I rarely trust artists talking about their own work. They’re artists, after all, not critics or writers. Of course, they might also be critics and writers. But that is not their primary duty. A painter paints, a sculptor sculpts, a printmaker prints: such is their expression and it’s perfectly articulate in its way. Critique is its own art — the art of reading. Art and criticism are two different skill sets. So why would I trust a painter skilled in the ways of paint to be a critic? And why would I trust a critic to paint me a picture?
Which brings me to the state of online dating. The dreaded and ubiquitous profile asks individuals to describe themselves. And 99.99% of people respond by saying things like, I’m easygoing, funny, and a little shy. Now, for the moment, let’s put aside the rampant mendacity. If all these people were actually so easygoing, the world would be a very different place. I’ve met women who have relentless anxiety attacks who have described themselves as easygoing.
But that’s not my point. Because the fact is identity is not something that can be described; it’s something that is performed. We are what we do, not what we say. I wish it all were as easy as declaring it and it was so. God does it in Genesis, after all: Let there be light, he says to God knows whom and, voilà, there’s light. So it’d be fanfuckingtastic if I could say, I’m a cool, laidback, groovy sex god muthafuckaand make it so. But, alas, I’m a nebbishy, skinny, neurotic dork ass. What I say to the contrary does not change these facts.
Ah, but the fact that I would say such a thing is revealing. Which is to say, the description is not as revealing as the performance: what I say doesn’t matter as much as the fact that I said it. Think of it this way: if a new bar declares in an ad, We’re cool, would you really believe them and go? Or would you say,What shmohawks! and never go there just because they’d said that? Identity is in the doing.
Even the profile pictures function like descriptions — all these dead, static visual declarations. Every profile I’ve ever looked at has at least one picture of the woman hiking or climbing or biking. The picture doesn’t express character as much as it functions as evidence. I said I was a hiker, see? I generally find profile pictures useless. Were these pictures honestly chosen, they might give me a general sense of the person’s physiology. But people don’t know how to choose pictures which peform their identity; they choose pictures like a DA chooses evidence: I said I’m easygoing and here I am being easygoing on the beach.
Online dating flourishes amidst an egregious fallacy, namely, that identity is descriptive, not performative. That identity is static rather than temporal. And, unfortunately, people have not been taught to read and write. As a result, they write these achingly, hilariously banal and sincere descriptions that are anything but sincere. No one says, Well, frankly, I can be a little needy; I hope you can indulge me. Or: I tend to be passive aggressive. Nope. Everyone on a dating site is easygoing, fun, loyal, smart, and interested in the world. They all like to travel, are equally comfortable in jeans or a little black dress, are a little bit city and a little bit country. Oh, and they all — all — do yoga. Or, rather, they say they do.
What, I wonder, do they hope to accomplish in writing such a profile — a profile that is identical to every other woman’s and reveals nothing about themselves? It baffles me.
Now, if this were a normal world, I could learn a lot from these profiles. Namely, that I could safely avoid the 99.99% of women who write the same old descriptive drivel without any sense of language, wit, play, or delight. I’d know they were all silly squares and move on. And, for the most part, this is precisely what I do.
But, unfortunately, people in our culture aren’t taught to write or, for that matter, to read. They believe that writing the most straightforward description is the way to write. They believe identity can be described just as they believe what artists say about their work matters. And so they look for profiles of people who say the “right” things. He loves to travel and, look, there’s a picture of him in Barcelona so it must be true! As a result of this general illiteracy, I’m at a loss as how to best negotiate these awful, boring, soul draining sites. (For the record, there is occasional wit, joy, and poetry on OKC that is conspicuously absent on the embarrassingly square Match.)
I have no problem with online dating. In fact, I kind of love it. I can sit at home in my toothpaste stained sweatshirt and underwear, smelling foul, and flirt unabashedly with a panoply of women across ages, sizes, colors, and proclaimed interests. For a solitary misanthrope like me, it’s perfect. And I believe email is a great way to meet people. The more someone expresses herself without the pressure of immediate, physical judgment, the more you learn.
Which is why I just wish the whole thing were done differently and done better. Or that people in general knew how to write and read, knew how to perform themselves rather than just declare themselves. Why not a dating community with feeds and posts such as Facebook? Why not reveal yourself over time, your taste and interests and style, à la Tumblr? Or everyday updates, short and pithy, re: Twitter?
It’s as if online dating is, well, dated. A Match profile is basically a web site from 1998: a poorly presented static page with words and a few static images. New media continues to evolve, to offer new ways of expression in and of the virtual. But online dating remains firmly planted in an era of limited technology which, alas, perpetuates the descriptive fallacy — and makes finding a smart, funny sweetie that much harder.
From another perspective, however, these sites are perfect. They let the square, descriptive, non-writers set the tone, let them sit there in their yoga pants and Yosemite porn shots and little black dresses, telling themselves despite all evidence to the contrary that they’re easygoing. Which lets those playful gems who can perform with grace and aplomb shine that much brighter.