I've been engaged in a sporadic discussion about on-line dating this past week. My interlocutor has been a woman who's an alternative-press journalist. She's based out of the one of the larger cities in the American South, but spends much of her professional time in Manhattan. I know very little about her personally. I know something of her politics (progressive), and I know that she's active in local animal-rescue groups where she lives. At a guess, I'd say that she's in her later thirties. That's really all I know. Our exchanges on line have been very polite, which I do appreciate.
We've been discussing on-line dating. It's not something I've ever done. I still see a certain social stigma attached to it, even among groups who do spend most of the their lives on the web. Lots of people may be using sites like OKCupid these days, but there are lots of sites set up specifically to mock OKCupid and its ilk. Some are merely funny, but far too many have a hostile (and often ideological) edge. I feel the social stigma, or at least can understand it. I'd feel just a bit desperate using a dating site. The ideological hostility is another matter, and something I'd prefer to avoid.
My interlocutor tells me that she's always good luck with on-line dating, that it gives her the chance to maximize her own strengths and present herself well. We've disagreed on that. On-line dating strikes me as something that wouldn't end well for me. The sites are designed, I fear, to keep people like me outside.
All on line dating profiles are filters. That's a given. A user constructs her profile to talk about what she's looking for and to wave away those who don't meet her specifications. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. Everyone has specific tastes and desires. Mine are very specific, and I know that. I suppose that what puts me off is knowing that I don't meet anyone's profile requirements. On-line dating sites also require suitors to produce photos and possibly speak via webcam--- two things designed to cancel out any chances I may have. To be seen outright--- seen outside of context ---is not something I can risk.
My young companions have met me...where? Almost always on terrain where I feel safe: bookstores, cafes, museums. They've met me in places where I can lead with my own strengths, with what I know and what I can say about things that are important to me. I don't lead with anything visual; that's not what I am. I lead with what I have to say, with what I have to say about certain specific things. I present myself as someone who has knowledge to offer, and a passion about knowledge. That does allow my age to seem like it might be a positive thing. I'm safe on terrain where it can seem like I might be part of a sentimental education, where a young companion can listen to me and think that I could be a part of a learning experience. I'm not like to be able to pass the filters at an on-line dating site. My task is always to encourage a lovely young girl to consider an exchange of beauty and youth for knowledge and passion about knowledge.
Despite what my interlocutor says about crafting on-line dating profiles, I know that I can't present myself well there. What I have to offer has to come in context. I lead with a voice, with things I can say. The trick is always to make my own appearance fade away into the background, to be the voice talking about books or art or ideas. If I'm to be seen, it must be mediated not via webcam, but through a girl's view of what's been on her bookshelves, on her visions of other worlds. I can lead with that. I can be an introduction to things--- that's what I have to offer. Just as a face on a screen, or as a set of answers to profile questions, well...I have so very little value. I can be...Virgil to her Dante? Something like that, I think.