Zoosk – A Horrifying Mix Of Friending And Dating – I used to keep a barrier between my friends and my dates when I was dating. Combining the two was just too difficult–in my experience, it’s akin to adding an alligator to a herd of wildebeests—someone is going to get killed, and it might be me. The first encounter between the two was meticulously planned ahead of time, with a crowded, noisy, neutral location, no extended trips down memory lane, and no photographs.
There was one basic rule when a boyfriend actually met my posse: “For the time being, agree with everything I say. Feel free to correct the record if the relationship should last longer than a month.” Perhaps that strikes you as cruel, but it was mitigated by the Cold War cliche of mutually assured destruction or Crazy. If my pal tells her new “mate” about the time I gave a sangria-induced water-ballet performance during an above-ground pool in Fishkill, N.Y., I can easily get back at her by telling her about the time she almost got a ticket for public nudity in Central Park. It was a brilliant strategy with very few disadvantages.
That’s why Zoosk.com perplexes me so much. Zoosk is an online dating platform that allows one to meet people via social media. For those unfamiliar with Web 2.0 principles, this means that your Facebook friends will be active participants in your dating life from start to finish. That’s a bad idea—absolutely terrible. Friends have access to information that you don’t want new boyfriends to have. And establishing a new relationship necessitates a degree of integrity that is just beyond compulsive deceit. (Do you believe I’m mistaken? How many dates have you told of your passion for jazz and your refusal to eat red meat?… I’ll leave it at that.) Combining friending and dating is the worst thing that has happened to romance since venereal disease, I’m telling you.
However, my late-twentieth-century opinions on relationships must be as out-of-date as grunge rock because young people seem to love it. (I define young people as those under the age of 35.) Zoosk has risen from 16.5 million users in January to more than 30 million users as of today. It’s Facebook’s most popular dating app, and it’s available in more than a dozen languages. Isn’t that incredible?
Zoosk seems to function in the same way that Match.com and eHarmony.com did in Web 1.0. You complete a date card with your personal information, upload a picture, and write a few words about yourself, your ideal match, and your favorite movies and music. (I started a date card but didn’t finish it because it didn’t feel right because I’m married.) Steve, 34, of Chicago, who enjoys “sarcasm,” rehabbed pit bulls, Star Trek, and The Killers, says, “I can’t make my husband afraid I’ll dump him for a wink.” Potential dates will give you virtual roses, flirts, and winks via your MySpace or Facebook profile. Animated flowers are the epitome of “I’m serious about you.”
In the form of testimonials, your friends enter the frame. You must not only inform your friends that you are dating online, but you must also request that they write you a recommendation. That sounds like a recipe for cruel teasing to me. However, when you think about it, those suggestions are completely useless. If you have friends like mine, they’ll just put glowing nonsense on your profile. What would they say except “Raina is great!” or “I wish I could date Raina!” Any outright lies, such as “Raina despises fennel” or “Raina’s favorite band is Hall & Oates,” will be strictly forbidden and result in MAD. (I dislike fennel, by the way.) It doesn’t matter if it’s a trendy food additive. It has a soapy licorice flavor).
What if you don’t have any recommendations? Is this a sign that you’re unloved, unwelcomed, or unfriendly? That you couldn’t even set up a fake Gmail account for your mother to use to write a letter anonymously? Without mentioning that, if I asked any of my friends for advice, they’d demand to see my date card. They’d be able to dig at all of my details and “remind” me that I’m not even 5 feet 10 and that I don’t, and never will resemble Marilyn Monroe. Friends support you for who you are. Dates adore you for who they say you are. There’s an ocean of shame between those two truths.
I know I sound elderly, but please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, Isn’t it clear that Zoosk has brought a new degree of authenticity to the dating game? Today’s youth seem to want to eliminate any double-dealing from dating. They’ll never be able to find a partner in this manner. It was Marilyn Monroe’s lies that helped me find a husband. But hold on a second. That wasn’t the case. Since our first date was so terrible (involving locksmiths and people (me) falling off barstools), I thought I’d never see him again and stopped playing the game. I sang out loud and off-key to the Hall & Oates song I bought with his money from the jukebox.
If my friends had been there, they would have only been able to say: “Raina, that’s her. Either you love her, or you don’t.” And, somehow enough, he decided to love me. I’m happy, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d play the enigmatic jazz-loving vegetarian again. I can’t help myself. I’m a Gen Xer, caught between the “let’s just chill” millennials and the “dinner-dating” boomers. But, in a world where Catching a Predator has been on TV for 2 million years and still catches potential predators, I’d have to admit that an extra layer of transparency online may not be such a bad thing. Also, I don’t want my son to grow up believing that getting girls doesn’t require lying.
So Zoosk may not be such a bad idea for teenagers. Why shouldn’t a potential match learn not only how you look but also what your friends think of your profile photo? (Though the thought makes my skin crawl, I suppose I might get used to it.) Plus, unless you grant them permission, interested suitors won’t be able to see your pages on Zoosk. So, even though you wrote on your date card that you find Facebook’s Sorority Life to be childish, you can keep playing it for hours.