My CatholicMatch profile includes this story.
A man gets a job in a country where the government censors all correspondence. He tells his friend: “Whatever I write to you in blue ink is the truth, and whatever is in red ink is a lie.” Two weeks later, the friend gets a letter from the man who moved. It says, entirely in blue ink: “This country is wonderful! The women are friendly, housing is ample, jobs are available and the food is affordable! There’s only one problem: you can’t buy red ink!”
What I like about this story is that the man established a system to convey what is and isn’t true. In complimenting his new country, the censors allow his letter to be sent untouched. In referring to the lack of red ink, it is implied that either no lies were allowed to be written or that the entire letter is a lie.
I’ve always felt this story correlates to Internet dating. While I do not believe that anyone sets out to deliberately lie in his or her profile, there is an underlying code, similar to the red/blue ink system, that says, in effect: “I’m putting my best foot forward. This is me, but it’s my job-interview me, my game-face me, my me-on-a-date-me, my best-behavior-me.”
There is nothing wrong with that, because we should accentuate the positive, and we should also avoid sharing our deepest, darkest secrets on a dating profile. But in this particular system of truth-saying, we can sometimes forget how it gets translated on the receiving end. It is an issue that comes up often in the forums section on CatholicMatch.
In the fable above, the friend who gets the letter is not mentioned after the letter arrives. We don’t know how the letter was received; we never find out what the friend concluded is true and what’s not true. Of course, the point of the story was the punch line, and the friend’s reaction is essentially irrelevant.
But in terms of online dating, what about those who see our profiles and begin communicating with us? How can we let them know where our game face ends and our private self begins?
I see this particular issue as a false self/true self matter. Essentially, the true self is who we were at birth: a blank slate uninitiated to the reality of life. It is also who we are in our souls, how God sees us. We form our false selves through experiences that develop our coping mechanisms. We spend our daily lives negotiating when we can let our true self out, or when our false self has to step in and protect us. The word false implies something untrue, but that is not necessarily the case.
Another way of looking at it is to consider the idea of mirror self, after what happens to babies once they can recognize themselves in a mirror. At that very moment of self recognition, we begin to have a dual identity; what one sees in the mirror is the false self, who one is on the inside is the true self. These two selves are not intrinsically oppositional forces, although when there is a disconnect, problems may arise.
When we reach out to someone across cyberspace, we don’t know what their experiences have been, what their coping mechanisms are, or how they negotiate their false and true selves. It’s a risk that we take as part of the process. The failures that often occur – poofing, misunderstanding or bitter disappointments – could be a partial result of this disconnect.
So how do we set parameters for another person’s expectations of us? Is it even fair to do so?
What can happen is that the longer we communicate online, or even on the phone, the more we’re leaving up to the other’s imagination to fill in the blanks. One may argue that we could certainly show our true selves, perhaps more easily, in writing or on the phone. Nothing is more appealing than a safe space within which to reveal those deep, dark secrets. And no space is safer than the distance we’ve already got between the two involved parties.
But much like the friend in the story, whose reaction we couldn’t see, we have no idea how our message is getting across, or how it’s received, or what it’s doing to another person’s imagination.
And the imagination – the desert of the real, as they say – is fertile ground for misunderstanding. No matter what we do or say, our words and actions could be easily misconstrued.
We also may not be understood as who we truly are. The potential date you met may have an ideal in mind, and in the interest of wanting you to be The One, may choose to believe that you are someone you might not be.
Of course, the reverse is also true: If you’d found someone who seems to be everything you’ve wanted, because the profile looks great and the conversations are non-stop, you might be so eager to believe this is The One that you may not see him or her for who they really are.
For example, about two years ago, I struck up a correspondence with a CatholicMatch member from a very long distance. Our rapport was witty, genuine and caring. Very quickly, it got whipped into a frothy online romance – one that was very public to the CatholicMatch community.
During that time, we compared our temperaments. We compared Facebook quiz results. We spent hours talking over Skype, emailing, texting and writing letters by hand; we shared books and prayers together; we vented, traded jokes, and gave each other support during difficult experiences.
Before long, he announced in the forums that he was going to board a plane and ask for my hand. It was very easy to get caught up in the well-wishes and compliments and premature congratulatory remarks. It was even easier to forget the red and blue ink of it all. We thought, after all the heady discussions and sharing, that we had all the bases covered. There was no way the chemistry wouldn’t be there – it already was there, this was IT!
Long story short: It wasn’t there at all.
Within minutes of meeting, we were faced with the most surreal, infuriating, disappointing and baffling situation: What do we do now? We’d made a contingency plan, Just Be Friends, which quickly proved impossible. During the most awkward 7-day period of my life, we tried to figure out what went wrong, or what should happen next.
What did happen next was even worse than the visit, but it taught me the most important lesson about internet dating: Once an interest develops, try to meet as soon as possible. I’m sure that many will disagree with me, but as a trusted friend says, “embodiment matters.”
In order to prevent the imagination from going into overdrive, we need to take in the other person on a fully sensory level. That includes the senses that don’t come across on Skype, such as scent (pheromones are a scientifically proven phenomenon). Without the physical presence of another person, our false and true selves never really get the chance to mingle on that ever-fascinating level that combines body and spirit.
There are obviously barriers to meeting as soon as possible – long distances, finances, family obligations, and so on. These are all legitimate and valid reasons for delaying a face-to-face meeting. The important thing to keep in mind, though, is to temper your expectations. Keeping a clear head and a sensible perspective may save someone from heartache later.
As another wise CatholicMatch member says, “Until you’re together in real life, it’s only Monopoly money.”
In the meantime, CatholicMatch gives out some very solid advice about what you can do in terms of putting your best foot forward.
I admit it: Years, even months ago, I would have been very resistant to some of their suggestions. But they do allow for a clearer idea of the self in all its manifestations.
Beyond the advice of the CatholicMatch community, I think it’s a good idea to take a very good look at the “About Me” and the “Seeking” sections in your profile. Are you accentuating the positive? Are you hinting at any deep, dark secrets? Are you clear about who you are looking for? Do you leave anything up to the reader’s imagination?
Most importantly, what color ink is your profile written in?