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5 Reasons Why Literary Online Dating Might Not Work

July 30, 2013
She wrote in her profile that she loves reading Kurt Vonnegut books and taking walks on the beach, but guys only looked at her picture.

She wrote in her profile that she loves reading Kurt Vonnegut books and taking walks on the beach, but guys only looked at her picture.

I have nothing against online dating.  If online dating had been around when I was single, I would have taken advantage of it. Back in the 1990s, we had the personals in the back of the newspaper.  The personals were great because if I messed up a date (which I usually did), nobody I knew would find out about it later.   I had some interesting experiences with the personals (maybe not as interesting as the girlfriend I met in an apartment laundry room, but still pretty interesting).  

Sometimes introverted readers can feel left out of the dating scene, but a couple of literary websites (not Dysfunctional Literacy) have their own personals section (here and here for examples).  Potential daters take profile pictures while they’re holding books, and they can try to match up with readers of similar tastes. I’m a bit jealous.  I never had literary personals, but I dated several women who liked to read.  Dating somebody who likes to read because you’re the kind of person who also likes to read sounds great in theory.  But I’ve lived through this.  It doesn’t usually work.  Here’s why: 

1.  Reading is not usually a date activity. 

Reading is different from a lot of hobbies.  If two people like biking, they might enjoy biking together on a date.  Reading is not a social activity.  For some, it’s what they do because they don’t like hanging around people.  For others, it’s what they do when there’s nothing else to do.  Either way, reading is something people do when they’re not being social.  Most people don’t read together on a date.  They might stare at their own phones on a date, but they won’t actually read books on their dates.  Even I didn’t do that. 

2. Reading is not (usually) a shared experience. 

Even if a couple wants to try reading together on a date, this can be a negative experience.  Every reader goes at his/her own pace.  When a group watches a movie, everybody shares the experience at the same time.  When a couple goes to dinner, the two people share the same experience at the same time. 

Reading is different.  Unless a couple is listening to an audio, the couple will read at different pace.  One person wants quiet.  The other person wants background noise.  One makes comments about the book.  The other wants the commenter to shut up.  Readers might want to discuss the book after they’re done (or at scheduled intervals during the reading process), but most readers don’t want ongoing discussions (“Did you catch the typo on page 45?”) and interruptions (“You wanna see my book mark?”). 

3. Book tastes are different. 

Just because two people like to read doesn’t mean they like to read the same books.  One of my literary girlfriends in college read Susan Sontag while I was reading a Mickey Spillane book.  She made several contemptuous remarks about the quality of literature I had chosen (in my defense, I think I had just finished reading The Prairie by James Fenimore Cooper for an American Lit class, and I just needed an easy book with a high body count). 

Women who read Susan Sontag look down upon guys who read Mickey Spillane, and I don’t like snide comments about the books I choose.  You can make fun of my face, or make fun of my car, or make fun of my mom, but don’t make fun of the books I read. 

4. A jerk who reads can be as bad as a jerk who doesn’t read. 

Studies may show that people who read fiction are more empathetic than people who don’t read fiction, but those studies may themselves be fiction (I don’t always trust studies, even if I want to believe them).  Some of the most obnoxious people I’ve met are book store cashiers, but to be fair, I’ve never seen a book cashier actually read a book.  It might be like the fast food employee who won’t touch the food they cook.  I’ve met a lot of jerks who read books.  I might even be one of the jerks who reads books. 

5. Readers can lie like everybody else. 

Dating websites are known for untruthful profiles.  There’s probably just as much lying on the literary personals as there is on an average site (no proof whatsoever to back up my baseless assertion).  After all, readers tend to be decent writers, and writers embellish.  Therefore, it makes sense that there would be some lying (or embellishing) on the literary dating site.  I hope the profiles are at least well-written.  I hate being lied to by illiterates.  I really hate falling for the lies told (or written) by illiterates. 


I like to read.  My wife likes to read.  We very rarely talk to each other about what we read (but we do talk about other things).  That might be why our literary relationship works.  I might be (and probably am) wrong about reading and dating (I’m married to my wife, but I’m not married to my opinion of literary online dating).  For my five reasons it can go wrong, there may be ten reasons why it’s great.

I just hope (right or wrong) I don’t have to go through that literary dating experience again.  Thankfully, it’s for others to decide if it works or not.

  1. I’m not on the dating scene anymore, but when I was, I would prefer seeing “like to read books” rather than “like to watch TV”.

    • I once went out with a woman because she put down in her profile that she watched Seinfeld (this was in the 1990s). It was a bad reason to go out. Nothing happened, but I thought that was appropriate since Seinfeld was a show about nothing.

  2. Interestingly, my partner and I both enjoy reading, and some of our best conversations have revolved around books we’ve read. We’ll also read together (our own books) sometimes. i guess we manage to make it an almost-social activity.

    But I enjoyed reading your post – especially the humour.

    • I’m glad other couples have had more positive experiences reading together than I have. My wife and I agree on most movies and most TV shows (except for Real Housewives), but books? Not so much.

  3. My wife and I actually had a series of reading dates before we were married. I read to her. The Small Bachelor, by PG Wodehouse.

    • Several people have disagreed with me on this topic (which is actually encouraging). I’m glad I said literary dating “might” not work, instead of saying it “would not” work because it looks like I was way off.

      • The important thing is tastes do differ. I was lucky enough to find someone whose tastes are very similar to mine. Also note we never had reading dates where we each sat reading our own book. Where’s the fun in that?

  4. For me being in a relationship with someone who can appreciate books is quite important. I enjoy talking about them and like to lend out all the time. All the same, I agree that a reading date sounds like a pretty awkward experience!

  5. Books and what you think of how they were written is a good topic for a date. At least, I find myself attracted to a girl who shares same tastes in literature, and edgy opinions about it, no matter what she looks like.

  6. Thank goodness you don’t need shared reading tastes to be compatible. I love my wife but I couldn’t stand reading historical romances my whole life.

  7. Elissa permalink

    My first (mid-’70s) boy friend and I both loved to read and we thought going to a bookstore to browse for new titles to be a great date. We had some authors in common, but not all, and we did “talk books”. I’d love to meet a man, now, who was similar to my dear 1st BF, but not gay, as he turned out to be. :o(

  8. As a fellow newspaperwoman from Georgia, she would keep your movie accurate
    canada goose vest dame

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