The rise of dropping literary names on dating apps
For Tilly, a 29-year-old single graduate student from London, a comfortable life full of ideas and conversation is the epitome of romance. She acknowledges that she identifies as a sapiosexual – someone who finds intelligence attractive – and that’s exactly how she positioned herself when she started dating online.
“I’ve always imagined my ideal partner as some kind of distracted teacher, tortured writer or seedy poet,” she says. “I had this idea in mind that we would sit together in front of the Sunday morning paper to do the crossword puzzle or go for long walks happily discussing what we had read.”
When Tilly came across a handsome man named Joe on a dating app, she was immediately drawn to him. “He used a quote from Ernest Hemingway,” she recalled. “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.“She couldn’t help but notice that Joe’s quote was complementary to Virginia Woolf’s line in her own biography:”If you don’t tell the truth about yourself, you can’t tell the truth about others.“Could this be the brainy man of her dreams?”
Joe and Tilly aren’t the only singles looking for appealing bits of literature when creating their online dating profiles. Naming authors and books is booming on dating apps. In 2021, tinder says references to Brontë sisters skyrocketed 150%, mentions Agatha Christie and Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice increased by 30 percent, and quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald Gatsby the magnificent increased by 115%. According to data from OKCupidwomen are more likely to share quotes from Woolf and Toni Morrison, and men lean towards writers like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.
While most people in the dating scene would never dream of approaching someone at a bar and using a Shakespeare quote as a pick-up line, thousands now regularly brag about their favorite books and authors — or at least volumes and writers who sound impressive – in their profiles. Why is the urge to verify authors’ names and broadcast their best lines gaining popularity on apps?
For many, a literary quote is the perfect way to sum up intellectual interests in a crowded online dating pool. “The battle is on to stand out in a sea of images and match with people who are closer to what you’re actually looking for by appearing quirky and witty,” says the therapist and tell you a better lie author Marisa Peer. “If you’re very focused on what you’re looking for in a partner, a quote or book endorsement can help ensure you’re a match for someone who is on the same page.”
However, for daters like Tilly, dropping the literary name doesn’t necessarily lead to a meeting of minds. She used a quote to show what she wanted out of a relationship, but Joe quickly turned from book lover to ghost. After the pair hit it off, they went on five dates and then Joe disappeared. “I got hurt,” Tilly said. “But looking back, we haven’t talked about books once. He was more interested in talking about his work in finance.
Tilly wanted to find someone she could sit in an armchair with and pontificate about the poetry of modernism while poring over a copy of an obscure literary supplement. Instead, she teamed up with a finance brother whose Hemingway line turned out to be misleading. “[It’s] ironic that he put a quote about the importance of listening in his profile,” she says, “and then spent all of our dates bragging about the quality of his work, before ghosting me.
After adding a Pablo Neruda quote to his profile, Grayce also met a man who was too good to be true. “He brought a shiny new Neruda poetry book to mirror my Facebook and Instagram profiles,” she recalled of their first date. Three months later, she moved across the country to live with Carl. But she eventually realized that he was not the sensitive man he had portrayed. “I feel like I shared too much of my heart way too soon,” she says. “[I was] easy prey for a secret predator or aggressor.
Since the experience, Grayce has completely changed his mind about literary name-dropping. She no longer believes the quotes paint an accurate picture of the person behind the profile. “My feeling is that online dating is full of messy men and lots of humans who know how to make the system work, which means they say the right things to get laid without intending to get laid. ‘have a long-term relationship,'” she said. “It’s insidious and upsetting.”
While swipers like Tilly and Grayce have used literary references to showcase their intellectual interests and search for someone with similar passions, there are others like Joe and Carl who use references – often from elsewhere in line – to paint a picture of the type of person they would like to see on potential dates.
Just like slipping into a new outfit can change the way people perceive you, dressing up your biography with a quote can give you a whole new personality. A literary quote explodes the message that you are the type to read. Using a carefully selected literary quote in a dating biography can instantly put a dater in a category. Kerouac? Adventurous, impulsive, thoughtful. Woolf? Introspective, generous, methodical. Ginsberg? Smart, reclusive, pissed off.
“In my early twenties, I used to put a literary quote in each of my social and dating profiles,” admits self-proclaimed dropper Adam. “Now whenever I remember I used to do that, I instantly cringe at myself. I had no idea I was capable of doing something so cheesy in public.
It can be tempting to use quotes and literary references to try to narrow the online dating pool, but as the stories of Tilly and Grayce demonstrate, it rarely works — and can even be a diversion. With more people citing the same type of quotes from the same writers, it becomes easier to see through the scheme.
Peer suggests that it’s possible to continue using quotes, although you should always add elements of yourself into the mix. “Instead of just using quotes,” she says, “think about how you might illustrate how the quote fits you — your interests, values, and beliefs — and reflect them in your biography to give everyone potential match a flavor of your personality.” She advises checking to see if the quote really adds something of your personality or just sends a message of intellectual snobbery.
If you’re on the receiving end, read a quote on a dating app bio with a grain of salt. To be sure, assume the writer found it through a quick Google search rather than on one of his many library jaunts. A reference to a work of literature may initially appear as a deeper insight into the person on the other side of the screen, but it can be as superficial as any other dating app schema. Parting, it seems, is not such a sweet grief.
“I’ve come to realize that a three-second glance at a dating app profile will never give me any real insight into who the person really is,” Tilly says. “Whether they’re talking about books or not, I won’t know if they’re someone I might want to spend my life with until I meet them and get to know them. A quote doesn’t tell you much when you don’t know where the person found it or why they’re actually using it.
Meg Walters is a London-based writer who has contributed to Cosmopolitan, QG, Refinery29, Apartment Therapyand Initiated. Follow her on Twitter @wordsbyMfor example.
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