Reticence and Riches: On OkCupid and Income


In Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener (1853), the eponymous protagonist works at a tedious administrative job, and one day begins to say “I would prefer not to” when given an assignment; he quickly grows a liking for this phrase, and begins employing it for every aspect of his life, negating all volition in a kind of Zen rush, until he is found spending his weekends at the office, in a corner staring at a wall 3 ft. away. The story can be interpreted in many ways: as pre-Kafkian parable on the absurdity of modernism; as Buddhist attained detachment; and more contemporary, as signs of clinical depression.

On OkCupid, the account holder is asked for their income, but given the option to “rather not say”; modesty or shame aside, this Bartleby-esque euphemism for evasion is striking—and let’s assume that a man who would “rather not say” will be met by the same fate as Bartleby, namely, spending his weekends in a corner staring at a wall.

Damn the patriarchy until it’s time to get the check at dinner. Culled from OkCupid’s stat-heavy blog, men with higher reported salary get more unsolicited messages from women than men with low reported salary (though you will notice minor deviations before age 23, perhaps a mark of more idealist and non-fiscal times). It’s cute how the colors reflect traffic light models: green is go, yellow is wait, red is no. The staunch column “no” for men making 20 – 30K reflects a kind of courtship red-tape, a bureaucracy of the heart. Either that or canned chili is not romantic.

If Melville is to guide us through this, one easily jumps to Moby-Dick (1851), a story of dire conquest and obsession, of impossibilities made real in a delusional mind (sounds like trying to get laid with a missing leg; methinks Ahab would bite his tongue at the castration metaphor).

Recently single again, I started an OkCupid account out of a mixture of hope and despair, the latter towards which I’m slowly ambling. The income array looks like a highly pixilated image zoomed in at 1400%. Squint at it long enough and it begins to resemble, well, nothing. Pour salt, sugar, and cocaine in a bowl and you have entropy. Pour two glasses of wine and you have the perfect setting for a date—if only she shows up. The universe is expanding; my prostrate is contracting. Love is tough, finding love is hell, all single people thrown in a pool of limbo and expired condoms. I opted to “rather not say” what my income is. However understandably relevant, it just feels glib—but based on my age and income, it’s fair to say that the ladies have decided to wait.