Written by Amy Cherrix
What do a trucker in Des Moines and a hospital administrator in Albany have in common? Well… me, actually.
While I was in graduate school, I worked as a professional online dating profile writer. For a fee, I made anyone look good on paper… er… in pixels, that is. Looking for love but don’t have a job? No problem. You’re not “unemployed,” you’re “seeking a new opportunity that creates a better work-life balance.” No dating experience? No matter. You’re branching out into the online dating scene because you’re looking for a new adventure. No car? You like to walk, thankyouverymuch, because have you heard of global warming? No desire to get married? Not to worry. I can promise that you’ll get out of online dating exactly what you’re willing to put into it. [Ed. note: The photos accompanying this article are stock images. all implied awkwardness is strictly intentional.]
Having written hundreds of dating profiles, I’ve learned a lot about what hits and misses the matchmaking mark. As I’m retired from my profile writing days, I wanted to share some hard-won knowledge during this particularly meaningful time of year. It’s February, after all, so what better season to help you help yourself in finding love online?
Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or magician. What follows is anecdotal evidence based on the sum total of extensive email correspondence with people who paid me to write their dating profiles. I was more MacGyver than Dr. Ruth in that sense, helping online date-seekers to craft a version of their best selves from the interests they all too often may have overlooked or deemed insignificant. With a mouse, keyboard, and a little self-reflection, you too can find yourself a date or a life partner.
Don’t you want me, baby…
Online dating is big business— a two billion dollar a year business, in fact.
A Pew Center study from 2013 examined the statistics around online dating. One in ten Americans has used an online dating site or app. Take a look around. Everyone is plugged into his or her smartphone. You’re already getting acquainted with strangers online via social media. What may have initially felt like an unnatural way to meet someone has become commonplace. Utilizing an Internet-based dating service is a natural extension of our digital lives, as easy as updating your Facebook status in most cases.
The Pew study cited some negative aspects of this form of dating in the 21st Century. Fifty-four percent of online daters felt that someone dramatically misrepresented themselves in their profile. The truth is, when you expose yourself to the world at large, you’re going to occasionally meet some unsavory characters that are less than honest. The best thing you can do is to make sure your profile positions you in the most appealing light.
Here’s the bad news. Writing a dating profile is about as sexy as writing a resume for your dream job, and the stakes are just as high. At best, you’re looking for a life partner; and at worst, a lunch companion who, despite what a disaster the meeting was, at least chewed with her mouth closed. Finding lifelong love and mitigating disaster both begin with a well-worded profile that best represents you.
I’ve collected a few case studies here for your consideration. Of course, names, locations, and other details have been altered so as not to infringe upon anyone’s privacy or impugn their character. But all of these folks’ experiences have something to teach us about online dating.
Going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married…
Case in point: I wrote a profile for a woman we will call Carol. She was in her late forties, smart, had a great job as a hospital administrator, was an avid cyclist, and wanted to be married. I know all of this because she completed an extensive questionnaire before I began writing her profile. She said she liked coffee shops, antiquing, and reading good books while she ran on the treadmill. She had photos to share that revealed her as an attractive woman who obviously took great care of herself. I took one look at her and could envision the man she wanted: athletic, educated, and hardworking, who enjoyed an intellectual but active life. In my head, maybe he looked like the actor, Tim Daly (swoon!).
I wrote Carol a whiz-bang profile that I thought captured all of the great qualities she had to offer. When she received it, she emailed me almost immediately. She hated it. While she appreciated my efforts on her behalf, the profile was not going to appeal to the type of man she wanted. She said I made her sound like an over-caffeinated exercise fiend. I was stunned. I’d seen the pictures of her racing bikes. We had enjoyed a lively separate email exchange detailing her love of attending coffee tastings and pride at having finished well in a recent road race. Naturally, I asked Carol what she really wanted. Her reply was swift and simple: She wanted an older gentleman, retired, who was looking to settle down. Carol worried that I had made her sound too youthful and vibrant for the kind of man she sought.
The lesson from Carol? Ask for what you want, but know exactly what you want before creating your profile. When crafting an online persona, it’s tempting to brag and embellish, but make sure the person you seek matches the experiences you hope to have with that person. I read somewhere that the music of our lives can overwhelm what we try to say. That happened to Carol. Who she was and what she wanted seemed at odds with each other. Did she really want someone so very different from herself? Maybe, maybe not…
Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man…
Let’s look at another example. Hugh was a trucker from Iowa who was proud of being a “real meat and potatoes kind of guy.” He had a simple life, full of family who meant the world to him, and a love of the open road. Hugh was a rambling man from way back—an Allman Brothers song made real. It was refreshing to encounter a person so unencumbered by the Digital Age, but at the same time seemingly willing to embrace technology to meet a life partner. In a brief email exchange, he sketched out his hopes for the profile, and I emailed him the requisite questionnaire. When I received the reply, he had written only one sentence at the top of the page: “I want a fun, interesting woman, who likes to do interesting things that are fun.” He had responded to none of the questions. There wasn’t much I could do. Hugh obviously didn’t think the questionnaire was either fun or interesting, and for a guy who made road trips for a living, he seemed far more interested in the destination (a date) than the journey (writing a profile). I sketched a spare profile based on our correspondence, and he was pleased.
The takeaway here is to be specific. Make a huge list of your interests and places you like to go beyond your weekly routine.
If you hike, what are your favorite climbs, or where would you hope to go? If you love Thai food, tell me why? If you hate television, what do you do instead? Do you read? What kinds of books? What moved you about them and what are the ten books you think everyone should read before they die? In the absence of details, the person whom you may want to date you is left only with a generic list of traits that could be anyone, rather than something that is uniquely you.
Photos are a huge part of online dating. In fact, I’d argue they are the single most important choices you make when crafting a dating profile. Pictures show rather than tell. The very nature of photography suggests that whatever happened was significant because we bothered to snap the picture in the first place. If you’re bad at writing or don’t want to pay someone to write your profile, make it sing through pictures. Do you bake, swim, or travel? Show the world with your pictures. Do you look just as fabulous in denim as you do in formal wear? (Sidebar: this may be the most clichéd phrase in the history of online dating so avoid it like the plague, okay?) Post photos of yourself at your best. Are you funny? Do your friends think you nail the Halloween costume party every year with a brilliant combination of whimsy and wit? By all means, let us see that in words and pictures. In this case, the old adage is true: A picture really is worth a thousand words.
Of course, there’s a downside to posting photos. In this day of digital photography, Instagram filters, and Photoshop, more often than not, looks are deceiving. So for this last bit of advice, I’m turning the spotlight on myself.
I’ll be your mirror…
Before I began writing profiles, I used an online dating service too. I met a nice guy online. We began chatting via email, and after a couple of weeks, decided to chat by phone before our first date. We had a great conversation and as we finalized plans for our first meeting, he said he had “an awkward question he needed to ask.” Now at the time, I was living in Los Angeles. There really was no telling what he was going to say. The greater LA area is notorious in online dating circles for being, shall we say, “challenging.” I took a breath and mumbled something about being an open book.
“How much do you weigh?” he asked in a rush. “I couldn’t tell from your photo.”
Now, it’s no secret that this question—next to “How old are you?”— is the one most despised by women. Within a ten-second span, I vacillated between blinding rage, righteous indignation, and humiliation. I finally landed on “tacky” as the best word to describe this knucklehead that I’d been so eager to meet only moments earlier.
The photo in question was one of me, taken just before a ten-mile run while I was training for a marathon. In that instant, it didn’t matter that I was in the best physical shape of my life, it only mattered that this person, this stranger, was judging me. “Sorry,” he said, “it’s just that the photo is only of the top half of your body. I don’t want to seem superficial, but I have no way of knowing if you’re deliberately hiding something.”
And you know what? He was right. That’s when it hit me. Public vulnerability is the harshest and most basic part of online dating. I had posted that picture because I felt happy, proud, empowered, and vital—all things someone looking to ask me out might appreciate. I had not cropped it strategically. It was the original photo. What followed was an even more awkward conversation, trying to reassure this person that I was not hiding anything, and that in fact, I was a runner (and in better shape than he was, frankly).
The bottom line is that physical attraction is important to some people who are dating online. Making peace with that reality of dating, whether in person or via the Internet, is just part of looking for love.
Regardless of your opinion of digital dating, the numbers suggest it is here to stay.
The aforementioned Pew study found that one-in-five adults, ages 25-34 years old, have used online dating, but that it’s also popular with older singles, too. The question isn’t what are you willing to lose; it’s what are you willing to risk?
Aldous Huxley famously envisioned a brave new world wherein technology may have gotten the better of humanity. Still, I can’t help but wonder what his own online dating profile might have said. I bet he wanted someone “nice” and “interesting,” because isn’t that what we all really want, connection?
And in the age of the Internet, if we’re lucky, courageous, and maybe just a little bit daring, love may only be a mouse click away.
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