My Secret Vice

I like reading online personals.

Yes, yes, yes. I know. My marriage is fine, people. Better than fine, even. You don’t purchase a new automobile (a minivan, no less) with a spouse if you’re looking to trade them in. If I had purchased some sexy expensive two-seater convertible despite the facts of child, large dog and a wife who likes to actually have some place to put purchases from the store, that might have been a subliminal signal something was amiss. But, again let me emphasize: minivan. Come on.

“Way to cover your tracks there, John.”

Thanks. I think so, too. Let’s move on.

What I like about the online personal is that it’s inherently personal writing that is also inherently advertising — people are looking for other people and they’re largely looking for other people that in the best of all possible worlds they’ll spend large chunks of the remainder of their life with. It’s performance and yet it has to be performance rooted in reality (let’s assume most people are not pathologically insecure and are at least attempting to make a fair representation of themselves). So the question: What do you present? How much is too much? How much is not enough? How to people manage this Powerpoint presentation of the soul?

I think a lot of people don’t, to tell you the truth. And the reason is simple: It involves writing — and it involves writing for effect (the effect being: I want to know this person). And while most people can string together a sentence if their life depended on it, not everyone can be relied upon to make that sentence sing, i.e., grab someone’s attention. This is something of a shame, because I’d be willing to bet at least half the people out there are more interesting than their profiles; as a writer I look at some of these profiles and kind of see an interesting person trying to break out of the mangled syntax and inarticulateness (to use a not-quite-on-point word) of their profiles.

I think online personal companies are aware of the fundamental communication issues of their clients, which is why they provide them with a base of stock questions which don’t require a great deal of cleverness to answer, merely the ability to list favorite places, music or whatever. Even so, it’s hard to get over blandness. Unless (of course) one’s picture is very attractive — it’s an extension of “pretty people don’t have to try as hard” into the online world.

It’s not terribly surprising to me, therefore, that the most interesting/effective profiles often come from people are professionally creative in some way because (duh) part of their job is expressing themselves to other. By way of an example, allow me to present two profiles I found on Fark Personals, of people who live reasonably near to me: sweetlatinmtf and top_of_the_fold.

Both of these lovely ladies are writers, and both use their personal comments in really effective ways. Both are humorous, and use that to express opinions and personality quirks (“Excess, slavish devotion to any one religion creeps me out worse than Marie Osmond’s new facelift,” “I’m goofy and catty and I have a penchant for run-on sentences that don’t really make much sense when you stop to harvest the bumblebees, Admiral.”) . In other words, they know how to provide information about themselves in a way so that you don’t feel like you’re (merely) being forcefed a laundry list of personal trivia. You don’t have to be a writer to pull this off (This profile is not from a writer, yet manages the same goals), but it clearly doesn’t hurt.

It doesn’t mean that any of these women is actually as interesting as they come across in their profiles, any more than the poor illiterate unfortunates dutifully spitting out their top five bands are as uninteresting as they come across; indeed, since creative people are often laden with fabulous and exciting neuroses, they’re really not for everyone (and vice-versa, of course). But at the very least, you have the strong suspicion that your date with these people could be a lot of fun. And that’s the short-term goal of a personal, isn’t it.

I’m always tempted to post a personal myself — not to get a date (see the paragraph above on marriage, solidity of) but to see if I could attract interest. It’s very much part and parcel with the urge I have to apply for jobs which I have absolutely no intention of taking just to see if I could make it past the interview and get an offer. I wouldn’t do either, because it’s just not cool to waste people’s time like that (and in the case of personals, to string people along), but I wonder about it from time to time. I generally sublimate the urge by editing the online personals of friends. So if you ever need a few tips on your online personals, just let me know. Clearly I think about them. That’s why they’re My Secret Vice.

(BTW — if you go and read those profiles and come back to ask me if I missed a certain interesting aspect about one of the ladies I linked to — nope. I saw it.)