Out of an abundance of sexual frustration and (apparently) a masochistic streak I signed up for a dating website recently. “Why not?” I thought. “What do I have to lose?” This is an optimism that isn’t typical of me. There’s always something to lose, even on your deathbed. Even when the stakes are so low.
I only have one good picture of myself. I am holding my niece. We look like an oil painting. The dark is behind us, the light before us. Neither of us is smiling nor are we frowning. Instead we look surprised and perhaps a little bit scared, beholding something that is both great and terrible. I took this sacred photo and uploaded it to a website where people shop for each other.
After this I wrote about myself in trite, petite soundbites that avoided more than they admitted. Politics, spirit, dreams and aspirations are all distilled into choices on a drop down menu. Instead of ‘anarcho-communist’ I chose ‘liberal’, a thing I most certainly am not. I was able to flaunt my graduate degree, a diploma that is only useful for wiping asses or kindling fires, without seeming too snobbish. I was asked to list my astrological sign, my preferences regarding children, cigarettes, alcohol, voting and domesticated animals. These are the criteria by which a person’s worthiness of being known is judged. And then, important above all things, is one’s career or lack thereof.
As I began to look at the people to whom I would apparently and inexplicably be wedded I began to notice that there is a sort of form to the creation of a profile on these sights, particularly where pictures are concerned, that verges on a sort of modern folk art, a haiku for ugly Americans to compose as the world burns. I can only comment on this phenomenon as it pertains to women- I didn’t sign up to look at men, although this would be an interesting thing to do in the pursuit of a more thorough knowledge of the limits of human imagination.
While the order of presentation can change, the common elements remain. There is the obligatory selfie that is usually taken in a car or in front of a mirror. This part of the pattern is understandable- the website uses some unfortunate algorithm to authenticate your face, a technology that I can only assume is also used by the military industrial complex for less innocuous purposes.
There is also a recurring though not quite universal photo in which the person is posing in a location that is obviously not in the United States. I interpret this to be an assertion of the subject’s worldliness. I guess I shouldn’t judge people for doing this. People take pictures when they travel. It is just that I hate to travel and even if I didn’t I couldn’t. I can’t afford to travel because I can’t afford to anything. And maybe this is what it boils down to. There is a class dimension to these things, as there is to all things in this awful society.
Other ingredients of this form are the brunch shot, in which the person sits before a completely denuded breakfast plate, mimosa in hand, which appears to be another assertion of one’s position in the class hierarchy as well as testament to the fact that they are fun all day, all the time. Weekends are leisurely, the weeks are full of important and well paying work. Then there is the group photo, in which they pose with people that are apparently dear friends and relatives. The photo says that they are rooted in a community of some kind, utterly complete save one predictable but suprising, humble yet successful, well appointed human male.
Inevitably there is a photo taken on a beach, presumably so the observer can admire the person unclothed and ponder the hours they spent at the gym. But perhaps it is indicative of all the ways in which I am myself a petty and superficial person that I noticed this at all. I chose to not look at people who I found to be unattractive. I denied them the right of the internet age to be noticed, to register as a blip on the radar of another human’s consciousness.
People tell stories with pictures and all pictures tell stories. That the stories people to choose to tell as they search for connection are remarkably similar tells a story on a grander scale. That we are frightened of looking different. Afraid that the world will know we’re broken and unloveable, that we can barely stand another day of feeling so lonely. And then that we’re simply afraid, reaching for affirmation of our beauty and of our ability to perform conformity for wages of love as we march away from the darkness and into a light that shines so brightly we cannot see. This light might be salvation. Or it might just be what we see before the shockwave hits.