For the purpose of experimentation, and entertainment, I set up a profile on Plenty of Fish, a dating website/app. It is available for free, but can also be paid for if you want to access more features.
I did it seriously, a real photograph of me, a genuine description of me, but not with any real expectation of actually meeting someone. I was on it for a total of four days.
The night I joined it was hysterical. I was like a kid in a candy shop. Window shopping for hot men, sending out messages to see if anything happened, laughing raucously at some of the truly horrifying profiles, and feeling rather flattered that within minutes I was receiving messages. I shrieked with delight and clapped my hands with glee, having so much fun that I stayed up far too late just to enjoy it.
I had expected to receive a few, I’m a woman under 30, and generally that is likely to garner you a higher amount of attention. But I was not prepared for the actually obscene number I received. I was inundated. It was a little overwhelming in the end. I couldn’t keep up and eventually felt a bit like I was the victim of a drive by shooting. There was no actual aim or care, just messages being blasted in my general direction because I was a woman, and the same messages probably hit the ten women either side of me in the profiles list too.
They ranged from “I wud” (and this was not just on one occasion), to genuinely sweet and eloquent messages offering compliments about my looks and my intellect, and requests that if I can find the time would I care to engage in conversation?
I tried to reply to as many as possible… apart from the “I wud” and “Hi sxy” messages… even if it wasn’t someone I was attracted to. Partly out of politeness, because I wouldn’t ignore someone saying hi to me in a bar so I wasn’t going to online, but partly because I was genuinely curious. I haven’t been single since I was 22, I figured now is the time to see if I’m attracted to different things now. And I won’t find out without talking to people who I wouldn’t expect to be interested in. The safety of the internet (relatively speaking) means you can talk to a huge range of men without ever having to put yourself in a situation where they can grab you unexpectedly.
Some actually lead to genuinely interesting conversations, and conversations I enjoyed having. Most fizzled out because they worked out pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to come and join them for a drink that very moment, and no I didn’t want to give them my phone number or address. A few people got pretty damn angry that I wouldn’t hand over personal details within a handful of messages. Because I said I want to chat, get to know someone, see if there’s chemistry…. and that I’m not stupid enough to give my address to total strangers.
Unexpectedly I actually “met” one or two people who I clicked with. One in particular, who is too young for me, is in a different town, can’t drive, and lives with his mother, but who I just adore. Anyone who can reference their favourite Ninja Turtle in the opening line of their dating profile is, quite frankly, my kind of person. Now, obviously, this is unlikely to lead to an actual romance. Not impossible, but unlikely. But if nothing else I feel like I’ve gained a friend. He delightedly informed me that, as his boss was out of the office, he would be spending a significant amount of time rolling on a giant roll of bubble wrap. Bubble-Wrap-Boy is, certainly, the best thing to come out of the Plenty of Fish website experience. Years ago, when I was around twenty, I had a dating app on my Facebook profile. It lead to a similar experience. One of my dearest friends, my Pet Nerd, came from that. It started with mild flirtation and conversation and has over time become a friendship I value massively, and he is someone I expect to have in my life for the rest of it. Things can come out of dating experiences that you don’t always expect.
If when the time comes that I do feel like I want to start actively seeking a relationship, not just conversation and flirtation, and I find that I can’t find what I am looking for at playgroup, ASDA, or the gym (which are the only places I really go), then Plenty Of Fish would definitely be somewhere I look.
But my goodness… be warned. There are some UTTER cockwombles.
“DO NOT MESSAGE ME IF: You cannot spell, you are a slut, you are after someone for their money” frequently appears on profiles.
“LOOKING FOR A HOT BLONDE. Will take something else if available” appears with disturbing regularity.
As do an excessive number of pictures of various parts of male anatomy with instructions to message them for “fun or woteva”.
If you go on seeking love, not just an experience, then be careful. The heady ego boosting feeling as man after man seeks your attentions could easily lead vulnerable women to being taken advantage of. But, if you are careful, and if you read profiles carefully and engage someone in conversation before you agree to anything, I do truly believe it would be possible. Because, as it turns out, there is a world of men out there who are genuine, sweet, and who are not put off by the fact you have a child. It’s a scary world for single mums, but being able to explore it in your pyjamas whilst you watch reruns of Friends makes it far less intimidating.
If nothing else, try it. If you don’t like it, then disappear without a trace. If you don’t find love, you might find a friendship. If you do find love, you can lie and claim you met in the library and bonded over a John Grisham novel.
What I found was an experience I am glad I had, but am definitely not ready to repeat. For one thing with the number of times my phone was going “ping ping ping ping ping ping ping” the battery was dying far too fast.