Why Tattoos are Problematic in the Dating World

by Thomas Dean

The summer before college, I worked as a laborer for a construction contractor and saved up to get my first tattoo: two swallows on either side of my chest, holding a banner that reads “KEEP THE FAITH” in traditional font.

My mother cried when she saw it and my father gave me that disappointed dad look, but more importantly (I thought), my friends found it to be cool. The next summer, I got new ink that was more cliché: a large sailor ship, etched on my ribcage. Since then, I’ve gotten a few more pieces. I’m not covered by any means, but my tattoos are quite noticeable.

Middle-aged people who don’t have tattoos have a tendency to tell me why I shouldn’t get them:

“When you’re old, your tattoos will look terrible and you will regret them,” they say. “Well, when I’m 70 years old and (hopefully) married with grandkids, I won’t be trying to impress anyone anyway,” I respond. “Tattoos limit your employment options,” they say.

I doubt I would ever seek employment at a company that embraces such an antiquated definition of professionalism, but if I were presented with a fantastic career opportunity that prohibits tattoos, I would easily solve the predicament with long-sleeved shirts. Also, as evidenced by the one real office job I’ve ever had, tattoos are becoming acceptable, even in workspaces that once had strict dress codes.

Maybe this is because in the current age of tech, 25-year-old app entrepreneurs run companies, or maybe it’s because more executives have come to realize that body modification isn’t reflective of intelligence or work ethic. Either way, I’m not sweating it.

Still, tattoos remain to be a source of curious fascination among many people my age who don’t have them. The bigger and more visible a tattoo may be, the bigger and more visible people’s reactions are toward them. The questions, however, are always the same: What is that? Where did you get it? When did you get it? Why did you get it? Did it hurt?

I don’t mind answering questions; in fact, I enjoy being the center of attention. However, sometimes problems arise for me in the dating world and people perceive me as someone I am not.

Sometimes, I’m the guy from the other side of the tracks who they could bring home to piss off their dads. Other times, in their eyes, I’m the cool, hip, indie, alternative guy. Every persona unwillingly bestowed upon me is ludicrous: I’m not from the other side of the tracks; I’m from cookie-cutter, suburban New England (home of the Puritans) and I’m not cool, hip, indie or alternative.

My wardrobe consists of five faded band shirts I’ve worn since college and I spend my evenings drinking cheap lager while watching Netflix like the rest of the regular population. No one cares about the facts, though, because the facts aren’t edgy or exciting. As a result, during many of my ill-fated romantic endeavors, I’m forced to live a lie I never told as I play out a role I never sought to take on.

Prematurely categorizing people is how many humans keep mental order in a nuanced world and everyone is a target. If I didn’t have tattoos but had a bestselling book, or a real job, or were best friends with Skrillex, I’d probably be identified by one of those characteristics.

Women have it even worse. Oftentimes, in lieu of an ascribed persona, they are reduced to a physical attribute (e.g. “big tits,” “small tits,” “nice ass,” “no ass,” etc.) which they have to hear about at the bar from every other assh*le with Bud Light — whether they’re on a date with them or not.

We are especially prone to projecting positive qualities onto those with whom we’ve consented to get drinks because what’s the point of going on a date if the person sitting across you isn’t an intriguing and/or a promising prospect? Ultimately, disappointment and disillusionment ensue when you realize that the greatest qualities of your potential partner are false products of premature judgment.

Maybe this is why so many Millennials choose to forgo marriage and so many Baby Boomers are getting divorced: “He wasn’t who I thought he was,” they say.

Fortunately, this is where our generation’s penchant for cynicism and overt irony works to our advantage. You and all of your happily unmarried friends have been conditioned to expect failure (but secretly hope for success) as you brace yourselves for one bad night on the town after another. This allows you to play the numbers game as you continually wade through the preliminary stages of two-dimensional characterization.

Although the odds are against you, after enough trial and error, you may find that the person you woke up next to is not the person you thought you met five weeks ago, but is still worth keeping around. The things you didn’t know about him or her is what actually makes the person a keeper.

No, I won’t cover up my tattoos or stop getting more of them. But, I will continue to subject myself to misguided judgments until I meet someone who likes uncool guys from suburban, cookie-cutter New England with an affinity for Netflix, cheep beer and faded band shirts.

Photo via We Heart It