What Would Women-Friendly Online Dating Really Look Like?

Samhita Mukhopadhyay asked today on Al Jazeera: Can online dating ever be women-friendly? She talks in her op-ed about the challenges of online dating after your mid-30s, the rash of gross misogynist messages you can expect to receive as a woman on online dating sites, and how Tinder was intended to be woman-friendly, but can it really be woman-friendly if its creators don’t know what life is like as a woman and have, now, been accused of sexual harassment? She doesn’t mention sites like Straight White Boys Texting, which cull their content from Tinder users, among others, and which seems like a pretty pertinent point: Even if you “approve” of them based on their profile, you have no guarantee of how a potential date will actually treat you in real time.

Her conclusion is this pretty depressing last-stage-of-grief coping mechanism: “It’s as though the offensiveness on dating sites becomes a sorting mechanism, a virtual last man standing; only the last man is (hopefully) not a drunk sexist jerk.” My god. I mean, I know what she’s talking about. I’ve been there. It’s just that I was 25 and after four months of being on OKCupid the well of all right guys had already dried up and I couldn’t find anyone who was neither sexist nor duplicitous nor hyper-defensive (I expect from previous bad online dating experiences of their own).

What would a woman-friendly dating web site even look like? Tinder, OKCupid, Match, eHarmony, PlentyOfFish, JDate, Zoosk, Chemistry, Spark, FarmersOnly — they were all founded by men. How would you even conceptualize a dating model created by women? What would be women’s best interest?

I mean, personally, I’d have the option to filter out first messages that were either one word (“hi”), dick pics, pickup lines, requests for sex, personal essays, or that contained the words “sweetie,” “sweetheart,” and “baby.” I’d present some kind of “let’s be friends first!” option. I’d require clarity about who wants to pay for what on the first date (I had a hard-and-fast split rule). I’d implement the eHarmony model of filling out a rigorous set of questions as a part of registration as a sort of chilling effect for people who aren’t serious about it rather than doing the OKCupid questions-as-game model. Hell, how about requiring endorsements from other users? Like, OK, have some people who know you sign up and say what you’re like. Or have dates review you à la ExRated.

Basically, if a dating site could help women to wade through the assholes, that’d be awesome. It’s not just an issue of “you get to pick first!” It’s an issue of “Are you a predator? Are you going to swear at me and call me a whore if I turn you down for a date or don’t answer your text? Are you going to expect me to send nudes and get pissed if I don’t? Are you going to expect sex on the first date? Are you going to get weird if I say I’m not romantically interested in getting to know you? Are you really open to being friends or are you just saying that to look good?” Or in other words, it’s an issue of, “Who are you, really?”

It’s also an issue of acknowledging that women aren’t a monolith: OK, I don’t want to be called sweetheart, but some women don’t mind or care. I want the “hey let’s be completely platonic friends” option, but some women don’t. I would put a word maximum and minimum on messages, but some women wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were plenty of men who’d appreciate those options, too.

What about you? Let’s crowdsource this problem and get some lady developers up in here. It’s past time the single ladies got some real help navigating dating so that we don’t have to just accept guys being assholes as a matter of course. [Al Jazeera]