I'm sitting across from Jean at a table outside of a Brooklyn Starbucks that feels way too narrow, like a bodega compared to its imposing neighbor, the Barclays Center. Steve Harvey arranged this date, which has so far exceeded my low expectations.
It's a sunny Sunday, but cold enough for a jacket. When I meet Jean, he's wearing a varsity one with the collar slightly turned up. I'm in ripped jeans and camo. On Delightful.com, where we first met, he listed himself as 5'8 (a huggable height for me at 5'3), though he seems smaller. He looks cool, attractive, casual. But he's unaware that our cyber match was unofficially coordinated by America's mustached wannabe Oprah.
"I don't even know how I ended up on that site," Jean tells me. I inform him that Steve Harvey launched the site to "make women more dateable" and that it's linked to Match.com. Jean laughs out loud, which is a relief.
"What?!" he says. "Since when did Steve Harvey become a love guru?"
I don't have an answer to his rhetorical punchline. I don't know the exact moment Steve Harvey looked into a mirror wearing a violet-hued triple-XL Men's Warehouse suit and convinced himself that he could cure every woman's relationship ills.
Maybe it was in 2009 when he released his advice book, Think Like A Man, a No. 1 best-seller for 23 weeks. Steve Harvey claimed to have all the answers, but these answers were steeped in outdated advice telling women to rethink our approach to dating. He advised us to enact a 90-day rule before having sex and to ask pressing first-date questions like "What are your short term goals?" Some women swear by these tactics, but his advice often reads as common sense couched in chauvinistic faux-groundbreaking commandments targeted at vulnerable women and never the men. And yet, undoubtedly, he's made enormous inroads as a black man: he has a national talk show, radio show, game show, a box-office winning franchise based on his book and now a national dating site.
In a way, I'm proud of him. And, although I'm far from a follower of Steve's on the romantic front, I am a big proponent of online dating in general. I was meeting boys from chatrooms in AOL and BlackPlanet as early as age 14, and in the past three years, I've joined both OKCupid and Tinder.
When I first read that Steve was launching a dating site to help make women more dateable, my eyes rolled back into my head. I still can't find them and I don't even know how I'm typing this. Why would anyone sign up for a Steve Harvey dating site? It's Steve Harvey. What kind of guy who would be interested in this? What kind of woman?
And yet, not only did I sign up, I paid to do it: the first time I've ever paid for the possibility of love. Maybe I was underestimating Steve Harvey. Maybe there's a reason thousands of women bought his book. I was cautiously pessimistic.
To begin, Delightful.com offers three membership options: a six-month minimum for $14.99 per month and a month-long trial for $29.99. I opted for the latter plan. I should have known what I was in for when American Express immediately flagged the credit card transaction. "Irregular Account Activity Detected," read the email. Makes sense. I appreciated that Amex was trying to save me from Delightful, which they probably thought was a strip club or secret swingers site.
Like Amex, I felt wary, particularly after reading this Forbes article that breaks down the self-stated purpose of Delightful:
Women, he says, are apt to wax poetic about finding a soulmate but undermine themselves by being too picky in the parameters they use to screen candidates. "Your soulmate, the man of your dreams, may not live an hour away," he says. Men, meanwhile, need tutoring in the fine points of chivalry, like always walking in between one's date and the street to protect her from traffic. "It's sad to say, but the divorce rate in this country is so high, there are a lot of young men out there, quality men, who've never been told, 'Hey man, this is the proper way to treat a lady,'" he says.
If some of this sounds like the conventional wisdom of 50 years ago — or even strikes you as retrograde gender-determinist claptrap — that doesn't necessarily mean delightful's not for you, says Harvey. "We're not looking for one specific person, per se," he says. "If you're in a period of your life where you don't feel like you need a protector, we can probably find you a guy who doesn't want to be a protector."
After signing up under the username "luckywoman," I filled out my profile. On other websites, this can be an all-day task, but where OKCupid's felt like a bar exam, Delightful's felt like a quick pop quiz.
Under "About the one I'm looking for," I wrote: "I'm looking for someone who'll talk to me about stupid pop culture things, music and TV, someone who's smart where it counts, compassionate and attentive. There are other important things too, but you'll find out." I didn't use up much energy, but if I had wanted to use even less, there were plenty of templates suggesting things to say.
Next, I was asked to upload a photo, but first, Steve Harvey had some ground rules.
These ground rules are common sense, like most relationship advice. I was beginning to think that all relationship advice does is tell you things you already know but would rather hear from someone else. I ended up following some of Steve's tips merely by default and having a working brain. I used a photo of myself palming a basketball (conversation starter) and a headshot.
From here on, I started receiving an email every morning with my top five matches. Almost every day, it was the same roster of men. I didn't know if this was a bug or the result of meager membership, since the site was only a week old. As far as the pickings, they were slim, to say the least. To better widen that pool, Delightful has a partnership with sites like Match.com and BlackPeopleMeet (which is how Jean ended up on there).
A Match.com rep told me via email:
"While Match members are made aware of Delightful, they aren't automatically signed up. It is a choice by members to join. We're hoping to bring people over from all of our Match Inc. brands, but again, they aren't automatically signed up."
Most of the guys who "flirted" with me were unable to carry a conversation past "hi." This made me think, not for the first time, that one thing I'd like to see in a modern dating site is an algorithm that pulls candidates from Twitter, which, while not being romantic, is at least based around communication.
One Delightful plus is that, like Tinder, it shows you matches as soon as you log in. When you see these matches, you can click "Yes," "No" or "Maybe." There's also a live chat element, which is handy but not always a great thing for men with a questionable grasp of English. The first day I signed up, I got the below message.
I replied, "Dude, what?"
But I wasn't thrown by this. Messaging has always felt like the most awkward part of online dating. You either come across too rehearsed, eager or boring, and it really isn't a fair representation of your personality.
Luckily, to help the message-challenged, Delightful has stock email templates, suggesting lines like, "You look like someone I'd like to get to know" and "You deserve a flirt." (?)
The bottom line is, you don't even have to try. BUT YOU SHOULD.
Since I was trying new things, I decided to be more forward than normal. After all, Steve Harvey had suggested that I make the first move, which I found out from a sidebar that popped up on my page.
The Ground Rules of Messaging
Messaging is absolutely critical to getting to know someone.
Yes, Steve Harvey. On an online dating site, it is.
It's where many connections are made or lost. But it's also a whole lot of fun. Think about it: you can go from not knowing someone to hitting it off in just a few messages.
Tell me more.
Here a few ground rules to keep in mind when you're having conversations.
Make the first move
Sending the first message shows that you're interested, not desperate. If you see someone you like, reach out to them. If you wait too long, someone else might swoop in.
Make each message unique
It's hard to have quality conversations when you blast the same message out to everyone. Take the time to make each message unique to that particular person.
As you start to exchange messages, you may feel pressure to try to win them over. Save that for the date. Use your messages as a time to get comfortable with each other.
Less than a week into my membership, I started messaging Jean, a pharmacy manager. He seemed sane, so we exchanged info quickly and arranged to meet in Brooklyn. He wanted to take me salsa dancing, but as much as I like the idea of an adventurous first date, that would've made it tough to get to know each other.
At Starbucks, I found we had a lot in common. We're both Libras and shopaholics. He shared a lot of information about his ex, which most relationship experts would advise against, but I didn't mind.
Still, after Jean, I fell into a rut. Most of the men I talked to on Delightful seemed normal, but they chose to initiate contact by using the aforementioned message templates. None seemed smart or funny enough to sustain a virtual conversation. For example, one guy had "science nerd" in his profile. As a lover of science myself, I found my interest piqued. So, after he sent me a stock message ("Nice profile! I'd love to hear from you"), I replied:
Me: "So you're a science nerd?"
Him: "hahhahhaahahahahah not really i wish !"
Me: "Isn't that what's in your profile?"
Him: "yes u right ! so what do u do for living ?"
I was expecting too much from a guy whose username contained "chickenwings" in it.
I sent an informal poll to a few of my friends asking whether they'd sign up for a dating site run by Steve Harvey. Their answers:
Not really. I'd be scared that the men who would sign up for it would be... well Steve Harvey-esque.
I wouldn't use a Steve Harvey dating site because I know who Steve Harvey is. I would be open to his recommendation for a fish sandwich, but outside of that prism, hell no.
Honestly, I don't know what made him a relationship expert..this book has gone out of control. What would make his site different from others — Black E-Harmony with a side of Woman-bashing?! Meh!
Sure! Why not. It's all a dating game any way. His book is all the rave so let's put it to the test. (defn just signed up too)
Nah. Because Steve Harvey. I appreciate Steve for trying to do things in the black community. He's done a lot of work with the youth, self-esteem building, etc. However, I don't really value his advice from a personal perspective. I cringed at every relative who mentioned reading "Think Like A Man." I don't do online dating, so I may already have a bias, but if I were to make that segue, I would want to go with a more widely known platform. I can only imagine how creepy the guys would be who signed up. Hello cat daddies.
Ultimately—and unsurprisingly—the biggest barrier to the success of Delightful will be the guy behind it, whose love of telling people what to do may not match up well with people's desire to date who they want (a "sexy queen") however they want (using a template) for whatever reasons they want (green card). My month-long membership with Delightful is almost up, and I'm not renewing it. I'm all for self-improvement, but I couldn't take much more of Steve Harvey's constant reminders about what could be wrong about my dating habits and why I need to change.
In fact, a dating site that so aggressively scripts romantic communication may only end up drawing (and keeping) the people who aggressively need those kinds of scripts. And those people are hard to talk to, let alone date. By babysitting its users along the way, Delightful takes away the surprises of the dating process and the individuality of whatever humans have been foolish enough to price a month of it at $29.99, and replaces all of it with Steve Harvey's grinning bald headshots next to articles that amount to Be a Human Being 101. "Messaging is critical," Delightful kept telling me. Steve Harvey's is not the message I want to send or receive.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.