When I joined OKCupid in 2010, I was looking for a relationship. I'd just moved from Michigan to New York, and I was having trouble meeting single, like-minded people in a new place. I probably got rude and unusual messages right from the start, but at first I was so focused on finding someone that I didn't notice the weirdos.
Around 2013, something changed. I'd been dating online for several years, and I began to lose hope in meeting my soul mate. The strange messages became harder and harder to ignore.
Whether it was curiosity or masochism or some combination of both, I'm not sure, but instead of cutting my losses and walking away, I started tweaking my profile to see how small changes would affect the types of messages people sent. I started seeing OKCupid not only as a place to find love but also as a voyeuristic sociological pseudo-study, approaching it from an increasing emotional distance.
I saw OKCupid not only as a place to find love but also as a voyeuristic sociological pseudo-study
There were too many weird messages to count, and the breadth of their content still fascinates me, especially considering that everyone dating online is presumably after simply love, sex, or both. Some messages were clearly canned come-ons that I'm guessing went out to as many people as possible. Some outlined incredibly specific things that the sender wanted to do to me. Some were long and took on a narrative that led me to believe those authors were possibly writing their own erotica and masturbating as they typed. Others warned me, before even knowing whether I was interested, that they weren't looking for anything serious, because as well all know, all women are clingy emotional vampires.
Why I started turning my weird OKCupid messages into comics
The messages kept coming, and even when I did not respond, some of them kept trying, as if my silence were accidental and I would be interested if they contacted me enough times.
I began taking screenshots of messages from my strangest suitors to send to my friends, and then I decided to make them into comics. Here's the first one I adapted:
(I didn't find out what "casual touch" entails, but the concept still makes me uncomfortable. One can only hope that this guy found a platonic touch buddy to ensnare in his tentacles. )
I wanted to avoid making my work mean-spirited, so I followed these rules:
I wouldn't use anything that would give away the identity of the sender
I'd only use messages that I did NOT respond to and from senders I did NOT meet up with. (So you'll have to wait for the epic tale of my six-hour hell date that began at IHOP.)
Here's another comic:
The forgotten truth about online dating: there's a person on both sides of the screen
My comics helped me remind myself that there is a person on both sides of the screen, because sometimes I feel like men imagine a pixelated floating vagina with boobs on the receiving end of their messages. It bothered me that so many men felt content with these one-sided conversations — ignoring even my clear message transmitted through silence — as if the idea of "me" as a sentient being were inconsequential. My comics gave me a space where I could respond and give my input. So in my own way, I collaborated with these dudes. Without them even knowing it, now they've authored feminist comics!
How I feel about online dating now
My feelings about online dating are complicated. Instant access to so many potential partners or fuck buddies or whatever can make it seem like the options are limitless. There have been times when I felt worthless because men seemed to have one eye scanning over my shoulder for someone better.
And sometimes I'm part of the problem, too: I've had moments while swiping away on Tinder when I stop and realize, "These are actual human people who have feelings and thoughts!" Online dating can feel eerily like online shopping, where people are turned into commodities.
Still, I don't regret dating online: I've met some incredible people whom I wouldn't have met otherwise. And even the bad experiences occasionally have silver linings. I've pushed back on men who said presumptuous things to me online, and sometimes they engaged with thoughtful questions and responses. It's unfortunate that people don't realize they are acting in a way that is misogynist or aggressive, but it's a step in the right direction if some are willing to have a conversation about it.
Making and posting my comics gives me hope, too. People of all genders — mostly cis and trans women, but men, too — responded overwhelmingly well. Women told me they'd gotten similar messages, and men couldn't believe that anyone would say this kind of thing. (I mean, I couldn't believe some of them myself.) But it got the conversation going. Maybe the future of courtship isn't all so bleak.
Making and posting my comics gives me hope, too. People of all genders — mostly cis and trans women, but men, too — responded overwhelmingly well.
It's been a while since I last drew an OKComix comic, but I have a backlog of messages that I want to work on. For instance, on December 22, 2015, a 55-year-old man in Hawaii sent me a message, "I'm interested. Are You? Please read my picture that is only worth a hundred words."
On December 27 he checked in again, "I hope that you had a merry Christmas. Did Santa bring you what you wanted?"
And on January 24, he suggested, "Why not visit me in Hawai'i? You might stay."
As with the other messages, I didn't reply, but on January 31, he wondered, "Do you want to stay in New York?"
On February 14, he figured maybe the holiday would change my mind, and he said, "I was hoping that you would be my Valentine ... love, David" — alas, five messages later and I remain unswayed.
For what it's worth, the answers to his questions are: No, I'm not interested; No, Santa didn't bring me anything, because I don't celebrate Christmas; I don't want to visit you because you're creepy and old enough to be my father, plus I hate heat and sand; and, yep, I want to stay in New York indefinitely, and seriously! I'm not interested!
Molly Roth is a freelance graphic designer whose work has appeared on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. Her website is mollyr.com.