I am in love with my friends. I mean this not in the if-you-love-them-why-don’t-you-marry-them sense, but as much as one can be enamored with the person who roasts Friday chicken just because you like it, or books the Stanley Park Christmas Train for the night you’re free to join, or checks in to see how you’re feeling since you sustained a minor yoga injury over the weekend, or picks up the tab for beer and charcuterie, or any other number of small but persistent kindnesses. I just adore them. And–whew–it’s a relief to get that all down, because I know it is uninteresting to praise one’s own friends, but I don’t care.
I just read this article in the New York Times: a challenge to live without the hipster irony that sometimes seems to define our era. My friend Erin says, “Who would want to live without irony?”and I think she’s right. Irony is fun. It’s funny. People who are wholly sincere (I’m referring to you, family in matching hand-sewn organic bamboo pants) tend to seem dull and out of touch. But, because I tend to drift from irony to sincerity, I’m excited about a potential shift toward earnestness. For example, there’s the time I interned for National Geographic Kids and started (ironically) e-mailing my friends links to stories of unlikely baby animal friendships (this stuff is NG Kids’ bread and butter), only to discover a few months later that I’d developed full-blown and mildly embarrassing baby animal infatuation. That and I think the joke “What did the zero say to the eight?” is genuinely funny*. And, yes, I really liked the new Footloose.
When I was sitting in a cafe last week, the guy sitting next to me–having spied this article on my computer screen–struck up a conversation about relationships. Was it something I was studying, he wanted to know, and what was the most interesting thing I had learned? (The latter question I tried and utterly failed to answer–something I should work on.) We talked about marriage and love and dating and, eventually, online dating and he said, “It always unnerved me how much it feels like shopping.” I thought of my own experiences with online dating. “That’s kind of what I like about it,” I said. “It seems so efficient.” There was something about clicking from profile to profile that always gave me this sense of control over my own destiny. But I’m beginning to think he’s right, that the problem of online dating–which sometimes seems like the only way to meet people in notoriously-unfriendly Vancouver–is its similarity to selecting a new pair of earbuds on Amazon. And what got me thinking about all this are those generous, smart, interesting friends of mine, but bear with me–I’m getting there.
When I started online dating I got exactly what I needed, which was to discover–after a decade committed to one person–that there were funny or interesting or attractive people who thought I was also funny or interesting or attractive. But I wonder if the reason online dating feels like shopping is that it is shopping, not for a product but for an idea, for someone who fits the narrative of who you imagine yourself to be. And the very format of online dating rewards irony over sincerity. Because the guy who opens with an intentionally-corny joke or the girl with the self-consciously-goofy photo will always scan better than the person who admits he’d like to get married soon and preferably to a woman who makes good lasagna.