Cyrano was a man before his time

Most people are familiar with the fictional title character in the play Cyrano de Bergerac, a man who was so self-conscious about his big nose that he hesitated to declare his love for the beautiful Roxanne because he thought it was hopeless. However he was willing to compose beautiful love letters that Christian, his inarticulate rival for Roxanne’s affections, could pass off as his own, and Roxanne is so charmed by Christian’s borrowed eloquence that she falls in love with him. We might think that Cyrano was a bit of a dope to be so self-sacrificing but people can do surprising things when they are in love.

Cyrano could have made a killing today as a Virtual Dating Assistant because this company offers to actually pay people who have the kind of specialized literary skills to flirt online posing as a client and thus attract desirable partners. They offer to save clients from the tedious preliminaries of online dating where you have to work hard to get the other person interested in you, so that all you have to do is show up for the first date. Part of the preliminaries involves exchanging communications with the prospective partner and this is where the new Cyranos come in because April M. Short has discovered that the company is recruiting expert flirters on Craigslist to work as ghostwriters.

“We need a wordsmith at the black belt level to join our team ASAP. You’ve got to be good, really good. As Witty, Creative, Charming, Hilarious, and as ‘Cool’ as they come. Your emails and profiles must grab the reader’s attention and make her feel that strange pang some refer to as ‘attraction,’” reads the ad.

As stated in the ad, the task of this ghostwriting job is to “make her feel” attraction. This company is preying on feelings for cash.

Sure, ViDA’s ghostwriters may be trained to include only facts that are true about the clients they represent, so they aren’t lying, exactly. However, there’s certainly nothing honest about a situation in which a person thinks they’re talking to a potential love match who’s been verified by a dating site, but they’re really talking to some random writer.

As a total stranger to online courtship, I have no idea how this kind of thing eventually plays out. The obvious question is what happens when the couple actually meets and the other person finds that you are nowhere near as witty and fascinating as the character who was portraying you in writing. Wouldn’t that be a huge let down? In the original play, much later Roxanne discovers the truth and tells Cyrano she loves him, big nose and all. But there is no guarantee that the online partner will be so willing to overlook your deficiencies. Maybe people who use the online world to form relationships are more cynical and realize that people’s online personas are often exaggerated and are thus braced for disappointment, so it does not really matter.

Incidentally Steve Martin and Darryl Hannah starred in a comedy Roxanne (1987) based on the Cyrano story that I saw a long time ago. Here’s the trailer.

Just for fun, here is the Sesame Street version of the play.


  1. says

    That’s a compleat dishonesty, especially as it’s probably safe to assume the first daters won’t be eager to confess their duplicity. Starting out any relationship with dishonesty is never a good idea.

    I’d be willing to bet that suspicion will rule the day if enough of these stellar Cyranos are found on various sites.

  2. says

    Having read the full article now, it seems, given the rather outrageous fees charged on a monthly basis, VDA is also doing their Cyranos a disservice, paying $13 to $15 an hour.

  3. chigau (ever-elliptical) says

    The next obvious thing is that both parties are using this service…
    and the Cyranos fall in love…
    isn’t that a Shakespeare play?

  4. says

    Hmmm…As someone who is now back on the online dating scene, it may depend. From my prior experience, I did “waste” a fair amount of time writing emails that were never returned or trying to tweak my profile to hopefully better draw attention.

    But, honestly, I put “waste” in quotes because I learned from it. I actually do not think having an elegant profile or writing elegant emails will do one much good. I would like to see studies that show that it actually makes a difference. Personally, I have found the best way to deal with the email problem is to KISS (keep it simple stupid). Women (in my case) who are interested seen to respond anyway and those who are not may not no matter how well written the email actually is. (I will also note that my late wife wrote a full one sentence email to me, which is how our wonderful 7 year relationship began. Just one sentence! She kept it simple and it worked for her.)

    As for profiles, most people don’t seem to put a lot of effort into their profiles. And a longer profile may stick out in a bad way as I fear people won’t take the 5 minutes to read through it. Yeah, I know…you would hope 5 minutes wouldn’t be too much, but, when most profiles are a quick 1 minute read, something longer could cause one to lose interest simply for not aligning with expectations. This is where a profile writer could come in handy. They may be better at knowing what information to leave in and what to leave out when working within such an artificial boundary. Also in the case of a profile, since we are talking about how one advertises themselves simply for the sake of getting noticed in the first place, this is not necessarily a “deficiency” that would be noticed later on. (Especially if the person writes their own damn emails!)

  5. says

    I think getting help with your profile is one thing, having somebody write your mails for you and pretend to be you is another thing and completely dishonest and manipulative, especially when the stated intent is to manipulate women into liking someone they would not be interested in.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    A couple of points:
    -- it’s interesting to me that their choice of superlative for their wordsmiths is “black belt”. Setting up the interaction as explicitly combative and violent says something about how they view what they’re trying to achieve.
    -- what ARE they trying to achieve?

    I understand Caine’s position re: dishonesty, but I think this is a self-limiting issue. My experience of online dating is that “online dating” doesn’t describe it very well, or at least doesn’t describe how a lot of people use it. You’d think that a dating profile and the messaging interactions that (one hopes) follow it would be focused on… well… dating. As in, actually meeting a human in real life. Experience tells a different story, and if you want to turn a previously pleasant straight man into a raving misogynist you could do worse than introduce them to online dating, especially if they come to it with the expectation of being treated with any level of common decency or politeness. A typical male experience of online dating is this:
    1. sign up. Fill in basic details -- age, height, weight, gender etc.
    2. Spend an hour or six crafting your profile, selecting flattering photos and listing your most winsome and interesting hobbies/character traits.
    3. Browse some profiles and eventually find a profile and photo you find attractive.
    4. Send a message.
    5. Wait. As long as you like. Doesn’t matter, she won’t reply. This may be because: (a) she doesn’t exist and was put there by the site owner from a stock photo library; (b) she exists, but is now married with two kids to a guy she met on this site and her profile is still there because she forgot to delete it; (c) she exists, is married, and the profile exists because she *deliberately* didn’t delete it just in case; (d) she exists, but isn’t responding because see below for womens’ typical experience. All of which won’t occur to you because you will come to the conclusion that she’s ignoring you deliberately because she’s rude and unpleasant.
    6. Browse more profiles and find five women not quite as attractive, and message all of them. Repeat (5), five times in parallel.
    7. Repeat (6), but with 25 women this time.
    8. In the event you do get some response, discover that the woman who has answered is only interested in online chat, not actually dating. Message her for a month hoping to change her mind. Fail.
    9. Finally manage to persuade a woman to actually meet you in real life. That’s when the fun starts, and ALL of the previous interactions become irrelevant.

    Contrast this with a woman’s typical experience:
    1. sign up. Fill in basic detail -- age, height, weight, gender…
    2. Receive dick pics. Immediately. Or if pics aren’t an option, short explicit messages.

    Thing is -- newbie blokes who’ve just signed up don’t realise that this is what is happening, so they naturally take ignorage personally. They are therefore a ripe market for this kind of scam. Ultimately it’s not a lot different than companies which will, for a fee, polish your CV/resume. You may consider it “dishonest” to primp up your achievements, but ultimately that document is only there to get you into the interview. You have to shine there on your own merits. Similarly with dating -- this service is aiming/claiming to improve your chances of getting to that first date, is all. After that, you’re very much on your own. Can’t see much wrong with that. Caveat emptor.

  7. hyphenman says


    Between marriages I once had the experience of having a lady friend tell me that she was captivated by the fact that I could discern the difference between their, they’re and there.

    Go figure,


  8. Smokey says

    How do you not end up with two “wordsmiths” flirting with each other on behalf of other people?

  9. Mano Singham says

    Jeff @#9,

    Some time ago, humorist Dave Barry wrote a touching romantic column that, while somewhat funny, was quite unlike his usual goofy output. In it, he described two people in an internet chat room who get drawn together because they discover that they are are the only two people in the group who know how to spell, use punctuation, and write in complete sentences,

    This must have been around the time of his divorce from his first wife and I always wondered whether it was partly autobiographical.

  10. dannorth says


    My thoughts about Depardieu’s Cyrano: il soulève avec des hahans de porteur d’eau le vers qu’il faut laisser s’envoler (he lifts with the groans of a water carrier the verse he should simply let soar).

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