Nobody’s perfect, which is no doubt why we play the purely mental, somewhat creepy game of assembling an ideal romantic partner from scratch. If you never saw the movie Weird Science, this BuzzFeed quiz is a prime example: it asks readers to choose a theoretical boyfriend’s height, body type, style, talents, career, and approach to sex — all under the pretense of revealing something about your own personality, but really because you enjoy patching together these qualities into a flawless hologram of a fiancé the same way you build a Sim character. The daydream which attends this exercise is:
Maybe that person is out there.
Again, they’re not. You could, however, find and love someone similar in almost every aspect; that’s, like, the best-case scenario. But you’ll drive yourself crazy if you spend your time imagining so-and-so’s face paired with another guy’s sense of humor, or on any such Frankenstein fantasy. In real life, there’s compromise, and usually not even that — dating is hard, meaning plenty of folks will take whomever they can get. This is common and frustrating experience that animates Twitter’s meme of the moment:
The genius of the “build the perfect (wo)man” joke is two-fold, reminding us that no such man exists while hinting that if he did, he’d still be out of reach. In real life, you may protest, the caliber of your mate doesn’t come down to financial restrictions. Well, doesn’t it? Money dictates where you live and what you can do for leisure, your diet and work hours and social circles. That’s not to say you’ll only get together with a person in your tax bracket, but the financial anxiety of debt-saddled millennials surviving recessions and the gig economy while watching friends get married off — and the gloomy outlook of teens facing future economic decline — is a motif woven into the very fabric of social media. Think of how much of your feed is occupied by links to crowdfunders for medical bills, complaints about being broke, rage at craven billionaires, and confessions of reckless spending. The godfather of Weird Twitter, @dril, summed up this generational unease in what many consider his best post, a ludicrous list of expenses.
What’s so intriguing, given where it wound up, is that the customize-a-boyfriend version of the conceit debuted in 2015 as a genuine conversation-starter, passed around and modified mostly by radio hosts who wanted fans to call in with their answers. At this stage, the parlor game was in earnest — you had enough money to afford some good traits, just not enough to buy them all, and could therefore think critically on the subject of what you find most important in a suitor. Then you could debate those choices among friends, like when you play Fuck/Marry/Kill to tease out everybody’s private preferences.
Soon enough, we saw the first twist, in which the setup inevitably leads to settling for the dude who constructed it — a relatable outcome if you’ve ever embarked on a fling with a person simply because they were interested, available, and not totally insane.
The past week or so delivered a new, often surrealist angle, substituting song lyrics, cartoon references, and straight-up nonsense in the place of actual characteristics.
Here we’re seeing the irony inflection stage of a meme cycle — the endgame in which extremely online commentators appropriate a normie trope and turn it inside out for likes from followers who recognize (and are usually already sick of) the original formula. On a basic level, they’re mocking the inanity of the original thought experiment, yet many of these same people filter confessions of heartbreak and financial struggle through a screen of sardonic detachment. In that light, their “perfect” partner tweets, jokey as they may be, vent the pressures of seeking a soulmate amid the ruins of late capitalism. The monetary concern is almost metaphorical: we all want to be self-sufficient, but we want a second pair of hands to support us and pick up the slack, too. We wish our world wasn’t bound by bank accounts, but we know that steady wages offer a dose of security.
Fitting that this social platform, where we delight in continually showing our asses and cutting the weight of depressive remarks with the tacked-on “lol,” would produce this roundabout acknowledgement of feeling stuck, unsuccessful, and disappointed on dual fronts. Intentionally or not, we signal how much bullshit we’ll put up with just to get laid now and then — the price of admission we’re prepared to pay again and again, despite the buyer’s remorse from the last fling. This is who the diehard digital natives are: out of cash, out of love, out of luck, a personal catastrophe around every corner. Even the simplest vision of fulfillment and companionship is erased — it’s just not in the budget.