Online dating is an 'absolute dumpster fire.' Here's how to manage it

This week on Love Syncs: A reader asks for help expanding their dating pool.

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
Expertise Erin has been a tech reporter for almost 10 years. Her reporting has taken her from the Johnson Space Center to San Diego Comic-Con's famous Hall H. Credentials
  • She has a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.
Erin Carson
4 min read

Not finding the matches you want? There's a way to mix it up.

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Welcome to CNET's Love Syncs, where we answer your questions about online dating. I'm Erin Carson, staff reporter, resident young-enough person, refrigerdating correspondent, curator of odd stuff on the internet, most likely to leave you on "read."

This week: What to do when you're drowning in a murky dating pool. 

Q: I have managed to make an absolute dumpster fire of online dating and dating in general.  I guess that's where to begin. 

I was married for 10 years, been divorced since 2014. Ended up dating my best friend about 8 months after and it was a disaster. Had a few other attempts at relationships that all fizzled. The professor who would leave a date and literally go record a lecture til 2am; the lawyer who would get tipsy and talk about her proficiency with firearms. My personal favorite: the artist with 12 snakes. I am 42 years old and I work in education. My female friends say I am a catch. 


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Online I tank. I find myself carefully reading profiles. Crafting emails to women based on what I have read. I get crickets in response. I do get bizarre emails from ladies with names like "darkangel420" and "castrater85." I had one suggest that she'd like to play the ukulele and sing for me while I work on my car. I made the mistake of politely declining and suggesting that we do not have much in common … wished her luck in her search. I was served up an onslaught of insults. 

So, I am at a loss. Not sure what weird energy I put out into the universe that attracts the wrong people. All I can say is damn, it's getting old. 

— M. 

A: Humans love a pattern. I'm not talking about herringbone wallpaper on that accent wall in the dining room. (A little busy, if you ask me.) I'm talking about finding ourselves in the same familiar situations again and again. In truth, feeling like you're stuck in the same dating pool of people is as common as it gets. It's also a problem that can seem inescapable, as if some magnet in the universe keeps pulling you right back toward the snake and ukulele crowd, no matter how you feel about it.

The good news is there are steps you can take to change this. And for this column, I enlisted the help of Melissa Hobley, global chief marketing officer of OkCupid and one of its resident dating experts, to chat about some practical strategies for mixing things up. 

First, whether you realize it, you might be gravitating toward the same types of women, as much as they're gravitating toward you. It could be a matter of physical type or the lifestyle someone is projecting. That's the pool you feel like you've jumped in but can't seem to climb out of. Luckily most pools have ladders. Consider all the women you've messaged or gone out with: What do they have in common, aside from you feeling like they're pretty wacky? 

If you're using a service that lets you apply filters and parameters (whether it's distance, religion, height, etc.) experiment with what happens if you just get rid of those filters and look around, Hobley suggested. 

"You're really leaving a lot of lovely, kind, great [people] off the table by doing that, and, by the way, you're also shrinking your pool," she said.

When you do nix the filters though, consider asking a trusted friend to sit down with you and not only re-examine your profile, but help you send some likes, messages or whatever you're doing. In other words, TIME TO PHONE A FRIEND, REGIS. You mentioned your female friends say you're a catch. They might be able to help you translate what they see to your profile. 

"We are really bad at understanding why we do what we do," Hobley said. It's true. Sometimes our loved ones can see us better than we can see ourselves. 

Also, if you're unintentionally doing something cringey, ideally they can save you from that too. 

*Taps on the glass* Here's your friendly Love Syncs reminder to never post a bathroom selfie, particularly if there's a urinal in the background. Please. PLEASE. 

Don't be afraid to tweak your profile as you go. Hobley said a surprising number of folks make a profile and just leave it alone. Freshen up the photos you're using. Mess around with your bio. Profiles that look as though some care has been put into them are going to be more useful in attracting those looking for something more serious. 

Here's the thing: There's an element to online dating that's experimental. If something's not working, try something else. 

You also mentioned that you get some weird messages from folks. Welcome to life on The Apps. This is not uncommon. Ask your female friends about the messages they get. It's not necessarily a reflection on you that some rando out there is propositioning you with stringed instruments any more than it's anyone's fault if someone yells something icky at them on the street. 

Finally, although the coronavirus pandemic has caused life to gyrate among horror, suspense and the excruciating dullness of watching paint dry, this might actually be a good time to lean into online dating. Platforms are reporting spikes in usage and people are taking the time to get to know each other without the usual pressures. Take advantage of video chat to get a better feel for folks before you go further — which honestly, is not the worst idea even in non-pandemic times. 

Hopefully, you can find someone who doesn't have any snakes. Or maybe just one snake. (How many snakes is the right number of snakes? Unclear. COMMENT BELOW.) 

CNET's Love Syncs is an advice column focusing on online dating. If you've got a question about finding love via app, send it to erin.carson@cbsinteractive.com for consideration.