Guests of the Inner Sanctum

He’s BAAACK: Newly Single Kevin Purcell Talks Online Dating and Why “Tall” Trumps All.

By Kevin Purcell; friend him on Facebook here

If you wake up one morning, as I did, and find yourself in your mid-thirties and divorced, there are a couple of things you realize right away that you hadn’t taken time to notice before. Cookies aren’t that hard to make. Plants don’t water themselves. You’re now free to date. And all the women you know around your age are married, spoken for or gay.

The obvious solution to the shallowness of the dating pool is to wade over to the water slide and wave your paunch around the younger ones. But this is less of a viable option than you flatter yourself to think. The girl at the sandwich place is just being polite. She thinks you’re creepy.

For me and millions of others, the obvious recourse was to try online dating. It doesn’t have quite the acid, chemical-fire smell of desperation wafting off it as it once did. Plenty of otherwise socially-functional people have forged lasting relationships from text-based flirting, which has all the awkwardness of regular flirting, plus the added bonus of showing off which words you can’t spell.

The portal of first-impressions in online dating is in the all-important alpha-and-omega Online Dating Profile. It’s self-written, so there are no excuses. I try to make the most of it: I’ve got unlimited time, a backspace key and a thesaurus. I put forth effort. This is not true of everyone.

There are the flat-out crazy, but they at least tend to be entertaining. Who doesn’t like a nice picture of an expertly taxidermied roadkill armadillo? But for the most part, people are so terrified of actually presenting something of themselves, the vast majority of profiles are a whistling, airplane-engine drone of monotone cliché. You’re “easygoing, down-to-earth, looking for something to start as friends and see where it goes,” are you? The connection you’ve forced on me is overwhelming.

The most curious feature for me is that many women’s profiles contain what I call the “but not” list. These ostensibly describe the values their database-searchable soulmate will embody.

Masculine, but not macho. Sensitive, but not a whiny-face wuss. Settled, but open to new experiences. Successful, but not materialistic. Fashionable, but not fussy. Family-oriented, but not a mama’s boy. Goal-oriented, but spontaneous. A homebody, but ready for a night on the town. Affectionate, but not needy. Opinionated, but not obnoxious. Educated, but not pretentious. Sarcastic, but never malicious. Tall.

For some reason, “tall” doesn’t come with a second option. All women are looking for tall. I’m sure it says something basic and Darwinian about reaching the higher-hanging fruit or having better odds should you find yourself wrestling a bear. I’d like to say this is why NBA players do so well for themselves, but the giant piles of money kind of skew the data.

Sometimes I try to imagine what this amalgamated man stitched together out of irreconcilable contradictions must look like. As in every utopian endeavor, considered for the desirability of idealized parts without much thought for the practical whole, you must get something soulless and incapable of relating to the imperfect model humans it is designed to please. It must be odd and misshapen, kind of lumbering and strangely attractive, a garish pastiche of flapping loose ends like a quilt made entirely out of mismatched socks. I think of that story “The Monkey’s Paw” where the parents wish for their mangled, dead son to return only to be horrified by his knock at the door. The only humane thing to do is to wish it back out of existence. But if you wanted to wait to do that until after he/it paid for your Starbucks, I don’t think anyone would judge you too harshly. That stuff is expensive.

Amongst the profiles, you can almost always pick out the veterans, the ones who have been online dating maybe a little too long. Their lists are more along the lines of: Guilty, but not convicted. User, but not a dealer. Sexual-identity-confused, but not a sloppy party bottom. Tall.

But even then, “tall” is relative. One woman’s six-foot-two is another one’s synonym for “has majority of original teeth.”

I’m quick to point out that I’m not now and am unlikely to become a fit for anyone’s template of all-things-perfect. I actually sort of like the idea of working to make the misaligned edges fit. But then I also like to think, despite what qualities I might lack, I do have some hard-won insight and perspective. For instance, the last thing I usually think before I drift back off to sleep when I wake up mid-thirties divorced is “Dang, there is soooo much room in this bed…”

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