So, you've taken the plunge and signed up for a site. Or, maybe you're a seasoned pro, but feeling like you're stuck in a rut when it comes to the perfect match (forever or just for now). What can you do to put your best virtual foot forward and optimize your profile for maximum results? It's not a science, but we do have a few tips up our sleeves.
Know what you want. First of all, you've got to decide what you want out of a dating site. Are you looking to go on four dates a week? One a month? Long-term, a fun fling, or just one wonderful night? Call your friends over for a Sunday morning-chat session and talk about what your life really needs right now. Once you've landed on a goal you feel comfortable with, try to mention that in your profile carefully. While some sites offer check boxes or other formulaic ways to state just what you're after, you can breathe some life back into things by casually mentioning just what you're into — whether that's something very specific or anything at all — in a way that feels natural in the "conversation" of your profile.
Are you in the right place? Once you know what you're going for, try to figure out if you're actually using the right dating site for you. Some of them, especially more established, subscription-based sites like eHarmony and Match.com, are comprised mainly of people looking for long-term relationships or marriage. Others are more geared toward hookups (Grindr and Tinder come to mind). And, some are about meeting people and seeing what happens. Christian Rudder, co-founder of OKCupid, says that when he founded the site in 2003, "the online-dating world was very marriage focused, for settling down. We purposely kept no specific relationship goal in mind; it was just to help you find people, and it's up to you to figure out what you want in a relationship with those people. As a result, there is no one typical thing people are looking for." The best way to figure out if you're on the right site is to talk to friends who've used these sites in the past, and browse other users on the site to see what they themselves claim to be looking for.
Be concise. The truth is, people on most sites are just browsing. They're not going to spend 20 minutes reading an in-depth confessional essay about why David Foster Wallace is the most important man in your life. While you're undoubtedly a fascinating person with lots of wonderful things to say, keep it down to the basics here. A few snappy lines to add personality is key. When it comes to your interests, you don't have to say just "music." But you don't need a gigantic list of the world's most indie bands, either.
Focus on what you like best about yourself. Sometimes, opposites attract — but even in those cases, a connection usually begins around a few shared interests. If you're a kind, gentle, quiet person and you want a mate who is like that, too, make sure to give those qualities premium placement on your page. Likewise, if you just can't date someone who isn't into Death Cab, you don't have to state it outright, but prominently sharing your passion will make other superfans more likely to notice you as a potential pal. When it comes to talking about your personality, it's always better to display your truest possible self. If you've always wanted to be an extrovert, but the truth is you're shy with people you don't know well, lying about it is only going to end up disappointing both you and your date and potentially setting you up with someone who's not willing to accept you as you are.
Make your move. If you're a heterosexual woman, a lot of the same ol' gender rules still apply. According to Rudder, the vast majority of reach-outs are made by men. That does give us gals a bit of an advantage. If you prefer to be courted, that's fine, but if you are comfortable doing the courting, you'll probably stand out a bit in your target's inbox. And this goes for all genders and sexualities: When and if you do reach out to someone, please do make it personal. Don't be any more sexual or forward than you would be in real life (people are always on the lookout for creeps, and with good reason), and maybe mention a few things you noticed on their profile — and a few interesting facts about yourself that aren't on your page.
And what about the all-important photo? Ah, now here's where things get tricky. No matter how deep you think you are, the truth is, it's the first thing you look at. It's only natural — the eye is just more drawn to an image than a bunch of text. First of all, the basics. According to Arum Kang, co-founder of Coffee Meets Bagel, people make elementary mistakes surprisingly often. "People somehow mistakenly think that if they create a profile, everything will magically work and not put any time into it," Kang explains. "So many profiles don't show their face clearly and show pictures in large groups or even with someone who may be mistaken for a boyfriend/girlfriend. Even just getting these basics down helps." So, you want to be alone in a photo (preferably without having to weirdly crop people out), you want your face to be visible unless you're purposely, artfully hiding it behind something. Kang recommends uploading at least three photos, one close-up, one full body (doesn't need to be gratuitous and definitely optional), and one of you in action to show that yes, you do have interests beyond the art of the selfie.
Beyond that, it's important to change your photo regularly. In addition to logging in once a week, the algorithms on most dating sites will serve up your profile in more searches if you update your photo. When you do decide to upload a new picture, you can try to tailor it to get the kind of results you're looking for, to a certain extent. Just as the outfits we choose reflect our cultural niche, our tastes, and the way we see ourselves in our minds' eye, your photo should reflect how you want to be perceived and who you want to meet. For example, if you're into hippie types, there's no sense in uploading a glamour shot — it just won't connect with your desired audience. Justin Matteen, co-founder of Tinder, says you should treat it as you would treat an introduction in real life: "There's no magic science to it. While it starts from a dating context, because we show people's sexual orientation, these relationships can lead to anything. In real life, nobody tells you where a relationship will go, but there are cues and people read into things." So, if you're looking for hot dates, dress like you would on a hot date — if you're looking for a more casual lunch buddy, well, you know what to do.
What if I'm getting the wrong kind of attention? Are you a very hot, photogenic young woman? Then you might find yourself getting more messages than you want — and not always from people genuinely interested in your sparkling personality. We spoke with Emily Theobald, who joined OKCupid after ending a long-term relationship, and she found that "it just got to a point where I got so many messages all the time and some of them were just creepy and not interesting at all." Eventually, she decided to try changing her photo to something less sexy — not that her original one was overly provocative, as you can see below (original photo on the left, new one on the right):
When she made the change, the awkward, excessive attention went away, for the most part. Theobald says she hoped more interesting people, perhaps drawn to the mystery and composition of the photo, would contact her, though that wasn't really the case (now, she's dating someone she met offline and has deactivated her account). Rudder admits that this is not an isolated incident. "The hottest profiles get a ridiculous amount of attention, and that's a problem we're trying to fight," he says. "It doesn't make me happy that a beautiful woman gets so much attention it makes her uncomfortable. That's something we try to deal with, but it's hard, we don't want to bury her too much." But the reality is that some profiles get much, much more attention than others — enough that it stands out in the data site managers look at on a regular basis. In a way, that's good for business: "You want those people to come to the site and see that there are attractive people."
Overall, though, all the people we spoke to for this story agreed that it's not just about looking good. It's about presenting an open mind — and that often means smiling facial expressions and vibrant colors. The moral of the story? In the end, online dating isn't really all that different from real life. The choice is more active, and allows for more time, when creating an online profile, but the truth is that when we first meet someone, even when we get dressed in the morning, we make conscious choices about how we present ourselves. The good thing about doing it online is that you get an opportunity to really think about who you are, who you want to be, and what you want in a friend. And that's always a valuable exercise, right?