Upon the recent celebration of my twenty-second birthday, I received at the dinner table what could only be described as a challenge, fuelled, no doubt, by an all-too-thinly-veiled sense of disappointment: “You know, your father and I were married by the time we were 22 ....”
My mother really is a wonderfully wise woman. She taught me that gin kills comparatively more brain cells than other clear liquors (doubtful) and that, when in need, your crotch can always serve as a god-given cupholder while driving (so simple!). Rooted as it was in the straightforward pragmatism of previous generations, however, her bluntly dissatisfied appraisal of my relationship status—and the trajectory of my personal growth more generally—seemed more than a little unfair.
Many of my generation, as I was forced to suggest, are not as bound to the imperatives of practicality as she and my father were. We ramble and we digress; we lose our way and waste our time.
Enter OkCupid, a site which promises users the potential for true love by collecting answers to such salient queries as the following hypothetical: “If a trusted partner asked you to submit to them sexually, would you? Assume that this would involve letting them collar you, command you, and have control over you during sex.”
When a friend first pitched the idea of my creating an OkCupid profile, the prospect of having to answer questions like these was never mentioned. In fact, she offered little description of the work that crafting an appropriately enticing online persona actually entails. (Her pitch, by the way, went something like this: ‘I mean, lots of the messages I get have spelling errors, and the one guy I went out with was an asshole ... you don’t want me to be the only person we know with one of these, DO YOU?!?’ Needless to say, three to four daiquiris and a hookah bar later, I was sold.)
Its inanities aside, with its addictively mindless interface and respectable Ivy League pedigree (Facebook’s brave first users were lonely desperate Harvard students too, right?!?), OkCupid seemed like a felicitous distraction during a final semester as an undergraduate; what’s more, by pushing the limits of my comfort with its incisive and reflective lines of questioning, OkCupid held the potential to lead me to previously unfamiliar, if perhaps extraneous, levels of self-exploration.
Disappointingly, however, I must admit that I’m frankly not getting much of anywhere with this thing (I can hear my mother’s smug grunt in my head). Despite the often-made prediction that the internet and its attendant social networking capacities will only serve to shrink the planet and open individual horizons, I feel remarkably affirmed in many of my familiar prejudices and anxieties.
For example: do you really expect a response to a message that consists of fewer than five syllables? Call me any number of nasty names, but a sophisticated grasp of the treacherous terrain of English punctuation is a definite prerequisite to potential interest, conversational or otherwise.
Even the act of creating an account was a source of intense internal debate, as I obsessively weighed which username might best display an adequate balance of wit and flirt only to collapse in failure five hours later after choosing to use my cat’s name as a pseudonym. And in perhaps an ultimate moment of irony, my tactical considerations backfired when the icon that accompanies my profile changed from red—“Replies very selectively”—to a depressing blue—“This user hasn’t been contacted in at least a week”—as a result of my ongoing (and apparently successful) attempts to maintain an aura of discerning selectivity.
Thus, a fleeting venture into the world of online dating becomes an occasion for reflection: am I really interested in testing comfort zones and making myself vulnerable? As the French are apt to note, “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” (‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’): does the arrival another school year necessarily imply an interval of personal growth, or have I simply walked a circuitous route to the place where I began? If I am to trust my instincts, I must have faith that long-term progress is only achieved by the summation of many smaller steps.
To end, then, on a note of hope: I worked up the guts to respond last night to a message I received from a recent Boston-area graduate working in advertising. It isn’t quite marriage, but I think Mom would be pleased.
-Edward-Michael Dussom is a former Magazine Comp Director and a Romance Languages and Literatures concentrator in Currier House. He promises he’s not nearly as neurotic as he seems ... if you have all four limbs and speak English, you’re probably already at least 78% compatible!