Recently, Jews observed the holiday of Purim, a day whose themes center on disguise, withheld information, and political intrigue. The theme of hiddenness is primary – in which people aren’t necessarily who they seem to be. One notable example of this is that the Book of Esther (also known as the Megillah) is the only book of the canonized Torah that does not contain the name of God. Even the Deity’s presence is hidden in the story, only evidenced within small phrases that intimate help will come from “another place.”
On Purim, to commemorate the theme of hiddenness and celebrate the inner parts of our lives that we might not always feel comfortable expressing, Jews traditionally dress in costume. Some of these costumes are fun, or (taking a cue from secular cousin Halloween) present an excuse to sex it up a little, at least for the one day. I decided that if the theme was exposure and honesty, my costume choice became clear: I would become the clichés that people write (over and over again) in their online dating profiles.
How would I do this? Could I wear “a little black dress and jeans and a t-shirt”? How would I visually manifest “working hard and playing hard”? Should I get a fake arm, throw it around my shoulder, and label with a sign that says “my ex – but don’t worry, he’s out of the picture”? I opted for simplicity and resonance: starting with the little black dress, and adding a whiteboard of sorts – then I’d let people add their own clichés via stickers. I wrote out a bunch of them ahead of time, and stuck them to a sign I’d created using the JDate logo. JDate’s catchphrase is “Where It Happens.” I changed that to “Where Clichés Happen.” And then the public art/commenting phase began.
The results were fascinating. Not only was this a brilliant conversation piece, but I had become a walking blog post, a work created by a community of the fed-up, a family of collaborators all too happy to contribute their frustrations to my rapidly growing list of clichés. My yeshiva education piped up, silently noting that the “public wall” was a 2.0 version of the somewhat mysterious priestly breastplate, the urim v’tummim, which was associated with oracles, divination and truth-telling; instead of the questions coming via the High Priest, these inquiries were coming directly from the people. Some people - also correctly - noted that they thought I was dressed as "refrigerator poetry." (I guess you know what next year's costume will be. :))
When I got home, I knew I needed to analyze this piece of public commentary for the audience of online daters and beyond, so that we can all learn to be ourselves and not clichés. Alongside “work hard and play hard,” “I like a fancy night out, but also a night in,” “friends and family are important to me,” and “a perfect date is when you don’t want it to end”- as well as “looking for someone with a good head on his shoulders,” which was scribbled on a sticker in Hebrew - were several categories of clichés:
The Blame Game: These comments blame someone else for your presence on JDate, usually a parent or a friend. “I never do this,” “I can’t believe I’m on JDate,” “my friends made me join.” However you got here, you’re here and so is everyone else, so get over it.
“Duh” statements: “I love travel and sushi,” “I love to laugh,” “communication is the most important thing,” and “love to hike and bike.” They don’t really tell you anything about the person in question: it’s like saying “I’m a carbon-based lifeform who enjoys breathing oxygen and locomoting bipedally” (except less interestingly). And as for “my mom thinks I’m a catch,” we’re so glad for you, and are certain that this focus on your mother during a dating search is not at all negatively influencing your results.
Superficially speaking: It’s never easy to describe what you look like or physically prefer without sounding like a tool. “I’m really 56, but I wrote 35, because people always tell me I look younger.” Awesome for you, but you’re still retiring way before I am. “If U R cute, then IM me” or “I want a beautiful woman” forces females – trained from an early age to question their attractiveness and compare it to media images of “conventional beauty” – to self-assess and determine whether they are beautiful enough for you before they even consider being in touch with you….you, the guy who claims to be 5’8, but is really 5’5 (on a good day and in the right shoes). Not that short guys can’t be cute. But you get where we’re coming from – no one on JDate is Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt, so we all need to adjust expectations when it comes to external beauty.
Cheese Factor: “Coffee? Tea? Me?” “Jewanna man?” “Chai Hopes!” and “Looking for a Jew love.” Many Jews are lactose intolerant. It might seem clever at the time. But when it comes to cheesy statements like these, just don’t. Please.
Beyond the clichés there were some modern insights - “cougar looking for post-college twentysomething” is not a cliché I’ve seen (or used) but I’m not really looking at women’s profiles. Still, the concept of the cougar (an older woman looking for a younger man) is gaining prominence and acceptance in popular culture, so it’s interesting that it showed up on the JDate Breastplate of Truth. The confusion over denominational labels also made an appearance, with “does ‘Modern Orthodox’ mean you don’t have sex?” “Can’t live without TiVo” spoke to the passions of many that might keep us inside, glued to our DVRs and absorbing cues about relationships from TV. (No DVR in my house, but I’m a little guilty of this myself. Hulu. ALL FIVE past seasons of "Lost." You understand.)
If there’s anything that my little experiment – because that’s what it became – proved, it’s that people can easily identify clichés from their own experiences with online dating, and that they hate them. Even though there’s something comforting about the sameness, something relatable in the repetition, clichés are not the best representatives of your inner, special self. So if there’s a lesson here, it is itself a cliché: be yourself. Your online dating profile is your space to be special and show all the men and ladies out there the intrinsic uniqueness of you, so don’t blow it with a bunch of clichés. Besides, no matter how you work or play, no one is really equally comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt and a cocktail dress unless they’re barefoot.