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What does "down to earth" mean? Context: On-line dating.
May 5, 2011 9:39 AM   Subscribe

What does "down to earth" mean? Context: On-line dating.

In a message in response to my OKCupid profile, a woman told me that my profile makes me seem "down to earth". This puzzles me for three reasons:

1) I don't use this expression myself so don't have a clear idea of what I would mean by it.

2) What I do understand of it I wouldn't apply to myself (I'd tend to relate it a bit to either "earthy" or "salt-of-the-earth") and have never had anyone apply it to me.

3) Even broadly, my profile doesn't make me think "down to earth", it mentions moving around a lot (lack of geographical rootedness being opposed to being "down to earth, I'd think), my interest in philosophy (which I'd think of being somewhat "head in the clouds"), and artistic interests like foreign films, books, baroque music, etc. (one web site I found googling around a bit opposed "artsy" and "down to earth"). I am religious and (by Metafilter standards) conservative in politics, so perhaps that? But some more secular leaning people would see the anti-materialist leanings of the religious as not being down to earth, I think?

To head off one response, yes, I'll ask her what she means, but I also want to know if her answer is idiosyncratic, which requires knowing how other people use the word.

Thanks for indulging this bit o' bean-plating.
posted by ThisIsNotMe to Human Relations (50 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've always equated down to earth with low maintenance.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:40 AM on May 5, 2011 [14 favorites]


"Down to earth" means level-headed or unpretentious. It's a compliment that doesn't have anything to do with "earthy." Think of it as "laid back and not too full of oneself."
posted by jeffmshaw at 9:41 AM on May 5, 2011 [22 favorites]


I would choose "sensible" or "realistic" as synonyms for down to earth.
posted by Bango Skank at 9:42 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was first going to say it's the opposite of head in the clouds, but this description covers it well:
Someone who is without false pride or pretense. A sensible person. A person who knows what is truly important. Being called "down-to-earth" is a good thing.
Much as jeffmshaw said - it's a good thing.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:42 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do get that it's a compliment.
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 9:43 AM on May 5, 2011


I htink of "down to earth" as meaning no-bullshit say-what-you-mean sort of person. So if someone was viewing your profile and said that I would presume it to mean that they're not seeing a lot of friction between how you present yourself online and how they'd expect you to be in person. Some people's profiles are clearly manufactured for a certain results. Other people's profiles seem like someone considered the question, filled in the boxes and decided to see what happened. I think she's thinking you're more like the latter type.
posted by jessamyn at 9:44 AM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


In the context of what you say about your profile, might she mean "not materialistic"?
posted by SomeTrickPony at 9:45 AM on May 5, 2011


I think of it as meaning "Not above yourself, not snooty and with a tendency to look down your nose at other people, low-maintenance, say what you mean, easygoing." I'd consider it a compliment. As in, the opposite of some sort of corporate d-bag who puts a whole bunch of crap on his profile about the precise dimensions of the kind of woman he wants and brags about his Porsche and all kinds of nonsense like that.
posted by Gator at 9:45 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


My guess would be that she means plain spoken, non-pretentious or easy to relate to. That she found your profile to be straight forward, not trying to play games so that she feels she got a good view of what your really like not a overly complicated construction.

I would guess it has less to do with your specific interests, political leanings etc. and more to do with general tone.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 9:47 AM on May 5, 2011


I know many artists who I would describe as "down to earth," and many who are not - I don't think "artistic" and "down to earth" are opposites, or are "philosophical" and "down to earth."
posted by muddgirl at 9:52 AM on May 5, 2011


I agree with SomeTrickPony -- I think regardless of what it is supposed to mean, it often gets used to mean that a person isn't into money, fashion, trends, etc.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:57 AM on May 5, 2011


When I think down to earth (and I'm aware that many people don't share the same definition), it means a combination of being low maintenance, humble, and probably most importantly, not taking yourself so seriously that you can't laugh at yourself (and laugh often, at that).
posted by raztaj at 9:58 AM on May 5, 2011


You're way overanalyzing it.

Certain descriptors get used so often in online dating that they've become almost meaningless.

"Spontaneous." "Laid-back." "Interesting." "Nice." "Good head on my/your shoulders." "Knows what s/he wants in life." "Loves to laugh/have fun." "Down to earth."

If you ask someone whether these terms describe themselves, or the person they're madly in love with, they'll almost surely say: "Yes!"

I guarantee you, you will never hear anyone say: "My husband/wife is wonderful -- but s/he's not at all spontaneous, laid-back, or down to earth!"

So, they don't denote a specific type in contrast with another type, the way "short" vs. "tall" (or "shy" vs. "outgoing," or "liberal" vs. "conservative") do.

Look, let's assume you know nothing about me. Now, I could honestly tell you: "I'm really laid-back and down to earth." But do you know much more about me than you did before? I don't think so. Not the way you would learn quite a bit about me if I told you something specific, like my plans for this weekend.

"You seem down to earth" is no more or less meaningful than saying you seem "cool," "neat," or "awesome." It's just a way to express interest.

It might have been prompted by specific things about you. If you're somewhat religious and conservative, maybe she likes that -- sure, great. But that's not because the term "down to earth" inherently refers to religious or conservative people. It's just because "down to earth" effectively means "The kinds of people I'd want to spend time with," and in her case, that might be because you're conservative or religious or for any number of reasons.
posted by John Cohen at 10:01 AM on May 5, 2011 [17 favorites]


I see it as grounded, unpretentious, low-key, not into Fancy For Fancy's Sake. To me, anti-materialist goes very well with "down to earth."
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:04 AM on May 5, 2011


From the wide spectrum of responses here, it's clear she could mean almost anything. Why not casually ask her to elaborate?
posted by hermitosis at 10:06 AM on May 5, 2011


"Down to earth" = Not imaginative enough to say something meaningful about my personality.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 10:12 AM on May 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


I suspect it is the I'm-trying-to-avoid-being-interested-so-I-don't-scare-you-off-because-that's-become-a-cardinal-rule-of-dating-apparently way of saying "I'm interested."
posted by jph at 10:14 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it also has connotations of not being preoccupied with status/wealth/success, but rather pursuing "the important things in life," as defined by whomever is using the term.
posted by brightghost at 10:15 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Down to earth" = sensible, to me.

Someone who keeps a steady job but focuses on hobbies is down to earth, since they make sure they can pay the bills even though it's not interesting to them. Someone who quits their day job the second they sell their first item on etsy, probably not down to earth.

Borrowing tens of thousands of dollars to invest in a philosophy degree because you enjoy the subject, probably not down to earth. Borrowing a couple thousand dollars to invest in a degree because your performance review said you couldn't advance without one, probably is down to earth.

Do you make reasoned decisions? Do you make sure you have a safety net before you jump? Do you manage to save money, by working enough to support your lifestyle and trimming your lifestyle to what you can support? Congratulations, you're down to earth.
posted by anaelith at 10:18 AM on May 5, 2011


It could also be an elliptical way of saying "not a drunk/partier and not crazy".
posted by facetious at 10:23 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you live in L.A. by any chance?

There is a very specific thing to dating in L.A. where certain women will be adamant (often insultingly so) about not dating someone with any ambitions in the entertainment industry. So in the context I've seen it, "down to Earth" means holds down a "regular" job, gets a regular paycheck, and doesn't have any artistic ambitions.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:25 AM on May 5, 2011


Actually, I always took it as, "I don't have any imagination and I hope you don't either." Kind of an anti-intellectual-and-proud-of-it, aggressively blue-collar mentality. But I may just be bitter.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:28 AM on May 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


"I am too boring on my own merits to write something original in my dating profile, so instead I will throw out this vaguely defined but positive sounding rom-com cliche that no one can possibly disagree with in hopes that you too are boring and will be attracted to my likely false aura of datability."

But then I like quirky dating profiles. YMMV.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:28 AM on May 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


John Cohen has it exactly right - it's mostly meaningless but vaguely positive. She may as well have said that you seem "cool" or "nice".
posted by The Lamplighter at 10:37 AM on May 5, 2011


"Down to earth" = Not imaginative enough to say something meaningful about my personality.

Wow, I think that's a pretty harsh way to treat someone who is trying to be friendly. No, it certainly doesn't get the person any points beyond showing that they are interested, but sometimes that is enough.

Although people who use this term to describe themselves or especially some of the other cliches, like "laid-back," mean they probably wouldn't get a second look from me.
posted by grouse at 10:39 AM on May 5, 2011


Sorry, but I think drjimmy11 is right. It means you're paid up on your cable subscription and don't let any hobbies or other distractions get in the way of watching it.

Or, others may be right, and it has no meaning at all in this case except that she's vaguely interested in you, but not interested enough to come up with something more specific to say about what she likes in your profile.
posted by fritley at 10:41 AM on May 5, 2011


If I try to think of people I know who I wouldn't describe as "down to earth", I come up with people who are kind of deliberately quirky - kind of "look at me and how different and original and not like everyone else I am!". I know a few people who make a point of saying crazy things or asking weird questions, and something about it comes across as somewhat affected - as if they're just being weird for the sake of being weird. (I know you can't really engage in this kind of motivation speculation, but I know plenty of quirky types whose quirkery strikes me as totally genuine, too.) So I agree that you can be head-in-the-clouds and down-to-earth - it just means that you don't deliberately play up to having your head in the clouds, or congratulate yourself too much on it, or do your utmost to make everyone aware of it all the time.
posted by raspberry-ripple at 10:42 AM on May 5, 2011


It means that she didnt read your profile very closely, or that she did and she is really uncreative with adjectives.
posted by BobbyDigital at 10:44 AM on May 5, 2011


It's a nicer and more flattering way of saying "you seem normal, thank goodness."
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:46 AM on May 5, 2011 [16 favorites]


Practical. Lives in the real world. Realistic. To me it would also imply that dreams of high-end living & fantasy romances need not apply. Some hint of "person needs to have their s**t together.
posted by Ys at 10:48 AM on May 5, 2011


I asked the same thing 18 months ago in a more general context.
posted by teg4rvn at 10:58 AM on May 5, 2011


I would also say "sensible." Personally if I were using it, I would probably also mean that that I thought the person had common sense and good priorities.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:08 AM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not flashy or pretentious; safe albeit unexciting.
posted by orthogonality at 11:27 AM on May 5, 2011


"Down to earth" means:

Low-maintenance, even-tempered, accessible, unpretentious, laid-back, not overly concerned with appearances or status. Not given to extremes, volatility, or irrational flights of fancy. The opposite of "flaky".

Essentially, it means you seem stable, relatable, and in control of yourself and your life.

I've never associated it with "salt of the earth".

drjimmy11: I think you're just bitter. Not wanting to take care of a guy because he doesn't have a regular paycheck has nothing to do with being anti-intellectual or lacking imagination. It'd be great if we could all dedicate our lives to or mastering the panflute or whatever, but somebody has to pay the rent.
posted by ixohoxi at 12:03 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I usually assume people mean "easily approachable", "easy to relate to".
posted by StUdIoGeEk at 12:13 PM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


She probably meant your profile made you seem "real" or "refreshingly normal" or "unpretentious". Which is good, I guess?

I tend to gravitate away from people who claim to be down to earth, because it's a cliche, and also because I wonder what that says about their real personality. I mean, dating sites are about selling yourself, putting your best self forward. So if the best thing you have to say about yourself is that you're "down to earth", what does that mean? (I float between thinking it means you're probably not, or that you are but otherwise really don't have much going for you.)

But none of that applies in this situation, because a woman online said it about you. So you should probably just take her at face value.
posted by Sara C. at 12:43 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I assume it means non-intellectual.
posted by b33j at 1:17 PM on May 5, 2011


"Boring"
posted by Electrius at 1:45 PM on May 5, 2011


From observations, "down to earth" seems to mean "doesn't do the dishes or other housework until yelled at" for men, and "doesn't wear a ton of make-up and stir up drama" for women.
posted by meepmeow at 1:51 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I must be bitter and cynical like drjimmy11, because if someone were to describe me as "down to earth", I would interpret it as, "You seem stable enough that I can use you to provide things for me and you probably won't run me off or assert your independence for a good while."

Little imagination. Accustomed to routine. Doesn't rock the boat.

Stability and responsibility are very desirable characteristics in providers, and consequently the people who value those traits enough to mention them may be thinking about how beneficial it would be for themselves.

But some people really take pride in being a dependable provider, though, so being appreciated for it could be a very fulfilling and positive aspect of a relationship. It could be a nice compliment if you value that about yourself.
posted by griselda at 2:17 PM on May 5, 2011


Although it's not the original meaning, lately I keep hearing people use this term to mean, "not crazy". I'm guessing that's how she means it. Take it as a compliment.
posted by katyggls at 2:29 PM on May 5, 2011


I'm sure it has much more to do with the way you wrote it, and what she's looking for, then with the facts you presented. More of your tone than your resume.
posted by hootenatty at 3:02 PM on May 5, 2011


Wow, there's a huge amount of variation in what people read into that phrase.

I use it to mean sensible, steady (as in no drama or politicking) and straightforward. Nothing at all to do with anti-intellectual or doesn't do dishes. I generally admire down-to-earth people. Traditionally the phrase has been meant as a compliment, in the same sense as "has both feet on the ground".

It seems like some people here use it to mean "rube". I've never heard it used in that way. Nor do I think that it's as meaningless as "cool" or "nice". The phrase has more specific connotations than just vague goodness.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:21 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


OED says it means "with no illusions or pretensions; practical and realistic". I use it on people whom I find quite 'earthy', i.e.: sincere, natural and without phony facade.

Overall, it's a good quality and I rarely find anyone who fits the criteria.

I also have a tendency to overanalyse a compliment if it comes from someone I value a lot. But like some others mentioned above, it may as well mean nothing. I think in your situation, the other person is trying to compliment you with a non-conventional, non-overused adjective. The choice is interesting, you have to give them credit for choosing a not commonly used word.
posted by easilyconfused at 5:34 PM on May 5, 2011


I kinda take pride in not being 'down to earth' or 'laid back'. Pretty sure 'down to earth' means, yeah, unpretentious, relaxed, calm, chill, whatever. Apparently it's a good thing?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:37 PM on May 5, 2011


It seems like some people here use it to mean "rube".

I think it is a little more nuanced than that. Some people believe that people who use the phrase "down to earth" to describe themselves (or perhaps, use it at all) are rubes. I don't think anyone uses "down to earth" as an insult.
posted by grouse at 6:28 PM on May 5, 2011


Not pretentious / not materialistic. And yeah, she could mean religious in a certain sense.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:36 PM on May 5, 2011


I don't usually comment on things like this but the "code" of online dating is much like the shorthand of romance novel covers and fantasy novel character names - it means more than it seems and only means something to those who care. In personal ads, "Down to earth" used to mean "willing to date low maintenance women and holding a permanent job".

In general usage it's more like "unpretentious and low key." I guess you can pick your meaning.
posted by fiercekitten at 9:31 PM on May 5, 2011


I would think this was something she got from your "voice" in the written parts of your profile, not from any specific listed interest. And I would think she meant that you sound honest, rather than making up a lot of self-deluded baloney for the dating scene.

In my mind, "down to earth" is the opposite of "full of shit".
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:31 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


You say you'll ask what it means, but what would her reaction be if you do? You might come off like, well, a rube. Unless, after how most people here defined it, you still disagree.

"Down to earth" may be used a lot, but it's kind of relative. I wouldn't use it to describe a co-worker, because they're all down to earth (really).

In terms of online dating, I'd bet she used it because you stood from most of the other guys that way. The phrase makes me think of when it's used to compliment someone in a field where a lot of people are known to be flaky, phony, arrogant, pampered, etc... like entertainers, pro athletes, and politicians.

So while it might be a generic term, I doubt she'd use it in a form letter way to everyone she writes. (That'd probably apply to stuff like, "You seem nice," or "Your profile is interesting.") I wouldn't even bring it up... Just demonstrate your down-to-earthness instead.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:14 AM on May 6, 2011


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