I Tried Online Dating For One Week To Prove How Toxic Those Sites Are

Photo: Dean Drobot / Shutterstock
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My aunt was the first person I had heard of who did online dating — you know, back in the day when it was still scary stuff and something only the "desperate" would do. She was also the first, last, and only person I ever knew who tried her hand at dating personals in the newspaper too.

These two facts about my aunt always disturbed me. Because of it, I've never seen online dating as anything but an absolute plague on the community and something to avoid forever.

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I have been on two dating sites in my life. Once for a couple of months for a work-related story and another time because my best friend begged me to join. That latter site happened to be OKCupid.

His whole reason for me joining was so I could endorse him with a good review, so I figured I had nothing to lose because I wasn't looking for anything to gain; I was just simply being forced into something so he could look better to all the hot gay men on OKCupid in New York City.

I also thought that if we were both on there, commiserating about how awful a place was, he'd erase his profile and move on to a place where harassment was monitored better.

I took one evening after work to put up my profile, pick out the best photos of myself that didn't include a beer bottle in my mouth or a scowl on my face, then write my endorsement for him. Afterward, I sat on the couch and waited for about 20 minutes to see if anyone had looked at my profile or sent me a message. When no one did, I shrugged and went out instead.

When I got home, I checked my profile. I was excited for some reason. I was venturing into a world I had only heard of, and it was strange and wonderful, and ... OMG, did that guy just send me a message asking me if I "swallow?" I was appalled.

I had heard the horror stories, but less than two hours into my OKCupid experiment, my oral sex techniques were being questioned, and I felt gross. I felt the same way when a commenter gets too personal or tells me to kill myself over something controversial I've written.

It doesn't hurt you, per se, because that person means nothing to you, but it shakes you that this is how people behave. I'd question if wolves raised them, but a child raised by wolves would at least have manners and respect.

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I noticed I had a couple more messages but decided to spare myself before bed. Those messages weren't going anywhere.

I didn't recheck it until the next day and saw 18 messages. A couple was from the "gentleman" who questioned whether or not I swallowed, with some lovely comments on how I'm a prude, among other things, and delightful expletives. At the same time, they all strung together with misspelled words and holes where punctuation should have been.

Along with him, there was a message from a guy telling me I was ugly and my nose was big. Not exactly what you want to hear from a stranger, but oh well. I was more concerned that he had time out of his day to legit troll me, as opposed to finding love, as I assumed was his reason for being there in the first place.

There were a few lovely messages, "You look like a cool girl. Tell me about yourself," but I didn't respond. It wasn't that I was totally against the idea; I did, after all, sign up for the site, although my intentions for doing so were utterly unrelated to getting a date.

Over the next few days, I got more messages, mostly from trolls, men old enough to be my father, or sexual deviants. I had made the mistake of clicking on profiles out of curiosity before I understood that that person would get a notification that I did so. In that case, I had a couple of guys who messaged me to say I was a tease. One, in particular, got nasty simply because I had looked at his photo but didn't respond to his messages.

I didn't realize I was under any obligation to respond to anyone, especially someone so rude. It was a horrible place to be, and when the week was up, I deleted my profile. If my friend needed me to convince people he's great, I'd instead go bar to bar all over the Chelsea neighborhood with spikes shoved under my nails than stay on that dating site a minute longer. As a writer, I get enough crap from strangers and weirdoes on the Internet all day; I didn't need any in my off hours, too.

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What I came to realize is that trying to find love shouldn't be so difficult. Being beaten down by sexist and hateful remarks by strangers, and I know I'm not the only one this has happened to, shouldn't be the stuff that one should have to jump through to get to the one great guy out there.

I understand that we live in a world where we are constantly online, so it makes sense that we meet people that way, too, but at what expense? The price of our self-esteem and soul? I can't even imagine the amount of therapy online dating site users who have been doing the online thing for years need, or maybe they just grow a thick skin to get by and learn how to weed through the evil and find decent people.

After I left OKCupid, my friend who all but forced me to join in the first place left a couple of days later, too, and a few more friends jumped ship in the following weeks. We came to the joint realization that there has to be, I mean there just has to be, a better way to meet people. Right? Maybe something with heart and respect?

These days I know very few people on OKCupid. The people I know who have left either found dates the old fashion way by stepping away from their computer (gasp!) or through professional matchmakers.

I'm not against online dating, but I think something has to be done to make the online dating world a less toxic area. A place where people look for partners and love would be a far different atmosphere. But we must realize that no matter what people seek, it’s still the Internet. For every sane and rational person, there are probably five people looking to make a stranger miserable through anonymity.

I'm unsure how we got to this point in our society, but I'm happy I chose not to partake.

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Amanda Chatel is a writer who divides her time between NYC and Paris. She's a regular contributor to Bustle and Glamour, with bylines at Harper's Bazaar, The Atlantic, Forbes, Livingly, Mic, The Bolde, Huffington Post, and others.