That was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had.
When a friend asked me to be a willing victim subjected to a “professional dating coach,” I figured at the very worst, this would be an excellent life experience (and blog fodder). Did I have an online dating profile? Sure. I have one. I don’t USE it, but I could re-activate it, and in the name of SCIENCE, I could totally be a guinea pig for how online matching analytics work and/or how SEO principles apply to dating profiles. I love Science.
I show up to a TV studio, looking reasonably TV-appropriate; Dating Expert is late. Significantly. By the time she shows up, the cameraman is antsy and the Producer is annoyed, but trying valiantly to hide it. She asks me repeatedly whether her hair looks okay and needs complete silence to review my OKCupid profile. I’m already snickering by the time we roll tape, but the Producer is adorable and seems quite sincere about this project. Mental recorder on; filters firmly in place.
Despite reviewing my profile, Dating Expert launches into her canned advice about HOW TO FIND A MATE (clearly a traditional heterosexual monogamous life partner). She is very clear that this is the SECOND MOST IMPORTANT THING I WILL DO WITH MY LIFE. I don’t ask what the first is – I suppose I assume it is curing Ebola. (Or writing a concerto, making first contact with alien life forms, finding the next Higgs-Boson particle…something actually meaningful to society. Jesus, I’m naïve.) She is very clear on the gravitas of this task: DO NOT approach online dating casually! Treat it as if it is a job! FINDING YOUR MATE IS HARD WORK!!! (I learn later, after asking the Producer because for the life of me I can’t remember what she said, that in fact the FIRST most important thing I will ever do is procreating. I can’t even begin to express all of the things that are bass-ackwards about this worldview as applies to me…let’s just move on).
The first notable red flag she points out on my profile is that I’ve listed that I have a law degree. She advises that I should definitely remove this or any other academic achievement such as a PhD or a Nobel Prize, as it could intimidate many men who could otherwise be good partners but perhaps don’t themselves have a degree. I’ve gotta say: if you are intimidated by my baseline LAW DEGREE from an average Midwestern school (no offense DePaul peeps), you will almost certainly enter cardiac arrest at rounds two, three and four…I think it’s a good gatekeeper, and cuts down on my liability risk.
Second, she notes that this profile is really heavy on my interests and hobbies. I should remove a lot of that, and emphasize what I bring to the table as a partner (wife)! It was so very very hard not to respond, “OK, got it. Add ‘great cook, gives dynamite blow jobs’ to skills section. Check.”
(Sidenote: When I leave this interview, I go home and make a lasagna for a friend who is having a rough time of life this week. I take this homemade lasagna to my friend while dressed up in an extraordinarily steampunk-skanky outfit, heading to the kind of party which the kind of nice girls this woman envisions as the world’s ideal absolutely would never attend. I want a snapshot of this moment, to include as the embodiment of “what I have to offer” on my profile.)
She asks me point-blank “what I want in a man” – what my “requirements” are. I tell her that my approach to dating and meeting anyone has always been that I am open to all people – for the unique, crazy, special individuals that they are…that I don’t have a list of checkboxes or requirements, but would like to meet a variety of interesting people and see what or how they could contribute to and/or enhance my life and perspective of the world. She ignores this answer completely.
(Through it all, she keeps saying man…man, man, man, man. My profile says I’m bisexual and my “relationship style” is “strictly non-monogamous,” which she either didn’t notice or chose to ignore. I deliberately use gender-neutral pronouns in responding to her questions, even when that is grammatically awkward (“when HUMANS look at my profile…”). There is no thought that I would ever be looking for anything but a man, who would be my committed, monogamous life partner.)
Her suggestion to her clients is that they make three lists: What they have to offer as a wife, what they want in a man, and “dealbreakers.” She suggests that sometimes, dealbreakers may be more flexible than they seem. For instance, if you meet a man who is perfect in every way (Good earner! Nice man! Good father-potential!) but has one of your totally arbitrary dealbreakers (let’s say, “is a gun enthusiast”), perhaps challenge the dealbreakers! I vocally agree with her sage wisdom, and note that a gun enthusiast would be vastly more useful on your zombie team. This flies over her head until the cameraman loses his shit laughing and needs clarification. Zombie team? “Right, your zombie team. The folks that you are going to gather close when the zombie apocalypse happens, to stave off having to eat each other for a couple weeks.” We reshoot that sequence a couple times…I so hope that makes it into the final cut, because I’m finally starting to have a good time. The Producer asks (desperately trying to get us back on track, and not having read my profile): Does her sense of humor come through online? Expert says, erm… maybe I could emphasize that more? I note that the VERY FIRST LINE of my profile is: “I have a zombie team and a go bag,” and wonder what more I should do to convey that philosophy. I can almost hear her tut-tut as she admonishes: “Is that really what you want as the first thing people know about you?” And for the first time I am serious about an answer: “Yes. Yes it is. Because people’s looks, careers, etc. will change over the course of our lives…but in the end, all that is left is someone’s personality and sense of humor, and yes, that is exactly the first thing I want someone to know about me and the most important thing I would EVER look for in a partner.”
I try very hard to play the straight man (!) and ask her questions that will move the interview forward, such as: “What should you do if you go on a date with someone whom you do not like/hit it off with, but who messages you afterward to say he had a nice time and would like to see you again?” Her answer is shockingly Mad Men: Go out with people you don’t like for repeat dates – three times total. Just because you find them unattractive or boring doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be a great life mate for you. This is part of the natural “screening process.” !!!
When asked to elaborate further, she lets me know that if I practice the deep breathing/meditation techniques that she advocates during her private counseling process, which was developed by a neuroscientist, I will be able to intuit immediately which men will be good mates for me. Obviously, I am NOT using enough of my brain. Must be all that wasted space used up getting my law degree.
In the interest of learning more about whether dating sites work on normal SEO (Search Engine Optimization), I inquire about whether you should use certain keywords or phrases to enhance your results (like online job-searching, where words and phrases like “optimized productivity” and “synchronicity” boost your shitty resume to the top of the bot-pile). She snorts derisively, noting that she 1) does not believe any particular keywords are useful, and 2) DID YOU KNOW THAT ROBOTS ANSWER YOUR EMAILS? Clarification reveals that she actually believes that Robots respond to numerous initial emails through online dating sites, which is why it is vitally important to exchange phone numbers and actually talk in person. (I always suspected it was Optimus Prime sending me dick pics!)
Before you speak in person, however, you MUST email your potential husband a few times to establish whether he fits your parameters; also, do not ask for help on this from your friends or family, as it is a matter of intuition. If you are accurately following the meditation schedule she proscribes, you will be able to instantly and accurately know whether someone is right for you. I refrain from asking her whether I should still go on two more dates with unacceptable matches if I am following the spiritual meditation script, as this doesn’t seem to be sporting. Plus, she notes: Don’t meet for coffee, meet for happy hour… then dinner if it’s going well. God help you if you think something like teaching someone to shoot a longbow is a great first date. (One of the best I ever had, actually.)
I inquired what her opinions were about internet dating safety? It’s always been my philosophy to 1) not give out my actual phone number to strangers, and 2) if you’re going home with someone, go to their own home, and text someone that you are doing so – people are less likely to kill you in their own home, since disposing of your body will be annoying and messy, and quicklime might not be on sale this week. She assures me that everyone who is online on dating websites is legitimately, sincerely trying to find LOVE and would never, ever abuse one’s trust in any way. Yeah…. #letmeshowyousomelovelydomesticviolenceTemporaryRestrainingOrders.
Other pro tips: Always write back if they message you a well-written email. It wouldn’t be nice if men wrote to like 10 women and didn’t get any responses – it would be bad for their self-esteem (let’s talk about crazy shooters who have 4Chan and Reddit profiles). But, what if they send you something obscene, like the lovely fellow who messaged, “I want to fuck your face-hole?” (Actual message I received last week.) Some people, she acknowledges, are “just beneath you.” Whew. At least I don’t have to give that guy three dates… I’ve got seven face-holes, six of which fucking isn’t an acceptable overture towards.
Further, never, ever post pictures more than six months old. Forget that picture of you doing a handstand on the Great Wall of China, or piloting a rowboat in Central Park looking back at 55 Central Park West (nerdy movie fans, UNITE!). Men could think that was deceptive and feel dangerously misled by your potential change in appearance over time during your life!
At one point I thought she had figured out I was fucking with her. I almost lost it when she told me definitely, definitely don’t date more than one person at a time. (I didn’t ask for clarification on whether sex with more than one person at the same time was also verboten.) Nonetheless, we managed to finish the interview unscathed and without actually coming to blows.
Once she left, Producer asked if I picked up any good tips. I told him that if I ever want to go back to 1950 and take up the mantle of traditional housewife I’d give her a call. Then I asked him out.
He’s regrettably Not Available (c’est la vie – can’t hurt to try). But I did spend a subsequent evening with a charming man who actually read my disingenuously-activated profile and was vastly more interesting than I would ever have hoped to meet online. Can’t say the whole experience was a waste, after all.