Register Tuesday | April 16 | 2024
Playing the Feeld David Lezcano/Unsplash.

Playing the Feeld

“You seemed cooler online,” my date yelled across the dimly-lit table, leaning forward to make themselves heard over the classic rock and screeching conversations of the other patrons at Chez Baptiste. As they used their crisp, white t-shirt to clean their oversized prescription aviators, they clarified: It’s not that I’m not cool, it’s just that, virtually, I seemed—well, less like me.

It took me a second to register what they’d said. Admittedly, my processing faculties were inhibited after nervously guzzling a couple of pints of cheap beer, but it wasn’t just the buzz that gave me pause. Never in my decade of intermittent online dating had anyone broken the fourth wall and admitted that my real-life presence differed from my dating profile façade. I didn’t quite know how to respond.

Much of my confusion came from the fact that I didn’t think I even had an online persona, let alone a cool one. I’ve always prided myself on my “realness” on the Apps: I balance a thirst trap (a selfie in ripped fishnets and heavy eyeliner from that time I dressed as Siouxsie Sioux for an eighties-themed birthday party) with a goofy, unflattering photo (a close-up of me at the beach with my face peeking out from the corner of the frame, the focus a man’s extremely tanned, yellow-thong-adorned backside behind me). Swipe again and you’ll see Danny DeVito peering longingly into a supermarket fridge, his head photoshopped onto a svelte, underwear-clad body with big tits. And if that didn’t clinch it, my bio, featuring a quote from Jim Carrey’s Saturday Night Live parody of Matthew McConaughey’s 2014 Lincoln ad (“we’re all just bugs on a rock in a void”), should surely stamp out any lingering confusion. I contain multitudes, but none of them are cool.

While I weighed my response—play coy, confront my date, run—I took ­mental stock of our interaction up to this point. It had been relatively pleasant and flirty, I thought, if limited: around five consecutive hours of messaging on the dating app Feeld (a queerer, shinier version of OkCupid), which had kept me at least mildly entertained on an abysmal train ride from Toronto back to Montreal. I “liked” them because their profile seemed to align with the app’s promise to connect the “open-minded” with the “like-minded.” They, too, had cultivated a balance of hotness and humour; their bio, though sparse, indicated a shared interest in art and the show Home Improvement. We joked about capital-S Sports (neither of us fans) and found common ground (they once worked on a TV show in my small hometown). As the train ride dragged on, our messages had turned playful, rife with double entendres and groan-inducing puns (my forte). As I racked my brain for any indication that I had been anything but earnestly—perhaps painfully—myself, a passage from Susan Sontag’s essay “In Plato’s Cave,” from her 1977 collection On Photography, came to mind. In it, she writes, “The sense of the unattainable that can be evoked by photographs feeds directly into the erotic feelings of those for whom desirability is enhanced by distance.” Maybe we were just sitting too close to each other?

Sontag died in 2004, nearly ten years after the emergence of the first online dating website, She likely never used it (probably a blessing), yet her words pinpoint the thrill and fault of online dating profiles writ large: we put our best face forward—both literally and figuratively. Intentionally or not, we craft an alternate reality by virtue of perceiving and being perceived online, hoping that we land somewhere close to who we are without breaking the illusion. We’re always a little taller, our faces a little more angular; we crop out the rough edges, maybe throw on a filter, and collectively pretend this is how we’ve always been.

In my date’s case, they were shorter than they appeared in their profile, and older, too; their energy more flitting and nervous in real life than in my virtual impression of them. “The picture may distort,” Sontag writes, “but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist.”

In the end, I ordered another beer and laughed it off. My date seemed relieved, oblivious to my existential spiral. With Sontag’s words in mind, I’ve kept my distance—there hasn’t been a second date. ⁂