Friday, January 10, 2014

Who Do We Think We Are?

by Sheila Connolly

We’re all writers here, which means we create characters from our imagination.  That means we observe and analyze people (hoping we’re not too obvious).

But I started wondering about how people choose to present themselves to the world, and I realized I had a perfect (if small) sample, when I was looking at the Personals section of an alumni magazine for an institution of higher learning that shall remain nameless. It’s not a very long section, tucked in the rear—I guess a lot of alumni, most of whom are older and/or widowed, don’t want to admit they’re having trouble finding connections in the real world.  The young’uns still have hope, so they don’t bother.

So these well-educated people have one column inch, more or less, to define who they are—or who they want potential partners to believe they are. I was curious to see what features the seekers believed were important.  Here’s a list of first words, most often bolded: 
Searching for
Warm, witty
A breath of fresh air
Warm, youthful (looking for someone 60-70)
Beautiful professor wonderful smile, contagious laugh, sparkling blue eyes
Smart and pretty, gracious warm and slender

This is the first thing you’ll see in a person’s listing; the opening chapter, in book terms, where you have to snag the reader’s attention and make them keep reading.

The next item is most often about the appearance of this person (each line comes from an individual listing): 

Radiant, inspiring, attractive, slender
Youthful, in shape, petite, brunette
Fit, very youthful (at age 70)
Stunning 5’8” blonde
Beautiful, outgoing, slender, fit, an eye-catcher
Handsome, intellectual
Dynamic and outstanding VIP, stunner
Exceptionally accomplished, beautiful blonde, slender, fit

Beauty and fitness seem to come out on top.  I suppose we all want that from somebody north of 60.

What are these beautiful healthy people looking for?

Love, laughter and a beautiful future
Professionally accomplished (is that a code for wealthy?), healthy, active
Nice, sensitive, warm, finds humor in banter and whimsy
Someone to help me make the rest of my days more agreeable
A world traveler, exuberant with international sophistication, who enjoys contributing and giving back
Authentic, intellectually curious, loves nature/outdoor activities
Rugged/masculine on the outside and sensitive, kind, with good values on the inside
Soulful, creative, intellectual, attractive, thin, accomplished

There seems to be a balance between those who will share the life of the mind and those who want to go hiking, at home or abroad.

Whether they know it or not, these seekers have written the beginning of a romance novel or twelve.  Only they’re not young; they’re on the downhill slope of their lives and they’re still looking for that elusive someone.  Maybe they had it with someone who is now gone, but hope lives on.

Why is beautiful more important than kind and funny?  Is nobody looking for someone who will make you tea when you’re sick, and take out the trash and clean the cat litter?

And why are these listings so sad to read? Is it because they’re fiction?  How many beautiful people do you know?  I’m willing to bet you know more kind, nice, decent, helpful, responsible people that stunners. But admit it:  you kind of like to read about the beautiful (if lovelorn) ones.

 Coming February 4th


Edith Maxwell said...

Sheila, if you'd had occasion to prowl in a certain age range (as I did eleven years ago), you'd find exactly the same descriptions. And so true, that these are the beginnings of a novel, right down to and including the duds and the liars. Of which there are many on match. Lucky for me, I found one who was neither!

Sandra Parshall said...

I think these listings are sad to read because they represent loneliness and a need to connect with someone, even a stranger. I'm glad Edith got lucky!

J.R. said...

Even in Dostoevsky's great work CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, he made sure to note on PAGE TWO that Raskolnikov, the murderous main character, was unusually handsome, and later, when we met his family, we learned that both his mother and sister were remarkably beautiful.

As a man fascinated with human psychology, I think Dostoevsky realized that we will (perhaps unconsciously) sympathize more with a beautiful character.