Watch this Ted video to see how Amy Webb hacked online dating. There is a system!
Your online dating profile is a marketing tool that has one job: get another person interested in meeting you in person. And part of the challenge is your profile is but one drop in a sea of other profiles, all trying to land dates. Your job is to make your profile sound as different as possible without sounding weird. It’s a delicate balance, and there’s no “one right way” to do it. But there are some general principles that will help you make your profile market the product (you!) more effectively.
Start with the Pictures
This seems so blatantly obvious, but it’s amazing how many people put lousy pictures on their profile. Your pictures are the first thing people see when browsing around the site, and they’re probably clicking because they they think “hey, (he or she) is pretty cute.” Do a little experiment and take note of how many profiles you didn’t click on because it had a bad primary photo.
Here is all you need:
1. A good head shot for your feature profile pic
2. A full-body shot, preferably outdoors
3. One or two shots of you doing something kinda fun, maybe with a friend or two.
Make sure they have good lighting, and that you can see your face clearly. That should about do it. Having three or four really good pictures is much better than having a dozen mediocre ones. If you’re having trouble determining which pictures are good, have a friend give you an outside opinion.
Some picture don’ts:
- Don’t put up a bunch of shots of mountains and random city buildings. This isn’t Facebook album of your backpacking trip through Europe.
- Don’t put up any picture you took yourself. Selfies are rarely flattering, and it only takes a minute to hand your smartphone to your friend while you’re out and about.
- Don’t cover up your face. It’s okay to have one picture with sunglasses, but don’t make it your primary photo. The fewer cranium accessories, the better.
- Don’t put up any pictures of you with somebody of the opposite sex. No exes. No “bestie” guy friends at the football game. And definitely no pictures where you have to crop somebody out. If it’s your sister, you’d better label it specifically (“Me and lil’ sis hanging out at the bar”)
- Don’t have any pictures older than six months. You want the most recent image you can find. Swap them out with news ones periodically.
Scout the Competition
Take a spin through the profiles of the people of your same sex. Get an idea of what other people are writing about themselves. It’s good to get an idea of the people in your age range in your area. Remember: these people are trying to date some of the same people you are. Best to know who’s saying what. Eight out of ten profiles regurgitate the same stuff, and if you’ve spent any significant time on a dating website, you’ll start to realize that the only things that really differentiate the profiles from one another are the pictures. If you see a profile that stands out (man or woman) take a deeper look into it and make a note at what caught your eye. Besides the pictures, of course.
Don’t Try to Appeal To Everyone
A lot of people are afraid to write something that might turn others away, leading many profiles to strip away the individuality. What’s left is a laundry list of online dating cliches. This is how we get sentences in profiles that appear over and over again like: “I love to laugh and have a good time.” Do you know anybody who prefers to cry and have a terrible time?
Or, my personal favorite: “I like to live life to the fullest.” As if that means anything.
These are things people say when they want to attract as many people as possible, which tends to backfire. You want to turn people away. Specifically, the people who won’t like you. Curate your profile to attract people who are interested in the type of person you are, not the type of person you want everyone on your dating site to think you are. If you never miss a Boston Red Sox game, you’re better off not meeting a partner who actively hates sports. If you don’t do well around animals, it’s probably best not to date somebody with a couple of pugs. The point, after all, is to find one person you enjoy spending time with.
Don’t Tell Us What You’re Looking For
One of the biggest errors men and women make is writing out a list of things they’re looking for in a partner. First, this tells people nothing about you. It makes you seem demanding, entitled, and unreasonable, plus, you’re wasting space. I want to read about you, not what you expect of me. You don’t even know me. Stop being so presumptuous.
Second, you might be pushing people away who don’t meet your “requirements.” You probably don’t know what you want as well as you think you do. The fact that your date voted for Romney in 2012 is not really that big of a deal once you find out what really makes him tick.
Positive, Positive, Positive
You don’t need paint a surreal picture of how you spend every day petting panda bears that crap bakery fresh chocolate chip cookies, but keep your tone positive. Limit negative comments, complaints, and sarcasm.
Don’t Describe Yourself Too Much
This is counter-intuitive. You want people to know about you, after all. But the more adjectives you use to describe yourself, the less interesting your profile becomes. Notice how quickly you skip down the body of a profile paragraph that says things like “I’m funny, smart, and loyal to a fault.”
Don’t tell me you’re funny and you love to travel. Instead, write a funny little anecdote about something that happened to you on a trip. And if you can’t write a funny story, then you probably aren’t as funny as you think you are.
Here’s an example from my old OKCupid Profile when talking about my favorite foods:
“My friends ordered this chicken dish in a restaurant in Beijing. At first, the waiter refused to bring it to us, but one of my friends insisted. I grabbed one of the wings, pounded it down, and soon discovered why. For you see, these wings were basted with the blood of Satan. Now, I love spicy food. I routinely get looks of incredulity from waiters in Thai restaurants when I tell them how spicy I like it. But this food was so hot that my brain disconnected from my mouth and said, ‘You’re on your own, buddy.’ The next five minutes were like the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, just color and light and sound and HEAT. I don’t remember much after that.”
This story says a number of things about me: I travel, I’m an adventurous eater, I love movies, and it illustrates my sense of humor. Yet nowhere in this story are any of those things mentioned as character traits. I leave it to you to infer those things.
Remember What The Profile Is For
Your profile’s sole purpose is to entice somebody into contacting you. That’s it. If you approach it as the advertising vehicle it is, then you’ll find yourself with a much higher success rate in your online communications. Once you meet in person, your profile has done its job and the rest is up to you.
Goodness gracious. It seems like everyone already has their own groups of friends. I remember going out with friends to bars where everyone else was also out with their friends, and nobody was talking to anyone else.
It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? If not online dating, where can we meet someone special?
I mean, there’s the gym, sure. But have you ever hit on anyone at the gym without it being awkward? “Oh, hey, how much can you bench press?” In fact, the only time anyone has ever even talked to me at the gym it was because he was a personal trainer and I was doing something very wrong.
Then I switched to yoga, which is not a place to meet men.
A lot of couples I know have met their special someone at work. That makes sense, there’s at least a little common ground. You have something to say to each other right off the bat! And if it’s not a fun working environment, that’s actually even better. Commiserating over happy hour leads to talking about life, then leads to a date, maybe.
But what if you work in an office of five? Where everyone except you is married? That was me. That was my story.
Perhaps the coffee shop? Or the bar? Or even the grocery store? What things do you do on a daily basis that would have you running into people you’d like to meet?
Those weren’t viable options for me. I live a quiet, frugal life, and I didn’t want to change that. At all. I could hardly be bothered to spend $20 in the hopes that doing so would have me bump into the man of my dreams.
Go for a walk. Go for a jog. Ride your bicycle. Explore. You’re definitely not going to meet anyone in your pajamas at home (except on the internet!) so you should get yourself out in public where you can be seen.
However, sometimes this isn’t possible. And it’s certainly not easy. I’m an extrovert, but sometimes it’s hard to leave the comfort and coziness of my own home to get outside. Plus, if your mentality is “okay, I’ll go for a walk and hopefully I will meet someone” you give off the vibe of desperation. And neediness. And you’ll come home feeling winded, let down, and exhausted.
We live in such an odd time of history. In order to meet a neighbor for a cup of coffee, I can’t just go to the coffee shop. I have to go home, and start marketing myself as someone who would be a good companion for a cup of coffee.
So, I headed online. Have you tried online dating? What were your experiences?
It’s the first date. You’re sitting across the table from a nice, attractive woman chatting the evening away over an adult beverage. Perhaps you ordered that hummus plate for something to nosh on (though you pick at it only because it gives you something to do. You’re way too nervous to have much of an appetite.). After about ninety minutes, the server comes by and drops off a small, black leather folio. You eye the folio nervously. So does your date. Maybe ten seconds pass, but it feels like ten minutes. The beat hangs in the air like a high fly ball to center field. Stalemate. Finally, the silence is broken when she says, halfheartedly, “You want to split this?”
I always pay on the first date.
Always. In fact, when the bill comes, I pick it up so fast the woman doesn’t even have a chance to make a cursory move toward the bill. Asking, “Who pays on the first date?” sounds like an antiquated question for days gone by when women and men did the dance by a specific script. Years ago the answer was “The guy. Duh.” But in today’s online, connected, independent, equitable world the answer seems like it should be more nuanced. Should you split? I mean, you don’t want your date to infer that you think she’s incapable of taking care of herself. This woman sitting across from you can certainly afford to pay her half of the $25 bar tab.
But to me, this situation is not about who can afford what. It is about sending and receiving messages. So make your decision about what message you want to communicate before you make a conscious decision of what your action is going to be. This gives your actions at the end of that first night some purpose. Since I know the messages I’m trying to communicate and receive, paying is the right choice for me.
First of all, it’s a nice thing to do. This is not about money, it’s about the gesture. Why don’t you want to do something nice for someone? Are you a jerkface or something? Stop being that, then. If you’re concerned about spending frivolously, then don’t plan your first date at Metrovino (which I have done.. ugh.). McMenamins for happy hour is just fine. Or, hey, how about meeting at Moonstruck for a cup of hot chocolate? That’s fun, and it keeps bill under $10. The amount isn’t important. A woman worth getting to know is there to get to know you. She probably doesn’t care if it’s over a decaf latte at the neighborhood coffeehouse or a Filet Mignon at Ringside (and if she does bristle at your first date choice, isn’t that something you’d like to know?).
Insisting on paying also gives you information about her. Here’s an incomplete list of things I want to know about the woman I’m treating to a first date:
Does she offer to pay half?
I don’t actually expect her to pay half. In fact, I don’t expect her to expect to have to pay half. But I expect her to offer. To me, it means she has manners. If you want to get literal, this is what is actually being said:
Man: I’m signaling that I’m paying.
Woman: I’m going to offer to pay my half. While I am willing to pay, I hope that you will insist on paying the entire bill.
Man: I appreciate your honoring of the modern social custom of being willing to split. I acknowledge your manners. I will now pay the entire bill.
Does she know how to accept a gesture?
One time, I had a ninety second negotiation (or was it an argument?) with a date about whether I would accept her money. She was literally waving cash in my face. I thought this very strange, and it screamed insecurity. Frankly, if a date puts up this much of a fuss, it’s probably just better to let her pay half. Suffice it to say, I didn’t call her back.
Does she thank you?
And I don’t just mean saying “thank you” at the table. Does she send you a nice text message after the date (probably the next day, but sometimes the same night)? If so, bingo. You have identified a woman with manners who is interested in a second date. My friend, you are off to a smashing start. (Women’s corollary: send a ‘thank you’ text within 24 hours if you like the guy. If not, feh.)
Sometimes first-date drinks go so well that the evening extends into dinner. In this case, the woman might offer to pay her half again (and she should), creating another potential awkward moment. Here’s how you respond: “This evening is on me. How about you get it next time?”
Smooth, Jack. Real smooth.
I’m venturing into the wild world of online dating, and I find that it is filled with more questions as I go along.
Namely, the first date.
Who should pay?
Back in the olden days, the boy asks the girl out, and since the boy is the only one with the money, he of course buys the milkshake and the burger. Easy. Simple. Girls never asked boys out, and they certainly didn’t meet anywhere other than the school or dance competitions.
Yes indeed, the olden days in my mind are exactly like Grease. Thank you, Olivia Newton John.
But now, on these various dating sites (Match or How About We) the rules have changed, and probably for the better. The logic goes like this. If you are a female, you will get all kinds of gentlemen (and some sleazeballs) sending you winks, pokes, intrigues and whatnot. Some will send you emails. My favorite one thus far? “Email me back, I will do ANYTHING you want.”
But, it usually goes a little something like this:
Person one initiates contact.
Person two responds, adds cute witty things, pokes a little fun at something in the other’s profile.
Person one responds, shows how they can take a joke and dish it back out.
They decide to meet. Meeting should happen sooner rather than later. Otherwise you just put a bunch of effort into building rapport with someone you don’t find a physical connection with. And, call me shallow, but that’s important. Sunglasses and a hat disguise very easily what a guy looks like in person. And women are just as bad, from what I’ve heard. Using pictures from 20 pounds ago is deceitful.
Who pays? Person one, always? Does gender matter? Does the person who suggests meeting have to assume they are footing the bill?
Is that why most people just want to meet for a drink?
I’ve found, based on… hmm, I should have kept better track… five first dates from the internet, that the norm is to split the cost.
And that’s fine with me. I’m never suggesting we go out for caviar and then to a steakhouse, so I’m comfortable paying my share. In fact, I think it’s prudent to carry enough cash to cover your part. Or tip, if you find someone who insists on paying.
And gentlemen? You will stand out in the crowd if you insist on paying.
I suppose I always thought the back and forth was part of the script.
You know, the script:
Me, reaching for my purse: “do you want to split this?”
You: “No thanks.”
Me: “Are you sure?”
You: “Yes, I’m sure.”
Me: “Thank you.”
But it turns out, that script is from the olden days. Now it’s more like, do you want to split it? Sure. Sometimes he’s the one that asks if I want to split it.
Lest you read into this and think I’m a good-for-nothing gold digger, let me be clear: I am an independent woman who can pay my own way. I can even buy a condo (with help). I can certainly afford my five-dollar drink or ten-dollar burger. But it’s a very nice gesture if you offer to take care of it. I don’t expect to meet someone who will swoop in and solve all my money problems. And that’s typically not what a first date is about.
So, who should pay for the first date? Either split it, or take care of it. And if you want my advice? Treating someone gets you brownie points.
When I wrote earlier about whether I should try online dating, you guys had a lot of great advice. It was pointed out that perhaps I wasn’t ready to date, and that my list was just a big list of excuses.
I can’t say that those commenters were wrong. I wasn’t ready. But then I got ready.
And I’m here to update my list based on my experiences in the wild world of dating people on the internet.
Pros of Online Dating
- I get to meet new people.
- Most people who are into online dating are fairly normal. Some are even cute.
- It just changes how you meet someone, the rest of the rules are pretty normal.
- I can meet people in my pajamas, and strike up fun conversations even when I don’t look presentable enough to go outside.
- There’s always that chance that a spark will ignite, even when meeting people online.
- I get to try new happy hours, or if I get to pick, I get to go to my favorite Portland places.
- There are good dates, there are mediocre dates, and there are dates that make for amazing stories (that I’m too kind and gentle to post here!).
- In 2013, there is no stigma associated with online dating. So there doesn’t have to be any kind of fake story about how we “bumped into each other at a happy hour” (not that I’ve ever fibbed like that, ahem!).
Cons of Online Dating
- It’s a lot of work. I mean, I work in marketing, and my hobby is blogging, so I have to be charming and witty and on my game most of the day. The internet dating thing just adds more to that. There are back and forth emails, then there’s the “let’s go have a drink” conversations, and sometimes, I just want to hang out with my friends or by myself. Even extroverts hit their limit.
- There are two kinds of people who are looking for dates online: those that can’t get dates otherwise because of some limitation, and those that are too lazy to go meet people in other ways. I’d like to think I’m in the latter group, but that might just be wishful thinking. Unfortunately, I have found that there are many people in the former group, who can hide some limitation for a while on the internet, only to have it blatantly obvious within one minute of meeting.
- I am, frankly, not very good at dating. I think it’s way too obvious that I don’t like the game, so I tend to get excited too soon, and then get far too disappointed that he never called/texted/sent a postcard. Ever since I realized this trait, though, I’ve lightened up, and decided to take things slowly. Now I’m no longer thinking, as I get ready to go out, will this be my last first date? and turning that “crazy” off has done wonders for me.
- Some people give off a very creepy vibe. I take my privacy (and safety!) very seriously, so when I get the feeling someone is kind of creepy, it makes me wonder if I’m doing the right thing being online.
- It’s not always fun. Of course it isn’t. There is a real temptation to try to cover all my bases and join up with all the sites, but the idea of that is repulsive. Andrea already did the legwork to let me know never, ever, to do Plenty of Fish, so I have it narrowed down to two.
My Experience with Dating Sites
I don’t know what finally made me decide to try, but I think, honestly, I clicked an ad on an NPR article. It was for a different kind of dating site called “How About We” and instead of an intense profile, you just answer some very basic questions and then suggest a date. “How about we… check out xyz at the something or other”. Fun! They let you do a few things for free, but then if someone emails you, you have to pay to see it.
But it’s fun — you get to look at fun things to do in your city rather than see about someone’s income level and education and number of children. And also you have to pay to read messages. So the instant I got a message, I pulled out my credit card. Vanity, right?
And, even though I am in marketing and I know how to price things, the dating pricing structure totally works on me. It’s only marginally more expensive for three months than for one. So, of course I signed up for three months (even though in the back of my head I hoped that the message that was waiting for me was from the one and I wouldn’t need that long! — I told you, I’m better now).
Then I realized something. This site is really new. So, as cool as it is, there are only 100 guys in my area on it. While each and every one of them is awesome in his own way, I don’t think I’ll be going out with very many of them.
So, I thought, while I’m here on the internet and interested in online dating, I’d diversify. I signed up with OKCupid as well. That is a free site, with everything that goes along with that. My user name has the word frugal in it (are you surprised?) so sometimes I get really good lines, like, “you’re not very frugal with that smile” which… does that work? For anyone? But there are some nice guys on there as well.
My sister thinks I should give Match a try but I have this feeling that I do not need to be on three dating sites.
Something about overkill.