When I first checked out StuffWhitePeopleLike.com — because everyone I knew was checking out StuffWhitePeopleLike.com, and recommending, repeatedly, that I check out StuffWhitePeopleLike.com — I couldn’t stop thinking about an internet date I’d been on a few weeks after I first moved to New York.
The girl was from Queens, a short, pale, pretty thing with fierce black eyes and a gap between her front teeth. She took me to an old-school Italian restaurant that I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to find again. I got there by taxi. She showed up twenty minutes late via two subways, a bus, and a twenty-block stroll. The restaurant was called Angelino’s. The owner — our waiter, her father — was named Angelino.
At first, it all seemed like a grand experience.
Hadn’t I moved to New York for this very authenticity? Here I was, on a date with a member of a faraway culture at a restaurant with red-and-white checked vinyl tablecloths and no Zagats listing. But something felt off.
When we compared the usual notes — the schools we went to, the things we did on weekends, our feelings for our deceased childhood pets — nothing matched up. "You’re funny," she told me near the end of the date, her "you’re" sounding remarkably like the outer-borough "yo-wa" you hear in the movies. But she didn’t mean I made her laugh. She meant I made no sense. "Well," I said, feeling hopelessly bourgeois, "I guess you’re pretty funny, too." I never saw this girl from Queens again.
I drink too much bottled water (#76). I wear overpriced vintage t-shirts (#84), loved studying abroad (#72) and stand completely still at concerts (#67). I’m a fan of Michel Gondry (#68), Apple products (#40) and Stephen Colbert (#35). I’ve threatened to move to Canada on more than one occasion (#75). And I don’t mind that StuffWhitePeopleLike.com — a blog that lampoons the over-educated yuppies and hipsters who populate the nation’s trendy urban centers and mixed-use development zones — pinpoints me with such eerie accuracy, assessing my predilections like a gifted psychic reader. The site is a fairly amusing send-up of the slightly embarrassing, clearly predictable culture I’m a part of.
But the fact that it also describes virtually my entire dating history — that really unnerves me. When I moved to New York, I imagined my dating repertoire would reflect the diversity of a Barack Obama rally (#8). But this doesn’t happen, or at least, it didn’t for me. I ended up dating exactly the people StuffWhitePeopleLike.com depicts: other white people who’d come to New York lusting after authenticity, ponying up their ample disposable income to purchase something that feels like "the real thing." People like me who moved here to drink from some mystical font of urban cultural capital, then just kept on dating within the tight-jean pool.
If you’re one of these people, you can supposedly appreciate the irony (#50).
For instance, take another date I went on soon after arriving in New York, one far more representative of the date I would typically come to find myself on. We met at an Asian-fusion restaurant (#45). I ordered the vegan teriyaki (#32), she ordered the sushi (#42). We bonded over our bad memories of high school (#83), and compared the uselessness of our respective liberal-arts degrees (#47). She told me about her work at a non-profit (#12). I told her my reasons for not owning a TV (#28). We both agreed New York was the greatest city we knew (#26) because of the diversity (#7), the indie music (#41) and the architecture (#34).
It’s not that I haven’t dated captivating, unique girls within the Stuff White People Like cultural spectrum. It’s just that there’s a Groundhog Day sensation that comes with repeatedly dating people cut from the same American Apparel-purchased cloth. How many times will I be asked to a dinner party (#80) on the fourth date, to meet her friends? How many nights will I find myself at Whole Foods (#48) picking out produce for a romantic, organic (#6) dinner for two? How many Sunday mornings will be consumed pacing the sidewalks outside breakfast places (#36), waiting to indulge in another post-coital brunch?
With all of the cogs that must fit together to make a date function, it’s no surprise we often end up dating people who are essentially just like us. But in a subculture that puts such a premium on other types of diversity — religions our parents don’t belong to (#2), being the only white person around (#71), having black friends (#14) — it seems odd that we’re so often content to date our clones.
When my friends directed me to Stuff White People Like, it was with one unified endorsement: "It’s so true!" They not only saw themselves in the site, but all of their past and present romantic partners. When I complained that the site bummed me out because it highlighted my homogeneous dating history in one of the world’s most heterogeneous cities, one friend argued this was inevitable when one interacts solely with people in their same tax bracket. "I’ve been on a bunch of dates in New York," she told me, "and not all of the guys have been white, but all have been middle-class. I just don’t meet many people outside the middle class through my job, school, or social network." (The blog understands this — it’s not really about white people. Dedicated readers will have noticed that certain kinds of white people are "the wrong kind of white people," i.e., white people who like Dane Cook.)
Before moving to New York, when I had fantasized about experiencing a range of love affairs with people wholly unlike myself, I never took into account the fact that it takes special effort to meet such people.
I never imagined I’d work in an office full of people just like me, live in a neighborhood full of people just like me. I figured just inhabiting a diverse city would mean I’d inevitably cross lives with a diverse sampling of people, like in Crash.
Steven, twenty-nine, thinks the problem comes down to fear-based cultural self-segregation. He’d be interested in picking up girls other than the familiar types, he says, if they ever showed up at the bars he frequents. "Honestly, I don’t even know any bars in Manhattan that aren’t full to the brim with people, essentially, like me. And if I did, I’d be afraid to go, not for fear of having trouble with the women, but of dealing with the other guys."
Colin, a twenty-seven-year-old graduate student, tried dating outside the Stuff White People Like sphere a few times before retreating to more like-cultured mates. "I had dates with two girls from Chinese families, and there just ended up being a lot of non-intriguing non-communication," he says. Because the distance toward middle ground was so far, each date was almost entirely basic "get to know you" conversation, so much so that they hardly got to know each other at all.
For Colin, there isn’t much inconsistency in seeking diversity in the daytime and familiarity in bed at night. "When I think about the sort of ‘diverse experiences’ I’m into, they tend to be some version of the tourist idea — something I can go and check out, and then leave," he says. "I like weird foods when I go out, for instance, but I eat cereal at home. Since relationships aren’t something I can do tourist-style, I end up dating familiar types."
Stuff White People Like often lampoons the touristic nature of white people’s interest in the world — the idea that by merely sampling from various cultures, we become more worldly, more sensitive, more refined. And maybe the idea that we could sleep our way through various cultures in order to feel more "urban" isn’t any different. If doing so is just another way to pick up ego-fueling diversity points, we should be glad it’s uncommon. n°
©2008 Joey Rubin and Nerve.com