How we describe ourselves, according to online dating profiles

The traditional way to gauge who we are as a country, state, or city is to turn to Census data for population, salaries, and family size. Many interesting stories can come from this data and it’s indispensable in making country-wide decisions and policies, but it only glosses the surface. Census data doesn’t so much tell us who we are than it tells what we are. Media artist Roger Luke DuBois takes a different type of census — from online dating profiles — called A More Perfect Union.

To join a dating site you have to, quite literally, “put yourself out there”, describing yourself for the express purpose of being liked. This seemingly simple act is quite complex. You have to provide, in addition to some basic statistics, two pieces of prose: you have to say who you are, and you have to say who you want to be with. In the second piece of writing, you have to tell the truth. In the first, you have to lie.

I joined twenty-one dating sites in order to make my own census of the United States in 2010. These are my findings: a road atlas of the United States, with the names of cities, towns, and neighborhoods replaced with the words people use to describe themselves and those they want to be with.

In each state map, city names are replaced with words most used by each city, relative to all other cities. So each city gets a unique word associated with it. The above, for example, is the bottom portion of Louisiana. Cajun. Curvy. Flood.

Below is a map of southern California, and right on cue: actor, director, television, and entertainment.

Here’s one more shot of New York. Assembly and dinosaur. Yeah… can someone explain that one to me?

See the rest of the series here, which also includes county maps of sexiness, virginity, and shyness. And a short explanation from DuBois in the video below.

[A More Perfect Union | Thanks, @peterbehr]


  • NY: Assembly and Dinosaur look to be Albany and Syracuse, respectively. The NY State Assembly meets in Albany and is something of the local industry. Meanwhile Syracuse is home to the original Dinosaur Barbecue and someone in that area can describe an awful lot about themselves by referring to it as one of the places they like to hang out.

  • From what I can tell in the two years I’ve been at school in Syracuse, people like their barbecue…in particular their well-known Dinosaur BBQ. And if each city gets a unique descriptor, perhaps other well-suited words were used elsewhere?

    Its a stretch, but perhaps…

  • Sue VanHattum June 2, 2011 at 7:07 am

    >In the first, you have to lie.

    I’m on okcupid. I didn’t lie in my profile. Unless he means the way we lie by omission, not including our insecurities and failures in our self-description when we first meet others. Regardless of how you meet a person, that’s not the sort of thing you share right off.

  • Some “Assembly” Required?

  • Very cool map. I wonder if someone can duplicate this using google search results. I feel like I’ve seen a state-wide google search results before, with several states showing their prominent college as the first term to pop up on auto-complete but I wonder if more detailed information can be obtained.