If Pat Benatar thought love was a battlefield in the 1980s, then one can only assume she would consider love a full-blown cyber war in the present day. Online and app-based dating services have become a preferred method of meeting a potential mate for single people everywhere, and with these high-tech services come a host of new issues, etiquette, and anxieties. Anxiety over being catfished — or catfishing someone else — is constant when you’re entrusting your romantic life to The App Store. If it’s not the worry that we’re unwittingly flirting with an axe murderer, it’s the concern that our pictures are boring, not good enough, or, worse, inaccurate.
In my experience with dating apps, my worries about inconsistencies between my IRL appearance and my profile pictures had overshadowed any excitement about the actual dates I went on. I’d ask my friends to review my photos for their honest opinions of whether they were accurate, I’d reorganize the order of my pictures for optimal representation, and even considered Photoshopping myself petting a tiger (was I the only person who had not met a tiger?). I was so concerned about my physical representation, that I forgot about my personal representation, showing nothing of the confident, happy person I normally am. One morning, after a string of particularly disastrous Bumble dates, I decided I was handing too much power over to these men who were essentially strangers. The only way to get it back was to lead with 100% honesty.
Using my Snapchat camera (the iPhone camera reverses your face, which can make you look super weird to yourself) in the best possible light in my apartment, I pulled back my hair and smiled at the camera at 7 AM, just after waking up. I cropped the borders off the photo, uploaded it to Bumble, and added a note at the bottom of my bio: “The last picture is no makeup, no filter, taken earlier this week”. Apprehensively, I began using the app as usual. If they didn’t like it, they didn’t have to swipe right. Right?
The bad news first: I got considerably fewer matches than before. If dating is a numbers game, then I took a serious blow in this round. That said, my NMNF (no makeup, no filter) selfie worked in more ways than one. For one thing, it weeded out the superficial suitors. I didn’t have to attempt to engage in conversation with the auto-right swipers who definitely subscribe to the numbers-game philosophy.
Unexpectedly, the picture was also a useful icebreaker. Out of the 10 men I’ve talked to since I uploaded the picture, six have complimented me for my confidence and transparency. “No makeup, huh? Me either!” an Irish cutie cracked. Another dude wrote, “I really respect that last picture. I’ve met a few totally misrepresenting themselves on here and Tinder.” A couple of the men said it was their favorite out of my entire set of pictures, causing me to completely reassess both my assumptions regarding what men want and my budget for Sephora this year (kidding, it’s going to take more than a couple of compliments to keep me from making VIB Rouge status).
I’m not one to fill up my dance card to the brim, so I didn’t pursue dates with all 10 guys. However, these conversations restored my faith in the straight male race. I thought that posting this picture would result in me never getting a match again. I ended up talking to a bunch of nice, cute guys who at the very least wanted to give me a high five for being real. I ended up liking myself and the guys of the world more just by being as upfront as I possibly could. But all of this male praise isn’t really the point, is it? My central concern was taking the way I felt about myself back from other people. The additional commendations are just cute-boy icing on my female-empowerment cake.
When I went on a first date after putting the picture up, I experienced something I never have before: serenity. Not only had this dude already seen exactly what I looked like, he had not yet seen me with the additional bonuses of highlighter and mascara. I wasn’t jittering my foot against the stool or checking my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. I was also sober for the whole date (another experiment I conducted, and a story for another time), so I can’t blame my confidence on tequila. I was 100% (ok, 90%) relaxed, and was able to size up the person sitting in front of me instead of myself. We talked, we laughed, and we’re going on another date this week. In the great cyber war of 2016, I’m gonna count this one as a win.