While DZ is recovering from a trip to Liberate in Fort Lauderdale, here’s one of his favorite identity stories from Gawker, the ballad of “Nightmare Online Dater” John Fitzgerald Page, who received a wink on Match.com and promptly responded with an email laden with identity assertions, ticking off all the boxes that many of us, truthfully, would like brag about ourselves, if only we met the criteria:
I went to an Ivy League school – the University of Pennsylvania – for my undergraduate degree in economics and my graduate degree in management (Wharton School of Business). Where did you go to school?
What activities do you currently participate in to stay in shape? I work out 4 times a week at LA Fitness. Do you exercise regularly? I am 6 feet tall, 185 pounds – what about yourself? I am truly sorry if that sounds rude, impolite or even downright crass, but I have been deceived before by inaccurate representations so I prefer someone be upfront and honest on initial contact…
Poor John! Or as John Z. says in Grace in Addiction, “the example reveals just how, in God’s world, a strength can be a weakness.” Part of the reason this example is so funny is that everyone tries the identity-making project to an extent; we’re just more practiced at hiding it. As Ted Hughes said, “everybody develops a whole armour of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outer world, and the crush of circumstances.” But enough with the theological commentary – the real meat is in John’s response after the woman sends him a ‘no thanks.’ It’s well-worth quoting in entirety:
I think you forgot how this works. You hit on me, and therefore have to impress ME and pass MY criteria and standards – not vice versa. 6 pictures of just your head and your inability to answer a simple question lets me know one thing. You are not in shape. I am a trainer on the side, in fact, I am heading to the gym in 26 minutes!
So next time you meet a guy of my caliber, instead of trying to turn it around, just get to the gym! I will even give you one free training session, so you don’t blow it with the next 8.9 on Hot or Not, Ivy League grad, Mensa member, can bench/squat/leg press over 1200 lbs., has had lunch with the secretary of defense, has an MBA from the top school in the country, lives in a Buckhead high rise, drives a Beemer convertible, has been in 14 major motion pictures, was in Jezebel’s Best dressed, etc. Oh, that is right, there aren’t any more of those!
Again, the humor/ridiculousness speaks for itself, but the piece makes the point well that our attempts (conscious or not) to deconstruct each other’s pretensions through rejection or insult backfire – identity threats only trigger our amazingly resilient defensive systems, raising the alert from ‘red-orange’ to ‘code red.’ As the video below shows, satire and exposure don’t solve the identity problem either, though we have to admire John for his honesty and amazing ability to grasp the idea of “criteria” and “standards” that constitute so much of our experience.