Online Dating in the SF Tech Industry

What gives men the idea that sending these kinds of sexually explicit messages off-the-bat, unsolicited, and before getting to know a person is okay?

by Erica Schoonmaker on September 8th, 2014

My previous OKCupid stints never lasted long but, being freshly single, I started up my profile again.

Almost immediately I was inundated with messages… and not good ones. A vast majority were sexist, sex-related, and/or made me uncomfortable in general. Many felt like target practice, the senders aiming the same message to multiple women over and over again to see who responds. The obscene ones, well… A 53-year-old man asked me if I’ve “thoroughly explored [my] submissive tendencies.” (He messaged me despite the fact that my listed age range only goes to 36. I’m 26, and this particular man is older than my dad.) Another man asked if I consider myself someone with a high sex drive because he is an “animal in bed” and also “big.” Also, once when I had OKC’s chat feature turned on, I got an IM from a man asking how large I thought his penis was based on his profile.

These were first messages.

What gives men the idea that sending these kinds of sexually explicit messages off-the-bat, unsolicited, and before getting to know a person is okay? My general theory is that it’s because there’s no repercussions, as is usual in most online spaces.

Male friends of mine who have or have had OKC profiles report that they get hardly get any messages whatsoever. They tell me I am lucky that I have so many people interested in my profile—that it’s a “nice problem to have.” I tell them it would be nice to exist in a space without being objectified or targeted just for being a woman, and that in no circumstances is it fun to sift through my OKC inbox.

San Francisco in fall.

I ended up starting a Tumbr blog to showcase the ridiculousness of it all and to keep myself from taking it too seriously and getting discouraged. But, let’s be honest—this is a serious problem and I shouldn’t have to publicly post awful messages with reaction-gif responses to make myself feel better about being harassed.

To date my Tumblr has over 50 posts. Only 6 of those are submissions (either from friends or anonymously) and I’m adding new posts every week. I idly hope that by revealing inappropriate messages that someone might learn what not to do and that it’s not okay to harass women in these spaces.

Online Dating and the Real World

The Tumblr is just the tip of the iceberg—those are just the messages that I choose to screenshot, post, and then delete and ignore. But sometimes you run into exes in your matches or inbox. Sometimes it’s your coworkers. An ex found my profile on OKC and decided it would be a good idea to send me a message. The appropriate response would have been to hide me from his matches and respect that he is an ex for a reason, even if that reason wasn’t mutual. However, that wasn’t the case. I ended up having to block him.

Currently, OKC does not have a way to block users from messaging you until they’ve actually sent you a message. You can “Hide” people from your matches, so that they don’t come up in your searches, but that doesn’t prevent you from coming up in their matches and it certainly doesn’t prevent them from messaging you. By default, your dating profile is public and can be viewed by anyone. You have to opt-in to make your profile only available to OKC users.

Google search bar.

CC-BY MoneyBlogNewz.

Search engines and their pervasiveness in our culture can increase the risk of dating online. For example, someone can take your dating profile photo and search Google for others like it, therefore possibly finding your other profiles online — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, to name just a few. They could also search for your username, your real name, etc. Sadly OKC doesn’t have any methods in place to prevent people from right-clicking on profile photos and either downloading them or using the direct URL (even if you’ve opted-in to be viewable by OKC users only) in a Google Images search. Such a search using one of my own profile images pulls up my Poshmark profile, from which anyone could get my usual username and then do a more extensive search for my information.

Scary shit, right? Scarier considering that when you’re dating in a city like San Francisco where the tech industry is thriving, you have a lot of tech-savvy individuals for whom this method of information-gathering is trivial. And if you work in the industry yourself, as I do, there’s the additional worry of such things being used against you in the workplace, because it means potential or current employers can fairly easily find your dating profile(s). The information could be used to prejudicially deny you a job, a raise, a bonus, a promotion, etc.

I know women who have had coworkers or peers in their industry “find” them on dating sites. Some of these peers proceed to harass them there. Appropriate behavior for finding someone who is in your professional network on a dating site is to (1) block/hide them, so they don’t appear in your searches anymore, (2) ignore their profile if you don’t want to block/hide them.

These are not the only boundary-crossing behaviors on online dating sites, where I often receive questions about my health or, better yet, unsolicited health advice. My profile states that I am Type-1 Diabetic, as my Twitter bio does. This is something I am always upfront about because it has been an issue of contention in the past. I don’t want to bother going out with anyone who is going to view it as a problem. However, as a result of divulging this information, I get a lot of questions. One first message reads: “so with type 1 diabetes you don’t need shots? instead you need a constant inflow of insulin?” These are never the types of questions anyone should lead with when meeting someone with a chronic condition, online or offline. I do get these kinds of questions a lot, and for the most part I’m happy to answer them if they come up as part of a broader conversation, but I’m not a search engine that’s going to pop out answers. If that’s the only type of question I get in a message, I typically don’t respond.

The unsolicited health advice, though less common, is worse. I once got an extremely long (multiple paragraphs) message from one guy who insisted he cured his own, undiagnosed type-1 diabetes and how he did it. I responded that it is not possible for him to have had type-1 diabetes and no longer have it, because it is an incurable autoimmune disease. He responded back with paragraphs more which included a lot of science jargon but didn’t actually make any sense. That was the only time I’ve responded to a message like that, but not the only time I’ve received one.

And all of these things are what happen before you even go on a date.

Going on Dates with “Tech Bros”

San Francisco in fall.

CC-BY Mike Behnken

Ask any single, straight woman living and dating in San Francisco what the dating scene is like here, and she’ll tell you: It sucks. Take a scroll through local Secret posts and you’ll find at least one, but more likely a few, posts lamenting on this subject. It’s a symptom of being encased in our bubble of there’s-an-app-for-everything.

Making things harder, many of the people moving to San Francisco and joining the dating pool are young, white men from privileged backgrounds. I recently went on a date with a math teacher—which is about as far outside the tech bubble as I have gotten so far—and he was quite astonished after I jokingly said we could TaskRabbit someone to wait in the brunch line for us. It was nice to be out with someone who, for once, was not used to that kind of privilege. When I am on a date with someone who also works in tech, it’s a very different dichotomy. Men who work in tech tend to be entitled, selfish, and judgemental. Instead of being impressed with my professional success, they are jealous, competitive, or skeptical. I had one guy tell me I wasn’t making enough money and that I should ask for more or “just quit and find a better job.”

I’ve had numerous men cancel on me at the last minute and, in general, there seems to be a pervasive trend of flightiness that annoys me greatly. I’ve had numerous men go on and on bragging about their job, how late they work all the time, their work perks like catered lunch, or how much they travel. Whenever more serious topics like SF’s homeless population comes up, there’s a general attitude of “they should just get a job” without considering the socioeconomic barriers and systemic inequalities.

I have a friend setting me up on a date soon with someone who is a software engineer, and she felt the need to preface it with “but he’s actually really nice.” I didn’t automatically assume that he wasn’t, but our shared experience dating engineers has taught us otherwise. I have actually been actively trying to date outside the tech community as much as possible, but it’s surprisingly hard to do. San Francisco is too expensive a city to call home if you don’t make a ridiculous tech-fueled salary, or have [multiple] roommates, or got lucky and are still in a rent-controlled unit from several years ago and haven’t been evicted yet.


Online dating, while frustrating and sometimes scary, can be an effective way to meet new prospective partners. But the sad reality is that we have to be careful and mindful of any possible consequences that come from putting yourself out there. The flourishing tech industry in San Francisco only heightens this need, while simultaneously flooding the dating pool with its typical tech worker.