It never fails.
Guy seems cute. Has a nice smile. He’s posing with a puppy. The opening line of his profile is a Simpsons quote. His online dating profile is giving me very clear “message this guy” vibes. Then, as I scroll down, it happens every time, without fail.
Favorite authors? All men. Favorite movies? All ones directed by and usually starring men. Favorite music? You see where this is going.
At first I thought I was just being overly picky. After all, writing my online dating profile was more stressful than writing my thesis. But it seemed like every guy on the dating site had chosen books off of a pre-approved list, with the same names appearing over and over again: George RR Martin, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie, rinse, lather, repeat. I’ve read books by most of these writers, and I think Garcia Marquez was a genius. But after going through dozens upon dozens of profiles and not seeing a single female name, I started to wonder if the problem was all of those dating profiles – or if the problem was me.
If there’s such a thing as feminist cred, I guess I have it. I spent 2013 doing a personal project where I only read books written by women, and when it was over documented what I discovered in the process. The piece struck up international conversations about the importance of recognizing and acknowledging female voices in the arts and even became the basis for The Guardian’s #readwomen2014 campaign.
And although my own list of favorite writers includes several men (including Thomas Hardy and Etgar Keret) I’ve noticed how easy it is to accept “male” as “canonical” and “female” as “other.” Internet dating profiles are all about saying things that you think will impress other people. It’s entirely possible that these guys want to project “serious” and therefore list only books that they think convey said seriousness. And because of the fact that our culture publishes more men, reviews more men, awards more men, and generally treats male writing as the literary standard, it’s not surprising that readers will follow suit. When you’ve been told your whole life that something is the best, why question it? The same goes for The Godfather, Star Wars, even dorm room poster staple Scarface, and other movies that are directed and written by men featuring almost zero female characters. Those movies are “classic” and “important.”
I decided to go right to the source. Whenever a guy messaged me, I messaged him back with something like “You have really good taste in music! Who’s your favorite female singer?” One guy responded to a question about his favorite movies with female leads with “Alice in Penisland, City Of Anals, Gang Bang Princess.” He added a winky face emoticon after this, so it’s possible he was kidding. It’s also possible that he sucks.
I started flashing back to the movie High Fidelity, where John Cusack’s manchild character proudly announces that he has a system for choosing friends and girlfriends: “it’s not what you’re like, it’s what you like.” In our culture of consumerism, our objects and our brands represent us. Do you watch Fox News or MSNBC? Which color lipstick do you wear? What brand of sneakers? And when it comes to an internet dating profile, the most impersonal way to attempt to make a personal connection, we try to mold the version of ourselves we think other people would most like to get to know. That version listens to Led Zeppelin, wishes Breaking Bad was still on, and likes to eat “all kinds of food.” That person is nobody, and he is everybody.
There’s an oft-reblogged John Waters quote: “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em.” That’s a good rule. But is the bar for literacy so low that simply owning books is enough? Many of the guys who talk a good game on their profiles about “liking strong women” don’t have a single piece of art created by a woman in their well-curated list of likes. They may say they want to hear my opinion, but their choice in consumption seems to indicate otherwise.
Maybe I’m too picky. Maybe I’m using arbitrary stuff from men’s profiles as a stalling tactic because I know that, after a breakup, I’m not ready to date yet. Maybe there are otherwise-perfect guys who are nitpicking my profile as much as I’m nitpicking theirs, and because of our mutual pickiness we’re missing out on an opportunity to find love. So I’ve added a line to my dating profile: “Seeking: guy who wants to watch Jane Campion movies, listen to Kate Bush, and read Iris Murdoch books with me.” We’ll see if anyone replies.