Stranger Danger

Is it disturbing to anyone else that dating has become the semi-professional pursuit of conformity and community approval?

We hop on our computers and work as hard as any marketing exec at presenting a public image that is socially palatable. We pay money to join dating sites, turning over control of the mating pool to Silicon Valley millionaires who couldn't give less of a fuck about our happiness or fulfillment. I recently read an article stating that the "just be yourself" philosophy in dating fails because it leads to a lack of ambition. I disagree. It's failing because we require plurality approval about everything that leaves our minds and spills into public view these days.

Don't take my word for it. If you are a straight, single man on the West Coast, try the following experiment. Do yourself the gross disservice of signing up for Match. I've done it. Go ahead. If you have enough money for Interwebs access, you have enough for a short subscription. Just don't forget to cancel later to avoid getting sucked into another billing period. Now, put in all your criteria for a partner. Then, for smoking and drinking preference, put in "No way" and "Social drinker" respectively. Click search. Now change those answers to anything else. Compare the numbers.

I wouldn't say that women are lying about these peccadilloes. I would say that there may be some blurry boundaries there. And for the majority who are not lying, how much of their lifestyle is motivated by an honest desire for moderation and good health, and how much by shame or guilt if they don't comply and thus damage their dating profile's stock? Women are not the only ones who do it. To be frank I quit smoking, in part, because I wanted to check the "No way" box and mean it. Just so these bland women would look my way.

So please don't get me wrong. I am the problem. I do the same dance. I do it because I want to enhance my chances of finding someone who will accept me. Ironically, I seek someone who will accept me by presenting a mild-fantasy version of me. I put up the right photos. I don't talk about "the weird stuff". I don't outright lie. I just present myself as an above-average guy with acceptable interests. I don't write pointedly about any exceptional attributes, whether it be considered "good" by most (I'm very intelligent) or "bad" (I'm extremely perverted). I walk that safe, beige, falsely constructed line of humility and pride. I want to stand out, e.g., I try to make my profile "funny". I avoid really standing out. Case in point, my real views on population control I leave by the wayside. I'm rooting for the Ebola virus to go airborne. I also tend to omit that I want to role-play a priest and sodomize my date while reciting the Lord's Prayer. Because, you know, too soon.

My social and interpersonal views are admittedly twisted compared to "Joey Next Door". And I'm alright with that. Yet on my dating profile, I play the only-slightly-more-spicy-than-plain-old-yellow-mustard role because I know you're not alright with that. I am far from alone here.

There will be those that say, "But that's how dating has always been, best foot forward." That's not an unfair statement. It's just that it's been entirely comoditized. It used to be your friends and maybe your older siblings or a dutiful parent would give you hints on how to impress the opposite sex (or the same sex if that's your game). Now our flirting rituals are all cut from the cloth of the thousands of banal "how to write a great dating profile" search results on Google. Every one of us has become a "John" paying our high-tech pimps for the privilege of having a sex life. 

And every one of us who plays the online dating game tries to convince a stranger that we are the one who will understand them while intentionally remaining a stranger ourselves.