How many Facebook friend requests do you get from strangers? I get one or two per week. Sometimes they'll be from people who've read my writing or friends of friends who've seen my comments under mutuals' statuses. But mostly—17 out of the last 20 times—the request is from a guy I've never seen before. A straw poll tells me most of my female mates seem to get random Facebook friend requests and unsolicited messages too.
A professional belly dancer friend says it's part of her job, but that doesn't explain a doctor friend who gets "two or three" per week. Sara, who works in accounting, tells me: "I used to get added by random men until I made it impossible for anyone but friends of friends to add me… I still get the odd message. One was a poem about a rose growing."
I figure that strange guys add girls because they want to fuck them, or at least gain access to a slew of photos of them to masturbate over. It probably helps that I have an unfeasibly attractive girlfriend (don't ask me how) and loads of our photos are of us smugly wrapped up in each other's arms. But why am I so arrogant and presumptuous as to think these strangers want to date or sleep with me—or my girlfriend? To get to the bottom of what these guys really want, I messaged each of them to find out if they really, truly, want to bang. It is Valentine's Day, after all.
All names and some identifying details have been changed.
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It took a while to hear back from Achal, who has a tasteful black and white photograph as a profile picture. His reply was simple.
Wants to bang.
Then there was Peter, a stocky middle-aged guy from the UK. All of his friends and 50 of the people he follows are women. This guy likes women! I thought better than to be forward with this guy, so thought I'd try a complicated wooing technique.
He continues to be coy, saying he wants "true friendship" from me, so I ignore him. The next day, I get these messages, along with seven missed video calls at the time of writing:
Wants to bang.
Ramzi's profile picture is of a near-pixellated image of a man with a very precisely shaven panelled beard. With 104 out of his 105 friends being women, he sure has a technique.
It's at this point I take a break, realizing that a Valentine's Day date is just an appendage to what he truly wants from me.
Mainly in it for marriage, but wouldn't say no to a blowjob.
He seems weirded out when I message him, but eventually concedes, "I find you a cute ginger." That said, after I ask him to fuck a couple of times he asks:
He wants me to like the page for his small-fry but well-researched international news website.
This guy is more visual.
We've only just met and you miss me already? Adnan, this is moving too fast.
Paul lives in Birmingham and works as a plumber, he's got more than 640 friends and I'd say only 43 of them are men. And one of those is a John Cena fan account. This guy means business, but does he mean business with me?
I wonder which of the two I should tell him, but decide to say, honestly, "No." Once we exchange ASLs, I ask him if he wants to have sex. He says, "Of course I do lol x".
I leave him alone after that, but four "Sophie?"s later, I get the feeling he's more into me than he's letting on.
Coyly wants to bang.
Tareq might have been a little upset that it took me so long to reply to the thumbs up he sent me three weeks ago. He quickly tells me I'm beautiful, but that's not a compliment I'm willing to accept lying down:
Two days on and he's oscillating between calling me racist and sending me screen grabs of my profile photos and asking if I'm busy. I think this means it's a date.
Many others I try to talk to simply don't reply: a British electrician whose profile photos are of him getting drunk on holiday; a guy called Abdullah with two oranges as a profile photo; someone called 'Streetmoneey'; a woman called La Tina; Ghannem, whose profile photo is a watermarked stock image of a silver bracelet, and Marcelino—a catfish who's using a photo of a Canadian male model along with a Harvard job title.
Graham Jones, a psychologist who specializes in online behavior, tells me that many of the latter are scam accounts set up by bots and are "used by hackers and others to gain personal information about us, or more likely to spam us. They look like real people profiles, but are in fact fake."
There are 170 million of these accounts, and they make up one in 80 Facebook users, totalling in at 170 million. As for the rest of my random requests?
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"Typically, 20 percent of friend requests are real potential friends," Jones tells me. "They may be people wanting to find a marriage partner so they can get a visa, they may be people saying they find your image attractive and so they want to get to know you, they may be people who just randomly want to be friends with others."
But Facebook spans across continents and cultures, and some things get lost in translation. According to Jones, this especially applies to those for whom English is a second language. "To [people who add strangers], an online friend is anyone who is willing to chat with them. Some cultures are more likely to do this than others because they are from a 'we talk to anyone' kind of background. Cultures that are more reserved, are less likely to redefine friendship in this way."
So what have I learned about human love by asking strange men on dates? Well, I don't think I'm going to have any Valentine's Day dates with these guys, and geography and immigration rules means we will probably never get close enough to have sex. But I have learned that there is a whole lot of loneliness in the world, and that there's other things I can offer men beyond my fuckability. Like a visa.