Neighborhoods are now global, and populations have exploded. The pool of people you could potentially be dating is diluted by everyone else who’s moved in, and dispersed into whatever neighborhoods their work or finances take them. You should say there are fewer parts per million concentration of dating potentials. As a result, we increasingly seek out online forums to meet the people who are anonymously living their lives just feet or miles from where we are, perpetual ships passing in the night. An online dating profile is the blinking light in the dark that says “I’m here.” The trick then is to determine whether that light signals safe harbor or rocks ahead.
Those lights in the dark have only a moment to get their message across – a few photos, a few hundred characters, and that’s it. To best deploy those resources, here’s a woman’s guide for men seeking women about what and what not to include in brief online dating profiles.
EXPLICIT MESSAGES – What Your Profile Says About You.
- Something for me to ask you about! Really, that’s what we care about.
- Any phrase that translates to “look how jaded I am,” such as “This app is terrible, I’m trying it anyway,” “well, I guess I ended up here, so we might as well go on a date,” and “There are crazies on here.” Your potential date’s likely reaction to all of these gems is a resounding “nope,” followed by a quick left swipe. Why would I want to go on a date with someone who is already pissed off at how we met and thinks they’re better than it?
- “Just ask” – ask about what? You’ve given me nothing to work from. Alternately, this could be read as “I’m so inherently interesting and desirable that of course it should be on you to spark any interaction”
- “Be interesting and intelligent.” Similarly, “looking for beauty and brains,” or “please be unique.” Do you really think anyone is not going to think these things about themselves? And if they do, that they’re going to admit it to you, who they’re trying to go on a date with?
IMPLICIT MESSAGES – What Your Photos Say About You
Ever heard the term “A picture is worth a thousand words”? Although the exact number may be up for debate, the idea is accurate – consider what your photos say to someone.
Yes! Do this!
- Give me something to ask about! Work with me here.
- Smile. Like, an actual smile. With teeth.
- Have more than one photo that shows you alone, has your face in it, and is not pixelated beyond recognition. Is that too much to ask?
- Make sure I know who you are within 2 photos. If I can’t tell who is attached to the name on this profile within a few images, I’m swiping left. This is not a mystery novel, I have no intention of waiting until the end to have your true identity revealed.
Make it Stop. Please.*
*All these examples are pulled from direct experience. Yes, it’s this much of a problem.
- The dead animal trend. PLEASE STOP. We don’t want to see your dead elk, boar, or the heads you just hacked off deer. Seriously. If you want to show ladies you hunt, get a buddy to take a photo before the carnage begins.
- The almost-dead animal trend, also known as “show off the fish for the camera!” A guy I know guessed this was due to a subconscious “look, I’m a provider” impulse, and for many guys I’m sure it’s meant as an indication that they enjoy fishing and being outside. The first is odd, and the second is a legitimate reason to select a photo. However, no woman I know understands why these images are so popular, and some of them are so frustrated by it, they immediately swipe left. This is definitely a case of needing to know your audience and altering your message to suit them.
- The drugged animal trend. So you saw a Tiger in Thailand and paid to pose with it? I don’t care. In fact, I’m kinda against it, and many people are really against it. I, and many others, are not particularly big fans of zoos or other resorts that keep animals for tourist (visual) consumption. And guess what, if you’re also one of those guys wanting their matches to “be someone who cares about the world,” they’re unlikely to be impressed that you sought this out.
- The cute animal trend. While reaching ridiculous proportions, this is okay to an extent because, well, they’re cute. I mean, anyone who thinks kittens, puppies, baby goats, llamas, and lord knows what other animals you found aren’t cute has their own issues. But here’s the thing: you need to also be in the photo, and it needs to not be every photo.
- The bathroom selfie trend–yes, even when dressed up in a hotel bathroom, it’s still a bathroom selfie. While we’re on it, please also nix the the car selfie, the gym selfie, the “show off my abs” selfie, and the selfie-stick-while-skiing selfie.
- The photos of things that aren’t you trend. Unless you’re in it, please don’t show us your car, bike, dog, Harley, or whatever random thing it is that you think inherently tells us about you. We’re interested in you, not necessarily your stuff. Ok, maybe some people are interested in your stuff, just not the ones I know.
- More than one group photo trend. It’s great knowing you have friends, but not if I have no idea who you are because of all the group images. Please also stop with the constant photos with other women, or, help us all, the photos of you grabbing other women. Seriously?? Explaining that those are your sisters in your profile description only works for a single image, maybe two if it’s obviously a family event.
- The every image as a Halloween costume trend. We get it, you don’t often have friends take photos of yourself. But only offering images of yourself in mask, face paint, and body suit aren’t useful. Ditto wearing helmet and goggles in all your photos. Give us one to show us your interests and have something to ask about! Don’t make it your entire inventory.
- The I only have one image (usually a poor one), with no description trend. What exactly are you trying to achieve with this? If you’re not willing to exert any effort at this easy stage, I’m going to assume you have no intention of exerting any effort ever.
- The too-pixelated-to-actually-see-who-you-are trend. PLEASE just take a moment to check how your profile actually looks to others. It’s easy to do and worth the 10 seconds it takes. I have the sense these are often accompanied by a brief “heard this app works, trying it out” statement. Here’s the thing – the app only works if you actually try. Make an effort, for your own sake and ours. Related to this, please check that you aren’t cut off the edge of all your photos (cropping them does wonders), and that not every image is a back-lit concert scene.
- The flipping-off-the-camera trend. See the “look how jaded I am” explanation above.
Are there any suggestions I’ve forgotten on the list?
All of these trends mean my married and partnered friends find great joy in going through profiles to get a good laugh. For those of us single folk using dating apps as a tool to meet people we might actually want to spend time with, they are frustrating and off-putting. The “how to’s” are relatively short and simple, but will help avoid the many potential pitfalls of the online dating profile. Taking the same advice into account for professional image isn’t a bad idea either.
This advice is what I wish I could message to all those profiles my girlfriends and I cringe at, but I know it won’t go over well if unprompted. I figure if you’re reading this, it’s because you wanted to, and am hoping it’s useful. In the end, I offer this advice for selfish reasons, because it benefits me to know more about you and how to strike up an interesting conversation with you!
Follow Up: For those interested in more detailed information about successful online dating interactions backed by data, here are some sources to get you started!
- This. “I AM A TINDER GUY HOLDING A FISH AND I WILL PROVIDE FOR YOU” (Amy Collier, May 1, 2017, The New Yorker)
- How well online dating works, according to someone who has been studying it for years (Roberto A. Ferdman, March 2016, Washington Post)
- How to Make Online Dating Work (Aziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg, June 2015, New York Times) – The idea that online “dating sites” should be instead be called online “introduction sites” is a useful way to think about them!
- Online Dating Advice: Optimum Message Length – What message length gets the best response? (September 2009, OKCupid Blog)
- The Big Lies People Tell In Online Dating (July 2010, OKCupid blog)