Finding a Relationship: An Evidence-Based Approach

16 Mar 2015 |

Furries often prefer to date other furries.

There are a lot of good reasons for this. For starters, we're pretty awesome. We also tend to feel that furry is a full and honest version of ourselves, something we love but can only express in appropriate spaces. Furry is something to edit out in restricted social settings (like work, or extended family), and something to enjoy when we are free to be ourselves. And it's a lot easier to express furriness in the company of other furries.

This is great, however furries are thin on the ground. And while we tend to socialise online en masse, it's not always easy to meet someone you might be interested in, and who might also be interested in you. It's especially difficult if you're a heterosexual man - the numbers are not on your side.

Fortunately, science is here to help. The February 2015 issue of Evidence-Based Medicine includes a long review of online dating, looking at data to support successful strategies. It's comprehensive but enjoyable to read - in the acknowledgements they "thank the potential dates who turned down one of us repeatedly"—and it contains a lot of lessons that can be applied to the furry world. I have distilled those down here.

Your online presence is important, and you will want to update your main profile, perhaps your Fur Affinity user page. Tell your friends that you're making changes, as this will have the triple effect of reminding potential partners that you may be available, soliciting input and interest from your social group, and counteracting the natural tendency towards procrastination. Research shows that it's normal to procrastinate during this step, and that going public with your plan can provide motivation to get started, which can then generate the urge to follow the task to completion.

Don't worry too much about details. Attraction is a largely subconscious phenomenon, so keep it simple and concentrate on making a good first impression. Don't include a simple list of your interests, friends, or links to community groups. Make sure your profile picture is attractive - it may be worthwhile commissioning something new by a well-regarded artist.

In your profile, mention that you are single but don't mention that you are looking for a relationship. Be positive about yourself and your interests. Don't include anything negative. About 70% of your profile should be about yourself, and about 30% should be about what you like about other people. Something like "I'm an open and happy person, and I enjoy spending time with happy people" is good.

Use simple language, which (believe it or not) will make you seem more intelligent and likeable. (This is the main reason why RandomWolf, the [adjective][species] mascot you see frowning down at you from the top of the page, will remain forever alone.) Be lightly humorous if you can, and ask your friends to check for spelling mistakes.

It's important to stay close to reality, so personal stuff about your non-furry life is good. Mention where you live, and your personal situation, but remember to avoid dry lists: don't say "I have a sister"; say "I'm proud of my sister, who is doing really well at school". It's better to talk about traits that make you personally likeable (kindness, for example), rather than mentioning academic achievement.

If you can, choose a screen name that starts with a letter towards the beginning of the alphabet. Your screen name should be neutral or positive - avoid negative terms: so "Lightning Wolf" is a lot better than "Storm Wolf". (This may all sound a bit silly, but there is a lot of evidence showing that names have a measurable impact on success in many areas of life, not just dating.)

You should emphasise similarities between yourself and the things you find attractive in other people. That means there is going to be a few repeated words in the 70% about you, and the 30% about others, and that's okay.

Adding photos of yourself to your gallery is a good idea. Choose photos where you in a group of people, where others are looking at you and smiling. (It matters less whether you are smiling.) If you can find a photo where you are touching someone—keep it sane, perhaps a hand over a shoulder, or on an upper arm—that's great. The toucher is perceived to be of a higher status, so avoid photos where you are the one being touched.

When you make initial contact, make it a text message - a private message on a social networking site is good, so a Fur Affinity note is better than a shout. Make a comment that is individually tailored to the recipient (even if you're quietly messaging a few people at once), which should be a single positive remark about your target's profile or photo. Be reasonable though - over-the-top flattery will appear dishonest. Invite them to chat further, using rhyming poetry (which has an instinctive appeal), ideally using their name as the rhyme.

Making rhymes is harder than it sounds, by the way, especially if you're trying to rhyme with a furry name. There are no reasonable rhymes for "wolf". You might find an online rhyming dictionary to be helpful. Avoid the natural temptation to rhyme "fox" with "cocks".

Your initial contact should be three or four sentences in total. Don't ask any direct questions, just mention that you'd like to chat and leave the ball in their court. Don't follow up: if nothing happens, nothing happens.

If you make contact and they reply, there is no value in leaving them waiting for a response. (The Fonz and/or Charlie Sheen may have counselled you to delay your response, however I'm happy to say that science has proven them wrong.) Don't keep them waiting.

Start your chat with simple, open-ended questions like "What did you find interesting in my profile?", and avoid yes/no questions. Spontaneous humour is good. Share trivia about yourself.

You should aim to move your chat to more direct methods over time - from asynchronous communication (like FA notes), to chats over Telegram or Skype, and eventually to video chat. The faster this happens the better: three to four weeks is a sign that the two of you are doing well. If you live near one another and you haven't met, it's better to meet face-to-face sooner rather than later - this may take anywhere from a few days to a few months.

Initiating online conversation is difficult. Continue using open-ended questions as a conversation starter until the two of you become more comfortable.

Be relentlessly positive, for example by saying nice things about your friends or people within furry you both know. (You might wish to mention how much you like [adjective][species], for instance.) Keep in mind that your opinion of other people will tend to reflect on you: so if you say such-and-such is lazy, this will make you seem lazy.

Negative comments, even just criticism or snarkiness, are much more memorable than positive comments, and so need a lot of positivity as counter-ballast. You shouldn't always agree with someone—in fact it is helpful to disagree initially and then change your mind—but you should avoid direct criticism.

As your electronic relationship progresses, you will want to reduce uncertainty, in both directions. That means sharing personal information about yourself, and asking personal questions of your prospective partner. If you have specific questions, ask via the written word.

You will be able to tell if someone is hiding information or being deceptive if their response has suddenly reduced detail, or if they avoid using words like "me", "mine", and "I". If you're unsure or someone is being evasive, press for a straight answer. It's natural to worry that being direct and persistent might come across as negative or badgering, but research suggests that it's the best course of action.

Having said that, don't worry too much if someone has lied about themselves to you. It's natural and normal for people to present themselves as they hope to be in the future, not as they are right now. If you discover that someone has been lying about their academic qualifications, or employment, or living situation, or age - in general that's not a big deal.

In video chat, your appearance and body language is important. Make sure you're well-presented, sit upright, and check that your environment is presentable. Use hand gestures to emphasise points, and provide feedback to demonstrate that you are listening, perhaps by nodding your head or smiling at appropriate moments. Mimic your potential partner's movements (subtly), and smile slowly so that it spreads across your face over a second or so. These movements indicate that your chemistry is good. Humour helps too.

If you make a mistake or say the wrong thing, ignore it. Mistakes are much more noticeable to ourselves than to the other person, so you might just get away with it. And if the other person starts to feel like they don't meet your standards, demonstrate that you are nothing special by doing something clumsy, perhaps by spilling your drink during a chat. (It is counter-productive to make yourself seem too special or rare.)

It's important to plan for termination of your video chats. You want to end on a positive note: there is a lot of evidence that the end of an experience is the most memorable by far. This phenomenon is called "duration neglect", where experiences tend to be remembered as a series of snapshots rather than a reflection of the experience yourself, and the end of an experience remembered most vividly.

So if you have something negative about yourself to share, reveal it in the middle of a conversation. If you have something positive, save it for the end.

And if your relationship is solely online, and you live apart from one another, you should still work towards meeting face-to-face: the sooner, the better. Good luck!

Finally, please keep in mind that none of this is prescriptive. But it should help you negotiate the complex process of getting to know someone romantically.

One important post-script: if you are a guy looking to meet women in furry, be aware that harassment is a real problem in our community. Many women stay away from public furry gatherings and conventions because they are unwelcoming, and many others have developed coping strategies to deal with unwanted attention. Don't approach a woman at a furry gathering unless they are already a friend or you are being introduced by a mutual friend. Do it online, be respectful, and be mentally prepared to be ignored or tacitly rejected.

You may guess that I have left this for last because I want you to remember it as particularly important. You'd be right. Read more here.