Turn and face the strange

What would you do to find the perfect mate?
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  February 13, 2008
MULTIPLE CHOICE: Is this the face of love?

We all change for love. Phone-lovers fall for phone-phobes, and one person adjusts (or not) accordingly. A theater geek gets with a sports nut and suddenly starts memorizing stats (and liking it). Romance makes us try new things, from new foods to new ways of interacting with others. And that’s fine, says Delia W. Oman (an anagram for “ideal woman,” and so probably not her real name), a mysterious performance artist who lives somewhere in the United States (we think), and who is in the middle of an online conceptual art installation she calls the Perfect Woman Project.

But when does it go too far?

With her project, Delia wants to explore the lengths to which people will go to find the perfect mate, or to mold themselves into the ideal partner. It’s a multi-step, many-month commitment for her, and one that will intimately involve at least one other person — someone who, at the moment, doesn’t know it yet.

Since last fall, she has solicited and accepted Perfect Woman submissions and descriptions at her Web site, perfectwomanproject.com. Starting on February 14, Web site visitors (regardless of whether or not they’ve offered a description themselves) have one week to vote to choose the best of those submissions. Then, Delia will have three months to transform herself — both physically and mentally, and according to the utopian parameters she’s been given — into said Perfect Woman. In this stage, the project will be mostly self-exploration, as Delia learns just how much she is willing to change for art.

In May, she will fly the creator of the winning submission to meet her, wherever that is, and the couple will go on five dates, all suggested by Web site visitors (and all expenses paid by the Perfect Woman, which does, indeed, make her kind of great). The dates will be filmed, and broadcast live online. Only then will the project be complete.

“Through your participations, you are in charge of her fate,” the Perfect Woman webmistress says on her site.

How is any of this different from me developing an affinity for Smashing Pumpkins, or you learning more about Henry James? Well, for one thing, Delia’s not really looking for love. In fact, her project was conceived in part to examine the notion that people need to be paired.

“In our culture, it’s a sign of success to partner up,” Delia says on the phone from somewhere (all we know is that it’s a different time zone). “It’s not that I’m against love” — nay, she avers that she has experienced romance — “but why is it not okay to just be single?”

See, Delia believes that some people are so obsessed with couple-dom that they overdo it — changing themselves in fundamental ways, or falsely advertising themselves on dating Web sites like the ones on which she publicized her Perfect Woman Project. With this endeavor, she hopes to highlight that idea of change for the greater public (anybody who visits the site, and certainly those who vote), by willfully, and publicly, transforming herself. Depending on what the winning submission calls for, the project could end as a dramatic psychological glimpse into modern love. And of course, the men who submit ideas of an ideal female will learn something too, about themselves, and perhaps about how futile it is to wish for perfection.

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