2008November07 3:45 PM The Annals of Dating: Lying

Approximate Reading Time: 18 minutes

I have been struck (I probably deserve to be struck many times for current, and certainly for past, transgressions), by two things among many observations I have had to make in the last four or five weeks. It is in that time that I effected a major alteration in my routine, at least temporarily, by subscribing (paying actual cash money, or the equivalent) to not one, but two on-line dating services. Should it become germane or salient to what I have to say at any time I will name one or the other of them. In the meantime, I assume at this point that my experiences are typical, irrespective of the specific virtual venue. Individual details may cause them to differ, but largely as a result of the actual narrowness of target marketing of the service.

There may also be certain self-selecting differences as a result, insofar as one site vs. another might show an apparent variable demonstration of one aspect of behavior linked to the specific affinity or sense of identity associated with that site. My hypothesis: one site may call for people to join who feel a particularly strong affinity (ethnic, behavioral, cultural or intellectual propensities, hobbies etc.) and that affinity may carry with it certain expected behaviors. In practical terms, my experience has been that female participants on one site are much more likely to initiate a correspondence than on the other.

On the other hand, this latter less assertive-minded service would appear to have a very large and compendious membership and therefore a larger database of possible stated fantasies (wishes, hopes, desires, ideals, dreams, etc.) the member would declare as a desirable trait in a potential mate, and, also, of course, a larger number in any one demographic segment, women or men of a specific age range, than rival, more targeted services. They operate in a larger tent.

There are arguments for joining either type of group, and so, of course, I joined both. This was a major mistake, but the nature of that mistake is a subject for another time. The positive aspect of this error in judgment is that I briefly intensified, or amplified, the overall experience, and I was also exposed to (in almost all polite senses) a very much larger number of candidates for my attention than I might have with either one alone. My conclusions about the most striking phenomenon I observed are the subject of what I have to say here.

By no accident, the preponderance of the women I “met” (which I put in quotation marks, because I met, face-to-face, a very small fraction of the women I contacted, either on my own initiative, or because I elected to respond to their overture to me), were more or less local and more or less within five years of my age. And the ones I met in person, were but a very much smaller fraction still of the overall number of women brought to my attention one way or another, and these covered a range of ages. A very wide ranges of ages.

At the highest level of “screening,” these services allow a user at any time to know and to view not only the basic identifiers, like age, geographic location, and photo, if there is one, but the entire profile, of any individual member who has elected one way or another to linger over a view of the entire profile of that user. In short, if they looked at you and decided to take a closer look, you know it, and you can look at them. The ultimate in reciprocal voluntary vetting (using tainted data, as every narrator is suspect; these services all make clear in disclaimers that you cannot avoid seeing that they do not do “background checks” on anyone, so it’s caveat lector).

In this case, the entirety of the membership, paid or unpaid, may view my profile, including photos, carefully selected, as well as written personal characteristics and thoughts or feelings about myself, carefully crafted, plus the usual lists of “traits” drawn mainly from a list of choices, otherwise inalterable, that appear in drop-down menus for “multiple-choice” factual facets of one’s being. There are as well “short answer essays,” for example, last books read, or music preferred, or favorite places. Some sites make it simply a laundry list of various aspects of what is presumed to be personality. “I am considered by others to be…,” or “I consider myself to be….” Adventure is a major theme and "life as an adventure" a major taxonomic category for a great many members, at least among the women. At first I began to think they were all Lara Croft in their minds.

One factor that becomes paramount among members of a “certain age” (yes, this is that famous age, or age spread, if you don’t mind my use of this possible pejorative; we rarely want to speak of anything that is “spread,” or “spreading” — it only seems as if aging is spreading, the fact is we tend to clump ourselves by age), that is, adults in the ages between 50s and 60s, plus-or-minus, with a larger than 3% margin of invention, er, error, is precisely and honestly how old you are. As opposed to say, how old you are in your head, how old you appear, how old you’re taken for, how old society determines is superannuated, or over the hill, how old you are when you really must take a position on this whole life after death thing.

I am 62 years old, for about three more months. In what is very rapidly becoming six months, I will have been made a widower by the death of my wife. I have no reason to lie about these facts of my life, though I needn’t broadcast the specific temporal details, and certainly not my state-of-mind, emotional state, etc. I do not see this as a lie by omission. Marital status is one of the very few items that everyone sees if they are shown, or seek, or accidentally scroll past your basic listing: photo (if you’ve posted one), age, marital status, gender of user and gender sought. I have never, in fact, lied about my age. I have been accused of it, usually by someone I always suspect of being ingratiating (or perhaps of an overly pitying disposition) who declares their amazement and the certainty that I am lying in the upward direction. Of course I am, dude. Society places such reverence in old age (anyone over 45). It’s an ironic situation to be in, in all events, as it was my, the boomer, generation, which made popular and universal the notion that no one over 30 is to be trusted. We were off by almost 30 years.

I have also, I hasten to add, never lied about my marital status or whether I have children. These seem, as a matter of course, things people don’t lie about in general. So it’s not a particular mark of self-esteem. Finally, if asked, I have never lied about how recently (in relative terms) my late wife breathed her last. Not that that isn’t top of mind to some. A number of women whom I’ve spoken to in real time, either on the phone or in person, have asked about how recently Linda died, and other salient questions concerning her death, my involvement, etc. soon after the conversation began. I think they were either trying to make some assessment, using whatever skills they have, of my actual emotional “availability,” or merely were making some measure against what they understood somehow or other as some behavioral or emotional yardstick (straight out of the school of prescriptive thinking: if it’s the third month, you must be angry). Everyone a social worker (actually there's a remarkably high incidence of people in the behavioral health professions… so one must always be prepared to be under scrutiny, even if you seem not to be).

However, age falls into another category altogether, especially for us boomers, who are neither the “greatest generation,” nor the most obtuse, or the most post-modern, but we are the generation that will never say die, or, presumably, ever go gentle into that good night.

After five weeks on these dating services, having observed hundreds of photos (most of them inept snapshot quality, though a very few are clearly of professional quality or the equivalent, these surprisingly being of women who obviously want to show themselves, but honestly, to their best advantage, and not, as one might suspect, or anticipate, in order to use the significant technological advances in photo editing software to mask their stage of maturity) I can make certain general observations. The most blatant treatments or methods in obscuring the appearance (which is not the putative objective in terms of participant expectation — we’re supposed to attract one another; not keep each other at arm’s length for as long as possible while somehow conniving to move on to the next step: actually of meeting) are the Vaseline-on-the-lens gauzy, luminescent, “ready for my close-up C.B.” method, which obscures all detail or makes you think you’ve forgotten your reading glasses, and in the process, eradicated wrinkles, crepe-like skin, flaccidity, and the “what are those? Oh, you know what they’re called, there under your chin, where your neck used to be, etc.?” or there’s the “here I am from a distance” method, which mainly reveals that you are most likely to be recognized as female even by victims of myopia, and that you have hair — this is always a much better focused photograph usually showing a great deal of detail of the surrounding landscape — though we are by no means in the realm of the environmental portrait. The more creative individuals actually place themselves in surroundings that are, in themselves, interesting to observe (and associate in one’s mind with the individual under scrutiny), and I’m not talking about beaches or blatantly tropical venues — these are sui generis: I’m almost tempted to say that every woman out there loves the beach (especially walks thereon, either at sunrise or sunset), anything having to do with water, including merely gazing out upon vast expanses, and they also not only love dogs, but have at least one. Many “portraits” include a pet.

The less blatant strategy is simply to use out-of-date snaps from a time that you could be shown to much better advantage — many women (I may appear to be singling out women; I simply cannot account for what men do, as I haven’t seen any profiles of any males; I have no reason to think they don’t act in the same self-deluded way, if not worse) hedge here, by including some disclaimer in their grand essay, “About Me,” that the photos shown are current. This can be a very elastic adjective: “current” seems to mean anywhere from, “within the past year” to “taken no earlier than the last decade of the previous century.” I think it’s safe to say that anyone who has had a nominally ordinary existence within the confines of society, as opposed, say, within the confines of an eight-by-eleven foot one-room shack in the foothills of the Allegheny mountains since the age of six, sequestered from anyone over the age of 25, and who has normal brain function and studied basic arithmetic, will discover a sense of cognitive dissonance when observing photos of an adult female, claiming to be, let’s say, 59 years of age, and yet who looks remarkably and refreshingly as if she were still in her 40s, if not her 30s. One woman alternated, cleverly, contemporaneous full color photos of herself with sepia photos of what must have been herself at a very young age, in the first full flush of womanhood, late teens or early 20s, the embodiment of that great adjective (which men invariably believe is somehow salacious in meaning), “nubile.”

I can understand the desire for appearing to be much younger than one actually is. Some people, men and women, are endowed with the genetic makeup that brings this about. Linda, my late wife, was regularly taken for a much younger woman, even after suffering the ravages of several years of cancer and its treatment. Indeed, her appearance, especially when we first met and courted, and then co-habited, caused me no end of chagrin. No doubt as I have a tendency to appear far more decrepit than I actually am, despite what I said above; some people, I suppose are simply cruel, in order to be kind — these days I am regularly taken for 63, sometimes even 64 — and she was regularly taken for 28, even when she was 42, as she was when she moved in with me (a mere 46 myself), I was accused of the most scurrilous motives regularly (and, strangely, more by men than women; so I think jealousy was a major factor). However these are the rare and fortunate exceptions. It’s also possible, looking backward, that until they found out the truth about Linda’s chronological age in fact, these women, pleasant and smiling and friendly as always, were in reality seething.

At some point, and this might as well be it, I might as well make the usual observations about the more narcissistic traits of my generation, the baby boomer generation, and its cult of youth. I doubt we are, or have been, any worse than any previous generation in regard to the apparently very human trait of somehow mentally fixing our sensibilities for life somewhere around the age of majority. My mother, at the age of 87, admitted to being a perpetual 19 in her head (and hence being startled often when looking into a mirror at the ancient creature staring back at her), and this is, I admit, about the age I am probably fixed at myself.

However this may or may not be true of human nature, it is certainly true of boomer nature that we have institutionalized a kind of mass denial. For the longest time, this allowed us to imagine that we were capable of not only great things, but of almost anything, including the impossible — ours was the generation of great potentiality. I have only two words to say in the face of that: George Bush. And hasn’t the most repeated thing you’ve heard lately about the man who is still our President, and will be for another 72 days or so, been along the lines of how these eight years have “aged” the poor man?

Ours is not a generation that takes kindly to aging, or to admitting it. Which is the other thing that is true of boomers, and that is, somehow, that we will age, but we will never get old. For in age, old age in particular, is not only the inevitability of death — and at least five or six per cent of us will concede that we are, in fact, mortal; goddam-it — but the inevitability that age will overtake us, and the skin will wrinkle and sag, and the hair will turn grey and then white, assuming we keep any significant percentage of it, and our muscles will lose their tone, and our limbs will lose their, well, limber.

The great anodyne is doing it all together. And intimacy of the sort we still manage to nurture and preserve among ourselves as couples and close friends brings with it a kind of softness of vision (not of the correctable sort) that transcends reality, or perhaps magically allows us to see the individual for who they may appear to be to all others at this very moment in real time, while also seeing them as we have always seen them in our mind’s eye (never needing vision correction, as memory is always 20-20, even when it is wrong or inventing things), from the moment we met them, and certainly from the moment we fell in love.

However the combination of age and strangeness is a cruel formulation.

And being alone, or, that is, without a mate, at just about any age beyond 50, I’d say, makes everyone suffering this condition strange. There is no escaping it. It doesn’t matter how well tuned in you are to your own condition of mind. It doesn’t matter how “well-adjusted” you are. When you have no mutual (or reciprocal) love interest you are lonely, and loneliness makes you strange.

It makes you do things you otherwise do not approve of, in others especially. It certainly makes a great many women who put themselves out there simply lie.

They lie about their ages. They lie about the evidence of their ages. They lie about the contradictions inherent in anything greater than the most perfunctory analysis of the facts they present for appraisal. They lie in the face of physical evidence. They lie in the face of adherence to truth as one of the values they espouse in life. They lie to men who say they hate lying (or, to put it positively, who say they prize truth and honesty above almost all other virtues as the foundation for what is essential in a long term relationship — LTR for short — and that is, trust).

Two excuses are given, if the subject even comes up as the basis for further discussion once you are past that very brief, sometimes off-handed moment — and, in my experience, with no indication that the perpetrator, that is, the liar, has any sense of the conversational diversity and richness to be effected by a little syncopation, for example, by slipping into a discussion about politicians that they are not really 58 (or 52), but 61 (or 62), and seeing if they can get a rise, or hoping they won't and they will have already so charmed their would-be suitor that he simply no longer cares — when they admit to their profoundly minor transgression.

It has been always, in my experience, handled en passant. My instincts have told me that the best way to behave, that is, for me to behave, is entirely passively, that is, as a listener, or if you prefer, a receptacle. There is no point in having an entire encounter hinge on my reaction to being informed that the human sitting opposite me has lied to me, about anything, before learning anything of any consequence regarding our suitability to one another, that is, what used to be called our compatibility. Therefore, I have been mum, certainly with the women who have admitted to the prevarication, not to mention any others who may have misrepresented this inalienable, very specific and incontrovertible fact about themselves. In two very specific instances, by some exquisitely similar timing, the admission as to age, off-the-cuff, off-handed in one instance, and in an appropriate conversational context on the other, came well into the same point of our first meeting, which involved sitting down to dine. Ensemble.

I’m not so preoccupied with the specific matter, though I am with truth-telling in all regards, that I distract myself with my feelings on the matter, as soon as it is apparent that there is an issue. It’s always an issue for me. I simply prefer the truth. And the fact is, despite the requirement that we state an age preference for our sought-after dates or matches, call these couplings, or what you will, I really don’t care about someone’s age. I will either be attracted to them or not.

In addition to whatever attraction (which I guarantee will be more likely the more comely the object of my desire; and facing facts, as it’s as true of men as of women, there is more comeliness of a certain species-perpetuating variety among the younger members of our society — there’s a reason for this, but this is no place for a discussion about biology or genetics, especially as I’m discussing ethics). Whatever my attitude, or that of any other man, or at least putting this aspect of the argument aside for just a moment, it is clear that women of a certain age must face the question of age with far more gravity than the world is willing to admit openly.

A very good friend, a long long time veteran of having to seek connections, or matches, or whatever it is we are to call the liaisons that we manage to make: proto-friendships (but these women aren’t interested in making friends; they want a mate), contacts, possibles… I can’t conjecture actually and the language has not revealed itself as yet, in any event this long time friend makes no bones about lying about her age, insofar as she posts it on-line along with photos she swears are not only recent, but in all but one case, shot within the past year, which I know not to be the case. She says among the first things she brings up is the small adjustment in reporting her age that is required in the face of the truth.

The actual age is not important in this or any other case. The adjustment is only slight, say three or four years. Yet it must be made, according to my friend, because of, well now this is interesting. It’s because of the men. Because of us, the other, because, when you get right down to it, because of me!

Men want younger women, and put down age ranges that, if the system as it’s explained by the vendors offering these on-line services is accurately and faithfully adhered to, would exclude women outside that age range from their attention.

I put down, at first, for reasons that I had very calculatedly worked out, ages based purely on marketing principles I would have applied were I my own client and I had been asked to consult on the matter. There’s nothing wrong with stating a preference surely. When I first joined the larger of the dating services, I put down a range of 39 to 58 years of age. The only assumption I made is that I would rarely, so much so I figured the rareness would be never, discover any genuine interest expressed by a woman who was 39 or anywhere close to that age. Not in me, a 62 year-old widower, with silver gray hair (quite an abundance of it, and accompanied by an appearance of “cuteness,” as in youthful — for a 62 year-old widower — and insofar as I understood the cuteness factors, I made sure they were emphasized by the photos that were all shot by myself, except one, the main one, which was shot by someone else as I gazed lovingly at her, directly at the lens; I will say no more, other than, given that I am not obese, or even remotely fat, I made sure the photos indicated this. I only described myself in words, from a list that included “athletic and toned, or fit,” and “slender,” as “about average.”

I have since changed that desired female age range to something I think significantly realistic, in terms of reasonable expectations on my part, especially at the margins, of from 46 to 62 years. I’m 62, I should be willing at least to consider women my age, or why should I expect anyone to consider me. In all honesty I should simply make it from the earliest age they permit you (probably 18) to the eldest, like 80. The fact is, aside from what I stated above, that I really am not hung up on the specific age, I believe whatever I say will be ignored not only by the women in the database themselves, but by the computer as well. And I have been proven correct empirically by my experiences over the past five weeks. In that time almost 1200 women have looked at the photos of me along with my profile; I can’t tell if they perused these, or simply glanced quickly at them. I have been solicited for my interest in starting a conversation, or correspondence, call it what you will, by maybe 150 women, and in turn I have expressed my interest in about three dozen women. I have had matches suggested to me by both services, and the suggestions continue to come in on a regular basis. In no case did I feel that some woman was excluded from my attention or consideration because of her age, not excluded by herself, not excluded by the service.

I have had overtures, one way or another, from women from 22 to over 70 years of age.

How can I possibly take the matter of age seriously as a barrier to entry?

Therefore I assume the presumptive reasoning by women who say they’re 58 when they’re really 61, or 47, when they are patently significantly north of that age (I don’t find out, if I’m not told, because I don’t ask; I in fact think it’s rude and ungentlemanly, though I wouldn’t mind at all being asked anything about my stated age) is that they are stating a wish or expressing a denial. In either case, my sense of this is only reinforced if the reason volunteered is that it’s me, that is, it’s the men, who want someone young and gorgeous hanging on their arm, and by formally stating their fantasies or wish-fulfillment conditions. There is no denying that some men, certainly with enough money, status, or power to attract them, are not denied them. But I also doubt these men actually enroll on an on-line dating service, at least not of this ilk.

My question of my friend, described above, and of one woman I met who admitted to being older than she has stated in her profile — she informed me as if I had at my finger tips all of the facts from her dossier; I was confused when she announced her age, as I had no reason to think otherwise, or that this was a declaration, presumably redundant, that her statement of age was not redundant of previously published information, but an adjustment — was, “Why would you want to go out with a man who would not consider even meeting you, never mind going out with you, with the possibility, however strong or weak, that it might be the start of something big, simply because he didn’t like how old you, in fact, are, and cannot be other than?”

No answer.

I understand lies are perpetrated all the time, all around the earth, every second. They are perpetrated for reasons of expedience, necessity, self-protection, the protection of innocent parties, to spare feelings the evocation of which might be worse as a matter of ethics than having committed an ethical breach by virtue of lying.

We’d all like to follow the guideline that if you always tell the truth, you never have to remember what you said. I try to live that way, and mostly I succeed. I also have trouble with copying music from whatever source and giving away copies, even if I have paid for the original, and I always pay. I have trouble pirating software, or not paying for shareware. I have trouble being confronted about that which I might have gone out of my way to avoid entering the ken of my confronter. But I always speak the truth, and figure I’ll deal with the consequences.

I’m not a confessional sort, and it’s probably difficult extracting certain information from me because, for one, the desire to do no one any harm supersedes this strange antipathy for being lied to, and preference for truth.

(the song of King Gama in "Princess Ida," Gilbert & Sullivan)

I’m sure I’m no ascetic; I’m as pleasant as can be;
You’ll always find me ready with a crushing repartee,
I’ve an irritating chuckle, I’ve a celebrated sneer,
I’ve an entertaining snigger, I’ve a fascinating leer.
To everybody’s prejudice I know a thing or two;
I can tell a woman’s age in half a minute – and I do.
But although I try to make myself as pleasant as I can,
Yet everybody says I’m such a disagreeable man!
And I can’t think why!

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