What Singles Should Know About Online Dating: Interview with culture writer and editor Lauren O'Neal

Online dating has revolutionized the way singles meet other singles. People are no longer limited to meeting potential mates from their own social circles, nor do they need to depend on luck to meet their soul mate. Today your chance of meeting "Mr./Ms. Right" actually depends on whether your online dating service has good algorithm. So before you even get to ask, ”Is this person right for me?” you should start by asking, ”Does this site use the right algorithm for me?” To help you answer this question Reviews.com did an impressive research to find The Best Online Dating Sites. I was curious to talk to Lauren O’Neal, who conducted this massive study, and hear about her experience as a woman using online dating sites. She has some interesting insights that could help both men and women to improve their online dating experience.

Lauren O'Neal is a freelance writer and editor in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in publications like Slate, Nylon, and the Hairpin. She is a senior editor at the literary magazine Midnight Breakfast and cohost of the podcast Sunday School Dropouts. You can follow her on Twitter at @laureneoneal.

You have spent many hours testing 68 online dating websites and apps when you worked on your research The Best Online Dating Sites for Reviews.com. As a woman, what would you say were the more enjoyable aspects of your online dating experience?

Although I did spend many hours on these sites for research purposes, I'm actually in a long-term relationship (coming up on 9 years!), so I wasn't actually looking for a date. That said, most of the messages I received were so bad that receiving a good one once in a while was a real bright spot. The best message I received during my testing was from a guy who happened to speak the same random sampling of languages that I speak (English, Spanish, Portuguese, and a little Hebrew), and incorporated them into his message. He asked about one of my listed hobbies (tap dancing) and told me about a related one he likes (salsa dancing). He complimented an item of clothing I was wearing in one of my pictures instead of calling me “gorgeous” or “sexy,” and he confidently expressed a desire to meet up without being pushy. He probably doesn’t realize how rich he could get teaching other men how to write messages to women on dating sites.

Again, as a woman, what were the less enjoyable aspects of your online dating experience?

I experienced the same thing I think most women experience on dating sites, which is that I got a lot of terrible messages from men. I was testing out four different sites at once, which meant I received a tsunami of messages—166 total. Almost all of them were mediocre at best. I got a few creepy/lewd messages, but nothing as bad as some of the horror stories I've heard from friends. Mainly it would just be stuff that had so little effort put into it I didn't understand how the guy expected a response from anyone. I got so many messages that said just, "Hi sexy." That's it. End of message. Or: "Your profile caught my eye, you seem to have many interesting hobbies"—stuff that someone obviously copied and pasted into every single message he sent, regardless of who he sent it to.

Let’s talk about user experience. Do you think the way women experience online dating is different than the experience men have? Can you give some examples from your experience?

Straight men and women definitely have different online dating experiences, the main one being that men tend to send messages and women tend to receive them. (Of course, this is a generalization, but overall, it's true.) I think it ends up being frustrating for both parties, because women get a lot of unwanted attention and men get a lot of rejection.

It's a catch-22. Men feel they need to message a lot of women because they'll get so many rejections, but crafting twenty thoughtful, personalized messages is a lot of work, so instead they just type, "Hi sexy" twenty times. But then women aren't interested in that kind of message and don't respond to it, leaving men feeling even more rejected. Sometimes men get really angry about that and verbally harass the women who've rejected them ("You're stuck up," "You're ugly anyway, I was just being nice," etc.), but it doesn't seem to work in the opposite direction—women don't seem to harass men who've sent them stupid, gross, or otherwise unsatisfactory messages.

Where there times/incidents when you were worried about your safety?

Not really, because as I said, I'm already in a relationship, so I didn't actually meet up with anyone. I received a few creepy messages and a few that were obviously trying to scam me, but stuff like that happens in my email inbox and on Twitter—and on the street, for that matter—every day anyway.

Do you think online dating is a good investment of time, money, and effort for singles who are looking to find "The One"?

I started dating my Mr. Right in college, so I've never actually used an online dating site for that purpose. But if I were single, I would definitely be using dating sites/apps. I'm a Millennial; I conduct most of my social life online anyway. My favorite site—OkCupid—is free, so there's no investment of money. And if you're looking to find "the one," you're going to have to put in time and effort no matter what methods you use, and you'll probably end up interacting with a few creeps too, no matter what methods you use.

What would you suggest online dating websites do to improve the overall experience of women and men when using their services?

I'm really interested in the dating app Bumble, which lets women message men but not vice versa. In theory, that should save men the frustration of rejection and women the frustration of a million crappy messages. And an effective "block" feature, for zapping creepers out of your inbox, doesn't hurt!

Otherwise, I would say that sites can improve the overall experience by having good algorithms that match you with compatible people, as well as a "gamified" setup so that it's actually fun to create your profile and browse matches.