At 11 p.m. on a Thursday, I curled up on the couch with a chocolate mug cake and began browsing OkCupid for boyfriend material.
A message appeared: “I like your profile and am interested in meeting up.”
I visited my would-be suitor’s profile. He began with a self-summary that did little to distinguish himself from other men, describing himself as a New Yorker with a work-hard, play-hard mentality. Then he went off the rails:
Some say that I am [have]:
Afraid of bells
Confused by stairs
Both legs are hydraulic
One eye is a testicle
Has terrible plans involving the moon
I pressed the back button.
I was about to delete the New Yorker’s message when I heard the faint rumblings of an intimate encounter in the apartment next door. I paused. It had been a while since my neighbors heard faint rumblings from me, though not for lack of dating. How good was I at picking potential matches online if none of those matches seemed to stick? Sensing the answer to my own question, I decided to do a little dating experiment. I would meet men with online dating profiles that would normally turn me away. And so, within a week, I was meeting the New Yorker for a drink.
In person, he was more handsome than I expected. He had hazel eyes, a deep voice and dimples that punctuated his broad smile. He was self-assured and a great conversationalist. After a beer and a half, I had to know: Why did such a great guy have such a bizarre online profile?
“Why did you write that long list of weird descriptions?” I asked. “Like having terrible plans involving the moon? What does that even mean?”
He blushed and told me it was from “The Stig,” a British TV show.
“Do most girls get the reference?”
“None of them do,” he said. He noted that everyone says they love to travel and can’t do without their iPhones. “I figured I had to do something to catch a girl’s attention,” he told me. He looked down into his drink. “I thought maybe those lines would work.”
Getting noticed didn’t seem like something that would be a problem for this guy: He was fit, well-dressed, chivalrous and fun. Online, however, these traits weren’t as obvious.
After our date, I started to wonder what other men I had dismissed because of their quirky profiles. Panning for gold, I reviewed a backlog of messages and rediscovered a 40-something globetrotter. His profile had turned me off initially: In his semi-surrealist “About Me” section, stream-of-consciousness sentences about sashimi rainbows and sex appeal were riddled with misspellings. In addition, the globetrotter’s messages to me seemed sleazy and overly direct. But since my goal was to date men I’d normally reject online, I accepted the globetrotter’s offer to meet up.
In person, there wasn’t a trace of sleaze on him. He was tall, attractive, and I immediately felt comfortable around him. Again, I had to address the mismatch between the profile and the person in front of me.
“Here’s what I don’t get,” I began. “You’re articulate, but your profile contains maybe three punctuation marks, tops.”
He laughed. “I don’t want to meet women online!”
“Then why are you online at all?”
The globetrotter told me that he wanted to meet interesting women organically, through friends. But since it’s so easy to set up an online profile, he did it just to put himself out there.
“I didn’t put effort into writing my profile because I prefer to direct that energy towards meeting women offline.”
This approach was foreign to me. I spent hours crafting my online dating profile so that it was pithy and playful. It never crossed my mind that relationship-minded men may not pay as much attention to their own profiles, and my shortsightedness startled me. How many connections had I missed because I presumed too much about a guy before meeting him?
After that date ended with a platonic hug, I returned to online dating, mistrustful of my ability to judge others. One 20-something investment banker gave me little to judge: In his 30-word profile, he described himself as genuine, sarcastic, analytical and good-hearted. The end.
We messaged a bit about wine, and then agreed to meet for a drink.
Once again, the man outshined his profile. The banker was polite, inquisitive and attentive. And his story was fascinating: He worked his way out of a small town in Mexico before coming to Washington, D.C., and he still maintained close relationships with his family. When I asked him why he didn’t share more about himself in his online dating profile, he said it was all about privacy. He tells people more about himself once they earn it, he said, “when they’ve proven that they’re good people.”
I would not have agreed to meet the banker if it hadn’t been for my other bad dates — or, more accurately, dates I expected to be bad but were in fact really fun. I began to realize that I dismissed men whose profiles weren’t similar to my own. I rejected, without question, men who didn’t talk about themselves the same way I talked about myself.
In the midst of this dating experiment, I stumbled across an athletic Ohioan whose online profile did not make me shudder. He opened with a joke about his hometown, described several hobbies with relatable specificity and peppered his profile with self-effacing anecdotes. He even threw in a literary device here (parallelism!) and there (synecdoche!). I jumped at the chance to meet him.
The week of our date, however, was not my finest. I’d had a few personal crises over the weekend, and I responded by swimming in craft martinis the night before we met. The next day I was exhausted. I should have asked for a rain check, but instead I pulled my unwashed hair into a greasy bun, threw on a sweatshirt, and prayed that I didn’t still reek of mezcal.
My date, on the other hand, made an effort: His shirt was ironed, his beard was trimmed, and he arrived five minutes early. He was handsome and engaging — exactly what his profile promised. But instead of meeting the quippy, curious girl who had messaged him, he met her hungover in a hoodie. My online profile was as poorly written as those of my earlier dates: It misrepresented the person who showed up.
When I suggested that we get a second round of drinks, my date declined. At the end of the night, we hugged and he suggested we stay in touch — the line I use when I have no intention of staying in touch.
In the end, none of these first dates led to a second. My little experiment rocked my confidence as a dater, and I deleted my online profile for months. When I got back online, I put less faith in the dating profiles and more faith in the men behind them.
The Internet gives us an infinite stream of would-be partners. After we filter for height, age and education, we may still find ourselves with hundreds of potential first dates. We look critically at each other’s self-descriptions because we want, badly, to know if someone is worth our time and tenderness.
But we owe it to each other not to forget that text and a few pictures can’t capture the contours of a breathing, laughing, sweating, smiling person. The next time you’re online, try a more positive perspective: Most people are good. Just meet them in public places.