keep working without increases). While dosage increase is certainly an option, I have also started to wonder how many of my current frustrations are related to this no longer being the right chemical for me. While I didn’t see the side effects initially, I have been on Zoloft for 2 years now and I am thinking that certain things I am observing are Zoloft related.

For instance, over the last year I have gained 25 pounds. I didn’t start eating more or having less energy when I started Zoloft and if anything I eat much more healthily now so I don’t think that my weight gain is so much about my diet as it is about a latent effect of the drug. Another example is the fact that I experience depression more now than anxiety. Anxiety was certainly an issue when I started Zoloft but I think that the symptoms coming out of the woodwork now are more depression (lack of focus, motivation, a sense of hopelessness here and there). I also have pretty much lost the entirety of my libido which has been somewhat of an issue for a while but it has gotten worse over the last year. I also get headaches all the time (I go through ibuprofen like it’s about to be discontinued) which has been something I have had to deal with since day one of Zoloft.

Back in June I got a full round of bloodwork to see if anything was amiss. At the time I was having a lot of trouble staying awake when doing somewhat mindless activities like watching television, going to movies at the theater and, worst of all, driving. A friend at the time suggested getting the blood work done and I’m quite glad I followed her advice. At the very least I would get a baseline for myself and at best I would discover a glaring problem. Much to my happiness, I didn’t have a thyroid issue or any other major problem. What I did have was a vitamin D deficiency. The doc wrote me a prescription for a weekly mega dose of vitamin D that I was supposed to take for 12 weeks and then I could take a daily supplement after that. I was skeptical that this was the root cause of the issue (it’s an issue I’ve had for a very long time…it was just getting more severe at that point). But I did the treatment and hot damn if it didn’t work! I’m not scared to drive long distances anymore and I stay awake through movies and such (unless I’m already really tired of course). So that was an easy fix.

The doc was concerned over the amount of weight I had gained. I hadn’t seen him in two years and it shocked him to find out that I had put on most of that weight in that year alone. I take that with somewhat of a grain of salt since I’m pretty sure it’s in doctors’ contracts to freak out about weight gain and my blood work and other vitals came back in healthy ranges. But if I’m just holding onto weight because of the Zoloft and Zoloft isn’t necessarily the right med for me anymore, it would be nice to check and see and maybe shed some of these empty not-muscle pounds.

In the cases of weight gain and lack of interest in sex, it would be fine to me if these were just things about me now but it would be a good idea to do some experimentation to see what the variables are. I have an appointment with my nurse practitioner on Thursday and I’m going to talk to her about options. At one point before I tried bringing my dose down and when we talked about that I asked if there were any downsides to staying on Zoloft long term. She explained (as I mentioned above) that it won’t continue working at current doses and will have to be increased periodically until you max out (I’m at 100 mg now and the max dose is 250 mg). When you max out, you then generally go to a different medication. At the time she mentioned Wellbutrin which is completely different chemically. I have been looking into it and it sounds like a good option to try and address the side effects I am seemingly experiencing. It’s generally prescribed for depression and is very activating and it seemingly historically has none of the side effects of Zoloft and other SSRIs. It has its own stuff, of course. The activating aspect of it can be unsettling and can cause you to be pretty manic and can also cause anxiety. But the activating feeling might be something I can deal with (it was something I liked about Zoloft) and I’m hoping that a change in meds will help me find the motivation to get fit (not for weight loss, but for overall health and strength).

Based on what I’ve read, this is likely what she will suggest and I think it’s a good avenue to explore. I’m not entirely sure what the process is to switch medications (like, do I need to cut back the Zoloft first and then start the other one? Do I take them concurrently while lowering the Zoloft dosage?) but I’ll be able to talk about that on Thursday.

So yeah, it might be rough for a while and I will likely document my experience if I do switch as I have done with Zoloft. If the nurse is against it, then I suppose I will not be switching, but she will probably agree with my thoughts and there’s no harm in trying (I don’t consider the adjustment discomfort to be harm. It’s just something you have to deal with for a month to see the medication’s true effect…unless I feel like becoming an ax murderer…then I will, you know, not take it anymore).

So, on to the next adventure!