Virtual Love in the Altiplano
15 Feb, 2013 | Hayden Aldredge
It is 2013, and according to the New York Times over 80% of single Americans have tried online dating. Hayden Aldredge joined six websites, some more popular than others, to see if this craze has caught on in Bolivia. The results are not exactly promising for all those digitally minded bachelors and bachelorettes in this country. Well, take a read and decide for yourself...
La Paz, Bolivia
Just a lonely young man in search of love in Bolivia. Interests include good food, reading, writing, sports, music, and the outdoors. Not looking for anything too serious, just someone that I could connect with and go on a few dates with. Currently working as a journalist in La Paz, but originally from New York. I am 6’ 3” (1.9 meters), weigh 182 pounds and am very physically active.
I have never dabbled in internet dating. I know many people who have, and virtually all reviews have been at least somewhat positive. When I seem skeptical, my friends always point out that it’s the year 2013, that maybe ten years ago finding someone you could theoretically spend the rest of your life with online might have been weird, but not now. All of my friends who are making such statements are of course from the United States. I tried asking people that I know in Bolivia about internet dating, whether they had participated or even what their opinions on it were. Not a single Bolivian that I spoke to had used a dating website. When pressed on the issue, they all seemed to not know much about it, other than that only 'slightly off' or just plain 'weird' people used those sites. This piqued my interest. I decided to join every website offering dating services to people in La Paz. I set out to find out just how easy to use they really were, who was using them, and whether I could actually contact and then eventually arrange a date with real people. I thought to myself, if frequenting dating locations and using exotic love charms don’t work, maybe this will.
Google 'la paz bolivia dating websites' and this is the first result to come up. If you like actual people, who actually do probably exist, then this is the site for you. Sure, some of the profiles on this site are off-puttingly real, but after hours of trawling through dating services, it is a nice feeling to actually believe that I could run into the person whose picture I am staring at so intently. Badoo has that going for it. It’s also free. The interface is good, possibly the best of all the sites that I looked at. It can be accessed in English and Spanish. But I might be an impartial judge here. In just two days I received 12 profile views, most on any site for me, and was chatting with two actual La Paz citizens by that time. Of all the sites that I visited, Badoo made me feel the most confident that if I arranged to meet a person at the movies for a date, they would actually show up looking like the person I thought I was supposed to meet.
Mingle2 has the potential. It really does. The interface is very good, it is easy and free to create a profile, and there are no annoying advertisements. The issue for me, and any other Bolivian, is that not a single one of the profiles I looked at was located in this country. In fact, the vast majority lived in the United States. I found one or two people who claimed to live in La Paz, but the profiles were obviously fake. It is a real shame, because Mingle2 could really be something. Instead, it just keeps reminding me by email that women from South Beach, Florida, want to meet me.
This site has an absolutely terrible interface, but when it comes down to it, it might just be in the top three sites I signed up for. The profiles on Lava Place actually have images that won’t pop up on google search results for 'hot girls'. Yet, unfortunately for me, very few of the people actually seemed to be in my age range. If fact, the vast majority of the people on the site were in their fifties and seemed to just be getting out of a divorce. And they were looking for a younger man or woman. There were some younger profiles, but I would say that this particular service isn’t exactly geared towards my age group.
Here we go. Perhaps the most interesting 'dating website' that I looked at. Looking for a date on craigslist is like trying to find your dignity by going to Carnival in Oruro. Surprisingly enough there is a section for men seeking women (and vice versa) in La Paz. But that’s not where you find the interesting queries that make Craigslist such a special place. The real fun is in the casual encounters section, where women who are patently sex workers advertise openly and with the aid of some very explicit images. My suggestion is to stay away from Craigslist, unless of course you want to dabble with Stop Time (see Where is the Love?). Craigslist certainly has some good features, but in my quest for love, or even just a normal date, it was a dead end.
Adult Friend Finder is a site built specifically for adults to connect with one another and have casual sexual encounters together. This is strictly an over 18 kind of site. Every single picture is extremely explicit, and the information on most profiles goes far beyond suggestive. I was able to join for free, but as soon as I tried to do absolutely anything —like viewing a larger version of someone’s profile picture, or read a message I was sent from another user— I was asked to pay money. The most basic package comes in at $6 a month, while the best account will cost you $19.99, enough to buy at least twenty anticuchos (see Getting to the Heart of It). Since I already knew this wouldn’t exactly help me find a nice reasonable girl to go on a date with I decided to not pay a single centavo.
For some reason Citas Bolivia uses a Mexican flag in their logo. That, along with their odd use of chilies, Mexican beer, and sombreros on the homepage, does not stop this site from being one of the very best I signed up for. The interface is attractive and the site on a whole is very easy to use. While many of the users are just a tad too old for me, the profiles on Citas Bolivia are much more balanced, age-wise, than Lava Place. Nine people viewed my profile, and a grand total of four women sent me messages. They all might have been over 40 years old, but that didn’t really trouble me. At this point in my search, I had basically given up trying to get an actual date on any of these sites, and was just happy when someone real messaged me.
The difference in attitude on internet dating between the United States and Bolivia could be perfectly explained by a difference in cultural and social values. But after hours of searching through these dating sites, I have come to realize that the real reason lies in the fact that the very best option for Bolivians would rank as very mediocre for anyone in the United States. In the end, trying to find a date online in La Paz is just not very realistic or practical for someone who is looking for a functional relationship. This at least, was the case for me. But who knows, maybe people just really didn’t like my profile picture. Despite the plausibility of this, I like to think that the reason I failed to get a date through the internet was because a lack of truly good options, and not because of my facial features.