By Eva Dominguez
Turning to online dating is typical for an NYU student, living in a city where it is easy to remain unnoticed among the massive crowds of people. That anonymity also creates an opportunity to manipulate our personalities to impress a date. To explore this duality between reality and deception, I searched far and wide through OkCupid’s selection of New York City’s young men who were looking to make a love connection with a stranger. But I wasn’t looking for romance; to see how people react, I would meet people using a different persona each time. From one extreme to another, I’d be complaining one day and composed the next.
When you meet someone from online, you never know if they look better or worse in real life. With the first guy I met, who I’ll call “Tim,” his pictures looked like they could go either way. When we met in Washington Square Park, I immediately noticed he wasn’t cute, had bad skin even though he was well into his twenties, and he was kind of chubby compared to his photos. For this first guy, my persona would be off-putting. From the park, we moved to a restaurant nearby where he ate dinner and I sat with him, going to work with complaining and portraying myself as lazy and repellent.
During my conversations, I never told a lie. In portraying myself in a bad light for this instance, I simply explored the parts of myself I would normally downplay. For example, I discussed how I like to spend a lot of time lying down with my eyes closed and doing nothing, I eat excessive amounts of food every day, and I explained that I have all this free time because I don’t study and no one invites me to hang out with them. I actually rambled a lot about myself and only asked about his life and interests a few times to move the conversation along so that I could bring the discussion back to me again.
As horrible as I thought I had made myself, he kind of turned out to be worse. I was being a fake version of myself, but the real version of himself was still attracted to me. After dinner, we found a bench to sit on and people watch. While we were chatting, his eyes were not directed toward mine. I was confused about what he was looking at because I was wearing a loose sweater, and there could have been anything under there–a bag of potato chips, an 80’s pop star, a DVD box set, etc.
I made it clear this was a one-time thing. At one point, he invited me to sit closer to him, and I immediately leaned away and said no. Shortly after that, we said a slightly awkward goodbye.
Moving forward, the next meeting was the control of the experiment. I’d be my natural self, for the most part uncomplaining and less chatty than the first persona. This next guy, who I’ll nickname “Greg,” and I had made plans on Wednesday, but didn’t meet until that weekend.
He looked different in all his photos. Depending on the lighting he might look like he has a rounder face and light brown hair in one photo or like he has a sharp bone structure and darker hair in another. I wasn’t sure which one would be the most accurate, but when I found him sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park, he was more handsome than any of his pictures. Early twenties, tall, thin, striking blue eyes, black hair, a bit of stubble. When we started talking, I quickly realized he was a nice person, and I was glad I chose him to be myself around. He was respectful and didn’t cross any boundaries. I mean, the most “heated” moment was when our bodies were slightly turned toward each other on the bench and somehow our knees touched for a minute.
Toward the end of our meeting, he said we should do it again. I agreed, hoping he was being genuine and not just polite.
I met the last guy, who I’ll nickname “Ryan,” later that Sunday. My persona would be cool and calm. I found this challenging because with the last two guys mentioned, I seemed nervous or shy. Before meeting Ryan, I tried to make myself relax. I also tried to dress cooler to get into this mode, wearing a black jacket, dark blue sweater, black shorts with tights, and chunky boots.
We met in Union Square. Ryan is also a student and the closest to my age than the other guys. As soon as we met, I realized it would be difficult to act cool around him. His upbeat attitude didn’t warrant an apathetic demeanor on my part. Still, I tried to focus on not seeming anxious.
We found a nearby restaurant and ate dinner. Of course, trying to hide my constant awkwardness wasn’t easy at first. He talked a lot, and I tried to contribute to the conversation as much as I could. At one point, he warned me about the sauce being spicy, and I said, “I’m Mexican, I can handle it.” He responded by telling me he’s also Mexican. I looked up from my plate, completely shocked, at this white boy with blond hair and European facial features. He told me his last name, which actually sounds even more Latino than mine, and explained that his father grew up in Mexico, and while Ryan is clearly ethnically white, he considers himself Mexican American.
After this revelation, I found it easier to talk to him. As time went by, I realized Ryan was actually hilarious, and I was having a good time. I don’t know if I succeeded in being “cool,” but Ryan at least noticed my outfit, commenting that I was going for the Kim Kardashian look by wearing all black.
That entire weekend was pretty weird in many ways, but the results of the semi-scientific experiment indicate 1) any desperate guy will be attracted to a girl no matter how horrible she behaves; 2) A respectful man will not play with the power dynamics to pressure a woman into showing affection when they’ve just met; and 3) someone who is meant to be a good friend will have you laughing all evening even when you’re trying to keep your cool.