Hey, you’re not that guy on the Internet who wants to dismember my body and toss it in the ocean, right?
It’s how Erin Wotherspoon prefaces her dinner dates these days. The 24-year-old Toronto actress has fomented something of a gender war with her blog “A Penniless Girl, Bad Dates and Plenty of Oysters.” With slim savings, a hearty appetite and a hit list of 48 trendy Toronto restaurants, Wotherspoon fishes for men using online dating sites and has them bankroll her dinner, later blogging about the encounters in largely unflattering terms.
“Exploiting men for meals is tough. I have to put up with a lot of bad conversation,” Wotherspoon wrote on the blog last month. Other downsides to the serial dating scheme include tedious text messages from suitors Wotherspoon has trouble keeping straight and “feigning interest in things I don’t care about.”
Late last month, her blog was outed by Reddit: “Guys who are dating in Toronto, look out for this con-artist,” was the cautionary title of one of two threads that have so far netted nearly 700 piqued comments about the young woman. The story exploded quickly after that, from Toronto Life to UK tabloid The Daily Mail. Wotherspoon has since received death threats and drawn comparisons to professional chauvinist Tucker Max; “dinner witch” has been one of the gentler terms lobbed her way since she began blogging in August.
And yet the blogger is blasé about both the virality and her “haters.” Wotherspoon, who studied classical acting at Toronto’s George Brown College and holds aspirations of comedy writing, also admits to embellishing details on “A Penniless Girl.” She scoffs at efforts to portray her project as a greater comment on gender dynamics: It’s less social experiment than a free lunch, and maybe a book deal. Wotherspoon spoke with The Globe over $34 worth of hamburgers, kimchi fries and beer at Toronto’s The Rude Boy – our treat.
When I first heard your story, I tweeted that you should just get a job. What’s your situation?
I did actually get a job Wednesday. I thought the blog was completely going to hinder it; a lot is being said about me. I went in for my second interview and they said they’d seen it and found it “both fascinating and concerning.” It’s advertising for apps, a 9 to 5. Before that I was doing odd jobs like catering and promo work.
So places like Canoe were out of your budget.
It’s not like I had $10 in my bank account. I could have afforded it but it just probably wouldn’t have been the most responsible choice on my budget.
Is this you or a publicity stunt?
It’s not a publicity stunt. When I started the blog at the beginning of August, I couldn’t have foreseen what would happen. The blog is a character that I’ve created that has attributes that are mine. It’s an extension of myself that’s a lot more bitchy. I just thought it would make a really good blog, to review food and dates. There’s a lot of awkwardness on first dates and I saw that as a great opportunity to comment and give advice. The cost-saving aspect of the project was awesome but the writing is fuelling the entire thing.
People took you literally, are you backpedalling now?
It’s hard because when I first started it, everyone reading knew me and my sense of humour. They understood it. So it would be, I guess, a bit of backpedalling now. People are calling me a Paris Hilton wannabe. It’s not to be taken literally.
Walk me through how you set up the dinner dates.
I was using J-Date, OkCupid and Tinder. Usually I suggest three restaurants – sometimes I need to be persistent to get the place I want to go to. I go out with whoever is available in the time that I can go and whoever says yes to the restaurant. One time I did two dates in one night.
How do you make clear that you won’t be paying?
I wouldn’t reach for my wallet or I would just go to the bathroom. It’s never been too long that I’ve had to wait in an awkward silence.
How do you navigate it if he wants to go Dutch?
I’ve not had to.
So there remains an expectation that the man pays.
Some girls say, “Even if I liked him I wouldn’t give him a chance if he didn’t pay.” It’s definitely interesting. If I was dating beyond this blog, I wouldn’t necessarily expect it but I think it would be kind of nice on the first date. It shows that they’re not cheap, and just willing to put forth a nice gesture.
Women want gender equality. But when it comes to footing that first bill, they’re looking for old-timey chivalry. How does that square?
Honestly, I hadn’t given it that much thought. To me, the experiment isn’t about feminist ideals. For me, it’s all about entertaining people with my writing.
In a sense you’re doing what many women do except you’re upfront about it.
Some people have told me, “I’ve been doing this for months.” I am being really honest and plainly saying my intentions.
In a radio interview you said people are telling you, “You’re my hero.” Who are your fans?
That was a girl. But some guys have also admit that men do this all the time, that their intentions aren’t good. They tell me that I’m the female equivalent.
Who’s showing up to your dates now that you’ve gained some notoriety?
Most of the men know about the blog now but they want to be a part of it anyways. It’s weird, I don’t know what their motives are. A couple of them have wanted to continue dating me “off the blog.” Maybe they think they’re going to change me or that I’m going to stop the blog for them. It seems quite ambitious, it’s a very confident approach.
What is the worst part of the outings?
There’s no chemistry really. It’s awkward struggling to make conversation and it ends up being very trivial. But if there isn’t chemistry it’s better in terms of things to write about, like Mr. Awkward Unibrow.
You’ve gotten death threats. Has that been a surprise?
It’s definitely been a surprise. I think the reaction to physically harm me is ridiculous, there are people out there doing far worse things than this. It doesn’t concern me that much. People are pretty bold behind keyboards.
What opportunities do you see coming from your viral blog?
People have joked about a book deal, that would be fun. I didn’t go into this expecting to make big bucks.
What have people gotten wrong about this exercise?
They think that I’m a slut. Also, “She’s a prostitute.” This has nothing to do with sex.
Do you like men?
I like men. I’ve had great relationships in the past. I’m not man-hating, I find I get along better with guys than with girls.
Some have dubbed you a female pickup artist.
I think there should be a female version of that, someone who’s striking back. It only seems fair. I’m not intentionally that person but I could see where people would make that connection.
Will your new day job affect your dating schedule?
I think it probably will, which I’m not too excited about.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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