I’ve never actually seen a police sketch (outside of the infamous Unabomber drawing that looked like Everyman in a hood and big sunglasses) but I always assumed the intended purpose of these sketches was to pinpoint what a potential perp looked like.*And then earlier this week, I got a message in the 50/50 inbox from a reader who was telling me about his experiences in online dating (he’s new to the scene) and reported what another friend had told him: that one should use online dating profiles the way police sketches were intended to be used.
Given what most people think about police sketches, this sounds a touch insane. I’ll explain.
According to my reader (and backed up by a little use of the Google), police sketches aren’t intended to be exact representations of a suspect that are immediately identifiable. Instead, the portraits are meant to “simplify the investigation” by highlighting features and narrowing who the police should be looking for. Suddenly, tips received can be filtered as “useful” or “probably not” (hey, even if you’re looking for a hooded, sunglassed white man, you’ll know to steer clear of tips that discuss a tattooed Samoan).
Here’s the thing: online dating profiles shouldn’t be intended to be exact representations of a person. They are, after all, a glorified Myspace/Friendster/LiveJournal (yeah, I referenced the oldest social media and blogs worth noting) with the purpose of meeting people to form intimate connections with. And anyone who thinks social media is anything more than a peep hole into someone’s soul is probably lacking a sense of maturity and worldliness and understanding of humanity.
It’s easy to judge a person by their online dating profile, just like it’s easy to judge a person by their Facebook page or Instagram feed because the profile is a snapshot. Sure, you’ll learn a little about what they like and what makes them tick – and if you’re intuitive and read between lines, you might pick up a bit about a person’s characteristics. You don’t know what a person will look like in motion, what they’ll sound like, or what their demeanor is.
What a dating profile can do is give you a sketch of a person – you get the idea, but not the whole story. And yes, sketches are imperfect, just like every person who graced the earth with their being, ever. So they’re a bit flawed and rough around the edges. You still get the main points.
I’ve clearly been doing corporate writing lately, because now I want to call everyone to action and say something like, now go out there and give online daters a bit more of a chance. But that is mega sales pitchy to me, so instead, I’ll say this: the best dates I’ve ever been on are with people I knew very little about other than roughly what they looked liked and that they were probably reasonably safe. And I guess that goes with the thesis of my project – that we should be more open to dating different types of people, and first dates can more often be good than not.
*Check that use of the slang “perp!” I’ve seen CSI once or twice! I’ve seen Magnum PI a lot…but strangely no one uses that lingo there.