It’s Tuesday, I think, and I’m sitting in the Oklahoma University Memorial Student Union, or at least in one part of it, anyway. The room that I’m in is the definition of the word “antechamber,” with large windows and a fireplace that my whole family could fit in. I don’t like how the word Memorial is in the building’s moniker. Although it’s honoring the lives of people who either died in wars for the country or wars for the state of Oklahoma, it imbues the building with a sense that students are sacrificed in a pit filled with jaguars or something equally as antiquated and barbaric. There’s marble everywhere, expensive furniture, lamps fashioned like lanterns, and bookshelves that make my pulse triple with envy. I like it.
I’m currently having some part of the college experience that I missed out on during my years at NYU, architecturally anyway. I’m broke. I’m living in a new city in a part of the country I had previously only reserved for fly-overs. My mother has basically disowned me via an email that sounded very much like a Dear John letter. I haven’t seen my best friend in nearly a year. Across from me, Simon is working on a new post for his blog. I sneak glances at him, blushing silently as he pokes at his bottom lip while editing. I try to read the writing on the screen reflected in his glasses. I’m helplessly in love with him, and I could conceivably say that the majority of the large decisions I’ve made in the past year and a half have been directed by the trajectory of the arrow that was shot through my heart once we got back in touch over email, after eight years of radio silence. That said, I don’t allow myself to trust that the relationship will last, and I like to think of myself as a bit of a womanizer-in-hibernation. Being ga-ga over someone isn’t easy for me. So when I received the email the other night from a thirty-four year old guy from New York, asking me for help writing an online dating profile, I was a little taken aback.
First of all, the unseen man donated money, as a show of good faith and lack of creepiness. Secondly, he wrote extremely well. From my point of view, I have no idea why he’d write to effed-up, bisexual me for dating support. Maybe he needed an encouraging stranger, but he didn’t need assistance in articulation. He had sent me a witty and concise email, that’s basically all you need for an online dating profile. Well, that and some rudimentary Photoshop skills.
“I was wondering, do people ever ask you for help writing dating profiles?” he wrote. “I’m having a hell of a time trying to strike the right tone while at the same time making it pithy and unique. I know that it has to be simultaneously edgy and widely accessible, grab someone with the first couple lines and move along quickly (like any short form writing assignment, I suppose). I would gladly pay for help. If not an outright rewrite, at least some pointers and recommendations on how to write “aggressively good prose.”’
The dude needed no help.
But I can only write so many posts about how difficult it is to find new work, and how I don’t understand Oklahomans’ affinity for chicken fried steak. Really, it was between reaching out and helping a stranger craft a few paragraphs on a new matchmaking-meets-wordsmithing endeavor, or writing about how, in one of my unpaid side projects, I was snobbishly snubbed for an interview by a porn star and sex activist.
My pride’s still a little wounded from that, so I’m glad to gush about how great it is to love someone, and how maybe, just maybe, my affinity for language can lead to some dude disrobing a female and falling into this messy minefield known as being in a relationship.
Online dating is the pits, but much like buying SUVs, reading The Secret, and taking pilates, everyone is doing it. One census study states that forty percent of single American adults have tried online dating. According to Wired, one in five singles looks for love on the Internet. With all of the sites out there looking to get you coupled up according to chemistry, “simple” profile tests, or your choice of kink, you’d think that writing a blurb about why strangers should fork over a Jackson for an order of jalapeño poppers and four margaritas would be easy by now. But, alas, no.
Some synopses are too elaborate, assailing the eyes with blocks of text that range from pretentious and opinionated essays about the latest Aronofsky flick, to impersonal CV-style career profiles. The hungry hyenas know this. People have become “online dating coaches” that offer you a leg up on trolling the ‘net for a pair of legs. There is money to be made in an industry that plays off of the insecure, the wounded, and the socially-awkward-but-busy. I know this because, after a four year relationship, the Internet seemed a safe place to look for single ladies. Well, that and Cattyshack in Brooklyn.
All of this said, I’m going to throw in my two cents. Take it or leave it, and take it from where it comes (a coupled-up, emotionally damaged, bisexual twenty-something who is also a recovering alcoholic) —
You should write about yourself the way you’d explain your favorite television show to a stranger on the subway. You only have a very brief amount of time to explain why they should watch it, what you like about it, and what makes you excited. Moreover, you have to blindly guess what interests them.
This idea is the cornerstone of our work, too. We don’t have all day (or all webpage) to tout the perfection that is the latest multimedia company, insurance agency, or ISP. The truth is, people don’t read all of the text in front of their eyes. They’re on the site already for a reason. In our case, it’s ‘cause they’re potential future clients. In Mr. Thirty-something Blue Eyes, it’s ‘cause the girl most likely saw his photo and wanted to see if there’s a reason to drop him a line.
Because that’s a universal truth to both online dating and advertising, it’s mainly a fickle, superficial process of elimination. Chances are, it was your photo that got you that last click-through. So you’d better make sure that your words increase the intrigue. I don’t need to tell you that if you don’t feel good about yourself, your bland profile isn’t what needs help. Fortunately for me, the guy who wrote has a lot to offer. Much like OU has a lot to offer when it comes to free Wi-Fi and football.
So what’s the next step in selling the latest must-have for women, otherwise known as that debonair and charming professional thirty-something gentleman who asked me for editing help? Stay tuned. I’ll let you know when I get the wedding invitation.
In a semi-related plea: if your company, or someone you know, is looking for any sort of text – from web copy to press releases, from corporate blogging to bios – please solicit samples from us. We’re looking for work.
Drop me a line at AinsleyDrew at gmail dot com, and thanks to all of you who donate. Happy New Year!
Oh, and if you like reading about online dating horror stories, check out this article.