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Getting paid to set up dates I’m never going to go on

Let’s talk about sex, dating profiles, and catfishing
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TROY LAWRENCE/THE VARSITY
TROY LAWRENCE/THE VARSITY

I started to work as a dating ghostwriter about three months ago after trying and failing to secure a job as a journalist at a major media outlet. I wanted to keep writing, so I settled for anything. For the past few months, I’ve been conjuring Match.com profiles for clients I have never met and chatting to their matches.

Every night, I squeeze wafts of romance from my fingers to my laptop keyboard as I reply to messages, and focus on the commission I’ll receive if I get the two to agree to meet one another — even just once. Three years ago, when I ghostwrote college applications for cash, I thought my bar couldn’t sink any lower. Clearly, I was wrong.

Over time, I’ve started to grasp that all the jobs I’ve taken during my miserable writing career were no different to that of a salesperson. Although what we’ve got in the back of our trunk may vary in appearance, they share the same consecrated destiny of being sold.

While a traditional salesperson sells to their clients, a dating ghostwriter sells their clients. Due to them being downright boring and self-centred, with a breadth of self-contradicting hypocrisy that is too hard to miss, our clients need to be sold, and I should only be glad that there is no return policy. Whether they are to be kept or discarded, it’s no longer my business.

Having set my conscience straight, I still struggled with my sales record. One of my very few successes involved adultery. The match to my client was a married woman who couldn’t decide whether or not to leave her husband.

“Why did you marry him?” I asked. She didn’t reply until a day later, confessing that like many women, she was desperate when she entered her marriage. She was 37, and had been single for three years. While she was single, she had been to weddings where the brides were younger than her sister’s kids. The ticking clock gnawed at the core of her self-esteem, and she was grateful when the husband, who didn’t seem to care much about her baggage, came along.

He liked her for who she was. He tolerated her when she threw a tantrum. He didn’t like to be outdoors and neither did she. They seemed to be a perfect match. But there has never been a day where she could close her eyes with a smile of certainty that the man at the end of the aisle was the right one. She signed the certificate that bonded her to this man without ever being content, and that’s why she kept on looking.

“He is nothing like I have ever imagined for a husband,“ she wrote. “Does that make me a bad person?”

I looked down at my phone and wondered how much a therapist makes an hour. Probably more than me. Tilting my head as I glimpsed over at my boyfriend snoring next to me, I thought about the great loves I had and then lost, the possibilities I squandered, and the secrets buried by the passing of time. But no matter how many layers have been laid over the top, the lament that our past hums still sends shockwaves that get us every time. 

So I made something up. I told her: “You know how people always try their clothes on in the fitting room before they decide whether they should bleed cash on them? Well, we believe that what’s fitting must be the best — sound reasoning. But I know a woman who always buys clothes that fit her ideal, hangs them in the bedroom where she can see them every day, and reminds herself that’s the body she will work for. Your husband fits you now, but you aren’t the person you want to be when you’re with him. That’s why you keep looking. It doesn’t make you a bad person.”

She asked me if the woman who bought unfit clothes was my ex. I shrugged and planted the fictional character on my mother.

I have no idea what happened on their first date, or to their marriage, but I did get my commission.

In most cases, I chat to charm. I fish for the weakness in my matches and pamper it. Sometimes it works, a lot of times it doesn’t, and I keep telling myself that most writers make ends meet by ghostwriting these days. Either ghosting someone’s profile or memoir, we sell our authorship, and we often sell it cheap. But what isn’t to be sold in the world that we know anyway? And wherever there is a need, there is a market, right?

I remember the big dream I had for myself when I was a kid to be some writing hotshot and laugh. I laugh so hard that I nearly choke on the last sip of my latest bottle of gin. 

It’s no wonder writers drink.