Pushy Men, Kinky Couples, and Horny Crackpots: Online Dating in Istanbul

I’ve been in Istanbul for 10 days now, and what a place it is! My first few days were spent reeling from culture shock...departing from the easy, laid-back pace of Greece and crash-landing into the frantic, overwhelming stimulation of the largest city in Turkey.  

My neighborhood, Beyoğlu, is a melting pot of races, religions, and classes.  The bustling Istiklal Street and Taksim Square are full of flourishing businesses and fancy hotels, drawing locals and tourists from across the world.  Walk just a few blocks to the north, and you’ll find yourself in Tarlabaşi, a slum of crowded, decaying buildings populated by Kurdish families, African immigrants, and friendly stray cats.  Beyoğlu is also one of the more progressive areas of Istanbul, home to many gay bars and (much to my surprise) trans brothels.  Every day I walk down the street, sharing it with colorfully wigged and surgically enhanced drag queens as well as clusters of women covered head-to-toe in black burkas. 

Gender politics are vastly different from what I’ve been accustomed to.  Men on the street ogle very openly, and I learned quickly that eye contact and a friendly, American smile is taken almost instantly as an invitation.  When I venture out, I’ve learned to maintain a pretty emotionless expression, avoiding meeting anyone’s stare, but my American socialization still comes through whenever I have a conversation.  In the States, most women generally offer a small, polite smile when greeting or thanking a barista or shop employee.  Since I haven’t shaken the habit yet, I’ve unintentionally made a lot of baristas and shop employees very excited.  

But I didn’t come here to talk about my daily life in Istanbul. I’m here to talk about my online life.

I’m pretty comfortable with online dating.  Having a non-traditional outlook on relationships, I appreciate being able to lay my thoughts on the table.  Whoever looks at my profile can know what they’re getting into.  Usually, it filters out people who want nothing to do with non-monogamy, saving both of us from wasting time and effort.  In particular, I’m fond of OKCupid.  They recently allowed users to choose from a variety of sexual orientations far beyond the typical “straight, gay, or bi” spectrum, including pansexual, heteroflexible, etc. They also incorporated the ability to indicate whether you were “mostly” or “strictly” monogamous or non-monogamous, which has been extremely useful in searching out matches.  In fact, the creators of Multiamory wouldn't have met each other if it weren't for OKCupid!

Online dating is a beast in itself, with a myriad of different approaches and challenges, but my experience in Istanbul has been different from anything I’ve ever encountered before. I’ve managed to have one great date from OKCupid while I’ve been here, but that has been a glistening exception to the disturbing trends currently gracing my inbox.  For one, the men are much more persistent.  

My inbox is full of this shit.  Back at home, it was very rare for a man to send more than one message. Generally, if a woman doesn’t respond, the message is pretty clear.  But here, I’m not sure what’s going on.  Is my silence being interpreted as just a token resistance that can be broken through with enough dogged charm?

Then I thought….maybe I should respond.  On the street, behaviors of rejection that most Americans would interpret as being bitchy or cold seem to be taken pretty well.  If I very clearly make it known that I am not interested rather than just putting up some kind of honor-preserving resistance, men on the street would stop their pursuit pretty quickly.  Maybe it was the same thing here.

Unfortunately, our friend above deleted his account before I could communicate with him, so I decided to give it a try with some of the other pursuers.  

It did not have quite the effect I was hoping.  However, I will be lying awake tonight coping with my deep regret over missing “the oppurtunity for a hot sex.”  

It’s not just the men who are persistent.  There’s a surprising number of swinger couples looking for a woman (and definitely only open to women) to play with.  I won’t rant here about the unwanted attention from couples experienced by most bisexual women online, mostly because The Hairpin already published a great article on it.  I am not a fan of being sought out as a marital aid, but there is a part of me that is glad to know at least some of the population of Istanbul has a kinky, progressive bent.  

I popped that last message into Google Translate, and it gave me:

FFM swing or 'How about? We are looking for a soft and entertaining style. you might be interested, how about ....

Soft and entertaining style!  

Indicating that I’m polyamorous usually draws attention from couples and ire from conservative types.  However, I’ve been relieved to find that even in a conservative country, most people who comment on the polyamory are positive, but tend to be focused primarily on the sexual aspect of it.  

And last but not least, if it isn’t ultra-persistent males or unicorn-hunting couples, it’s the hypersexualized weirdos. These fellows extend their reach beyond OKCupid.  My Tinder profile links to my Instagram account, which is a whole other doorway just ready to be exploited.  

I’m less concerned about the vibrator and more by whatever it is underneath the vibrator.  Is that...a gun?  Darth Vader’s lightsaber??

And then we get on to a man asking the tough questions...

And this fellow, who wants to fuck me the same way cousin Orson would smash a beetle.

This brings me to my favorite message ever received.  It comes from a man on the edge.  A man desperate, starved, in his eleventh hour.  A man at his wit’s end, reaching through the vast cosmic web of the Internet in a last-ditch attempt to cling to life.  

Sorry, Letmestalkyouu no longer has an account.  I sigh with remorse, wondering if he survived.  Wondering if I could have been the one to save this man.  

I will never know.  

Thank you to Stefanos for giving me the Game of Thrones clip.

Dedeker Winston is a relationship coach, writer, belly dancer, model, nomad, and chapstick-addict.  Follow her here: @DedekerWinston | www.dedekerwinston.com