Digital Cyranos: The Strangeness of Online Dating Surrogates

Daters--mostly men--pay writers to assume their identities

This article is from the archive of our partner .

A recent Washington Post trend piece describes the rise of "online dating assistants," writers-for-hire who correspond with singles on matchmaking sites on behalf of their (mostly male) clients. Here's how it works: Say you want to meet someone on or eHarmony, but are too busy, or otherwise disinclined, to write a profile, sort through potential partners, and exchange e-mails. You hire an online dating assistant to do all of this for you, under your name--and once the date is set up, you go out to meet someone in real life whom you may have never actually communicated with, and who thinks they've been talking to you all along.

Sound odd? More than a few writers think so:

  • Basically Lying, is the opinion of Jared Gordon, a blogger quoted in the Post story. "It is! It's awful! You're misrepresenting yourself. You're lying about yourself," Gordon told Ellen McCarthy, the author of the story. McCarthy goes on to note that "in Gordon's mind, it's tantamount to having someone else write your college term paper, or putting a picture of a more attractive stranger on your online dating profile. 'You're going to fall in love with someone because of their honesty,' he says. 'And some people might say, 'Who has the time to write a profile?' But if something is that important to you, you make the time to do it.'"
  • Equates Dating With Shopping At Slate, Amanda Marcotte muses about the attitudes that might underlie such a practice. "Hiring someone to pretend to be you, feigning interest in looking up and chatting with women through a dating Web site, isn't cheap, of course. The customers of this service largely seem to be privileged but busy men, which only adds to the creepy sense that they see dating as a form of shopping, and shopping as a chore that can be delegated to the help."
  • Imagine How the Other Person Feels! Jezebel's Sadie Stein lingers on a quote from one of the men in the Post story who uses an online assistant because he feels "a little small pain of rejection" when a woman doesn't show interest. Fair enough, says Stein--"but as a woman, I can tell you that for most of the women I know, finding out we've been courted by a surrogate is going to lead to a much harsher - and more personal - form of rejection."
  • Sucks the Romance Out of It  Mark White of Psychology Today is skeptical about the whole idea of virtual courting. "Generally, there's just something detached and clinical about online dating, with or without an assistant. I may be a hopeless romantic... but I still cling to the ideal of two strangers meeting each other's gaze across a crowded room while the world melts away, a la Tony and Maria in 'West Side Story.' The internet can be a wonderful tool to enhance our lives and expand our social networks, but it seems to me that some things are just not the same if they aren't done in person, and meeting the love of your life (or even of this month) would be at the top of that list."
  • Another Possible Explanation What might drive people to use assistants? National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez gets in the best zinger. "I guess if you grew up with shortcuts to winning Super Mario Brothers, it's only natural?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.