This month’s theme is imaginary friends. More specifically, at last month’s show, I was tasked with creating an imaginary friend and throwing it a party. In addition to documenting my own journey, I decided to interview a good friend of mine: some weird shit went down for me, so I thought I would share the story of JQ’s bunny, which is super cool and less weird.
That’s right kids. You get two stories for the price of one, which is free. What value!
Part I – A Girl and Her Bunny
I met JQ in March 2013 via CouchSurfing. She was checking out law firms in Chicago (she’s a law student), and I was giving her my futon to crash on. We realized we grew up pretty close to each other in Beijing, and since she’s not a terrible person, a friendship quickly formed. She has visited me multiple times since then, and it didn’t take me long to notice she carried a paper bunny with her…
… and it has been to places. Curious, I asked her some questions about the bunny.
Duo: When and why did the bunny first come into being?
JQ: One day, in 2010, I suddenly came to the realization that I was in need of a proper bookmark. I was too cheap to buy one from the bookstore and too classy to use scrap paper or a dollar bill, so I made one in the shape of a bunny.
Duo: So you made it youself then.
JQ: Yep. The first one was mas made from the thin cardboard that came with 2009’s first day of issue cover. The second and third were made from blank postcards. I’ve been thinking about upgrading to felt or plastic or some other more durable material for some time, but I haven’t acted on the idea yet.
Duo: Does the rabbit have a name?
JQ: I was never one to name things… it’s just a bunny. BILINGUAL PUN WARNING: Bunny is 兔 in Chinese, which sounds like two in English. Two is 二 in Chinese, which alternatively means “dumb in a cutesy way” in certain Chinese dialects. So basically it’s a dummy-bunny.
Duo: How many bunnies have you had?
JQ: The first one lost its ear in Badlands National Park and later went missing near the Golden Gate Bridge in 2013. The regenerated bunny is still kicking but have not been traveling as much. There’s also a delegate bunny I sent to my friend in the UK. However, it was stolen along with other, more important worldly possessions on the streets of London.
Duo: What is the purpose of the bunny? Do you see the bunny as an imaginary friend?
JQ: It started as a bookmark. When I stopped reading, I realized that it’s a perfect stand-in for myself when I can’t take those “been here!” tourist photos for myself (Trust me: working my big face and a landmark into the same selfie is difficult.) (Duo: I COMPLETELY SYMPATHIZE.). Sometimes, it’s a stand-in for both myself and someone else who couldn’t be there.
JQ: Sometimes I can’t help but to think that this bunny has a personality of its own, especially when I also want to wear that stupid little grin on my face but just can’t.
At this point, the interview took an unexpected turn.
JQ: When I went back to Beijing this past summer, I learned that my cousin has killed himself around Christmas last year. His monther—my aunt—had a turbulent first marriage. Both she and my cousin were violently abused. When my aunt got the divorce, her ex-husband got my cousin. My cousin rarely crossed my mind through all these years, but since I learned the dreadful news from my mom, I haven’t been able to spend one day without thinking of him. Such irony, isn’t it? It’d be naive and arrogant of me to think that if I had kept in touch with him, he would have made a different decision. The little emotional support I could have provided would looked laughable in the face of the terrible beatings and neglect and manipulation he endured. I wish I had done at least that.
JQ: So, in a way, the bunny became my pathetic effort of keeping my cousin alive in a way. He would have a stupid little grin on his face,a nd tase me about how dumb my bunny idea is.
Duo: Would you ever throw your bunny a party?
JQ: The idea never occurred to me until now, but I definitely would! If I throw a bunny party, can I ask you to be in charge of making food? (Duo: YES.) Or, you could say traveling is a never-ending party. Sadly, that party’s currently on hiatus.
JQ visited me last weekend. We didn’t have time to throw bunny a proper party, but we did go to Jeni’s for ice cream, and bunny visited in spirit.
Part II – A Fake Girl and OKCupid
When I first moved to Chicago in the fall of 2011, I joined OKCupid to meet more people. I went on some pretty awkward dates, but I also met some wonderful people. Eventually, I deleted the account due to disuse.
Fast forward to September 2014. After 3 years of personal growth, I felt like a less awkward, more whole person, so I once again created an account to test the online dating pool. Things were going well: there are a lot of interesting people on OKCupid, and most of the people I’ve messaged were willing to talk to me. The core functionality of the website was about the same, but there was a new premium option. The website dangled “ALL THESE PEOPLE LIKE YOU. DON’T YOU WANT TO KNOW WHO THEY ARE?” behind a paywall.
Not really, but I was curious about how I stacked up against other people. Turns out I’m a pretty decent scribbler of words, and the ability to English eloquently was valued by the people I liked. However, I had no idea how to compare my average visitors per week or the number of likes to someone similar to me. I mean, I can’t just go “hey you, you’re an intelligent heterosexual male. Care to share your statistics with another heterosexual male, maybe after some platonic heterosexual male bonding?” and expect to get answers, so I did the next best thing.
No, I did something better. I created a fake female account.
The purpose of the fake account was multi-fold. I would gain access to visitor statistics, and in my mind it was more okay to read male profiles through a fake female account than through my real account. I would be able to verify the horror stories I’ve seen posted all over the internet, maybe even meet some “Nice Guys of OKCupid” myself. I would be able to gauge just how little effort is required to elicit positive responses. Finally, I would be able to experience what the women of OKCupid experienced and understand what my real account is competing against.
And so, I chose a mildly attractive selfie of a Chinese woman and photoshopped some of her features so the image could not be reversed searched through TinEye. OBSCURE VIDEO GAME REFERENCE WARNING: I named her after a bunny-like gatling gun from League of Legends. I made up a simple back story and a list of simple likes and interests. The English was oddly phrased here and there, but grammatically correct. She was the imaginary friend I created, and her party was attended by OKCupid users from all around the world.
The visits and likes came pouring in before I was able to finish writing the self summary. In the beginning, I tried to reply to everyone with at least something, but that quickly proved to be grossly impractical. After 3 nights of active use, the account was messaged by 88 unique users, and I replied to 23 of them. Some were short, curt exchanges, but others were longer and friendlier.
I deleted the account in less than 2 weeks. In that time, I averaged 107 visitors per week and had 630 likes. Actually, I was inactive for a whole week, and in that time alone I had 255 visitors and 170 likes. Let’s make some comparisons, shall we?
And I thought I was doing so well. I mean, I was: I was genuinely enjoying the conversations I was having on my real account, but at some point jRPG logic takes over and all I see are the drastic differences in numbers. She was beating me handily.
Based on the numbers, a lot of the likes came straight from the mobile app. More specifically, a lot of the likes came from people who never bothered to read Her profile.
I read every single message against my better judgment. The process was both infuriating and exhausting. Being a woman online is hard. The plurality of the messages was one-liners of little to no substance or “compliments”:
hey jill :)
Hello I’m [redacted]
Hey sweetheart how are you?
Hey how’s your week been going so far?
Hi what up?
Why hello there! How are you? I’m [redacted] btw =)
Hi, how are you :)
Hello thre, how are you doing?:)
hey there you seem fun id love to chat more. how are you
Wow you’re amazingly outstandingly perfectly flawlessly gorgeously pretty xD
Hey you! I took a look at your profile and you seems uper sweet, fun, and pretty cool! =]
Hi, how are you? You are gorgeous and have the prettiest eyes!!
Wow really? dont.think bad about.me but you are sooo cute and pretty! I love ur eyes :) can we chat?
Wow, if I looked half as good as you do in pictures I’d be so happy lol. You’re so photogenic! Have you ever modeled?
And much more.
Others were more direct:
Would you let me tickle you?
Very nice person, it would be fun to show you around Chicago. Do you like wearing dresses and high heels?
Hey girl, are you interested in dating with a shanghainess boyfriend
Like older married white men?
One message was particularly memorable. She was not particularly good with abbreviations:
Him: Hey are you dtf? :)
Her: What does dtf mean?
Him: Down to fuck lol
Her: !!! nooo
Him: Okay what about going on dinner and I can show u chicago little bit
Her: No thank you.
Nice recovery, asshole.
However, She also had several really nice conversations. There are interesting, polite people on OKCupid, but it was really hard to sort them from the torrent of bullshit seen above. She talked to designers and filmmakers and neurobiologists and engineers, and they all had interesting things to say: their jobs, their recommendations for places to visit in Chicago, their time abroad, why other men were jerks, etc. I can’t really quote them because the conversations were long and not nearly as pithy, but the fact that they exist makes me feel at least a little better about the toxic combination that is the internet and misogyny. She flat out told some of them She had no interest in meeting in person, but they wanted to talk anyways. They talked about everything from their daily activities to their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. I had only laid out the most vague outlines of Her in the beginning, but She quickly developed a personality of her own. Details of Her day to day life flowed onto the computer screen naturally. She helped children with homework. She loved the clean, cool, autumn air. She baked cupcakes from a box. Her favorite League of Legends team was OMG. She told people the details of her life, and they were enthralled. One called Her “the most interesting person I’ve talked to on OKCupid.” Maybe these men were just lonely and looking for a connection in this vast, uncaring world. Maybe Her virtual company has brightened their day, insofar as a talking pictorial avatar was able to brighten anyone’s day.
When I deleted Her account, I was a little sad. I was invested in the people I interacted with, and the initial rush of overwhelming attention had not completely worn off. I didn’t want to abandon the men. I wanted to learn more about research on the science of sleep and people’s bad acid trips. I wondered what they would think of the account that vanished into thin air. I wondered how much more they would have bared their souls. She was on the verge of growing out of control, growing too big for a monthly project. And though we know She was imaginary, maybe She was real to some.
We encourage you to come share your stories of Moving On at the live show! If you post a story about moving on in the comments here, you get into the show for free.
A Month Of
Stage 773 1225 W. Belmont
Wed Nov 12th 7:30-10:00
$10 free with a posted story or shared dish