Breaking Down This Week’s Insufferable New York Times Marriage Announcement: February 19

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Breaking Down This Week’s Insufferable New York Times Marriage Announcement: February 19

These New York Times Vow announcements are really hit-or-miss. Truthfully, some are really sweet, nice stories. And I say that with complete honestly. But others? They’re tails of miserable humans that thankfully found each other so no one else has to put up with their shit. Case in point — these two.

As always, original text in quotes.

* * *

Stretching the Truth to Find Love Online

For Scott Birnbaum, finding Tracy Podell was akin to solving a complex math problem.

Oh God, with this title and intro paragraph, this should be a doozy.

Mr. Birnbaum, a data-mad web executive looking for love, found himself taking deep dives into the algorithms and user behaviors that drive some of the largest dating websites. He emerged with a solution for gaming the system to his advantage, creating a profile that attracted Ms. Podell, even if it wasn’t entirely accurate.

Okay, so just to be clear, this is called “catfishing,” right? I understand that laying this out in complex terms may take away from the fact that this is a simple catfishing, but this is a classic case of catfishing.

Mr. Birnbaum, now 39, considers himself to be “a first-adopter” and a life hacker, whose pursuit of an efficient existence through apps and other gizmos can sometimes infect him with paralysis by analysis. “It took me six months to switch phone plans because I was like, which one is the best?” he said.

Just what you’re looking for in a potential mate — indecisiveness to the point of paralyzation.

He readily admits that his initial forays into online dating were lackluster. While living in Seattle, he found that his friends were getting a lot more hits than he was. So he investigated how he could improve his profile and began tinkering with multiple accounts.

Or, I don’t know? Maybe trying to better yourself rather than hacking a dating app would’ve been the more prudent and socially acceptable method for this?

“I started noticing that everybody said the same thing in their bio,” he said. “And I was like, well, I’m not going to stand out very much if I do that. I should write profiles that — while they, you know, weren’t necessarily lying — accentuated different parts of things I was interested in.”

Kind of like when you have a photo of yourself wearing all Patagonia clothing only to divulge to your partner that you’ve never stepped foot in the wilderness? You know, like this.

This led him to experiment with various personalities on In one account, he was a “geek,” selling his interest in computers and reading. In another he was a “hipster,” playing off his encyclopedic knowledge of film and indie rock music.

For most of us, those are pretty one-in-the-same, but I guess when you’re catfishing people you need to grasp at every straw you can possibly grasp at.

For another profile, he wondered: “What if I just put out there that I’m like the most successful I’ve ever been? Would I attract a real Type A person?”

Uh, probably? Normally when you’re looking for a match on a dating app, you’re not just scouring the app for the least successful people in the pool.

“I thought it was a great idea and encouraged it,” said Michael Blend, with whom Mr. Birnbaum had been working at Demand Media, and for whom he now works as a vice president for operations at OpenMail, an email data company in Los Angeles. “Our shared colleague had a saying: ‘Sometimes the best strategy is all strategies.’”

Jesus. If you’re the bride reading this right now, are you just completely freaked out by the lengths this creep went to in order to shape his personality to best fit an algorithm that he made up for online dating? It’s got “dealbreaker” written all over it.

And still, when it came to increasing his page views and dates — whether on or sites he used to a much lesser degree, like eHarmony and JDate — he remained relatively unsuccessful. But he kept at it.

I’d say he took the Carolina Panthers mantra of #KeepPounding, but as Dan Regester says, “That’s a losing philosophy.”

Mr. Birnbaum, who stands 5 feet 5 inches tall, ultimately determined that the key issue was his height.

5 feet 5 inches? Yeah, that’s an uphill battle no matter how you slice it.

“I was working at this company that at its core was all about S.E.O. — search engine optimization,” said Mr. Birnbaum, a native of Austin, Tex. “Thinking about online dating from a search perspective, I’m like, ‘What are people searching for and why am I not showing up in their searches?’ And so one of the filters was this height thing. Women generally want a guy that is taller than them in heels,” he said. “I was getting weeded out by that.”

Bro, you can’t just take out all your shitty features and then just show up on a date being a total scrub. Any girl with self-respect won’t stand for that shit. You’re a little twerp, just accept it and move on.

Inch by inch, he began raising his stature in his profiles until he discovered that 5 feet 8 inches was the search parameter under which even the shortest women were reluctant to dip their glass slippers.

Again, this is the simplest form of catfishing. This is like lying on a resume or telling people in lines at the bar that you just got done taping your season of The Real World (something I’d often do in my early 20s).

So Mr. Birnbaum continued tweaking his profile on OkCupid, figuring that the height increase was so minimal that people would give him the benefit of the doubt. Of the handful of dates he had using his false stats, he said he never was called out.

Well, yeah. I’m sure he was never called out. But he was also going on a “handful of dates” which means they probably were secretly texting their friends, “Ugh, this guy lied to me about his height and now I’m sitting at sushi with a goddamn midget.”

As his fake body grew, so did Mr. Birnbaum’s page views. “Fundamentally, people exaggerate all of the time,” he said, “and they present an idealized version of what they think they are.”

“As his fake body grew, so did Mr. Birnbaum’s page views,” might be the creepiest sentence we’ve ever covered in the Insufferable Marriage Announcements.

That’s when Ms. Podell, an online content marketer and sometime actress in Los Angeles, who is 4 feet 11 inches, reached out to him in 2012 on OkCupid, ostensibly wanting restaurant suggestions for a trip she had planned.

Ms. Podell, now 32, sensed Mr. Birnbaum was different. For one, she liked his profile.

Remember when I mentioned a woman that lacked self-respect? Looks like we’ve found her. And she’s arrived in the 4 foot 11 inch little biscuit form.

“He had longish hair at that point, so there was this lovely combination of like, ‘I have a great job and also I look a little bit like I’d be at a concert with you,’” she said. Of his thoughtfully rendered reply and its spot-on restaurant picks, she said, “I was like, ‘ahhmazing.’ He did it the way I do. I have my New York restaurant email that I send to people.”

Oh my God. These are the people that wouldn’t understand the humor of the toast-making hipster parody video.

Mr. Birnbaum said, “I probably overwhelmed her because that’s just sort of my nature.”

A first date soon followed at the Churchill, a gastropub in Los Angeles. Mr. Birnbaum was sitting on a bar stool and stood up to greet Ms. Podell when she walked in. Even from her diminutive perspective, she was quite sure Mr. Birnbaum was shorter than advertised, but she waited until a couple of dates later to press him on the topic. She focused instead on his personality.

It’s your nature to overwhelm people? Naw, bro. You’re a 5 foot 5 inch tech dude that lies on his dating profile and shows up coming in a full three inches shorter than what these girls are expecting. I’m pretty sure “underwhelming” people is more your style.

Scanning the menu, she said: “He was like, ‘All right, I would have this, this, this, this, this. Which ones do you want? And I was like, ‘Fantastic — someone who’s decisive.’”

You like someone who knows what they want to eat at a restaurant? Man, real diamond in the rough over here.

Considering the misses she had experienced in her own extensive online dating, Ms. Podell had the capacity to be forgiving with Mr. Birnbaum. She recalled how one of her online dates had made a wayward joke about Asperger’s Syndrome after learning that one of her sisters had it, and another went off to Spain for a couple of months after spending a blissful time with her, and she never heard from him again.

“The capacity to be forgiving” just means she was desperate. Truth hurts, don’t it? I mean, this girl doesn’t exactly sound like much of a catch. One of my rules of first dates isn’t making fun of people with Asperger’s.

On their third date, Mr. Birnbaum invited her for a swim at the Hollywood Hills bachelor pad he shared with a bunch of guys. Unbeknown to her, it was his birthday.

This says “bachelor pad” but I’m envisioning Erlich’s house from Silicon Valley, and I don’t think that’s an unfair assessment of the situation.

At one point she teasingly asked him, “You’re not 5-foot- 8, are you?”

He got quiet, and then came clean.

There’s no coming clean here. Like, you can just look at someone and blatantly see that they’re five-foot-five. The eye test goes a long way.

She let it go. “I think I just enjoyed making him squirm a little bit,” said Ms. Podell, a native of Short Hills, N.J., and an N.Y.U. graduate who had moved to Los Angeles in 2010 to pursue acting.

Oh, she moved to LA in 2010 to pursue acting? That’s amazing. So do tell — what restaurant do you wait tables at, Ms. Podell?

For her, the height requirement she had set on OkCupid represented nothing more than her desire to be with someone taller. “Many of the guys I had dated prior were rather tall,” she said. “My two-year ex out of college was 6-foot-5.”

Hey lady, you’re 4’11”. Everyone’s fucking taller than you. You’re technically a “little person” — you know that, right?

And her ex was 6’5″?! Man, this little dweeb’s got a lot to live up to. I’m picturing a Hayden Panettiere / Wladimir Klitschko situation.

As for Mr. Birnbaum’s own tall tale, she said: “I understood the reasoning and I thought it was funny. It’s not like he was doing something bad or wrong. If anything, it probably made me more attracted to him, because it was smart and it worked. It showed he was pretty capable.”

Wait. Since when did lying become not “bad or wrong”? Isn’t one of the first things you learn as a kid is to not lie? Just checking, because this isn’t a “smart” strategy by any stretch of the imagination. This is “faking it until you make it.”

For Ms. Podell, a child of musical theater who studied at an early age under Juilliard graduates, inhabiting other personalities is not a foreign concept. “When I was 9, my favorite musical was ‘Falsettos,’” she said. “I saw ‘Rent’ on my 13th birthday, in previews, and then I saw it like 12 times.”

Ha, your favorite musical was “Falsettos” and now you’re marrying a five-foot-five dude. That’s funny.

“Having had to lie about my age for acting for so many years, and understanding what it means to hustle and to work every angle, I don’t think there’s anything immoral about it,” she said, referring to Mr. Birnbaum’s conceit.

Saying there’s “nothing immoral” about someone’s “conceit” just feels fundamentally wrong to me. But hey, who am I to judge? I’m just a guy who’s 5 foot 11 and 3/4 inches who says he’s six-feet tall. I can’t really talk, I guess.

Later that afternoon in the pool, they shared their first kiss.

LOVE pool makeouts.

As Ms. Podell transitioned from acting to becoming a marketing director at the streaming network Pluto TV, she and Mr. Birnbaum bonded over digital culture. They discovered a mutual affinity for podcasts like “WTF With Marc Maron” and “99% Invisible,” and the comedians Amy Schumer and Louis C.K. They like to travel, venturing to Nicaragua and Cuba, with a honeymoon planned in South Africa and Botswana.

You can say “transitioned from acting” but we all know that you had to give up your dream, Ms. Podell. And again, these interests they have aren’t all that similar. Oh, you listen to popular podcasts? Me too. You like two of the most popular comedians of the past five years? Wow, me too! You enjoy travelling?! Are you two up for a polyamorous relationship or am I just misreading this situation?

The couple discovered that they have overlaps in their family histories; both come from Jewish families with Texas roots.

Upon hearing about Mr. Birnbaum, Ms. Podell’s mother, Patricia Podell, a Dallas native now living with her husband in Morristown, N.J., immediately called her Texas cousins and said: “Tracy met this guy and this is his name and he’s from Austin. And my first cousin said: ‘Oh no, the Birnbaums aren’t from Austin, they’re from San Antonio. I know all of them. They were in my fraternity at the University of Texas and this and that.’ He goes on and on.”

These two would definitely buy a place on the east side of Austin, which is essentially saying they probably got married in a Brooklyn warehouse.

Both Ms. Podell and Mr. Birnbaum consider the same moment in 2013, about seven months into their relationship, a defining point in their development, but for different reasons.

They attended a concert at the Hollywood Palladium celebrating the release of Dave Grohl’s “Sound City” documentary. Mr. Birnbaum, a die-hard music fan with a Pitchfork sensibility, discovered to his dismay that Ms. Podell had never heard of one of the night’s performers, John Fogerty, nor his former band, Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Referring to someone as “a die-hard music fan with a Pitchfork sensibility” might be the most insufferable way of describing someone. And call me crazy, but you have to be a fucking alien to not know who CCR is. Like, what does she listen to when she’s ripping down the highway with a dip in, am I right?

Just kidding. She probably listens to one of Zooey Deschanel’s albums.

Ms. Podell remembered this disconnect leading to an argument shortly before they left the venue. “In the middle of fighting, he was like, ‘You know I love you, right?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I love you, too.’” It was then that Mr. Birnbaum had an epiphany: his future wife didn’t need to share his appetite for music.

I almost just took my keyboard and smashed it in half over my forhead. This is CC-fuckingR we’re talking about here. This isn’t The Shins. These guys are legends.

They moved in together six months later.

This past Valentine’s Day, they congregated under a canopy in front of the Barr Mansion, an old Victorian house on the northeastern outskirts of Austin, where, per Jewish tradition, Ms. Podell approached Mr. Birnbaum and circled him.

Barf. The only thing worse than getting engaged on Valentine’s Day is getting married on Valentine’s Day. Had I known they were doing this, I might’ve gone and thrown paint on her wedding dress like those protesters at fashion events where fur is all over the runway.

Jeffrey Yoskowitz, Ms. Podell’s childhood friend who became a Universal Life minister for the occasion, welcomed the “small and loyal clan of Texas Jews” and performed what the bride described as a “Jew-ish” ceremony.

I… I don’t really know what any of that means.

During the ceremony he acknowledged that Ms. Podell, his theater-loving friend, had taught him “more about ‘Rent’ than any middle schoolboy should know.” He then touched upon the humility of the bride and the groom, conceding, “You even joke together about being short.”

I don’t think it’s out of line to say that no middle school boy should know anything about Rent. It’s a play about an stripper with AIDS that almost dies of a drug overdose. Why don’t you just show the kid Pretty Woman while you’re at it.

Later that evening, Mr. Birnbaum and Ms. Podell participated in the hora, seated for a moment high above everyone else during the dance.

The groom’s father, Robert Birnbaum, a lawyer in San Antonio, explained their matrimony like this: “It took creative marketing on my son’s part in order to get there. But you’ve got to get them in the door to make the sale.”

Okay, these people were fucked from the top down. Nice parenting, Robert Birnbaum.

Image via Unsplash

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Will deFries (Twitter / Instagram) is a Senior Writer at Grandex and the world's foremost authority on Sunday Scaries (Twitter / Instagram). Email me at

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