When I was 13, I roamed AOL chat rooms. Wielding the time-honored ASL (age/sex/location) conversation starter, I became Jacob from Cleveland, blessed with a fluctuating age and generously fake pictures of my face and other features. It was creepy, dangerous…and easier than talking to real girls. For three weeks, I even had an Internet girlfriend named Sara, who, in hindsight, could’ve been a 63-year-old gardener named Reginald.
The proliferation of dating apps on our phones has theoretically expanded the romance pool, increasing opportunities to make connections and find true love. Having used Tinder in the past, I recently went undercover on Carrot Dating and Whisper only to find that nothing has changed, except perhaps that I am now on the other side of the deception, and even less successful in my search for a soul mate.
Carrot Dating is no longer available in Apple’s App Store, and I’m pretty sure that’s because it’s basically high-tech prostitution, wherein you bribe women with shoes, a Keurig, even a puppy—as if PETA doesn’t have enough to worry about—so they’ll go out with you. When someone accepts your bribe, a conversation is initiated. Conversations cost money ($2 to $3 each, depending on your purchase plan). You’re paying founder Brandon Wade so you can buy someone a tattoo or go skydiving with a gold digger.
Leigh, 25, suggested lunch and shopping. When I told her we could play shopping by ear, her response was classic Carrot Dating: “Whyyy lol.” She coyly asked if I’d reimburse her for her time at our meal. Still refusing to accept reality, I promised her dinner. Leigh replied, “And shopping? :-)” ☹:-(.
Supposedly not just for the rich and lonely, Carrot Dating provides ample opportunity for men looking to waste money on women (or men) devoid of personality or self-respect. I’d rather jump out of a plane with no parachute.
While I got only two nibbles on the proverbial carrot, I couldn’t shut Whisper up. This free app is where millions of users reportedly go to share their secrets. You post personal insights and an accompanying picture, and fellow users “heart” your Whisper, reply publicly, or message you. Within moments, I was learning people’s deepest, darkest intimacies:
“My ex recorded me during sex once and used the audio in a dubstep remix.”
“I’ve been faking a British accent ever since I got to college three years ago.”
“I write letters to my future children.”
“This app is impossibly dumb. If this is the future, I’ll take my chances with cholera and paper books.”
It’s simple, shamefully addictive, and almost too easy to use. While Whisper has the potential to start worthwhile conversation (“If you could ask your future self one question, what would you ask?”), it’s primarily a bulletin board of come-ons (“I want a chubby girl right now”) and teen angst. Within a day, I’d arranged several promising dates (“I miss having a geeky guy to crush on”). But none materialized, because Whisper is all about immediacy. It’s sexual gratification on demand. People are alone, hard up, and want someone, something, now. Sex is the subtext.
Rebecca, 22, posted a tasteful selfie (an oxymoron) and Whispered that she wanted to hang out. Once we both felt relatively assured the other wasn’t deranged, we agreed on a movie. After I’d introduced myself to the wrong girl only once (apparently L.A. is full of petite brunettes), we met, and it was the most awkward “date” I’ve ever been on. Rebecca was nice enough, but we had little in common other than having nothing better to do on a Friday night. The movie got out at 1 a.m., and Rebecca suggested a drink. That’s when her dad called; turns out her parents had imposed a midnight curfew. I’ve never been more grateful for an overbearing father.
I emerged from this experiment skeeved out and without a soul mate. The more genuine I tried to be, the more creepy I came across. All these years later, the same desires keep driving us, while we hope that new technology will finally provide shortcuts to a real connection. I had become Reginald.
Photos by Matthew Woodson