This is the way my online dating profile began:
"Me: Painfully blunt, occasionally manic, often embarrassingly childish, driven to be a workaholic by vast stores of guilt and a fear of inadequacy. I try to be kind more often than not."
Or at least, it's how it would have begun if I were being 100 percent honest. Instead, the profile I created that eventually attracted my now-husband started off this way:
"Me: Honest, energetic, fun, often goofy, self-motivated, kind, hardworking."
The fact is, both descriptions are true -- it's just that one is the PR version of the cold, hard truth of the other. Because that's what you do in dating, right? You put your best face forward.
But one new online dating site encourages users to do just the opposite -- to present your bad qualities along with the good, without adornment -- the equivalent of showing up on a first date in yoga pants and no makeup. David Wheeler founded Settle for Love after unsuccessfully trying several other dating sites where he found many people misrepresented themselves in their profiles. Encouraging users to be "brutally honest" and requiring that they post both good and bad pictures of themselves, Wheeler's site also requires members to state what they are willing to settle for.
I signed up for online dating sites three times over a period of years, each time giving up in frustration well before my three-month membership was up. The truth is, people do misrepresent themselves online. Men who'd told me they were in their early 40s showed up with 10 or 20 extra years on them ("I'm young-acting and -feeling, so it makes sense to lie," one told me). Guys who said they were divorced revealed with a mischievous-little-boy grin that they were actually only separated -- "but I'll be divorced." And, as a woman who is six feet tall, don't even get me started on the literal and metaphorical stretchings of the truth where height is concerned. (Oh, really, you're six-two and your head hits me at boob level?)
But is there such a thing as too much honesty early into the dating process? On Settle for Love, members reveal rather startlingly intimate facts about themselves -- "I'm overweight and unemployed, I can be really clingy, and I can be very annoying." While I'm a big fan of honesty, I have to admit that this presentation wouldn't exactly set my hormones flowing.
For Christmas this year I bought my husband a sous vide cooker. This is a device that basically creates a hot tub for your food, cooking meats in a water bath at low temperatures for a sustained period of time that results in a juicy, delicious steak. It really works -- we had a New York strip that came out tender as filet mignon.
The problem was, the process yields a piece of perfectly cooked meat that essentially looks like an amorphous gray chunk of flesh. It's deeply unappealing. The idea is that you finish it off with a food torch, or by pan-searing or grilling it -- it doesn't cook the meat any further, which is perfectly done after the sous vide bath. It just makes it look more palatable, so you want to take a bite and find out how it tastes.
This is kind of how I feel about Settle for Love. While I applaud the sentiment behind the site -- being open and real and vulnerable -- I do think that there's something to be said for a bit of presentation. As dating expert Donna Barnes points out, "Some of these things that [Settle for Love members are] revealing about themselves, you have to already have an affinity for somebody before you're like, 'Oh, that's cute.'"
While we all have qualities that aren't entirely attractive, first we have to be drawn enough to someone to give things a try and find out what's really on the inside.
So where's the line between charmingly genuine and off-puttingly oversharing? Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
• Be honest about who you are. That's not to say that you want to show all your least-attractive traits or unpack all your baggage on date one. But we are more alike as people than we are different, and often we connect at the vulnerable places.
• But put the most positive spin on your personal traits. Instead of stating that you're clingy, for instance, you might say you like a lot of affection. Like torching the sous vide steak to make it more palatable, it's just packaging.
• Phone a friend. If you have trouble presenting yourself genuinely without sounding like a complete train wreck, call a friend. Too often we're our own worst critics; an objective friend will be able to see you clearly, but with the patina of loving who you are that allows bugaboos to be cast in the best light.
My husband's online profile got a few sentences in before he gave up with, "This is harder than I thought. I'll finish it later." He never did.
I found his lack of pretense appealingly refreshing when I read it. As I got to know him I saw what this trait really meant -- he isn't a big fan of talking about himself, "sharing my hopes and dreams" as he jokes about touchy-feely talk. And like his profile, he often leaves things half-done, like when he gets out a panoply of tools to manfully tackle an issue around the house, competently fixes it... and then leaves the tools to sit out for days until I finally hurl them in aggravation back into the toolbox. If he'd spelled out those things in the profile, I might not have found them quite so charming.
And yet I wound up getting exactly what he advertised -- a man who, for better or for worse, will always be completely genuine.
And as it happened, that's exactly what I was looking for.