In the last few years, cities such as New York and London have witnessed a boom in internet dating. But for some reason, Italy just hadn’t warmed to the idea in the same way.
It was this discrepancy that fascinated 30-year-old London-based Italian web designer Luca Vavassori - so he started studying how his male and female friends used dating sites.
“I soon realized how irritating they can be for a woman using these kind of services,” Vavassori tells The Local. “After publishing their profile, women are literally inundated with dozens of messages from male users, half of which are of a sexual nature.”
It was with this in mind that Milan-born Vavassori started GirlShop, a free dating website that’s been active since February and encourages women to combine their love of shopping with dating.
The concept is simple: female users of the site are invited to go shopping for men. Once they’ve found one they like, they add him to a virtual supermarket trolley.
But there’s a twist: men – who account for around 60 percent of the site's users – must wait for a woman to contact them first. The unlucky ones have to suffer in silence on the supermarket shelf.
And that’s just one part of the selection process. For a start, not just any old Italian Average Joe (or Giovanni) can sign up.
In their applications to join, men must fill in categories on their profile that include: “Manufacturing defects”, “User instructions” and “Features”. Then they must categorize themselves according to type, with choices that include “L’informatico” (computer geek),“Palestrato” (pumped), “Hipster” and “Tamarro” (tough guy).
Quite a few male users of the site fancy themselves as a “simpaticione” (nice guy) or a“creativo” (creative type), though Vavassori admits that the majority fit the traditional macho Italian stereotype.
Only when the site’s staff deem an applicant to be a “quality product” is he allowed to join.
As you’d expect, www.girlshop.it, which now has almost 30,000 users, has not escaped criticism, with some suggesting it to be sexist.
They may have a point. In a country where a former prime minister is on trial for buying sex from an underage prostitute and semi-naked showgirls are constantly being paraded on television screens, isn’t Vavassori simply turning the tables and objectifying men?
Not so - the difference is that the site is ironic, he says.
“As soon as you enter GirlShop, you can see that the site is very young and frivolous and that the concept of men as objects is treated in a light-hearted and humorous way. The so-called ‘buying’ of men is only symbolic.”
'Online dating is still something of a taboo in Italy'
Is he confident that internet dating - whether ironic or not - will one day take off in Italy?
“Online dating is still something of a taboo in Italy,” he admits. “It’s stigmatized as being something for people who don’t manage to meet people face to face.
"But we’re convinced that things will change. Nowadays, we’re immersed in technology and constantly connected through a vast selection of devices, so it’s natural that more people will start using the internet to meet people.”