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First Person: Wading in the shallow waters of Plenty of Fish

There’s plenty of fish in the North Saskatchewan, but they can’t all be in relationships. Can they? Plenty of Fish is an online dating site that allows users to create profiles and interact.

There’s plenty of fish in the North Saskatchewan, but they can’t all be in relationships. Can they?

Plenty of Fish is an online dating site that allows users to create profiles and interact. Based in Vancouver, the site in available in a number of different countries and languages.

Why pick on Plenty of Fish? First, it’s free to look at profiles and you don’t have to sign up for anything. And for what it’s worth, it’s also probably the only dating site my dad is familiar with, because having been married 30 years and with two kids, he’s inevitably had to give the “plenty of fish” talk. I figure if Dad knows about it, other people have to know about it, too.

Online dating is one of those cultural quirks that is stereotypical stand-up material. Emotions involved include apprehension, bitterness, indifference and annoyance, but if you meet somebody, then it’s all the good things that come with love. Online dating is a reason to hope when things seem pointless, but also a reason to wonder when things are going well. It’s something you don’t really want to care about, but making a profile means you kind of do. It’s a series of contradictions. It’s like playing the lottery. It’s like Joey Gallo of the Texas Rangers, who’s batting barely above .200 but who still has more than 30 homeruns.

Whatever it is, it’s an interesting topic.

How Plenty of Fish works is that users make a profile with photos and info about themselves. A profile is organized with the categories About, Details, Intent, Personality, City, Ethnicity, Education and Profession. Beneath photos is info about who users are seeking, what for, drinking habits, drugs usage, marital status, children, the longest relationship they’ve been in, and others. 

The first line under About, or what Plenty of Fish seems to consider the most important info about you, shows if you’re a smoker and what your body type is. Horoscopes are included as if they matter. There are also tests available to determine relationship needs, with the answers being accessible from profiles, although a lot of people don’t bother with them. The answers from relationship needs tests that up are written as if a counselor wrote them, so the voice doesn’t belong to users. 

The first thing to notice about a relationship that started online, which needs to develop organically if it is to work at all, is that it has a selective, artificial introduction. But how else could it be?

It seems that the most competent Plenty of Fish users are women in their twenties. Cultivating an online presence is something they do everyday. These accounts often have basic info and a lot of photos, but this demographic has the least at stake.

The most clueless users are often men, of all ages. Tim Hortons isn’t a hobby. You listed that you don’t do drugs, but 420 is one of your interests. Your photo includes half the face of somebody that caused you to make a Plenty of Fish profile in the first place.

Most female users seem to deal with the awkwardness of dating sites by either not mentioning it on their profiles, or handling it gracefully. Male users often seem visibly uncomfortable with putting themselves out there. On men’s profiles you’ll also find the range of testosterone emotion, from defensive to aggressive.  

And while spelling and punctuation shouldn’t have anything to do with your abilities as a lover (and good writers are often liars), given that online profiles are a written medium, writing counts. So do arbitrary things like lighting and pixel count. 

The target demographic of 30+ is where Plenty of Fish gets interesting. Here you have people who often have comparatively less experience expressing themselves online (at least to the extent that they have to impress people) but who have more life experience. And more pain.

On a lot of profiles in this demographic, you see that users’ longest relationship was 10+ years, that they’re divorced, and with children. These people often seek “long term” relationships, but listing “long term” seems like an all-in bet. You’ll scare gamblers off until someone matches the bet. Saying “I’m in it to win it” is in contrast to the tried and true short term thing that, with discussion and experience, gradually evolves into long term.

This demographic is also where you’ll find instances of startling honesty. A common thing you notice is (the honestly kind of dramatic) “I don’t want drama,” along with way too revealing monologues. Using an online dating profile to vent achieves the opposite of its purpose.

In this demographic there’s noticeable bitterness. “You don’t usually read this to find out what the person is like since most people lie on here and are usually pretty phoney.” And some ridiculous stories: “because I invite u over one maybe 2 days in a row does not mean u can move in ....holy man!! What am I doing wrong ??? Lol.” And public confessions: “I’ve done wrong and try fix my wrongs, I was lost and now I’m who I use to be, people who are bad for you often change the person you are yet it’s up to you to let it control you.”

Some profiles unintentionally reveal why a certain person no longer has a partner, why they need a new partner, and why they can’t get a new partner. Ironically, the people who need Plenty of Fish most are often the least capable of using it.

It’s easy to laugh at some of these profiles, but you have to appreciate the courage that it takes to publicly make an effort to try and improve their circumstances.

Why spend hours looking through Plenty of Fish accounts and writing about it? Because the person I was going to write an Everybody Has A Story on isn’t available until Thursday. But also because it’s got all those human elements of equally hilarious absurdity, confusing contradiction and stark, genuine sadness, all for the search of ultimate joy (until the two people start living together).

So if you’re fishing, either with a net or with napalm, remember: if you jump in, or fall out of the boat, just keep swimming.