I spend lots of time in this column and over at A(n)nals of Online Dating documenting the worst of the worst internet daters. And there are so many bad ones! But there are also some really good ones — and some mediocre ones that could be so much better if not for rookie mistakes. So, welcome to Internet Dating Bootcamp, where I’ll teach you how to trick unsuspecting Match.com users into thinking you’re actually cool and normal. First up: How to create a good profile.
1. Pick a decent username
Clever is better than boring, but boring is better than gross. BigDickInU69 or suck_me22 is not funny; it’s creepy.
You need to be you in your online dating profile, but the process of creating one is a good time to think about what kindergarten teachers call “being your best self at school.” If you’re attracted to Type-A go-getter types who get up at 6am to exercise, emphasize your similar love of hard work. If you like low-key creative types, share what it is you make. Do you get off on witty banter? Then your profile should be clever. Want someone who shares your taste for obscure French films? Reference one of them and see who bites. No, not everyone wants to date a carbon copy of themselves, but most of us want to be with someone with some overlapping interests. Put forward the version of yourself that’s most attractive to the person you’re trying to see naked. Online dating is like advertising: Know your ideal audience and target them by positioning yourself to be as appealing as possible. Keep your product’s major flaws out of the commercial.
3. Pick photos that reflect who you are
The obvious points of picking photos are to make them (1) flattering, and (2) accurate. That photo where your skin looks all glowy and you can’t see your cankles? Sure, use it. But the photo from 6 years, 25 pounds and two high-stress jobs ago? Yes, you looked great, but you want to date someone who is attracted to you right now. So select photos that look good, but could also in some universe be reasonably understood to be you. Relatedly: Select photos where you can actually see what you look like. Remember, the whole point of your photo is for someone to evaluate whether or not they want to sex you.
Also, your photos send a message beyond “me IRL.” They reflect your taste and your judgment. Shirtless photos for men (or bikini photos for women) say “I vacation on the Jersey Shore, pump my fist to house music, use tons of hair gel and probably have at least one tribal / Chinese symbol tattoo.” Myspace-style chin-down eyes-up pouty-face selfies say, “I want to look pretty and am not particularly intelligent.” Far-away vacation shots say, “Have I mentioned that I travel? I’m sure I mentioned it like 56 times in my profile, but just in case you missed it, here is me in Laos. Travel! Love it.” Think beyond “this is a cool / funny / flattering photo that I like” and ask yourself, “How is a total stranger going to view me and my life when they look at this photo?” In other words, follow this guy’s example.
This one should be obvious, but unfortunately it’s not. Make sure your profile is reasonably coherent. Capitalize (but not randomly). Use proper punctuation and make sure most of the words are spelled correctly. The exception to this rule: You are a moron who would like to attract other morons. In that case, you do you.
5. Date your age
One very reliable red flag on online dating sites: People who list the age range of people they’ll date as significantly younger or significantly older, but not overlapping with their own. This is, unsurprisingly, pretty strongly gendered: There are tons of men who are, say, 36, and list their dating age range from 20 – 35, or women who are 28 and list their dating age range from 29 – 44. If you really won’t date someone your own age (or a few years older or younger), ask yourself what’s going on when you, a 35-year-old grown-ass man, feel like you would have more in common with a woman who just reached legal drinking age than with a woman two years your senior, who is much more likely to be in a similar place career- and experience-wise.
And why do you, a 23-year-old, want to date someone who could technically be your father if 16 & Pregnant had existed in the 70s? My point is, check yourself. And also realize that while relationships with large age differences can of course be happy and successful, there is usually something wrong with a person who refuses to engage romantically with anyone in their peer group, and instead seeks out a relationship that will involve serious differences in experience and power. Don’t be the guy who every girl is like, “There’s something wrong with that guy.”
Yes, we’ve all been burned while dating, and we all have loooooong lists of things we don’t want in a partner. But turning your dating profile into a laundry list of complaints isn’t going to get you what you want; at best it’s going to make you sound like a whiny baby, and at worst it’s going to make you sound like a huge racist. Also not attractive: A list of insane demands. You sound like a bad Lifetime movie boyfriend, not a reasonably dateable person.
It may be true that your interests are 69, anal, ass, bikini babes, masturbating, porn, vaginas and the beach. But only one of those things should be listed on your internet dating profile. A bit of humorous honesty (you’re a literary snob who secretly liked the Twilight series; you’re a food blogger who once ate dog food as a kid) is a plus. Too-soon too-intense over-sharing honesty (you’re experimenting with a new anti-depressant and it’s not going so well; your last breakup was devastating and now you hate all men and can’t have sex without bursting into tears; you sometimes find yourself sexually aroused by water buffalo) is not. And while online dating can be a great way to meet folks who share your particular sexual preferences or fetishes, tread carefully and remember that your actual face is attached to the information you’re putting up. There’s nothing wrong with looking for a little naked fun, but keep in mind that your co-workers, neighbors and acquaintances also have access to the internet. And seriously consider whether you want to publicize your wheelchair fetish, your juggalo ex-boyfriend or the crimes you regularly commit.
Stick to these rules, be kinda funny, try not to be a cliché machine (you love to laugh and couldn’t live without your family and friends?! OMG ME TOO!) and your profile should be at least marginally acceptable (and hopefully won’t end up here for the wrong reasons).
If you’ve got your own online dating horror stories, drop them below, or submit them anonymously.
The A(n)nals of Online Dating is a weekly column about How We Date Now, from the proprietor of the website of the same name, showing off the best of the worst internet dating has to offer.
Illustration by Leslie Wood
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