"Reworking the bounds of modern dating is not an easy job, it is not a job we should take on alone." Photo: Nicholas Swartz

Since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic three years ago, social interactions have existed almost entirely on virtual platforms. We work virtually, we hang out with our friends virtually and, most importantly, we date virtually. Over the past three years, we have met people almost exclusively at face value, and while long-distance or chronically online relationships aren’t new to the queer community, their sincerity seems to have fallen flat.

When it comes to modern online dating, your personality is often reduced to what you can display within a couple of square images, an emoji and a few words–if you’re lucky enough to have someone read them. That is to say, we have nothing to go on for what a person is truly like except for the illusion they have built in the dating app before us. We are then left to fill in the gaps alone using whatever biases or stereotypes we know to fill in the picture and, or better or for worse, fill in what people have.

It is impossible to fully showcase the brevity and multi-dimensionality of your personhood in six photos or less. What is real and what is not? It is all inconclusive when all the personal information you have to go by is “Jessie, 29, Medical Resident” or “What I Order For The Table Is: Chips & Queso.”

But as widely known this fact is, we continue to play into the game regardless. We shove ourselves into the labels presented before us, quantifying our sexualities, our hobbies and our interests into a series of drop-down topics, hoping they reveal enough about us to serve as the truth. And all the while we know we have minimized ourselves to appear more palatable online and that we are likely to end up feeling misunderstood and invalidated as soon as we lock the screen before us.

We have sat alone in our own homes, dissecting and reconstructing our personalities to align with the belief of what makes the perfect profile and what will attract our perfect match.

Then, when things inevitably don’t work out, we blame the apps or ourselves. We blame anyone but the true monster hiding beneath our virtual beds: the fact that queer people were never meant to be contained, to be quantified and composed into what is socially acceptable for the masses.

Maxwell Katelen tackles discrimination in dating. Photo: Maxwell Katelen

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then attractiveness is its social standard. What it means to be cool, what it means to be liked and accepted is a wildly subjective idea that few will win at and many will lose in.

Attraction is, at its core, a discriminatory concept. In order for someone to be seen as attractive, there must first be someone who falls flat in comparison. And hiding behind the social hierarchy of attraction is a long-standing history of racism, ableism, fatphobia, internalized homophobia, misogyny, or misogynoir and much, much more.

We are not born either attractive or unworthy of companionship. Rather, it is something that we acquire — characterizations dished out by the social standard to make people who don’t “fit in” truly believe that they are worth less and deserve less than those who sit at the top of this fictional scale.

How you choose to live within this hierarchy, however, is a different story.

Try as we might, there is no way to code our way out of centuries of discrimination and hate, much to the chagrin of modern dating apps. And our own intuitions, unfortunately, are not always the best judges of character, either. In many ways, we have forced ourselves, on behalf of societal norms, into thinking that there is only one way to be desirable and that, often, we’re not it.

Reworking the bounds of modern dating is not an easy job, it is not a job we should take on alone. It requires a community–friends, professionals, loved ones who can look at us in an objective and unbiased way and tell us what we all ultimately need to hear: “You are beautiful, and that person, that bully online will never understand the depth of your goodness because they are so afraid of diving into the uniqueness of their own.”

If you don’t have someone to tell you that, let me be the first. As for the second person to tell you–well, let’s leave that to the professionals among us within the dating industry.

Maxwell Katelen is the marketing and event coordinator for Fern Connections, an LGBTQIA+ and ally-focused matchmaking company. She is a regular contributor to Dallas Voice.