Despite what I imagine to be my considerable rhetorical acumen — not only do I have the institutional pedigree of a freakin' PhD in rhetoric, not only did I teach rhetoric for 17 years, I have been paid well for the last 16 years to help large companies present themselves to the world — anyway, despite all this I find myself stymied through and through by the online dating profile. Where do I begin? What do I say? And in what tone? Should it be funny (at least try to be)? Informative? Show offy? I truly have no idea and so I opt for freewheeling, innuendo laden, name dropping screeds — no doubt, a poor strategy.
But the fact is it's always strange to begin.
We are always entering a world in progress. This struck me so conspicuously the
other day as I walked down the fetid, world famous Haight Street. I passed bar
after bar, store after store, and was amazed by the appeals each made to me as
I sauntered by. Their attempts at beckoning were as varied and insane as online
dating profiles. This bar cranked low-fi punk while a stench wafted through the
front doors. That store covered its windows in tie dyed blankets and beads as
smoke tinged, perfumed air wound its way into my considerable nostrils. That
restaurant boldly presents its white tablecloths, red carpet, and douchebaggy
Now, these might all be fine establishments —
once inside. But, from the outside, I was so put off by each. To whom are they
speaking? Certainly not me. Is this how they choose to introduce themselves? Is
this what they feel is putting their best foot forward?
The answer, of course, is yes. Or at least
perhaps. And, no, they are not speaking to me. They couldn't care about me,
rightly so. They are looking for a particular audience, literally sending smoke
signals to their kith and kin. Smell that dirty sweaty beer! Hear that
too-loud punk rock! Don't you wanna come in and get your whatever on? Sure,
I shake my head emphatically no. But there are plenty to whom that sounds
like bliss and, well, god bless 'em.
We always begin in the middle — in the middle
of a conversation, in the middle of a life, in the middle of the stream and
flow of desires. There is no clean slate, no pure beginning. All beginning,
says Foucault, is the dissension of other things. There is no origin, just a
beginning which is in fact beginnings
and which in fact has always already begun.
This is something I tell my clients all the
time. No doubt, I say, you're company is innovative and offers high
quality products at a fair price with impeccable customer service. Sure. But
you still have to say something first. You can't say it all at once. Such is
the nature of language, at least English and the all the languages I know.
Something comes first, always and necessarily. So, I continue, what
is that thing you want to say first to the world?
This is the basis of what we call branding:
leading with some proposition. And this proposition is always entering a
conversation already in session as people are already doing what they're doing,
using what they're using, other products and brands saying what they're saying.
So it's not: What do you want to say? But:
What's the best way to enter this
For my clients, I create a more or less
elaborate strategy for them that considers the entire rhetorical milieu (some
clients appreciate my wonky way of speaking; others do not)— the market,
customers, the future, other brands, the product itself.
So why don't I do that when it comes to
writing a dating profile? Why don't I figure out whom I want to attract to do
what with me and then craft my profile accordingly?
Well, because I'm not a freakin' product or
brand or they aren’t “consumers” (that word makes me shiver, and not in the
good way). I have multiple desires and needs and mood, just as they do; I have
multiple facets and dreams, just as they do. I can see myself with any number
of "types" of women, whatever that even means. If I say this, I'll
attract the snarky ones; that, the self-proclaimed smarty ones; that, the arty
hipster ones; this, the square working ones. All of these individual women may
or may not be excellent. Their social niche doesn't really interest me —smart,
interesting, cool women come in all shapes and forms just as idiotic, manipulative
freaks do. Like, the storefronts on Haight Street, it takes time — and bravery or
indifference — to penetrate through that initial haze, walk in, and actually
order a drink, as it were.
I suppose this is one reason online dating
profiles are, for the most part, so uniformly dry. Well, there are no doubt
many reasons including the fact that people are uncomfortable writing. But I
believe it's also because they're afraid of committing to any one position.
Which is, in fact, the problem people have with writing: Where do I begin?
Which conversation do I enter? There are so many ways to come at art, life,
experience, literature. Which is the best one? What makes it the best one? How
do I frame my argument? How do I begin my essay? How do I present myself to the
world? Or, rather, to which world do I want to present which self?
That punk bar on Haight Street knows what it
wants and goes for it. But people who are infinitely complex and seek the
infinite complexity of another human being? They're not sure which conversation
they want to enter; each seems too limiting. And so they go dry and broad and
vacuous. Sometimes, you just have to put your stake in the ground and trust
others will have the wherewithal to come in, sit down, and order themselves a
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