As I sit here alone in my bedroom with my dog, I have a community of 1,077 Facebook “friends” and a combined total of some 700 Twitter and Instagram followers. I know because I can see their faces on my laptop and iPhone. I can read their thoughts, see pictures of their dinner and interact with them through likes, comments, emojis and tweets. We all exist as serif typography on a bright screen, and yet we are still alone, and if less lucky, lonely.
But how can we all not be lonesome when we’re substituting online relationships for real ones? When we’re creating digital communities that inherently are neighborhoods with no people? When we are paying writers to act as modern day Cyranos, crafting online dating profiles and messages for men who have no time to meet and get to know a woman, let alone make their own Match.com profiles?
I recently got a writing gig for an online dating consulting company in Austin, TX. Based upon a list of survey answers, I have to write engaging, attractive and witty profiles and messages for well-to-do bachelors. The one I wrote up tonight is for a 50-something engineer who enjoys Thai food, jogging and detective novels. We’ll call him “John.”
According to his answers, “John” spent more than five years living in Europe when he was part of the Air Force. This jump-started his passion for travel. In an attempt to make his profile more illustrative, I can’t say “I love to travel.” I have to describe how “John” loves getting lost on back roads, how he remembers the vertebrae of the Alps as he was skiing in Italy, the aromas of exotic foods at Indian markets he walked through.
The process is kind of like that old quote, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” However, I also have to write love letters to women. Vague and open-ended love letters that the online consulting company can distribute to many women. If they respond to “John,” I have to yet again become him and correspond with these women until the end goal is attained: a date.
As I sit at my laptop 10+ hours a week pretending to be a middle-aged man on a dating site, my own dating life is circling the drain. I really don’t see a need anymore to put myself out there; to go to a bar or a restaurant or anywhere else in the world looking for love. I can post a perfectly angled picture of myself on Instagram and receive 50 likes in 20 minutes, reaffirming my beauty, my worth, my self esteem. Why do I need to find one partner that does that when I can have 70 different men tell me that over the Internet?
And therein lies the loneliness. The private messages, the double taps, the likes, the shares — all of them are wildly appreciated but cannot take the place of a warm body on a cold Philadelphia night, of actual physical touch and face-to-face interaction and COMPANIONSHIP.
I have mistaken connection with companionship. Between the thousands of people I interact with via social media everyday, my reach is huge compared to the five in-person conversations I had yesterday, two of which were with my dog and my roommate.
Which brings me back to “John.” He/I received a message from a lovely woman named “Karen.” “John”/I had a great conversation with her, and connected over their/our mutual love of jogging and Tom Clancy. I did my job and got “John” a date with “Karen,” but will this connectivity lead to companionship? Will the pair go on a second date? Will “John” get “Karen” flowers? Will he ever see her naked on all fours in front of a fireplace in a cabin in Aspen? Will they spend their 10th wedding anniversary getting lost on back roads in France? Does paying an online dating consultant service to have a 30-year-old woman write your profile and messages help a busy man find love?
I saw the movie Her over the weekend. I understood how Joaquin Phoenix could fall in love with a computer. I mean, if “Karen” can agree to a date with a stranger based upon the narrative of a 30-year-old woman, can’t a man fall in love with an operating system?
As I’m finishing this article, I currently have 32 new likes on a selfie I just posted on Instagram. Simultaneously, the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” started playing on Pandora.