In Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Cupid is notorious not for his successful matches but for his catastrophic ones. Pluto and Proserpina, Apollo and Daphne, Paris and Helen: none of these unions ended well. Instead of churning out soft children and sunshine, these matches produced winter, the bay leaf, and the Trojan War.
I’ve been in a long relationship, so long in fact we’ve forgotten about marriage all together and we simply say we’re married. I’ve vicariously been living this millennia and its social media outlets through friends—many of whom have found love, pleasurable sex, free quality meals, and sometimes even friends through OKCupid. I decided to sign up and build a profile just because I was curious about whether or not my long-term partner, Nick, and I would be matched up by OKCupid’s (tried and true) algorithm. I wasn’t worried about the outcome: something as ridiculous as a website couldn’t taint our relationship. Right?
On a warm day in May, Nick and I sat across from each other at our kitchen table and filled out our respective profiles. We answered approximately 108 questions each, ranging from the practical “Are you a liberal?” to the hypothetical “Could nuclear war be interesting?”
An hour and a half later our profiles were as complete as we were willing for them to be. Nick finished first, and I allowed myself to ask him how he’d finished so quickly. (We weren’t discussing our process; we were trying to be as scientific as possible. It was important, we thought, not to contaminate the experiment by conferring with each other.) He asked if I was filling out the explanation part of the survey, a section at the bottom where you can individualize your responses by adding more to either clarify or further confuse your position.
I was, and it was slowing me down. When I got to the question, “If you turn a left-handed glove inside out which hand would it fit?” my instinct said the right hand, but I didn’t want to get it wrong—what kind of future spouse would that provide?—so I Googled it to be sure. I watched a Youtube video where a guy turns a black left-handed glove inside out and proceeds to put it on his right hand. Voila! It was now a right-handed glove.
The next one asked whether or not I’d be okay with someone who answered the question differently. I answered no, despite the fact that I didn’t give a shit about the glove question as a testament to personality or intellect as much as I did about the questions regarding politics and personal beliefs. But if my potential partners didn’t know the answer nor could be bothered to even Google it, then what use would they be to me? The questions continued, and I provided what I felt were honest and eloquent explanations for my answers to often stilted questions, and I wondered: would Nick’s refusal to explain his rationale and my question/answer diligence prove that we are an ill-fated match?
My goal, generally, was to be as honest and sincere as possible without revealing that I wasn’t really up for grabs. But I’ve never faked longing for something online or elsewhere, and I’d almost entirely forgotten what it was that I liked or even knew about myself. What movies were my favorites? I felt like an eighth grader who’d forgotten to wear panties to school: nobody could tell, but you knew they knew somehow.
I uploaded a recent picture of myself with our dog, Dashiell. I was honest about my Friday night activities, verbatim: Either with friends at a bar, or having people over on my deck, or cooking something delicious and watching episodes of The Americans I missed. So honest, in fact, that after our profiles were complete Nick verbalized his shock.
So, I wondered, what was he saying about himself? And wait, what’s the point if you’re not almost one hundred percent honest? Or was not being really honest the point of this mechanism? Like “normcore,” was OKCupid straddling and synthesizing irony and sincerity in our postmodern world? I can tell you that I was honest and sincere and not intentionally ironic in my profile, but maybe that’s not accurate: my self-summary reads, I want to write something witty but I don’t have it in me. And the question “What’s the most private thing you’re willing to admit?” was a real challenge. My answer: Sometimes I think I talk too much shit and I disguise it as caring when really I should just keep my mouth shut. I’ve never told anyone that, not even Nick.
In our quest to remain true to the intentions of the experiment, Nick and I decided to use our real names. In turn, I got emails from the likes of “Hot Pants,” “Tiger Folly,” “Rubric’s Cube,” “Tidy_Buns.” At once it felt like a scene from L’Avventura: I was Monica Vitti running into a hardware store to escape a town full of wanting men. It felt good to get messages, but what if my students were on this thing? I felt like I’d made a terrible mistake. In my pangs of guilt I couldn’t find the sign-out button. The lit green circle indicating my “online now” presence filled me with dread: can everyone see everything about me? My name, my real face, our dog, the picture of me at the coffee shop, a popular one in my neighborhood, surely someone would recognize it. Am I just mean? Am I jeopardizing our relationship? Was Nick also getting messages from “Totem Poll 2013”? (“Hi There, Are you open to hanging out with a fun couple? We’re respectful, secure and very happy.”) I had answered “Secure” when the profile questionnaire asked but everything had become questionable. What if Nick meets someone who likes all the same food as he does, the food I tend to avoid?
I thought of “Rate your confidence level.” I had clicked “Above average” and noted in my explanation box: average, whatever that means. But there I was, faking it around OKCupid. I was messing with people genuinely looking for a future partner, or was I messing at all? I wanted to ask Nick if he’d received any inquiries, but then I remembered OK Cupid question about jealousy: “Is jealousy a good sign or a bad one?” I’d answered “Good sign” but I was starting to doubt myself and the explanation I’d provided: Yes, it’s a good sign because it means you know what you have and aren’t willing to take it for granted.
And then I thought back to another question: “Would you ever pretend to be your spouse and use their social media accounts, or read their email?” I answered “No,” but also admitted in the explanation box that I would be a liar if I said I wouldn’t think about it if there was something “Very very very suspicious” going on. I thought three “verys” made my case for unethical behavior more compelling. But with these questions, how can anyone say for sure? And everyone knows what the right answer is, right, but we do it anyway? Then again, does anyone on this thing care?
I decided to ask my younger friend Este, a social media shark, if she can spot fakers on social media. On the phone, she seemed concerned about Nick and me. I assured her it was an experiment and that we weren’t looking to date other people, but she couldn’t get beyond the fact that we used our real names. “You did what?” she said, in her young Yale MFA way. She did everything but call us fucking idiots, me especially, since it was my idea in the first place. She said something in French that I couldn’t understand and told me she’ll call me back later.
We’d come to the final question: would Nick and I match up and if so, at what percentage? Before seeking out my top 90 percentile I took a walk around the block. I wondered how we’d fare. Would we be just fine at a 75 percent matchup? Would we be able to go back to our regular Friday nights? Those questions about my sexuality and how I take pleasure, did they cast doubt on our union? In a way, yeah, but only because we don’t talk kinky, but perhaps we should.
Perhaps I should do, or be, all the things my OKCupid questionnaire claims, honestly, that I’m open to. I am happy. We are happy. Yet, when “Totem Poll 2013” said the same thing, it rang false and deficient.
Back home I cuddled up to Nick, still at the kitchen table but working on his latest novel. It’s not entirely about us but it’s loosely based on our lives, particularly our three years of living in Istanbul. I went back to my side and saw that I’m still logged in. I hit the “percent match” category, scrolling through the images of men, many of which were good looking. Then I found Nick, a sweet black and white photograph taken at a park. It’s an older photo. He looks different, younger, but the same. We were a 95 percent match and after all that I found it neither relieving nor comforting.
When Este called me back later that night, after we’d gorged ourselves on nearly burnt sweet potato fries (the ones I’d said I loved to eat on my OKCupid profile), she asked me about our match percentage and was impressed by the number.
It’s really high, she says. I shared this with Nick. “We both said we like to drink a lot,” he said. Well, it’s the truth.
Nora Lange’s fiction has appeared in The Fairy Tale Review, LIT, Birkensnake, Sententia, Two Serious Ladies, and is forthcoming in Sidebrow. She received her MFA from Brown University and lives in Los Angeles, where she teaches literature and creative writing. Romeo, the cat, lives in Istanbul.