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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

62

The OkCupid Honesty Project: An Exercise in Truth-Telling

Not too long ago, I created this OkCupid profile for a nude self portrait-themed art exhibition in New York City. The idea was to combine the negativity and honesty that's generally reserved for anonymous forums and offline conversations with the transparent accountability of a personal profile. I wanted to see how men would respond to this absurd level of intimacy and openness straightaway, and see if my answers would attract any like-minded people.

I'm interested in the online personas we create, and how, for the most part, they only focus on our "best" selves, instead of our actual selves. On online dating sites, I found most profiles for straight men and women to be pretty generic—curated to project an ambiguous, likable persona that would appeal to the broadest range of potential partners. (For what it's worth, I found LGBT profiles were a lot more interesting, honest, and entertaining, almost across the board).

While I didn’t join OkCupid to find a boyfriend, I am single, so I did begin to seriously consider how men were responding to my profile. I started thinking about how many people I was probably putting off by being so open. I found it really liberating to provide so much context around who I am as a person, but just like in offline interactions, I became conflicted over whether it’s best to lay everything out on the table or to allow negative personality traits and quirks to reveal themselves over time. More often, as I get older, I find myself doing the former. I guess it's because I feel more pressed for time. My attention span for banal small talk is severely decreasing—as is my interest in people who are so different from me that we have to spend a significant amount of time bridging communication and personality gaps while we get to know each other.

I’ve yet to determine whether or not operating on this level of transparency is actually productive when it comes to dating and functioning in society, but I do know that it feels really good.


The responses:

“…wow. Just wow. I terribly relate with this existential dread but I am able to mask it somewhat. it probably means nothing but thank you for your open honesty. I would enjoy conversing with you some more when the time avails. I can see nothing but the absurdity in that last statement of mine.”

“Your self summary sounds like a detective novel, are you into creative writing ?”

“Hey. My name is A. You seem pretty interesting and deep. How are you today?”

“Hi Jessica, I just went across thru your profile and I think you look unhappy . I am P. and nice to meet you here. You can text to me whenever you like it if you want to talk to me anything you like. Please feel free to do so and I will be here waiting for you. Later.”

“you seem very well put together but your profile is actually very sad. I read it and wish there was something i could do for you to make you happy. I hope you find someone that can help you see that you shouldn’t be so worried about things and let things get under your skin. I am not white or anything but if you want to chat with someone sometime, just let me know. w e can always IM as friends.”

“unprotected ex with strangers isn’t always bad;) hi im M. how are you?”

“Sorry I’m writing you but I wanted to see if my profile appeals to you. I’m European, director/ artist, just being honest on here and can email you face pics if you’re interested in drinks and casual fun/ FWB?”

“Looks like we have something in common…we both don’t give a fuck about writing much here, do we….?”

“unprotected sex with strangers I heard is a bad idea”

“What a beautiful woman you are. I love your red dress. You are so lucky to have the choices that you do.*blush*”

“Hey, how are you? Great profile, in terms of writing at least lol, not so much the depression part. Anyways, I think you have great talent and you should probably do some collaboration with my sister. She too is very artistic and an aspiring writer. She sometimes performs at social clubs.”

“Unprotective sex is never good”

“hey, you’re okay. Hang in there, man.”

“youre fascinating, ive never read anything like that, so well defined and self aware, its very intimate, which i find very attractive, i also like how youre trying to live your life.”

“Hello, I’m M. I’m a fellow artist and all I can really say is that we’re very similar and I closely empathize with most of the issues you’re facing. I don’t know if that’s helpful for you or not but it has been for me, the very few times it’s happened.”

“What’s your experience with meditation been like? It’s engendered in me a deep sense of well-being, irrespective of circumstance, almost to the point of not needing to do anything else ever at all. But then at night and in the morning, my mind is weak, and I get these fantods telling me that I have so much to do and right away. So I’m not sure if I should move to a cave in the Ozarks or spend every waking minute trying to be a big great thing.”

“Hi, you seem fun. What’s the scoop Jerome ?”

•••
 

"Piper Elias" is an artist living and working in Brooklyn.

62 Comments / Post A Comment

DullHypothesis

Wow, I am cheered up a little bit by reading this. I expected the normal "Hey bitch suck my dick" responses, but people seemed to genuinely care (for the most part.) Wow... wow.

fabel

Yeah, I was heartened by these responses.

FlufferNutter

@DullHypothesis I guess, but the responses are still awfully, "You look so much prettier when you smile!" I don't think her statements were depressing, just honest.

OhMarie

@DullHypothesis I'm pretty into this guy in particular: “hey, you’re okay. Hang in there, man.”

DullHypothesis

@FlufferNutter I was expecting a lot more "My dick would make you happier, sadface lady." I had very, very low expectations.

fabel

@DullHypothesis Same. And while, okay, there was maybe an undercurrent of that in some of the responses? for the majority there was not. And that's... nice.

FlufferNutter

@DullHypothesis Haha, totally. I'm not at all familiar with on-line dating, but some of my friends share the messages they get from guys, and I'm floored by the disgusting disgustingness of some of them. With that in mind, these responses are borderline saintly!

beetnemesis

OK, but does she know what "wherefore" means?

meetapossum

@beetnemesis Does she know that a mile is longer than a kilometer? Did she get that "STALE is to STEAL as 89475 is to" question right???

brista128

“Hi, you seem fun. What’s the scoop Jerome ?”

That's my new line.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@brista128 I'd fall for that line, every time.

FlufferNutter

I like this very much! I related to roughly 85% of your profile statements, and you put words to that inner-monologue in a very precise way.

H.E. Ladypants

I am having a hard time decided whether or not this kind of truth-telling can actually be considered honesty in terms of being a portrait of someone. A list of facts about a person, no matter how intimate, conveys very little about them. So much of who we are is a product of style and reaction. Humor, patience, consideration, derisiveness, condescension, curiosity, and so forth, these kinds of things are communicated between the lines when we talk and interact. How we say things is just as what we say in terms of communicating who we are.

I'm very unsure of what conclusions. I feel like I know a lot about her but I'm not sure if I have any clues to who she actually is in as a person. I mean, I have an impression but I also have absolutely zero faith that it is at all accurate.

cee
cee

@H.E. Ladypants "I am having a hard time deciding whether or not this kind of truth-telling can actually be considered honesty"

yeah - isn't it odd. Firstly the way that reading this even though it reads so intimately doesn't really give much of a sense of what she might be like as a person. It's like it's so humanly true, the emotions of it are so universal, that it goes beyond personality, becomes impersonal.

Secondly, the way that, given how OKCupid works and what OKCupid is, even a profile that's intending radical honesty becomes a performance of self produced for other people to evaluate by likeability.

H.E. Ladypants

@cee I think part of what threw me is the impression I got that she must be incredibly dour and, as the poster below noted, self-involved. But because this is a product of the writing style and the style is supposed to be so very straight forward, I have no idea if this is true of her as a person. For all I know she might be terribly interesting to have a conversation with. Or very funny. Or a great listener. I might like or hate or be completely indifferent to this woman but I have no way of knowing because she never pauses from the patter of facts to say something of style rather than substance.

I think that you make a good point that OKCupid is a platform for a "performance of self produced for other people to evaluate by likeability." Considering that the entire point of this is to get responses from others, there's no way it could help but be the exact same thing.

Then, of course, there's the whole thing about using people's interactions to become a part of an art piece they didn't sign up for that's a bit icky but that's another story for another day. (I have strong reactions to artists treating people like subjects rather than other humans.)

gulleyjimson

@H.E. Ladypants Confession does not equal honesty. This profile serves mostly to hide rather than reveal, and is largely unhelpful - it tells the reader many things about the author that a stranger either would assume, because they are also human beings, or would probably rather not know right away, and next to nothing about what it would be like for someone to meet her in person (which is the main goal of a dating site.) As Ameelz points out below, her writing does reveal her humorless self-absorption, but this is the subtext. If I were to take this profile at face value, I would assume that if we met, the author would spend the entire conversation talking about herself and how burdensome her life is, which is probably not something most people want to volunteer for.

PennyCentury

@cee @H.E. Ladypants oh man, read some Eva Illouz ("Cold Intimacies") because the third lecture made me think about how there's no escaping this anywhere in online dating and overall sort of made me incredibly depressed but then thinking about going on OKC again?

Good stuff.

PistolPackinMama

@H.E. Ladypants I... Almost never am brutally honest about whatever pops into my head when I am meeting and getting to know people in real life. Seriously, who ever is. Some things are personal until I decide they aren't. Some things take a lot of trust and intimacy to share.

Besides, half the time it's not what people say it's how they say it that gives you a sense of who the are. And whether or not they can listen!

People who are brutally honest or whatever, to me are often draining or rude.

Meh. Being friends with someone who is like this would make me want to take a nap, never mind dating them.

Ameelz123

i can't help but find this project extremely irritating and not at all thought provoking. We all have flaws, and we're dishonest about them as we're trying to lure significant others, I get it. We're also all to some degree unhappy. In fact, much of her profile writings I can relate to. But Jessica, it seems to me you're unhappy because you're so extremely self-involved. Maybe you should get a dog?

Tragically Ludicrous

Ooo, well aren't you edgy.

@Ameelz123 *WILD APPLAUSE*

Slapfight

Dogs are LIFE CHANGING.

I'm a loner Dottie

Oh brother. Sorry, but this whole thing reads like the perfect explanation of why our generation is always being called self involved and narcissistic. Like a real life character on Girls.

Mira

@I'm a loner Dottie Yeah I will admit I was...not surprised to see the author is a fan of Girls.

I guess I see this as projecting an ambiguous, but less likable persona. This kind of self-definition is not necessarily all that honest.

Although maybe our comments are planned to become part of the "art project" as well! I'll try to think of something edgy and cool to say, then.

queenofbithynia

@I'm a loner Dottie If you aren't meant to describe yourself in great detail in a personal ad, or if you're meant to do that without giving any indication that you are interesting or that you find yourself interesting, I don't think I understand the point of them at all. But what I do find funny is that this reads like all the other personal ads I used to read, male and female -- the writers of whom were presumably not engaging in an experimental honesty project -- back when I was on OKCupid, right down to the "obsessive" (naturally) listening-to of music. Never even mind the avocado and quinoa business.

so either everyone is a radical truth-teller or her insides are a lot like other people's outsides. Whichever. I would like to believe that everyone who claims to read Herman Hesse is lying for some mysterious purpose but I guess that can't be the explanation here.

The business about feeling a(n apparently non-trans-identifying) man or alien in a woman's body = completely average woman in every excruciatingly gendered way possible. How can someone so full of reflection not know that? But perhaps she does know that.

But all in all and taken as a package, I liked it. and the idea that other people do not find self-deprecation or intelligently displayed low self-esteem amusing and engaging is so far beyond me that I must be some kind of alien in a woman's body. As is apparently the thing to say.

H.E. Ladypants

@queenofbithynia Oh dear, I love self-deprecation and intelligently displayed low-self esteem. But I didn't much of that coming through in this- just a confessional list.

The content was not bothersome so much as the way it was presented. My point was that human touches, such as laughing at ourselves or speaking in hyperbole say just as much as who we are as lists of what we've done and what we like are. Although, to be fair, I've always loathed lists of "what I like" as a means of presenting "who I am." At best it's a shorthand. At worst its meaningless.

One of my favorite OKCupid profiles ever belonged to a friend of mine who sort of gave up and decided to just posted his D&D character sheet. It said very little in terms of the particulars of his life but it rather clearly got across who he is- a nerd with a good sense of humor who can have a laugh at himself.

PistolPackinMama

@I'm a loner Dottie

+16 creativity
+16 charm

gulleyjimson

What's most curious to me (besides the belief that this is some kind of interesting art project) is that, because she is "pressed for time," the author feels the need to describe her negative personality traits for people she's just met. What sane/non-autistic person does this, and why does she think that strangers would want to know this about her?

Faintly Macabre

“unprotected ex with strangers isn’t always bad;) hi im M. how are you?”

Oh jeez.

And you all are waaaay more articulate than I am, but this whole profile reminds me of when I've had "deep"/confessional conversations with close friends. No matter how different our personalities or interests or external seeming accomplishments are, we all have similar weird thoughts and insecurities. There is some common ground between us that there might not be between other people, seeing as we've become close friends. But we certainly wouldn't be interchangeable on a date. (Especially since half of them are guys!)

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

Pretty sure there's already a Ricky Gervais movie on this.

So... you're normal. How nice.

Miss Maszkerádi

This piece resonates weirdly with me today because I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about how people (particularly female people, but hardly excluding those of other persuasions) tend to act in my field. I'm in the arts and it's practically de rigeur for all of us to talk at every possible opportunity about how bad we are at it and how unsatisfied we were with our last show and everything. I know a lot of people who are very, very good at what they do, but I'm not sure I've really ever heard anyone describe their own work as anything better than "slightly less bad than usual." Are we trying to avoid accusations of arrogance, or maybe subconsciously pre-empting judgement (from a raging-capitalist society that thinks of us as parasites) by denigrating ourselves first?

And here's someone's "radical honesty" resulting in a lot of "I'm nothing special or interesting, nothing to see here, don't worry I don't think I'm special." (Kind of reminded me a tiny little bit of the infamous "I'm too dumb to read the Economist" piece from the other week.) Is that really radical? Or honest? "Radical honesty" coming from me, for example, could either end up as "I often take ridiculously long in the bathroom because my mind wanders off as I sit crapping and I lose track of time" or as "Sometimes I'm so completely overwhelmed with love for life that I wish the entire world would turn into an overripe peach that I could devour, syrupy juice covering my body." Both are completely true, both are rather embarrassing to write. The second one, though, is the "crazy" one, the eyerolling "look who thinks she's a poet har har" one, the one that's very gauche and tacky to put one's name too because REALLY now. Talking oneself down and making oneself appear sort of bland and world-weary regardless of the actual contents of one's mind or soul is the socially mandated variant, it sometimes seems to me....and isn't radicalism usually the uncomfortable path?

Interestingly, I almost just apologized for writing such a long and/or personal comment. "Lol, sorry for the novel, just rambling on here, ignore me and my silly attempts at "Deep Thinking" har har har no seriously I'm just a normal dummy, don't worry."

Radical honesty is certainly a concept worth thinking upon.

gulleyjimson

@Miss Maszkerádi Honesty (I'm unclear where the radical part comes in) is entirely determined by context. The problem with this piece is that while what is disclosed may be nominally true, in the context of a dating site, it reveals nothing about the author other than a radical self-centeredness. It's hard to imagine any situation where her statements, due to their banality or sensationalism, would be appropriate for strangers.

With regard to your examples, in the context of a dating site, neither statement seems particularly embarrassing. (Of course, neither would be appropriate for, say, a court room.) I imagine everyone from time to time spends some time spacing out on the toilet (or engrossed in bathroom reading), while not everyone dares to express their joy, so the peach example is more attractive and distinctive, but the question is really who are you trying to reach: the people who have used a bathroom, or the people who want to eat a peach with you? Fuck social expectations, and dare.

Maladydee

@Miss Maszkerádi your comments made me think that the really radical profile wold be one where the writer talks unapologetically about how awesome she is, and presents embarrassing info like "I think a lot about: what if I was an Avenger" neutrally, or spin it positively.

Slapfight

@Miss Maszkerádi I mean, I want to date you due to the crapping comment alone. Because while it's honest it also shows your sense of humor. And that's attractive.

Virginia (The Heartographer)

What a fascinating profile experiment. I met my own husband via a totally random Craigslist ad that didn't at all conform to the expectations of online dating ads or profiles. I now work as an online dating coach, helping people find love despite these sites being full of frustrations and sometimes rude users. I have to say, you approach this with a fascinating, um, approach, haha. Your tone of brutal honesty is witty and soulful and sad and wonderful all at once.

I think there's a way to strike a balance where you share some of these deep vulnerabilities, while skipping the parts that are so deep they become disturbing. I often encourage clients to tap into more vulnerable moments and really foster a connection that way—but you definitely take that assignment one step farther. I'd love to hear an update after a few weeks, especially if you wind up going on dates with anyone.

Bex Apostoli@facebook

she had me until "...Skrillex," :(

lanacotraficante

Bex Apostoli@facebook i thought the very same thing. :D big ups, soulmate!

Misselthwaite

Perhaps this is a bit mean, but I bet the author isn't a very good copywriter. Communication doesn't seem to be her strong suit, nor insight into others, nor even concept.

It strikes me that the attempt at honesty here is more dishonest than most dating site profiles. With the exception of height, probably. And frankly, the depressed over-sharer has a not insignificant presence on OkCupid already. It was interesting to read the responses, though. They were not what I expected.

sassymolassy

She lost me at Tao Lin.

Susanna

Um, is it just me who thinks that reads like every profile on OKC ever?

Or is it just because I'm in Berlin and people tend to have moved here to exploooooooooooore their creativity?

smartastic

@Susanna Yeah, except for the admission of sexual assault, I'd say this reads like a pretty normal profile to me.

@Maladydee So does the one you describe.

And none of it really seems like spin to me... information has to be presented some way. There's really no way short of purely numerical to convey information without it having a slant of some kind.

Urwelt

@Susanna I do seriously wonder how much time she spent looking at OkCupid profiles. I'm guessing very, very little. I guess spending a ton of time on OKC isn't something to be proud of, but the... touristy? tone of this project bugs me. Take it from me: there is NO shortage of people just as desperate to show how disaffected and "radically honest" and too cool for school they are.

Also half of those messages are spam from people who didn't read her profile, which I'm not sure if she knows or not.

Susanna

@Urwelt If I was being extremely uncharitable I'd say it sounds a bit like she was very curious about online dating but had to cloak that exploration in this whole "I'm not really trying to date, it's art" thing.

I'm always amazed by the detail that people, especially men, put on their profiles. If you read a bunch of them, they do begin to seem generic, but to the composer they're not. Perhaps she fell into that trap.

kdkdkdk

"What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts, not those of other things, are his history. (…)

These are his life, and they are not written, and cannot be written. Everyday would make a whole book of eighty thousand words - three hundred and sixty-five books a year. Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man — the biography of the man himself cannot be written." -Mark Twain

And yes to @Susanna this is every OKC profile ever. This is not an art project, this is just your typical NYC early-20s-girl profile. Congratulations.

ShaneParks00

Love my job, since I've been bringing in $82h… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online… www.Best96.com

3586681@twitter

Wouldn't radical transparency include the fact that the profile was set up exclusively to cull responses for an art project and include using private communication without permission?

regina dentata

wow, it is really heartening when people respond to honesty.

KJH
KJH

Mine's mostly honest things like "I like to watch TV. Lots. If you say you don't watch TV you're either an idiot or a liar" and "I'm a librarian but I don't read and I feel guilty about it" in a slightly offputting stream of consciousness style and it doesn't seem to have put people off. It's probably offset by the fact that I am really really ridiculously good looking though. Right? Yeah. And modest.

KJH
KJH

@KJH possibly deluded

Faintly Macabre

@KJH My friend's OKC profile was in that style, and I thought it was hilarious. I think she did pretty well, but she didn't stick with the site for too long.

Erica Stratton@facebook

I am amused to see that I have a similar "six things I could do without" than the author's, because that question drives me up the wall in a way only seconded by the "what people usually notice about me" question. (Should they be telling me I look like a specific celebrity?)

That said, this profile doesn't look all that different from many profiles I already see on OKCupid. Am I just in a weird liberal pocket where the people I tend to get recommendations for enjoy watching "Girls", or are NYC profiles flashier as a rule than DC ones?

Benjamin Ross Hoffman@facebook

@Erica Stratton@facebook O HAI

Also, I completely agree - this read like a pretty generic profile, maybe a little more gloom than usual, but not much.

tjedison

What I find most interesting is that although the author is being "honest", she has also gone out of her way to include several salacious bits of information. No wonder she got such responses. I would like to see the experiment with honest answers, but avoided triggers guaranteed to get a rise out of others.

tuntastica

@tjedison yeah, I think the author may have confused 'honesty' with 'the most extreme response possible' which is sort of *dis*honest in its distortion.

popsicletrees

"While I didn’t join OkCupid to find a boyfriend, I am single, so I did begin to seriously consider how men were responding to my profile."

Why did she create this profile? For an art exhibit? What is her art exhibit for? To find like minded people? I wish she talked more about her choice of forums and how exposure and publicity operate in each space.

Overall, this is such a myopic peek into her life as though nothing else exists in the world, which I guess is her philosophical orientation anyway. Her profile is pretty revealing in that it's a common reflex to peer ever inward for meaning while systemic issues larger than any one individual create untenable living conditions for all except an elite few. Why is money on her list of things she can never do without? I'm not denying that money is currently necessary to survive in NYC but there are reasons for why this is the case. Why is she the subject of her artwork? Is this supposed to be connected to the spike in the NYC population working but living in homeless shelters? Or is she actually so self-interested that her community is irrelevant to her art?

slutberry

@popsicletrees I think the answer is, "I'm too edgy to create an OKCupid profile to look for a date, so I'm going to say it's for an Art Project, which also makes me look more justified in not getting my ass to therapy so I can learn to keep a job."

jenifermail

You should comment on the competition comparison of the blog. You can highlight it's mind boggling. Your blog exploration/tour will broaden your conversions. Life Insurance

Cissy Boy™

I would’ve gone with “Was it still attached to your friend’s uncle?”

Deen Mohd Dar@facebook

I think it will become another addiction of creating profiles in social networks or it will become hobby.

Deen Mohd Dar@facebook

I think it will become another addiction of creating profiles in social networks or it will become hobby.

gracie_does

Jesus. The Carrie Bradshaw of existential nihilists.

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