Online dating is one of the internet's great gifts to us in return for creating it—though most sites are pits of despair. But you haven't heard of Tawkify. It's amazing. It also tried to get me to hook up with a coworker.
From the outside, Tawkify sounds horrendous—a work of parody in the age of cyber love. It has the silly startup name, twee illustrations, and it uses goddamn Klout to evaluate your personality. Klout, if you don't know, is a site that claims it can "measure" your "influence" on "the internet" using "Twitter," a claim that, even if it were true, would be bleak and kind of horrible. But as far as anyone can tell, it's a mishmosh of arbitrary algorithms that are about as accurate as a divining rod, only more obnoxious. Klout is a divining rod covered in sequins and pompoms.
So that's the basis of this love journey. You have every reason to be skeptical. But once you log in and let Tawkify analyze your Klout score (anyone who cares about this number is subhuman, so please don't), you step into a service like nothing you've ever peeped at. And service is the right word—never, on any other dating site, will you ever feel more catered to. The site—and your potential love life—are in the delicate hands of E. Jean Carroll, a longtime magazine writer for Elle and author of "the longest, currently-running advice column in American publishing." What you almost immediately realize is that the whole Klout circus is a diversion. Maybe it's just there to keep out the computer illiterate. And good riddance! Keep them away. We should only want to procreate with and adore those who can navigate a Twitter feed in their browser of choice (Chrome, please).
But for all its internet-ness, Tawkify is hyper-offline. E. Jean, her right hand man Kenneth, and their staff of wits are matchmakers, which in 2012 sounds about as advanced as being a cobbler or glassblower. You fill out a brief profile—interests, occupation, age—but it's not run through any algorithm. There's no automation, no preference-linking or hobby-aggregating. The love connecting takes place in a human brain, E. Jean Explains:
"I'm an admirer of the big dating sites and they all use computers, but come on. Computers don't get jokes. A computer can't tell the difference between someone playful, someone weird, someone mean, and someone stupid. Kenneth and I are just waaaaaay better at picking up on wit, kindness, irony, warmth and wisecracks in people's answers. We can tell at a glance if someone is lovable. And we beat computers all to hell when judging sexual charisma displayed in photos. Kenneth Shaw and I make better matches than computers do."
That's a bold claim! Wait, no it's not. Is it so surprising that smart humans are at least as good at pairing up other humans as a computer? I didn't think so, so I hail mary'd myself into the Tawkify vortex. I filled in a brief bio, uploaded a photo of myself (clothed) in a bathtub, and selected "hooking up" from the preference menu—because, hey, I'm already on a Klout-based dating site. Nothing to lose! And should there be something to lose, Tawkify offers a menu of love help: the staff will call old flames to see if they're back on the market, ask a date dud what went wrong, along with a variety of other proxy services. If you've got $1000 to drop, you can even buy "Six sweeping months of romance, beauty, lust, serenity, novelty, adventure, and unlimited matches."
But I don't, so within a day, I received a phone call from a robotic voice welcoming me to Tawkify, and alerting me of a potential match. We could either do a Tawkify (introductory phone call), a "Walkify," (introductory stroll around the block), or a Mystery Date, during which we'd be given coordinates in a way that'd make us feel like Bond characters. The first two sounded beyond uncomfortable, so I opted for a mystery date.
A little later, I got a series of emails, texts, and calls from E. Jean—none of which felt smothering, but rather attentive—giving me slight hints about my blind date, and instructing me to bring an apple. So she'd know who to look for. It was intriguing! And kind of fun! And even though I had no idea what to expect, real human feelings swirled around me—nerves and anticipation!—instead of the online shopping buffet experience of Ok Cupid.
She canceled on me.
I was set up again, after volleys of scheduling emails and logistical questioning—an assistant matchmaker apologized convincingly and said they were hard at work finding a new pairing. I got one. After heading to a bookstore/coffee shop, I sat and waited. I was told I'd be meeting another writer with a "cute body," a "great smile," (Or maybe it was the other way around) and would be wearing sunglasses on her head for easy ID. It sounded great! I was ready to "hook up" with her.
And then my coworker, who I can see to my left if I peek over a couple computer monitors, walked in. She was wearing sunglasses. On her head. We'd been paired together, two friends who see each other literally every day. We have a lot in common, aside from the same floor of the same office of the same company, so it was at least fun to sit and have coffee with a pal. But hadn't I asked for easy internet sex? What'd gone wrong? Somehow, through the entire oversaturated JPEG fabric of the web, I'd been paired with someone I already knew—and already knew I got along well with. This was either the ultimate triumph or ultimate indictment of Tawkify. The crew, and whatever internet juju they employ, was able to successfully pin me together with someone I have some sort of chemistry with, based on precious little information. But for human resources reasons, at the very least, it ain't happening.
Still, the site is worth recommending. Highly, even. For all its analog faults and overabundant quirks, the dating site run by an AARP-aged, Elle magazine veteran and a robot offers something not a single other site can claim: realism. It's so convoluted, with so many factors and actors at work at once, that in the aggregate, it sort of feels just like real life. At no point during the few weeks I was in the system did I really have a concrete idea of what the hell was going on. Rather than a prepackaged internet experience, you get something bizarrely unique—frustration, anxiety, hope for 2nd base, dismay, excitement toward the unknown—you actually feel like you're looking for a date without any help. And if you can put the price tags out of your mind, it's easy enough to pretend. Just be prepared to meet your boss or sister.