Home > Uncategorized > Plenty of Fishin’: Opera, Online Dating, and Intimidation

Plenty of Fishin’: Opera, Online Dating, and Intimidation

While many of my postings, even the lengthy analytical ones, tend to have some personal foundation derived from aesthetic preferences, personal insights, or both, this one has more than most. In a posting from last September, entitled Under My Skin: Beautiful Music, Horrible Memories, I obliquely referred to a recent “falling out” between a very close friend and me. This was in relation to associating certain music with the time I spent with this person.

Unfortunately, I was referring to my spouse of nearly 10 years. Without going into the details of what happened, I felt at a very low point in my life, compounded by being left to fend for myself in another country (well, Canada, but still…) and having no commensurate financial (let alone moral) support. This fact, along with everything else I need to do as a PhD student, compounded by the amount of research I like to do for my blog, accounts for the relatively spare number of postings on here. It’s still difficult, and I’m hoping that my efforts in pursuing my doctoral research will push me to where I should be at this point in life… along with my gigs as a teaching assistant, as well as teaching a course this summer term about information retrieval. The support of friends and colleagues, as well as my university, has also helped.

Needless to say, I’ve felt very lonely as well, having no one to come home to, or them to me… aside from the surreal experience of having housemates half my age at the places I’ve lived. Getting my own halfway decent place in London would be way too much. To help alleviate my loneliness, I have taken to online dating, which seems suitable to an introvert like myself. I’m not someone who can “just ask her out.” I can’t just sidle up to a total stranger just because I find her attractive, and I don’t want a pre-existing friendship to turn weird (or disintegrate) if she finds out that I might be interested in something more.

While I had heard of online dating, I hadn’t given serious thought to it until someone suggested a website called Plenty of Fish (or, to the well-schooled, “PoF”). I’ve connected with some women through that site, with a backup profile on okcupid, resulting in varying degrees of outcomes. Either communications that would taper off inexplicably, or new friendships.

Although I’ve initiated conversation in a few instances, they usually contact me first. I suppose in my case, it’s the intimidation I feel at the prospect writing to someone; no matter what I keep hearing about how it’s better to try and fail than to not try at all, or you can’t win if you don’t play blah blah blah, it takes some degree of courage for me to contact someone. Even this many years later, I suppose I’m still a bit scarred from my experiences as a not-so-popular student in the small rural town where I was raised. When I don’t hear back, especially if it’s someone who likes classical music, I feel very discouraged. It’s difficult to not think this: If someone who’s into classical music isn’t interested in me, who else would be?

By extension, what does it say about what people put on their profiles (e.g. I want someone nice. I want someone normal. I’m not looking to hook-up. Tired of bs and players. No six-pack ab or penis pics, please.), and whether what they claim they want connects with reality within that context. (Try defining “normal” in online dating sites…) It can seem like fin de siècle Vienna out there, right down to pics that can bring to mind Klimt or Kokoschka, sometimes both. Not literally, of course; just extending the metaphor. Just Google “okstupid” and pick a link for some real-life comedy/horror stories, with screen captures as proof. Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s mainly male horndogs who give lame “compliments” to women, followed by misogynistic grunts or tirades when they’re rejected.

Naturally, I always look at musical tastes when visiting profiles. And that’s with not being surprised to see a paucity of profiles that list classical and/or opera at all. Whenever it is mentioned, I do a kind of crack content analysis, reaching the purely unscientific conclusion (or I suppose hypothesis) that a certain reverse-cultural weight typically gets attached to it. If someone does mention it at all, which is rare, it’s usually as a bemused juxtaposition against other musical interests (they don’t know of my research, let alone the foundations supporting it, I guess). Either that, or the popular, “I like everything except classical lol.” In other words, I don’t want someone too high-falutin’, eggheads don’t apply… Or, put another way, I’m intimidated by it. Intimidated by the music, and intimidated by what it signifies. In other words, If you listen to classical music, you’re probably smart.

Too smart for me.

And that’s the original meaning of “intimidation” for the posting title… not just my apprehensions about “making the first move,” but about the kinds of messages I’ve received. Even from women who have contacted me first. It’s typically apprehensions about my formal education, which I try to downplay in my responses, but it’s sometimes about my interest in (or perhaps knowledge of) music, just because I explicitly mention classical / opera as my “first love.” In fact, I read such an apprehension recently in an initial contact message from a woman. However, when I looked at her profile, I saw the names of some obscure “popular” bands among her favourites. At least, ones I certainly hadn’t heard of at all; maybe they are actually “popular” after all. In this case, I suppose I can go back to another source of intimidation for me; not knowing about bands that perhaps I “should” know about, because they’re big right now, or they’re “hip” within a certain niche group (whether due to being diligently local, indie, or both), or they might somehow be potentially relevant to my research into cross-genre similarity and I’m missing them. But I feel the same way about a number of composers, too… whether within the traditional canon, or (especially) if one expands the scope beyond that. Precisely why, and because, I listen to music from many genres.

In any case, I fear that I’m ranting on two different topics. Online dating and musical tastes. But what’s a good point of conversation on a first date, clichéd though it may be, besides music? As PoF suggests in the “Edit Profile” section, one of four things to include if you “want to be successful” is to “Describe your taste in music.” In High Fidelity (2000), John Cusack’s character Rob breaks the fourth wall, going into the intricacies of making the perfect mixtape for a prospective object of one’s affection.

Perhaps going a little further afield from the “no hookups” standard mentioned in online dating sites, but still connected to the prospect of forming a physically intimate relationship (whether on the first date, if there is one, or waiting until marriage), Maslow points out that music and sex are the top two triggers for so-called “peak experiences.”

In a way, online dating profiles can act as a variant of the mixtape, whether within an autobiographical section, or within a section specifically about music. It’s textual, unfortunately, and may carry the assumption that (a) the person reading it will understand what you’re describing or (b) they’ll go to YouTube. Does one give genre categories, which are too vague, or does one get very specific, listing specific bands or composers, which might make one sound too clichéd or too arcane? Does one initially list music that more people are likely to be familiar with, as a way to pad the impact of seeing the more “arcane” music later?

Of course, one cannot judge the suitability of a potential partner in terms of musical tastes alone, even if you’re both into the same arcane musicians of any genre. While differing musical tastes might not necessarily be a “deal breaker,” the intricate connections between music and intimacy can seem sufficiently compelling, at least to get a relationship going. In any case, many of us would like to just find someone with whom to enjoy and share our lives (or, in some cases, multiple someones). Intoxicating as the sense of someone’s physical presence might be initially, multitudinous deeper connections are also important, generating ever-greater comingling waves of connection, melting and merging into each other. This can include numerous things, including music. Whether it’s on the basis of genre, musician, or some set of musical traits and facets not so easily defined within the confines of an online profile. For this reason, perhaps we should think more closely about what it is that people “really” like about the music they listen to, and by extension the degree to which online profiles are sufficient for matching people to those whom the system deems “similar.”

As some relationship statuses go on social media, “It’s complicated.” But then, perhaps it’s the nature of the perpetual, ever-compelling mystery. Das Geheimnnis der Liebe…

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