Following a recent breakup, I decided to jump back into the vortex of cocktails, misery, and exhaustion that is dating in New York City. So, I immediately thought about reviving my OkCupid profile.
Then I remembered the flood of messages asking if I was "down 2 fukk." And, the dick pics from a 60-year-old man in Boston. And, the foot fetishist who complained he couldn’t see my feet close-up in a picture. Oh, and the date who informed me that since he had bought me a beer, I had to go home with him.
Sex with me, apparently, is worth a $7 Brooklyn Lager.
But, where could I meet someone who thought I was worth more than a cold drink and a one-night stand? Apparently, three Brooklynites were searching for the same answer, and, amidst the plethora of options for people to meet digitally, they have attempted to make online dating a not-so-horrible experience, and maybe even enjoyable.
Mesh Labs Inc., a new Brooklyn-based start-up, is a free dating site that weeds out the creeps, the mass messages, and the grammatically challenged for you. The site launched in pre-beta mode in June for New York City-area users, and so far, has attracted more than a thousand daters. (Next week, Mesh is moving out of its invite-only pre-beta phase and is working on a mobile app to be released in September.) It's also the only mainstream dating site that allows users to choose transgender or non-binary gender-identity options. There's even the option for polyamorous folk to say they are in an open relationship.
Asher Snyder, Mesh's cofounder and CEO, decided to start the site last year when he became fed up with the current state of online dating. The Brooklyn native had already cofounded another tech company when he was just 20 (he has been coding since he was 11), so he recruited a designer friend, quit his job, and started working on building a dating app that wouldn't suck.
"Online dating in New York City has two problems: too many creeps and too many choices," Snyder, now 28, says. Not only do people waste time sifting through creepy messages, but the sheer number of profiles on Tinder and OkCupid practically turns dating into online shopping.
"I saw very clearly how bad online dating is for most women," he explains of his experience as an OkCupid member. "The average lifespan for a profile is five to six weeks because they get overwhelmed by creepy messages."
But, Mesh's smart filters work on weeding out just that — they scan incoming messages for vulgarity, lol text speak, and bad grammar, sequestering them into a "Mismatch" folder so you never have to see them. (If "ur cute" missives pique your interest, you can always modify your settings.)
The result, Snyder says, is a Gmail-like curated inbox of potential matches. Mesh also enables you to set up "Dealbreaker" questions, so the resolutely child-free will never be matched up with someone who wants kids, or that Boston foot fetishist could have a much better chance of finding someone with a taste for his kink.
Snyder also claims that Mesh's matching algorithms pair people with more compatible dates than OkCupid or Tinder. Like OkCupid, users fill out lists of questions, on topics ranging from sexual preference (don’t worry, you can mark those as private) to weed smoking and political opinions. But, while OkCupid only uses a few top answers to determine matches, Mesh uses a larger aggregate of replies to find potential dates.
"On Tinder, you can go out on a date every night for the next two to three years, but that doesn't make for a good experience," Snyder says. What is most notable in regards to the Mesh versus Tinder comparisons, though, is the latter's recent troubles. Tinder's former executive Whitney Wolfe filed suit in June alleging sexual harassment and discrimination from its founders, bringing attention to sexism occurring within the start-up culture. On the flip side, one of Mesh’s cofounders is Yeni Sleidi, a queer woman who brings an LGBTQ perspective to the site as its community manager.
"When I was browsing OkCupid, I'd come across profiles with an asterisk or a disclaimer at the top, saying they're not bisexual, they're queer, or letting people know that they're transgender, and wishing those options were on the site," Sleidi says of her experience using online dating to find men and women a few years ago. "It's the right of everyone to identify yourself properly. "On every other dating website, you have to settle for a limited set of options, like saying bisexual instead of queer. Bisexual is a bit more rigid than queer. Queer means you're open to dating a spectrum of sexualities and genders, dating trans men or trans women, or someone who doesn't identify with a gender."
For transgender people, it is especially important to have these options, she points out, as they are readily susceptible to criticism online. They are likely to be harassed, accused of lying to people or leading them on when dating on the Internet. More gender and sexuality options will be added to Mesh as its community continues to grow, including asexual orientation.
"Identity is essentially such an important part of ourselves, it makes us who we are, and to have that ignored or blown-off is just wrong," Sleidi explains. "That's what OkCupid has been doing — for over a year now, people have been asking them to include queer. I have tons of queer friends, including trans*, who've been upset. The bottom line is to allow people to choose their own representation." So go ahead, embrace your identity. It's time to get back on the dating scene.