Authorship, Authenticity, and Online Dating

by Diana Ecker on May 5, 2013

So last year I got the best message I’d ever received on an online dating website. Seriously, it was perfect: funny, smart, considerate. It referenced what I had written in my profile in a friendly, engaging way.

The only odd thing was that the dating website didn’t think the sender and I would get along. Based on the questions we’d answered in our profiles, the sender and I weren’t at all likely to be a match, romantically speaking.

I wrote back anyway. How could I resist?

Romantic Heart from Love Seeds by epSOS.de

We exchanged a few messages, and then he said he had something to confess: he had not written the original message. In fact, not only had he not written it, but at the time it was sent, he didn’t know that I existed.

His system worked like this: He had a female assistant sort through potential dates’ profiles and write to them posing as him, using his account. It’s a numbers game, he explained. When and if a woman replied, he would take over communication from there.

He added that he was actually a very ethical person — it just wasn’t efficient for him to do it any other way. Nearly speechless, I wished him good luck and ended our correspondence there.

But I kept thinking about it.

Communicating online can be extremely challenging. It’s not just finding the right words — it’s managing the emotions that come with the process, especially in high-stakes situations. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand the enormous appeal of being able to outsource not only the writing process, but the fear of rejection, the frustration of trying to represent yourself in a few words, and the pain of potentially being ignored altogether.

Outsourcing comes with significant risks as well. In this case, the assistant truly did an outstanding job (I have a feeling that she used the excellent OkCupid blog post “Exactly What to Say in a First Message” as a guide), so quality wasn’t the issue.

But this enterprising fellow sacrificed two important things: his trustworthiness, which limited the connection he could create with a potential partner, and his own sense of authorship, which limited his ability to express himself and his own thoughts.

There is a very delicate balance when it comes to helping other people craft messages or content for any purpose, from business to finding a soulmate. At the end of the day, I think everyone in my line of work has to make a decision: what matters most? I made my decision a long time ago.

I don’t want my clients to look at a finished product from afar, meeting it for the first time like a stranger. I want them to have an active role in it throughout and see the finished product as an affirmation and an expression of what they’ve been trying to say all along.

And as often as possible, my hope is that the process itself will have strengthened their resolve in their mission, increased their clarity, or enhanced the power they feel over being able to express themselves.

By all means, invest in people who can help you find the right words. But think carefully together about the process, and take a step back now and then to make sure those words still feel like yours.

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Photo by epSos.de, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniel Palatnik May 22, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Hey Diana! Great Post!

I was having a really similar discussion with a friend of mine a while ago, about how you guys in the US have a completely different relation to services like OkCupid – not that we don’t have it here in Brazil (ok, I’ll rather just speak for Rio de Janeiro), it’s just that most people are still somewhat suspicious with online dating. And the arguments for this usually follow thoughts like “real things happen in the real world” or “you gotta learn how to be out there”. Although I don’t completely see myself as an advocate for this kind of thought, I can’t help seeing some “school of hard facts” wisdom behind it. I mean, you really learn how to get yourself out there if there’s actually no other way to it. So, it makes me think that maybe accessibility does come with a price – even quite literally if you’re actually paying someone to write the messages for you. And I couldn’t agree more that loosing ownership of your message is a huge setback for anyone – being it personally or professionally.

At the same time, I feel that all that comes in a kind of natural fashion, as there’s only OkCupid because there are people with fear of feeling rejected or overexposed. And following that line, maybe that’s just one of our contemporary social filters in action – maybe out there, a girl had the same idea as the guy in your story, and perhaps they even met somewhere down the road. And in many ways that could apply to the professional realm as well – take programmers for instance, and all the companies that would rather hire a Vietnamese programmer that lives inside a cave but does outstanding C++, than a native speaker with excellent oral skills, but mediocre programming. In this way, I think somehow it comes down to having people feeling comfortable with their message, and being able to reach out for those that will see themselves reflected in that message and respond.

Anyway, awesome thought sharing, hope to see other equally intriguing posts here! 🙂

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Diana Ecker May 22, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Daniel, so great to hear your thoughts! I have to admit that I love the idea of two people who have entirely outsourced their dating communication eventually finding each other. That could be a very fun romantic comedy!

While I can’t speak to the outsourcing of programming or the living quarters of programmers, I think you raise a really important point about the complexity of hiring and how communication can be a factor. My hope is that everyone who wants to communicate more effectively can someday have access to resources or people who can help them do so, ideally in a way that contributes to their mastery without taking away their voice. And I’m glad you saw enough of yourself reflected in this message to respond!

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