On a recent flight from Miami to New York City, I flipped through the current edition of American Way, a magazine published specifically for American Airlines customers, and as the woman to my right claimed the armrest and the child behind me hung from the back of my head rest, I stumbled upon two separate ads peddling the dating services Itsjustlunch and Selectivesearch.com.
While internet dating services are nothing new, these two companies deviate from the wealth of eharmonymatcheswithcupid.com sites that prompt you to make a profile, copy and paste redundant date proposals, and juggle offers to meet other singles; IJL and Selectivesearch offer to outsource your love life to someone who has more time and is more qualified to tell you what you would prefer.
These sites are not alone in this endeavor. In a September 13, 2010 article on Marieclaire.com, Lauren Iannnotti writes, “busy singles are hiring ghostwriters to manage their matches,” while Good Morning America offered a Valentine’s Day 2011 segment about ghostwriters for online dating profiles.
In other words, these two sites – and various others — are taking the hassle out of dating, but they are also wading into ethical gray areas. Admittedly, the popular online dating sites are not foolproof and free of fabrication: Photoshopping visuals of yourself 20 pounds lighter or a few hundred hair follicles heavier resides in the gray area of dishonesty as well, as does posting a profile that might be a bit more flattering than truthful. However, these sites, ideally, require that the date surfer be the one doing the surfing, sending out messages, winking at different singles, and arranging times to meet in a more effective, asynchronous environment than a bar in which you spend time trying to get to know one person only to have it end with a last-minute mention of a “boyfriend,” “girlfriend,” or “partner.” The time spent on being rejected is consuming, so online dating allows the surfer to multitask at his or her own pace and cover many bases at once.
The difference when it comes to IJL and Selectivesearch or the newly emerging industry of ghostwriting dating profiles is that you become an avatar, and the process is outsourced to the manipulator, the marionette’s puppeteer behind the keyboard. Perhaps this isn’t unethical when you compare it to daters who fudge their weight, height, photo, occupation, or salary, but it still seems a tad wonky, particularly when dealing with language, which for all intents and purposes is how one communicates through a dating network. The language that makes up our vernacular is part of our identity, and as such, the words we choose define who we are and creates impressions, whether the personality conjured is laid back, erudite, sympathetic, arrogant, educated, timid, kind, or indifferent.
If the dater is unable to use his or her language to communicate, and instead, the transmissions are broken down into simple catchy phrases like alliterative headlines in a newspaper or sound bites in advertisements, then the truth manufactured in this persona is flawed. This isn’t to say that someone slipping from grammatically correct English into some form of local patois – or vice versa — would completely decimate any chances of a second date, but such a transition may very well throw off the other dater who was expecting something completely different that was merely gleaned through the language used in the communiqué between the two.
In addition to the ethical aspect of this debate over misrepresentation is the purpose for which a number of people claim to use ghostwriters and outsourcing companies: a lack of time. In the aforementioned Marieclaire.com article, Scott Valdez, CEO of Virtual Dating Assistants (ViDA), states that “Our clients’ main weak point is time…” and for $1,200 a month, “We spend 40 hours a month working for each client,” who can “skip the tedious, time-consuming aspect of online dating,” according to virtualdatingassistants.com.
In the end, this is all well and good for both the client and ViDA, but what about any potential relationship that evolves from these services? Clearly, they are not all destined to fail, as relationships are just as sure a bet as any craps table in Vegas, but if there is an admitted lack of energy and effort put into finding someone to date, and the overarching impetus to outsource your search is “time,” then this lack of time would seem to also be an impediment when and if the relationship takes off.
There is no fool-proof dating advice to follow here, but the establishment of these companies to help those who have no time for the present seems a bit antithetical to ViDA’s claim on its website that it caters “primarily to people who have their eyes set on the long term. Some are looking for marriage. Others just want dates, but have the mindset that if the right one comes along, they’re more than ready to get serious.” In other words, their clients don’t have time to put the energy in to finding someone they like, but the majority of them are looking for marriage, which clearly takes no effort at all.
In the end, dating is a mystery in itself, and a very marketable industry in that online dating sites are predicted to gross a billion dollars in the U.S. next year. Perhaps these sites expose the more marketable commodity: time, one that is gone when it’s gone, making the acknowledgment of this equal to an acknowledgement of one’s own mortality, and the threat that loneliness will accompany one’s waning hours, proving Daniel Jones’ assertion in a New York Times article from February 10, 2011 that “Patience may be a virtue, but for many, it’s no strategy for finding love.”