Let’s start out today’s post with a movie premise you are all likely familiar with. The year is 1993. The Buffalo Bills have just lost their 3rd consecutive Super Bowl, Bill Clinton has recently ascended into the oval office where he will soon move agilely to bring gay rights in the military to its knees (#Don’tAskDon’tTell) while simultaneously doing the same to his attractive intern, and alternative rock band “Counting Crows” has just serenated the world for the first time with their angsty hit single “Mr. Jones” (Yes Mr. Jones, *I too* wish I was someone just a little more funky). In this world, an Industrialist by the name of John Hammond has just opened a futuristic theme park filled with dinosaurs brought back to life via cutting-edge cloning techniques. After a series of unfortunate greed-driven gaffes, a group of park visitors is soon on the run from a horde of Pre-historic horrors that have just been freed to roam the park at their leisure. In the chaos that ensues, they must find their way out of the park before they become human dinosaur-chow for a genetically modified T. Rex.
If you’re thinking to yourself: “Hey! This sounds like the premise to Jurassic Park! You know, that movie that gave me nightmares and prevented me from setting foot in a museum for most of my childhood”, you are actually incorrect. The above is instead the premise for the much lessor known “Billy and the Clone-a-saurus”. You see, in season 5 (episode 19) of the Simpsons, Principal Seymour Skinner had just been fired from Springfield Elementary after the Simpson’s family dog, Santa’s Little Helper, had become stuck in a school vent following a show-and-tell gone awry. In the emotional trauma and period of self-reflection that follows this, Seymour takes solace in the fact that this…permanent and involuntary vacation from his job has given him more time to focus on writing the next great American novel. And thus with the unbridled optimism that can only be found in one deliberately attempting to avoid their problems, Seymour delivers this pitch for an exciting new dino-adventure to Bart and Apu while standing in line at the Kwik-E-Mart.
Naturally, this is met with ridicule and disbelief. How could Seymour be so ignorant as to believe that his idea was original? Where was his perspective? Had he seriously not seen a single movie poster for it? Or ever seen the novel displayed on a bookshelf? How is it that someone can be so confident in something that they think is unique and interesting, when it seems like the whole world around them can so clearly see that it’s not?
But I shouldn’t pick on Seymour too much. This is not a phenomenon that is just sequestered away in the dusty archives of early-season Simpsons episodes. It is something that manifests itself proudly and prominently in more modern-day scenarios as well. Chief among these? Yes – *dating profiles*.
Now, before jumping into this in depth, let’s spare a moment of empathy for my fellow dating profile architects. It’s actually pretty hard to know whether your content is boring and unoriginal. As a heterosexual male, I’ve only ever been able to see the dating profiles of heterosexual woman. I don’t have the ability to parse through a series of other men’s profiles to cross-reference my work and see where I stack up against the broader male population. All I have to go on is a general understanding of my interests, and a hypothesis around whether women will find it interesting. And sure, there’s trial and error you can do within your own profile to see what works and what doesn’t (Things Tom now knows don’t work: Overly specific Lord of the Rings references and masturbation jokes; Things Tom now knows do work: Catfishing with other people’s dogs), but that still only gives you a universe of 1 on which to base your research.
In short, I think people who are being unoriginal *really* don’t know they’re being unoriginal in the eyes of their prospective beholders. They don’t know that “liking tacos”, while nice, is not technically a personality trait. They lack the insight to understand that being overly competitive “about everything” is the leading prompt of any girl in her twenties who played a varsity sport in high school. They have simply never been told that “brunching yourself back to life on Sunday” is exactly how any guy reading your profile would have thought you were spending your weekends anyway (Honestly Jennifer, your opening photo is you holding a mimosa with the girls – you’re not exactly being tightfisted in leaving behind the breadcrumbs for us to follow).
But enough of this digression – let’s now examine some examples:
At face value, it’s admittedly hard to disagree with Sacia. I too am looking for someone funny and smart. Preferable very funny. And very smart if I’m able to swing it (*fingers crossed*). But let’s examine this from a man’s lens: what is such a dejected creature supposed to do with this prompt? First, he’s already seen this answer in different iterations across dozens… (*sighs and looks at summary of time spent on app*) across hundreds of profiles. Any unique answer he might have thought of to this has long ago been used and discarded.
Second, what is the correct answer? What is she hoping to hear?
“Hey there! Tom here. I have an IQ noticeably on the right side of the normal distribution curve and have been told that *no one* in my friend group can regurgitate funny lines from famous sitcoms quite like I can (What can I say (*shrugs bashfully*), it’s the voice acting I think). Anyway, wanna pork?”
However, I would like to also be clear on something: originality for originality’s sake is not necessarily a positive attribute. Just because something isn’t original, it doesn’t deprive you of the right to like or be excited about it, nor to want to communicate that to a prospective partner. There’s far more power in sincerity than there is in trying too hard to be unique and funny. The issue, however, is that this is *really* hard to get across within a dating app. Like that hypothetical Jennifer from earlier in this post: it is perfectly valid to really enjoy spending time with your friends, partaking in a cold drink, and devouring some delicious food. We just happen to live in a world where meeting people involves sending 30-word prompts to cynical assholes like me and hoping for the best. And for better or for worse, brunch at face value just isn’t that interesting.
Long story short, you really can’t win.
Which now brings me to Sri:
As you have probably noted by this point, I fall squarely into the camp of “Trying too hard to be funny and unique”. I have since I was a kid (*See my earlier post on using humor as a defense mechanism*). And while Sri’s answer to this prompt is about as original as a Seymour Skinner novel plot, it’s at least sincere. Here’s a lovely young woman who loves nothing more than to spend time with her loyal pet, relax after a long day of work, and watch some award-winning television. And then I come in and just ruin it all with Dog Fucking. She might be unoriginal, but in the end, who’s the asshole here? Clearly, the guy making the boorish “Netflix and Chill” joke about her dog.
So, as with all things dating app-related, nobody truly wins. People will continue to mistake basicness with originality, I’ll continue to mistake being a cynical jerk with being funny and insightful, and we’ll all continue to end the day slightly sadder than how we began it.
But if it’s any consolation, please just continue to remember that you’re not alone in this. We’re all out there desperately hoping that our dumb interests and mediocre personalities can attract someone. All anyone can do in the end is be sincere, be shamelessly themselves, and hope to God that what you end up writing doesn’t get screen-grabbed and put on display on some strange esoteric blog.
Happy dating, all.