Recently, a female friend and I were browsing through Match.com profiles of Dallas men. Online dating was an unexplored universe to her, and she was curious what my potential suitors looked like. After about half a dozen, she turned to me. “How can you even tell them apart?”
Good question. If Dallas women are famous for their ability to stand out in a crowd, Dallas men might be distinguished by the fact that they don’t. It all blurs together. Jeans and a plaid button-down. Baseball caps of nonbaseball teams. Fifty shades of khaki. Dallas is a conservative town, and that extends to the way men dress. If you’re looking for velvet smoking jackets or eccentric beards, we point you toward Denton.
But within that sameness, there is also a Dallas brand. Having spent so much time examining the beauty habits of the well-heeled female, I turned my attention toward the male species. What could I learn about them from their dating profiles?
First lesson: they take terrible pictures of themselves. I’d noticed a baseline incompetency in men’s photos before, but it isn’t until you actually drill into the earth that you discover how much bedrock is there. And there was plenty. Tiny, grainy pictures. Photos from so far away that you’d think some dude handed his camera to a space alien. Glum portraits taken at the bathroom sink with the phone still visible, which, in 2013, is a bit like having an AOL account.
I don’t want to rag on Dallas men. It is awkwardness squared to build an online dating profile. But I can’t help noticing that women, so accustomed to being judged for their appearance, are aces in this department, while men’s photos look like mugshots. I wonder if there’s some macho self-consciousness about the very act of taking a photo, as though a flattering picture is somehow feminine? After all, Don Draper wouldn’t be caught dead taking a selfie. (Ooh, Tumblr idea: “Don Draper’s selfies.” You’re welcome, internet.)
Perhaps most baffling among these ill-considered photos is the ubiquitous profile picture snapped in the front seat of a car. As everyone knows, nothing flatters like a seat belt. I realize women take these pictures, too, but I saw so many men doing this, and I am confounded by the mental process leading up to it. Here you are, sitting in traffic. Is there anything you need to do right now? Oh, yes: take the defining photo of yourself.
But this can’t-be-bothered quality can be seen in Dallas men’s wardrobe as well. I’ve written about this before, as it stands in such contrast to the wedding-cake ornamentation of our city’s ladies. But for the men of Dallas, it’s like clothes just happened to them. This is not a value judgement. My brother (one of the best men I know) spent several years wearing little else but Polo shirts. He’s an engineer, not interested in shopping, and I understood this as a combination of aspirational branding and total fashion indifference. There was also a comfort quality. He liked what he liked, and he stuck to it.
Where Dallas guys do get wacky in their wardrobe is when it comes to sports. So many novelty jerseys and goofy college insignias. Data from Match.com, based here in the city, confirms that North Texas users are more likely to play sports than the rest of the country, especially football. (More fun Dallas data: the favorite first date spot is a steakhouse.) Meanwhile, going to the gym is so popular that when I did a search for nearby men who work out five or more times a week, I got 200 pages of results. Not 200 men. But 200 pages of them.
Of course, none of this is exclusive to Dallas men. Guys across the country watch the Cowboys, follow the P90X workout, and shoot clumsy photos of themselves on the way to their sales jobs. But put all these data points together and you start to see the outline of your typical Dallas guy. I asked a gay friend from Brooklyn to evaluate Dallas men on OkCupid, and he saw one more quality: sincerity. Less urban snark, more Christian earnestness. (If you want to stand out on Dallas dating sites, say that you are an atheist.) He looked at gay men, too, and described Dallas gays as “clean-shaven and well-moisturized.”
There were other things he noticed, too: hunting and fishing and trucks. Things that have stopped scanning to me as specifically Texan, which must mean I’m fully reintegrated now. These days, what snags my attention on dating sites is one of those guys so crackling with personality that you can just feel it on the page. The velvet smoking jacket. The eccentric beard. I take back what I said before. Dallas is a big city, and we do have plenty of artsy weirdos here, too. Maybe I won’t have to move to Denton after all.