Several months ago, at the height of my disillusionment with online dating, I created a "Black Swan"profile for a dating site (My "White Swan" profile was up and running on the same site). I didn't actually name the profiles White Swan and Black Swan, but that's how I thought of them, inspired by the deliciously over-the-top Natalie Portman movie that came out around the same time.
The White Swan had been busy dating. In fact, she'd just been dumped by a guy who suddenly realized his Westside neighborhood was 20 miles away from her — my — Eastside domicile. As he explained what had been evident from Google Maps before Date 1, I found myself stunned. And then angry. Did he really think I was dumb enough not to see through his flimsy excuse?
The anger felt familiar. Six months earlier, a long-term relationship had ended in a spectacular blowout. My boyfriend of three years had entered our Silver Lake apartment after being out all night and said he'd started a new relationship — three months earlier. He explained in crooked logic that he'd done it for me, so that I could be free.
Rage can be empowering. After getting the brush-off from Westside guy, I created a fake profile, the Black Swan, to keep tabs on him anonymously. I would visit his profile on a nightly basis, to see if he was still there, or if he'd changed his photos. Sitting alone with my laptop in the dark, drinking red wine, I officially became an online stalker — not exactly what I dreamed at age 13, when I imagined my glamorous adult life dating successful men who inexplicably showed up to everything in a tuxedo.
I figured if I was going to go psycho, I might as well have fun with it. My Black Swan profile was somewhat like me but way more devilish. Unlike my White Swan profile, where I listed my favorite novels and interest in a committed relationship, Black Swan was a romantic nihilist. The only line of her self-summary read: "Online dating is the death of all meaning." In a perverse salutation, I attributed the quote to the miserable, and long deceased, French theorist Michel Foucault.
The whole profile followed suit. When the form on the dating site asked about "the most private thing I'm willing to admit," Black Swan wrote: "Occasionally I laugh or feel joy." In response to "On a typical Friday night I am....." Black Swan responded: "drinking in a classy bar alone and making eyes at some pathetic girl's boyfriend." I made her 28 years old, sprinkled in some mild S&M talk and added a photo of a somberly beautiful Swedish pop star giving her best death stare to the camera.
What tantalizing bait I had created! White Swan had men chasing her but nothing like Black Swan. Her inbox was constantly jammed with offers of dinners, drugs, money, weekend getaways to places like Palm Springs and plenty of sex. When she deigned to reply, it was some variation on "You're boring me."
It was amazing how many of the respondents, all from the Los Angeles area, wanted to confide in Black Swan, no matter how withering her messages. One guy revealed that he was broke but he posed like a hotshot to his friends. Another guy identified himself as an avid Christian but admitted to a fetish involving guns. Black Swan replied: "I have forwarded your message to God. He will be in touch for disciplinary action soon."
One night when I was feeling extra-mischievous (read: inebriated after a disappointing White Swan date at a distant bar where I'd chosen to avoid seeing anyone I knew), I found myself in a long online conversation with a guy who sent back equally bleak and ridiculous messages. We were having so much fun that I confessed to him that Black Swan was a ruse.
He talked me into sending a real-life picture of myself. I emailed a black-and-white shot in which I'm wearing a sequined dress, sitting on my bed.
He wrote back, "Do you know that you look like your Black Swan?" He was referring to the Swedish pop star. And I suppose he was right, in a way. Same sequins. Same hairstyle. But most of all, our eyes were the same: serious but with a glint of playfulness.
I had known all along that Black Swan was a part of me, but suddenly I knew exactly what I was getting out of her. The daughter of a librarian and an Episcopalian minister, I had been raised to be a good girl, quiet and passively feminine. But with Black Swan, I could be darkly humorous and sexy. And I could be angry, an emotion I'd squashed too often with that long-term boyfriend who all but wiped his feet on me while he was heading out the door.
After a few months, I abandoned online dating altogether and got into a relationship — the kind I dreamed about when I was 13. On our third date, a road trip to Santa Barbara, we covered so many topics in conversation that we wrote a list of them the next morning at breakfast and put stars next to the ones we wanted to continue.
I had deleted the White Swan profile, but I let the Black Swan live. I hadn't checked her emails in ages, but I did the other day, while writing this story. My boyfriend, a fellow writer and artist, found this amusing, not a threat.The most recent message: "Hello? Do you really exist? You're the girl of my dreams!"
"Is that really the best you can do?" I thought, and then closed the browser.
But to answer the question: Yes, Black Swan is alive and thriving, swimming with her fellow under a new moon.
Margaret Wappler is a former Times staff writer who's also been published in The Believer, Black Clock, Rolling Stone and Public Fiction. She quit ballet in the sixth grade but her love for ballet flats will never die.
L.A. Affairs is a column that chronicles dating, romance and relationships in the Los Angeles area. If you have a story to tell, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.