TIME women

What I Experienced From Online Dating as a Black Woman

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The majority of the messages I received, mostly from white men, fetishized my appearance and sexualized me based solely on my race

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I try to remind myself that no one ever said online dating would be a wholly pleasant experience. There is an inherent awkwardness that comes with entering the world of swipes and algorithms, and it’s simply unavoidable.

I grew up and into an era during which the Internet has basically informed much of my identity and sparked many of my most important relationships — I’ve met some of my closest friends via sites like LiveJournal and Tumblr. And today, there’s no twentysomething I know who hasn’t met a bae or a jump off via some app or online service. So there’s no real sense of the taboo when it comes to dating online.

I created my first online profile in 2013 on OkCupid, a tiny baby step into unfamiliar territory with no real set goal in mind. All I knew was that as someone painfully shy around men, dating in the real world, in New York City, felt downright impossible. If anything, this was a way for me to gauge my own interest, and to date in a way that felt a bit more intentional, a bit more on my own terms.

And because I had girlfriends who told me about their escapades on the site, the good and the bad, the inevitable creeps and trolls, I felt relatively prepared for an imperfect if interesting experience.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the horror story that is online dating as a black woman.

Recently, OkCupid released data on race and attraction amongst its users, which revealed messed up but unsurprising realities about how people navigated the site.

Compiled by the site’s cofounder Christian Rudder, the data showed that black people and Asian men were least likely to get a date on the site. Black women specifically, the research showed, were at the very bottom of the barrel, receiving the fewest messages and likes from all races of men, and the least amount of responses to outgoing messages. Latina and Asian women, overwhelmingly, got the most likes and responses.

Rudder’s take on the data was pretty vague. “Beauty is a cultural idea as much as a physical one, and the standard is of course set by the dominant culture,” he said. “I believe that’s what you see in the data here.”

The narrative about black women and dating, about our lack of desirability and dateability, has been one I’ve actively tried to unlearn, despite a constant, nagging feeling that the reason I couldn’t get a date was because of the so-called stigma. But in my first major foray into the world of online dating, what struck me wasn’t so much this idea of not being wanted, but the kind of men who apparently wanted me.

A few creeps and trolls I could handle just fine. But from day one, I got tons of messages, many of them one or two word lines like, “Hey sexy,” and a larger majority of them reading, “Hey chocolate.” These weren’t worth the energy it took to respond.

The chocolate thing, though, kept coming up. Gradually, I began to notice a theme — the majority of the messages I received, mostly from white men, fetishized my appearance and sexualized me based solely on my race.

There have been so many ridiculous and offensive messages, too many to count or read. Many I’m not even comfortable sharing in this essay.

“Do you taste like chocolate?”

“Is it true what they say about black girls?”

“I’d love to slap dat big juicy booty.”

Once a guy was good enough to message me just to tell me that I look like “something you find in the zoo.” Another man, after luring me into a false sense of security by opening with a pleasant enough conversation about one of my favorite TV shows abruptly changed the subject to pose the question: “Do you act black?”

I asked him what exactly he meant by that.

He replied, “I like black women minus the attitude. Why is that wrong to ask? Haha.”

Haha, indeed.

In the three years I’ve been on OkCupid, I’ve only met up with a handful of people, mostly because it’s been impossible to meet anyone who doesn’t open or end conversations with offensive, racist, sexually aggressive language. A brief sojourn into Tinder world marked the worst of it — someone called me the n-word when I said I didn’t want to meet with him. I automatically deleted the app and haven’t been there since.

I know that I don’t represent every black girl’s time spent in the online dating world. I have black girlfriends who’ve had relatively decent, pleasant interactions, which is wonderful. But I also know my experiences aren’t unique. I do still wonder who else out there has put up with this kind of unwanted attention. The OkCupid data suggested Latinas and Asian women get the most attention on the site, but I can only imagine what kind of attention they’re getting — creepy fetishizing, no doubt.

It hasn’t all been bad, of course. In the past year I’ve met a few guys online who have been fun to hang out with, and a couple whom I’ve actually really liked. But I’m taking an indefinite break from the online dating world. Partly because I want to experience different forms of dating, but mostly because the energy of weeding through hundreds of gross and racist messages from strangers is, to me, the very opposite of self-care.

Last year, some important conversations were sparked surrounding the kind of street harassment women face on a daily basis. There needs to be, I think, a similar conversation about online harassment. Because it’s not just the dating sites where women are subjected to this kind of behavior.

On my Tumblr blog I’ve gotten creepy messages, and had my personal photos posted on ebony fetish blogs. Some might say that the solution to avoiding this kind behavior is to delete my blog or my profile, to block the guys I don’t like and focus on the ones I do.

I say that I shouldn’t have to do that to begin with.

Zeba Blay is a writer in New York. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Dating

So Online Dating King Sam Yagan Has Never Been on an Online Date

2013 Time 100 Gala - Arrivals
Chief Executive Officer of Match Sam Yagan attends the 2013 Time 100 Gala at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 23, 2013 in New York City. Jennifer Graylock—Getty Images

We're talking about the entrepreneur who cofounded OkCupid and now heads up the company that owns Tinder

Sam Yagan, the CEO of online dating juggernaut Match Group (which owns Tinder and Match.com), and the cofounder of OkCupid, revealed during a Reddit AMA session on Monday that he has never been on an online date.

Yagan, who was listed in the 2013 TIME 100, admitted that the other three co-founders of OkCupid (OkC) had never been on an online date, either.

He explained: “We were all dating our future wives when we started OkC. And before that, we were basically in college where online dating wasn’t really pervasive.”

Dissatisfied with this answer, one Redditor quipped: “Sounds like a ringing endorsement!”

Nonetheless, Yagan reiterated his belief that online dating was “the most effective tool ever created” for finding “affection or companionship.” He also offered guidance to one frustrated Redditor, going by the name “Warlizard,” who wondered why he had yet to find “true love” on an online dating site.

Yagan ventured: “Maybe have a more inviting username than ‘warlizard’? :).”

The king of the “swipe right” universe declined to confirm if a paid version of Tinder was in the works, nor was he able to satisfy everyone with a question to ask in the limited time available.

As one put it: “So, just like on OkCupid, you respond a couple times and disappear?”

TIME apps

Hinge Secures $12 Million of Funding to Help Steal Tinder’s Crown

Hinge

Wants to be the Facebook to Tinder's MySpace

In the world of dating apps, Tinder has long ruled the scene. But its smaller competitor, Hinge, has been working hard in the last year to steal Tinder’s “cool kid” stature.

In fact, the company — which just announced a $12 million investment round with Shasta Ventures Thursday — thinks that it has the power to be seen as the equivalent of Facebook to Tinder’s MySpace.

“Hinge’s trust and transparency are changing the landscape of the dating industry in much the same way Facebook did to social networking in the age of MySpace,” Shasta partner Tod Francis said in a statement. Shasta’s contribution adds to $8.6 million that has been raised previously.

But how do Hinge and Tinder differ?

Rather than showing users virtually any unscreened member of the opposite sex within a five mile radius, Hinge shows users a smaller selection of potential suitors every day at noon that is curated from friends of friends (and friends of friends of friends). Hinge users also get to see matches’ full name, college, and other information culled from Facebook.

When being interviewed about the weird world of app dating last year, McLeod told TIME, “We are trying to harness this feeling of a house party — you go, you see people in your world, friends of friends, that’s the dynamic we’re trying to create.”

Tinder, in comparison, is more of a 10-story club that’s at capacity.

Hinge told TIME that when it polled 500 people who actively use both apps, 59% think Hinge is “a tool to meet people” vs. 16% on Tinder. Furthermore, 64% think Tinder is “a game to play with” vs. 14% on Hinge.

In the last year, Hinge’s undisclosed user base has grown five-fold, and the app has launched in 24 new markets. Although it still has a ways to go before it competes with Tinder’s 600% growth in 2014.

TIME online dating

A New Dating App Grades Profiles and Expels Failing Users

Users who score an "F" on The Grade get banned

To meet your prince in online dating, you have to kiss a lot of frogs — unless one app gets its way.

As its name suggests, The Grade algorithmically assigns a letter grades to users based on their popularity (how often their profiles are liked), the quality of their messages (considering at grammar and tastefulness) and how responsive they are. Those who get an F grade are expelled, and any user who falls below a C grade receives tips on how to stop being such a terrible suitor.

The Grade purports to be the first app of its kind to ban users who don’t cut it in the classroom of singledom. The appmakers say the concept was shaped by “substantial market research” that revealed women who used dating apps were “unhappy with the quality of low-quality daters and the frequency of inappropriate, hostile and sexually suggestive messages.”

Instead of “substantial market research,” the appmakers could also have just asked any woman who tried online dating, ever.

TIME Dating

OkCupid Rolling Out New Gender and Sexual Orientation Options

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Maja Hitij—dpa/AP

The new feature isn't yet available to all users

Dating site OkCupid is granting select users additional options for listing gender identity and sexual orientation in their profiles.

“You’re part of a select group with access to this feature,” reads a message some users have reported seeing, according to pop culture site NewNowNext. “Keep in mind as we continue to work on this feature: For now, editing your gender and orientation is only supported on the desktop site.”

Users were previously only able to identify their genders as male or female and their sexual orientations as gay, straight or bisexual. Included in the new sexual orientation options are asexual, queer, questioning, pansexual, and sapiosexual (where intelligence is the most important factor in attraction). For gender, new options include cis men and women, transgender men and women, genderqueer, genderfluid, gender nonconforming, intersex and others.

It is unknown when these options will be available for all users.

[NewNowNext]

TIME apps

Soon You Will Be Able to Undo Your Accidental Left Swipe on Tinder

App Tinder
Tinder App Franziska Kraufmann—picture-alliance/dpa/AP

It could be love at second swipe

Remember the pain you felt deep in your chest when you unconsciously left-swiped that would-be bae-of-your-dreams away while feverishly perusing Tinder? Remember how you hoped and prayed that somehow that special Tinderoni would reappear, all in vain?

Well, apparently you weren’t alone. A back-button is the “most requested feature” among Tinder users, according to co-founder Sean Rad, in a recent interview published by Tech Crunch on Tuesday (the same day Rad announced he would step down as CEO of the company but stay on as president and board member).

Soon the folks at Tinder will unveil a paid version of the dating app that will allow users to “undo” left swipes, TechCrunch reports. With the new version—called “Tinder Plus”—users can also search for matches outside of their region. Tinder Plus will be available soon for select users in the UK, Brazil and Germany.

So, that feeling of deep loneliness you felt when you missed out on The One may soon be nothing more than a distant memory. Of course, there’s still no guarantee your almost-missed-match won’t turn out like this.

[TechCrunch]

TIME Crime

Woman Gets Trapped in Chimney Allegedly Stalking Her Online Date

Mary Poppins would not approve.

A woman rescued from a chimney was arrested and charged with allegedly using the chimney to try and break into the home of a man she had met online.

The Ventura County Fire Department was called to a Thousand Oaks, California, home early Sunday morning, when it was reported that a woman was stuck in a chimney.

Firefighters used a jackhammer to break apart the chimney and lubricated the flue with dish soap in order to lift the woman out of the chimney. She was then placed in a basket and lifted off the roof by a ladder truck, according to Ventura County Fire Department Capt. Mike Lindbery’s tweets regarding the incident.

The woman, who remained conscious during the misadventure, was taken to the hospital for examination. Her condition was not immediately known, according to KTLA.

The so-called “entrapment patient” was later identified as Genoveva Nunez-Figueroa, 30, and the home’s resident, who did not wish to be identified, said he met Nunez-Figueroa online and had gone on several dates with her, but had recently ended the relationship, according to the local ABC news affiliate.

The woman’s “intent was unclear,” according to police, but as Christmas is still months away, she was probably not playing Santa Claus or chimney sweep, as this is the second time Nunez-Figueroa was found on the man’s roof. Two weeks ago, she was spotted, but disappeared when police were called.

Nunez-Figueroa was arrested for allegedly illegally entering a residence and providing false information to a peace officer, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department stated in a news release.

The home’s resident wanted other online daters to learn from his cautionary tale. “Before you have somebody come in your house really check them out … really give it some time before you let somebody in, because they might want to stay,” he told KTLA.

TIME Television

Cristin Milioti on How I Met Your Mother’s Ending: ‘There’s No Way to Please Everybody’

Cristin Milioti
Cristin Milioti Richard Shotwell—Invision/AP

The A to Z star talks Tinder, her worst date ever and the nipple episode of Mad Men

Proving that television really is becoming the go-to place for romantic comedies, NBC’s new sitcom A to Z tells the complete story of Andrew and Zelda, who date for eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour. Mad Men’s Ben Feldman plays Andrew, the eager romantic; Cristin Milioti, otherwise known as How I Met Your Mother‘s titular mom (or sexy-baby-voice girl from 30 Rock), plays Zelda, who’s more eager to put the brakes on their relationship’s whirlwind beginning.

TIME caught up with Milioti to talk about the show (premiering Oct. 2), online dating and why you should still make mixtapes for your crush.

TIME: How does the show keep viewers on their toes when we know that the main characters break up?

Cristin Milioti: Gosh, it’s interesting, because your guess is as good as mine. They won’t tell us how it ends. Which I actually really like, because that means we don’t know how to play anything other than what the episode is. We’re not playing toward an ending. Ben and I differ in what are opinions are. I think they’re going to break up, he thinks they’re going to get married.

I was going to guess that there would be some bait-and-switch or reset that allows the premise to keep going.

Right? I thought that too. They have to go through the friendship of it, and we start the alphabet all over again. I’m not sure, to be honest with you. I think what the show does beautifully, as I’ve been working on it, is examine what it’s like to let someone into your life when you’re falling in love, which is the most incredible feeling in the world. But also terrifying.

You mentioned the alphabet — are there 26 episodes for each letter?

I think it would be 22, but I think they would combine some of the letters. I only say this because I heard [creator] Ben Queen say this at the TCAs. “LMNO” is — God, I sound like a grandma — texting code for “laughing my nuts off.” Those are his words.

Well, you learn something new everyday!

I always thought it was LMAO, which is “laughing my ass off.” That’s the one that I know. And obviously good old standard LOL.

I’m partial to ROFL.

I’ve seen that one too!

It’s almost onomatopoeic — that’s what I imagine rolling on the floor laughing sounds like.

Rofl-rofl-rofl. Yeah!

So this is the second show you’ve been on where the ending is somewhat known and what happens in the middle is the real meat of the story.

It’s interesting because I never thought that, not even for a second. And then we were doing the TCAs and people started asking questions like that. “Do you think it’s a coincidence that you’re doing a show that’s so much like How I Met Your Mother?”

But, other than that aspect, I don’t really think of them as that similar?

Yeah, but we do deal with a similar theme of whether or not destiny exists.

Do you believe it does?

I gotta tell you, I do for the most part. And then sometimes … I’m still trying to figure that out. Every now and then I’m like, are we the ones that need to take action and then destiny doesn’t exist? Do you create your own destiny? But then, if you create your own destiny, destiny already exists! And you just didn’t even know.

So you differ from your character in that way.

Ben Feldman and I sort of are each other’s characters in real life. I’m Andrew, he’s Zelda. He’s far more pragmatic. I think I believe more in love at first sight than he does.

Andrew works at an online dating company. Have you ever tried that?

No, I’ve never tried it. I’m not on any social media. I know people who have met on Twitter and through Facebook. I had a friend, someone liked her photos on Instagram and they started direct messaging each other and went out on a date! That’s so foreign to me. Whatever floats your boat. If it works for you and that’s how you find love, that’s wonderful. On the other hand, there’s nothing like meeting a person and knowing there’s that sparkly chemistry. But I guess you know that when you go out on that date after your profiles get Tindered.

Have you played around on someone else’s Tinder?

Last summer a friend of a friend gave me his phone and said, “Want to flip through and do my Tinder?” I had this crazy power rush. I was like, “Oh my God, I’m deciding who you’re going to go on a date with!” But I also felt terrible clicking no.

Destiny’s in your hands.

Yes, exactly! My my, how the tables have turned.

What’s the worst date you’ve ever been on?

I went on a date with someone that I had not been seeing for very long — I’ve pulled a real Andrew here — but I was very sure: “I have feelings for this person and I’m going to tell them tonight.” We went out to dinner and had a couple glasses of wine, and I was finally like, “I just have to tell you, I really, really like you and have all these feelings and just needed to get that off my chest.” He just stared at me and was like “Oh, okay, I’m sorry, I don’t feel the same way.” We had just finished dinner!

And you just had to sit there until it was over?

Yes! It was a nightmare.

Okay, happier thoughts: what is your ideal date?

It would probably involve the beach and eating.

Very good choices.

Or like something wild that I’ve never done before like being driven to a lookout and being able to see the city. I feel like I could come up with a better one.

I don’t know. Eating at the beach is hard to top.

That’s all you need!

Going back to How I Met Your Mother for a second, were you surprised about the backlash regarding the ending?

Oh no, I wasn’t surprised. That show — which speaks to the quality of that show — always had such a passionate fanbase. I remember talking with one of our props guys about what the reaction was going to be, because some people all along had rooted for Ted and Robin, even when she was going to get married. There’s no way to please everybody. There’s no way to please 10 million people, unless you take them to the beach and give them food.

Do you watch Mad Men? Because Ben’s character went a little crazy this season.

We were just talking about this yesterday. I’ve never seen Mad Men. I want to do it leisurely and really soak it in, but I don’t have time to get to season five [when Feldman’s character is introduced]. I just want him to send me his scenes, but he won’t do it.

Do you know what happens?

I do, because we did the upfronts the day after he cut his nipple off.

Oh my God.

We were in the press line together, and all the questions were like, “Cristin, how do you feel about dying?” “Ben, how do you feel about cutting your nipple off?” It was a really dark press line.

My first thought after watching that scene was thankfully A to Z isn’t on until October — we have some time before we have to think of him in a rom-com way.

Yeah, and he does it with aplomb. I really, really want to see Mad Men. I’ve YouTubed — he doesn’t even know this — I’ve YouTubed parts of his performance when he was first being brought in for the role of Andrew. I loved it. I loved what he was doing, and I want to see more of it, but he was like, “It’s important that you know what’s going on.” I basically asked him for his reel.

In addition to acting, you’re also musical: you’ve been nominated for a Tony and the Once soundtrack won a Grammy. Are you going to go for EGOT status?

Haha, geez, I don’t know — I’ll try, I guess? I’m in complete disbelief of what has happened to me. And the Grammy thing, it seems like I just went to a store and asked them to make me a Grammy. It’s so unbelievable to have that thing in my house. It just looks like when you’re little and you’re playing and you get an Oscar that says “Best mom.” That’s what it feels like. I still can’t believe that.

Speaking of music, will Andrew and Zelda swap mixtapes this season?

No, but they should!

Maybe as like a DVD extra you can include them.

Yeah. Do people still do that? People should do that.

I would, but I feel like people catch on too quickly now — they know what’s up when you give them a mix CD.

But hasn’t it gone retro yet now? Maybe not. I don’t think mixtapes will ever go out of style.

You need to speak out and make them cool again.

This is a public statement: I’m in favor of mixtapes.

A version of this story appears in the Oct. 6 issue of TIME, on stands this Friday.

TIME relationships

This Video Perfectly Describes How People Feel About Online Dating

To lie or not to lie?

Just because you’ve found a great relationship through online dating doesn’t mean you’re comfortable with admitting how you met. This video (which is actually made by underwear company Me Undies, so go figure) perfectly nails the embarrassment surrounding online dating, even if you’ve met someone great.

And even if you did meet online, do you tell your friends and family the real story of how you met? Or do you make up a “meet cute” story that resembles something out of an ’80s romantic comedy? Watch this underwear-clad couple duke it out over whether they should be embarrassed that they met online:

TIME Dating

OkCupid Relaunches OkTrends: A Beloved Blog That Tracks Online Daters’ Fascinating Habits

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OkCupid relaunched OkTrends after 3 years off Getty Images

After a three-year hiatus

In 2009, OkCupid gave the people of the Internet a beautiful gift. No, not eternal love. A peek into the its massive treasure trove of user data — exposing everything from strange overshares (How much do Twitter users masturbate?) to serious issues (How does race impact the messages you receive?).

The observations and statistics were catalogued in the blog OkTrends, written by OKC co-founder Christian Rudder, which started accumulating some 1 million unique views per post. But in April 2011, the web favorite went dormant, leaving its fans questioning, what’s REAL “stuff white people like” today?

Until now. Monday marked the relaunch of OkTrends.

“We always said we were going to relaunch the blog,” Rudder says. “I put it on pause because I was working on a book… but with that being finished and about to come out, it was time to restart.”

All hail.

Since the OkTrends lull occurred two months after Match.com bought OkCupid, Rudder says some people floated conspiracy theories that Match shut it down. “They absolutely did not,” he says. “In fact they were sad we had to take time off from it.”

But with his book Dataclysm: Who We Are set for a September release, Rudder says he’s back and ready to write a new OkTrends post once every four weeks.

This month’s post proudly declared “We Experiment on Human Beings!” — appropriate given the collective freakout over Facebook’s June emotional manipulation study — and chronicles times the dating network used its users as guinea pigs. For example, OkCupid once told people with a 30% compatibility rating that they were a 90% match, just to see what happened.

Even though Rudder says OkCupid only gets an estimated 1,000 people to sign up after a post goes live, “the effect is more simmering than that.”

For example, if a woman reads an OkTrend piece when she’s in a relationship, she might remember a particularly insightful post several months later when she’s single again and sign up for the service.

“It was more of a long game for us,” Rudder says. “It’s like a billboard in Times Square for Coke. I don’t think people walk past it and are like, ‘I’ve gotta go get a Coke right now.’ It just puts it in their mind and then, when they’re thirsty, they go get a Coke.”

 

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