You Could Be Flirting On Dating Apps With Paid Impersonators by C. R. Stuart-Ulin
It’s a very long article. I read about 95% of it the other day – it’s sad and disturbing.
Some of the suggestions in the manuals the “dating closers” are told to follow by these companies are pretty sexist – they operate on sexist gender stereotypes of what they think women like and want.
Every morning I wake up to the same routine. I log into the Tinder account of a 45-year-old man from Texas—a client.
I flirt with every woman in his queue for 10 minutes, sending their photos and locations to a central database of potential “Opportunities.” For every phone number I get, I make $1.75.
I’m what’s called a “Closer” for the online-dating service ViDA(Virtual Dating Assistants).
Men and women (though mostly men) from all over the world pay this company to outsource the labor and tedium of online dating. The matches I speak to on behalf of the Texan man and other clients have no idea they’re chatting with a professional.
[The article goes on to explain that a lot of Americans find dating sites very time consuming, which is one reason they hire these dating site “closers” to flirt with people on their behalf]
But where does the digital social assistant end and the con artist begin?
….In my guise as a middle-aged American male, it’s my job to pursue women on our clients’ behalf.
These people are often in their early 20s; young women with less dating savvy are easy targets for the company’s methods. “Rule 1: Don’t make her think too hard,” the manual says. “When writing sales copy…the goal is to reduce her ‘cognitive load’ so she’s more likely to reach the end and still have energy to write out a reply.”
What does a “low cognitive load” pick-up line look like? My personal favorite:
A beautiful seaplane. A suitcase full of cash. And a dashing co-pilot. Whereto?
….But combing through each woman’s profile would require too much time, so Matchmakers are instead taught to generalize a client’s preferences as much as possible and then select an opening line that could work for hundreds of women. For example, does Client X like to travel?
That’s easy: Client X’s Matchmaker can search the company manual for the word “travel” and select from a handful of vague travel-related greetings.
From there, after the client has approved the message, a one-liner blitz will rain down on dozens of dating sites, targeting hundreds of women with the word “travel” in their profiles.
…So, tell me about yourself
Originally a sales guy with no time for “real dates,” Valdez grew ViDA’s brand out of his own experiences in the dating world. Before Tinder normalized “DTF” (“Down To Fuck”) as an opening salute, Valdez would send copy-and-pasted pick-up lines to dozens of women a day and track their effectiveness on spreadsheets. “Online dating is a numbers game,” he would write in the ViDA training manual years later.
…His idea for a digital-dating-assistant service started in 2009, when he was frustrated with the amount of time it took to search for matches online.
….But I’m not an astronaut or an insurance salesman. I’m a woman sitting in my living room in Montréal, running proxies on my smartphone and laptop.
I’m logged into my client’s Tinder and match .com accounts, appearing on these platforms (with the help of numerous fake GPS services) to be the man I’m pretending to be. I sit on my couch and wait for messages to arrive in their inbox.
“Oh, you like Pink Floyd?” I write to one match. “Cool. I saw them in concert in ‘77.” This technically isn’t a fib: My client did see Pink Floyd in 1977—though I wasn’t born until 1992.
I was three weeks into my contract when I encountered a client whose age was listed as 25.
Written beside his photos was a casual disclaimer: “…he’s actually 33 but wants to present like 25 to attract younger ladies.”
Shaving two or three years off of a client’s age was common practice, but eight years felt predatory. I sent an email inquiring about the company’s policies, and never heard back.
Despite my attempts at embracing the “Alpha Male” attitude, the training staff have repeatedly told me that my writing is “too female,” a characteristic that has never been fully explained.
To mitigate this “error,” I’ve been told I need to use shorter sentences, ask fewer questions, use fewer smileys, wait longer to reply, and set up dates before even asking if the woman is interested.
If a woman doesn’t respond to our cheesy pick-up lines or cough up her number by the third message, I’m instructed to move on, as the match is no longer cost-effective.
….One Profile Writer I spoke with (I’ll call him Doug) was candid about his dilemmas over the company’s practices. After working as a Closer for two years, Doug had asked to switch to Profile Writing. He’d taken to referring to Closer work as “the dark side.”
Doug told me that a lot of clients never call the women “who have been really engaged emotionally and are responding to our messages.” Once Closers receive their commission for getting a number ($1.75 each), they move on. But if a woman never hears from the client—the man she believes she’s been corresponding with the whole time—she might send more messages through the app, upset that she hasn’t heard from him. But the Closer is no longer allowed to reply, so he ghosts her. There’s no more money to be made.
“I am creating these bitter women out there,” he said. “I ask myself if I’m part of the problem.”
What kind of person would pay strangers to score them dates online, and then not even bother to call? Clients who can afford to ignore phone numbers because they receive so many a week are internally referred to as “Cash Cows.”
They go on several dates a week for months or sometimes years on end, traveling frequently to new areas and an ever-expanding pool of women. These clients tend to be younger men in high-powered finance jobs.
Valdez said that the typical client profile tends to be somebody between the ages of about 28 and 52, with most being in their 30s. (He also claims that one third of their clients are female.)
…Is it even legal?
The company’s practices may be unethical—but they’re not illegal. Once the company obtains the client’s permission to impersonate them online, there are no laws against what Closers do.
…As dating platforms become flooded with calculated, flirtatious spam, men and women on these sites learn to emulate personalities that yield quantifiable results.
This means playing down unique traits and unorthodox views to the point where a total stranger—like me—could literally do it in their place.
By trying to appeal to dozens, if not hundreds, of strangers at the same time, we forfeit our ability to take risks and experiment with social norms; only placing safe bets robs us of new and genuine experiences.
But the steepest price of this online anonymity appears to be human decency, which—as I’m often reminded at ViDA—doesn’t lead to dates.
For example, one match told me that she’d just put down her family dog.
Still in training, I wasn’t sure what to do.
I wrote out an apology for her loss and sent it to my instructor for approval.
He crossed out my response and wrote underneath: “Alpha Males don’t apologize.”
What we sent back instead was an upbeat story about our client’s two dogs, which was a shamefully inconsiderate reply in my view.
I expected to never hear back from her, but three exchanges later, she was sending me her phone number.
It was my first commission: $1.75.
Had she blamed my client’s callous response on internet miscommunication? Or was she learning—just as I was—that reaching out for a unique connection online would lead only to awkwardness and rejection? Every time she has an interaction in which her feelings are ignored—whether it’s online or in-person—I worry that she’ll learn not to talk about her emotional needs, or any needs of any kind.
…I was given my first female client after two months with the company. Women seeking out our services require a very different approach.
When talking to my new client’s matches, I was told to make her voice sound “feminine (soft, warm, delicious, flowing, focusing on how she feels about things).”
I had to “focus less on her career and more on her outside life…write longer sentences, more emoticons, and be more playful.”
In Doug’s view, it’s our job to act as gatekeepers for these female clients—to make sure no subpar matches make it through. “Women are so put into a box, and they aren’t going to represent what they really want,” he said.
According to him, a Closer should ask the tough questions that female clients aren’t comfortable asking themselves: Does the match want children? Are they looking for something serious? Are they dating anyone else right now?
….My initial curiosity about these dating assistants had morphed steadily into deep disgust: with the company, with Valdez and his manual, and—above all—myself. The sight of my first paycheck sent me crawling back to bed in a guilt-ridden panic.