One Woman's Radically Honest OkCupid Experiment Exposes the Truth of Online Dating
Picking someone up on the internet these days is as routine as grabbing a morning latte. There are dating sites specific to singles who are gluten- free, lonelyhearts who love smoking, Apple elitists wanting to meet other "Macheads," and even Ayn Rand fans only interested in like-minded Objectivists.
Online dating is no longer stigmatized as the realm of the middle-aged, the recently divorced, the socially awkward, or the dudes who live with their moms. In college, tons of my friends had internet dating profiles, and lots of them had successful dates and relationships because of it. In our small Massachusetts town, and our tiny college campus, it seemed silly not to widen your pool if you could, whether you were looking for a long-term relationship or a booty call. Post-graduation, when people scattered to new, far-flung cities, dating online became an alluring way to narrow down the options.
That's part of the appeal, right? It lets you be immediately choosy in a way you maybe wouldn’t be in real life. ("Cute, but he clearly only shops at Urban Outfitters"; "She likes good music but her favorite book is The Help"). If the date doesn’t work out, you can be cavalier about it because you didn’t even know this person existed a week ago.
Perhaps most of all, online dating allows you to present the cutest, smartest, and most dateable version of yourself to potential partners. The photo of you backpacking in Costa Rica shows your adventurous side, the Toni Morrison on your "favorite book" list proves your cultural literacy, the self-summary you provide illuminates your perfect balance of down-to-earth attitude and sharp wit.
Seriously, who wouldn’t want to order-in Chinese and snuggle with you?
In her new work, "The OkCupid Honesty Project: An Exercise in Truth Telling," New York City artist Jessica Prusa explores this idea of online personaes using one of the most popular dating sites for young people. For the project, Prusa created an OkCupid profile for a nude, self-portrait themed art exhibition and filled in all the sections with the cringe-worthy truth.
About herself, she writes on her profile: "I have really high and perhaps unreasonable expectations for romantic and platonic relationships — desiring immediate, deep intimacy, understanding and affection while substantially withholding each myself."
Prusa divulges that she is looking for a male with a large, uncircumcised penis, and that "on a typical Friday night" she is generally "out" and, if she’s not connecting with people, she tends to "get bored, drink more than I should, or take drugs" which sometimes leads to "bad decisions like having unprotected sex with strangers."
Prusa’s idea was to combine the negativity and honesty that’s reserved for offline conversations with the transparent accountability of a personal profile, and see how men would respond to this "absurd" level of intimacy. Many of the responses she received from men were in fact empathetic and appreciative of her willingness to bear her hang-ups. "I’ve yet to determine whether or not operating on this level of transparency is actually productive," she concludes, writing for the Hairpin, "but I do know that it feels really good."
Prusa’s project raises some interesting questions about intimacy in the technological age. She explores the simultaneously liberating and conflicted feeling many of us experience as a result of being open in relationships, online or otherwise. How does dating change when you can sculpt your own image online? Or "filter" out people based on body type? What really constitutes "genuine" in the world of OkCupid? Are most people horrified or endeared by someone who puts it all out there?
To find out, I asked some young OkCupid users what they thought about Prusa’s project and the online dating world.
"I understand what Jessica Prusa was trying to do but, in my experience with OKC, her approach of overwhelmingly describing herself isn't effective," Emily Waters, 22, told me. "I think everyone has some kind of online persona that is different from who they are in person. In general, people are funnier online, but they are also more one-dimensional."
Conner Plunkett, 22, feels Prusa's pain. "I've never had a successful OkCupid date," he says. "I'm not sure I'm even self-aware enough to give any sort of accurate portrayal of myself online if I tried. To me, Jessica Prusa’s project is compelling not because she is honest per se — when someone writes about how they have trouble writing a summary of themselves or that they prefer staying in with a book on Friday nights, they aren't lying. The difference is emphasis, with Pura focusing on her anxieties, traumas, and struggles — all deeply human things — rather than the sort of ephemeral interests and insecurities that come naturally to someone trying to present themselves online."
Taylor Kall, 22, had a different take. "I feel like the men who responded to this artist's OKC are people who are projecting their own 'manic pixie dream girl' moments onto a picture and a few words."
Dating is all about wading through ambiguity and confusion in search of real human connection. Whether the "lay everything out on the table" approach works for you or not, Prusa made some interesting discoveries about the relationship between our online selves and our desire for genuine intimacy. Maybe the biggest one is that, even as the internet makes us more vapid, it provides naked opportunities for genuine honesty and truth.
The question is whether or not we choose to meet them.