By Charlotte Thun-Hohenstein
Photo courtesy of Don Hankins.
I did it. After months of being ‘special’ and waiting for fate to nonchalantly entangle me in dog leashes being held at bay by Prince Charming himself, I realized that my friends were probably tired of hearing me whine, probably too nice to admit this, and probably (at least my single friends) even starting to feel offended by my stubborn hostility to the idea.
The outcome being that I joined OkCupid. Or rather I allowed my friend to make a profile for me, ‘in irony.’
Twenty-four hours later, my productivity had crashed. There is definitely discomfort with the superficiality of it all—a cute profile photo is the sine qua non of success—as well as with the frenetic, mindless clicking that has now become the background music to whatever else I’m doing on the computer. And way past my bed-time.
However, through my OkCupid experience I have also been struck by three preliminary observations about fellow members of my generation:
1) Maybe we are all that self-absorbed. The number of times I’ve read ‘self-actualization’ as an interest is, frankly, disconcerting. By which I mean at least three times. I’m not sure what I’m meant to make of you reassuringly claiming that you ‘treat people like human beings,’ that you’re ‘obsessed with learning,’ or that you’re even ‘maybe too cerebral :/.’
2) Maybe guys are more openly sentimental than I thought. I’m not trying to spark a debate about sexism, but this honestly took me by surprise, the operative word being ‘openly.’ A cynic would point out that this is partly for the female audience they are trying to attract, but it’s just as likely that anonymity allows people to be open about things that face-to-face they might feel more self-conscious about. The vast majority of guys I’ve encountered list ‘family’ (often separately from ‘friends’) in their ‘top six things I could never do without.’ Smiley and winky faces are used liberally. And then there are the more alarming displays of sentimentality—“I believe in exploring all the beauty in life using all the 5 senses,” “I find the catharsis experienced together at a live music event so compelling and reaffirming…” or “Warm baked cookies are my Achilles heel, and the key to my heart.” Some comments are clearly in a spirit of kitsch, but the general prevalence of optimism about the future and references to loved ones is too widespread to be fake. This is lovely. The complication is that these comments often swerve into territory of the first observation, and this next one…
3) People are more interested in emoting a general personality than information. I personally find this a bit tiresome. Q. ‘What are you doing with your life?’ A. ‘Living it.’ Useless information, except that the guy seems easy-going. Starting your self-summary with “Well, what would you like to know?” is too contrived for my taste, but then again, it also displays an earnest good faith in the sympathy of the reader. Finally, riffing on how artificial it is to convey your complex personality on a profile page is redundant, and most users probably don’t realize how commonplace this thought is. But it speaks to a desire to appear self-aware and thoughtful.
This discomfort with virtual getting-to-know-you points to an underlying truth that is quite bizarre: Excepting the odd troll, we are all embarrassed to be here. Of course there are tons of people online out there who want to make fun and interesting connections, and this is an efficient and casual way to do it. And there is hardly a serious stigma around being on OkCupid (though let’s avoid the words ‘dating website’). But who wants to say that they met the love of their life online? Joining OkCupid is totally benign, and even advisable for the lone twentysomething, but it’s still a small act of desperation. Hence the surprising number of guys specifying that they’re “not a dating website kind of guy” but thought they’d “give it a go.”
Have I actually gone on a date yet? No. Stay tuned. But is it worth setting up an account? Certainly. Think long and hard about how seriously you want to take life at the moment. Just please don’t specify that on your profile page.