The following was produced in partnership with dating and networking app Bumble, a safe place for anyone (divorced dads included!) to look for a fresh start.
I have twelve thousand pictures of me stored in a cloud somewhere and a life to rebuild so I’m sitting here looking at my phone, Bumble app open, trying to choose which six best capture all that is desirous about me: a vaguely self-pitying recently divorced father of two. Friends, and by friends I mean the internet, have said that I should try to be accurate. By that they mean, I suppose, that I should not deceive nor should I fully disclose. The truth is I’m a little saturnine, a little tender-hearted, walking around feeling like a stage flat that could be struck in a set. On the other hand, I still think I’m funny, I am not physically hideous (though admit I have an inflated sense of my own attractiveness, more on that later) and if I am not cool, which I am not cool, I at least do cool and fun things. I mean, I went to Baby Shark alone and wrote about it! A paparazzo once mistook me for Zac Efron’s pal! These are stories I look forward to telling on dates.
So back to the half-dozen pictures that are meant to both adequately convey who I am and attract a potential date. Endlessly scrolling through my gallery is half like Benjamin Button – but really slow – and half like Ernest Rutherford’s 1909 experiment to prove that atoms do, indeed, have a nucleus. What Rutherford did was shoot tiny alpha particles at an atom. If there was no nucleus, the particles would shoot right through. If there was, some would be deflected. Smart huh? Well, which of these pictures were me? Did any bounce off, revealing some core JDS that was, presumably, dateable?
The first picture gave me the most pause. A few weeks ago I was in Vegas for work. See? I do cool things! And there was a ridiculous place there that was an “experiential activation” of photo-ready rooms (ball pits, bathtubs, weird plastic chains) that cost $35 to enter. Of course, there was also a unicorn that was, I suppose, cute. On this unicorn I sat, looking as glum as I could. It’s funny. I’m laughing about it now. It’s me, he who can snatch from jaws of joy the kernel of melancholy in order to extract a wry smile.
But here’s the thing about a dating profile (and being vain and worried about dying alone): Your pictures matter. Doubly so with Bumble, where the women makes the first move, most likely based off my pictures. So here, I don’t look like a million bucks. Sad people slump and slumping people have bellies and I don’t want one of those. Also, I don’t love the interaction between my jeans and my sneakers, the latter of which are bright and the former worryingly wide-legged so I look like I’m riding this unicorn to pick up my kids from the mall in a minivan. But, this is who I am as a man, man. I’m 38 years old — old enough to know that a false bill of goods might get you in the door but will also get you in trouble later. Picture number one: sad dad on a unicorn.
Kids. Mall. Minivan. This brings me to picture number two. What to do with the tens of thousands of pictures of me and my kids of which I have two – boys, ages 6 and 7 – and who I love to the moon and back? On the one hand, they’re the biggest part of me. Divorce — and missing them half the time — has only made that more clear. And I’ve seen plenty of Bumble profiles with munchkins smiling alongside their mothers. (And many others with non-mothers: “It’s my niece!” reads a disclaimer, modeling a sort of maternal potentiality one might suppose fetching.) On the other hand, my kids are not a part of this journey, nor will they be for some time and the idea of anyone looking at them in an evaluative or appraising way, even as a function of my own identity, gives me serious parental heebie-jeebies. (And this is separate of course from their own privacy, which I am loath to violate.) I go, instead, for a picture of my interviewing Elmo at some event a few years ago. I look not half bad. Handsome! I’m being filmed. Famous! I’m interviewing Elmo. Intriguing. This will, I hope, invite questions – preferably over dinner – about what it was like to interview a piece of felt and stuffing with a man’s hand inside it. The answer is wonderful, absolutely wonderful.
The rest of the images built on this foundation. I added a professional headshot (see, I’m famous?); two from a recent trip to Italy (I’m cultured!) including one of my peering wistfully out of a window (I’m deep!); one on the press-side of a red carpet for the movie Skyscraper (unfortunately the backdrop reads crap) and an extremely strange one of me wearing a Le Bernadin hat and a rash guard. I don’t know why that’s there. Self-sabotage?
Thankfully, as I soon learned by scrolling down, Bumble has a tidy badge for communicating about children. “What are your ideal plans for children?” it asks. It’s multiple choice: “Want someday. Don’t want. Have & want more. Have & don’t want more.” The last fits me like a glove so I check it and move on. Don’t smoke. Don’t do drugs. I drink socially. I’m 5’10.” My third-grade teacher would describe me as bright but disruptive and my most recent act of kindness is not exploiting it for the purposes of a dating profile. Sit on the unicorn and be glum Stein. Sit and be glum, and be loved?
Will I date anyone with this random accumulation of self-expression, darts tossed into the ether of who I think I am? Unclear. At least the exercise itself has been enlightening. As I emerge onto the dating scene, explorations like this are helpful for they help me decide how I want to be represented, what lines I will cross and what I won’t, how much should I disclose and how much shall I save for later. As I press Save Profile, I feel like I know myself six pictures, three prompts, and eleven badges better. And that’s a start.