I once went on a date with a man whose bio read “I love adventures.” The date took place in Beijing, where I live and where he was sent apparently against his will for work. He expressed horror at the idea of taking public transportation in the user-friendly, English-speaking banker hub of Hong Kong, and he described his weekend as “awesome” because he’d found a burrito place.
Since then, I have been on the warpath against the modern usage of the word “adventure”; screenshotting poor uses of it has become my passion project. My collection includes a couple announcing their engagement on Facebook with “we’re going on the adventure of a lifetime”; a Honda commercial; a recipe for strawberry pretzel salad that Allrecipes user Betilda says is a “yummy adventure.” There are other, more sinister uses of the word, too: I recently saw a job ad that listed its salary as “pretty low, but high on adventure.”
As with anything serving the modern aim of glorifying oneself online, adventure really flourishes on Tinder. Mason, 31, whose first photo was a gym selfie, said he was “Looking for fun and adventure.” Yann, 32, who described himself as a “motorbike maniac, wine specialist, YOLO,” wrote that he was “always up for new encounters and adventures.” Michael, 29, said “life is an adventure – take it!” following the emojis for rock climbing, snowboarding, champagne, and a whale. Dal, who, not to brag, super-liked me, wrote: “Always open for a spontaneous adventure and waiting for the next one. Live my life by two words Dream and Believe […] lots more to talk about over the next adventure :)”
What does “adventure” mean anymore? Is it a hike? Is it a concert? Robert, 31, implied it anything that is not work: “Always working or on adventures.” Dennis, 35, intimated it’s anything that is not relaxing: “I love to go hang out after a long day at work, relax or be adventurous on weekends.”
In my now five-plus (ugh) years of Tinder experience, I have only seen one profile use the term in a way even close to its original meaning. Maciel’s bio said he started a company with his brothers: “Sales of premium cactus.” It was somehow very easy to imagine him dodging rattlesnakes as he slashed down rare cactus breeds with a machete. As if anticipating my skepticism, his bio continued: “Always looking for an adventure. I mean it. Can’t have fun without one.” He then said, “Love to quad ride” — I don’t even know what that is! — “hikes, gym, camping, canoeing and even take random paths to see what we encounter.” Emphasis very much mine. Maciel did not like me back.
I used to be upset about this word because I considered myself a real adventurer. I am a journalist and frequent solo traveler living abroad. When I was 22, I took a 36-hour train, a sweaty overcrowded bus, and a friendly local farmer’s cabbage truck to the thinnest part of China’s Yalu River just so I could stare at North Korean border guards. Later that year, I fell down a ravine while backpacking in Northern Laos and used hand signals to hail a canoe ride back to the village as blood poured down my shins. (I could go on — the full story involves a herd of wild water buffalo). But it actually doesn’t matter. But since then, I have realized that my idea of adventure has been bullshit all along.
Even in its original, pre-social media sense, the concept of “adventure” drips with privilege. The term is subjective; what might be “wild” or “crazy” or — cringe — “exotic” to me would be daily life for someone else. In Laos, were there were two six-year-olds hiking nearby who managed to keep their shins unbloodied. I wasn’t an adventurer; I was an idiot.
At best, expressing a penchant for adventure is a cutesy form of self-glorification. At worst, it is highly colonialist. Classic adventure tales like Robinson Crusoe apologize for growing imperialism. Last March the foreign office of the ultimate colonizer, the UK, took down a job ad after Buzzfeed reported on its title: “Fancy an African Adventure?”, which staffers claimed made a serious posting sound like a post-grad gap year. Adventure has been gentrified to include all sorts of purchasable experiences that are agonizingly, mind-numbingly safe. You can reserve it on Airbnb, where the home screen asks if you’re looking for “stays,” “experiences” or “adventures.” Adventure is a moneyed person’s pursuit.
A cursory acknowledgement of this privilege would be nice. Dropping the word altogether would be even better. If you’re fun, spontaneous or open-minded, then show it, don’t tell. Authenticity can be evident even on a Tinder profile — just as evident as a lack of originality can be, too.
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