We all know the stereotype of the young American who goes backpacking around Europe to “find herself,” to try new things and make mistakes that she’s sure will be hilarious in retrospect. Well, readers, I am loathe to admit that, despite the fact I did not begin traveling around Europe to discover some abstract notion of selfhood I thought might be hiding across the Atlantic, I have done something I promised I would never do, something with all the potentiality for regret as wearing a Green Party t-shirt to a Going Rogue book-signing.
Yes, since being in Prague, I have taken up online dating.
I vowed never to do it while in the States, due to its highly inorganic nature (excuuuuse me for thinking people could meet each other face-to-face), but now I realize that, in a foreign country where I don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language, I need friends.
So, from my limited experience in but extensive contemplation of the subject, I bring you a List of Reasons that Online Dating is the Same as Animal Contests at the State Fair:
1.) Contestants are judged based on signifiers of breeding capability. In other words, it’s a beauty contest.
Okay, so beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we all find different people attractive, etc. etc. The unavoidable and irritating fact is that there are things society deems attractive, and there are things that the people of OKCupid (yes, this is the website I’ve been using) deem attractive. Dr. Marquardt, a plastic surgeon in California, believes he’s found a formula for universal human attractiveness:
Now think about the fact that OKCupid has a feature called, “My Best Face,” in which users do nothing more than submit several photos to the website, and other users decide between two people, saying which one they’d rather date based solely on a single photo. The website then gives you your “analysis” of which photo displays “your best face.”
On a more basic level, you look at profiles based on the photo each person uses. Chances are, unless you’re open-minded or real desperate (ohGodpleasedon’tjinxme), you’re not going to date someone who isn’t physically attractive. You’re not even going to read their list of favorite movies. They’ve already lost the beauty contest.
How does this relate to animals, and/or breeding? Easy: what we find attractive in humans are signifiers of their ability to reproduce, same as how dogs are judged on the length and sheen of their coat. Check out the first part of this (offensive) article from Psychology Today here.
The article focuses on what men find attractive in women, but look at nearly any male’s profile on a dating website, at the proliferation of shirtless muscle pics and photos displaying abundant facial hair, and you’ll see it works both ways.
2.) Contestants groom themselves for review.
Not only does this include deciding which of your best faces to put as your profile picture, it also includes the content and style of what you choose to write about yourself. When prompted with the phrase, “I’m really good at…” what do you choose to say? Do you actually include things you’re good at, like burping the theme song to Ren and Stimpy, or making children cry? Or do you include things that you’re good at that you think others will find attractive, like writing love poems or having sex (I can’t tell you how many profiles I’ve seen where someone actually writes, “Sex,” with some sort of emoticon after it)? Or maybe you take the intellectual route, and write something ironic, so people will know you’re both modest and funny?
And what do you put down for your favorite books, or music? Do you put a long list, so people think you’re really cultured? What if that just makes people think you’re pretentious? Do you write, “I like all music, except country and rap,” because then you don’t turn people off with your taste in music, while still showing that you put some effort into distinguishing your sonic preferences? Is that too obviously self-conscious? How do you make yourself attractive to only the other attractive people who have deigned to use an online dating site?
3.) Contestants can win awards.
Yes, OKCupid actually allows you to send awards to people, based on scintillating indicators of personal worth, such as “Eye Candy,” or, “The Perfect Mix.” You then get to write an explanation of why you’re giving this award, for reasons I imagine end up reflecting an intimate knowledge of the person–reasons like, “U R Hot!” or, “You’re the perfect mix of cute and sexy.”
It’s the same way we award animals at the Fair. Sure, that Border Collie could be a huge bitch, but you’d never know it just by looking at her flowing locks and coy expression.
That said, I’ve also had a surprising number (read: at least one) of positive interactions so far. We’ll see if I can get past my utter disdain for the inanity of the website, let alone the concept of checking out people online, long enough to actually make the time I spent creating my profile worthwhile.
Oh, and for the record–my profile is both self-effacing and hilarious. Promisies.