Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Friday, May 30, 2008

When You Don't Like Your Friend's Friends

Today Singletude is taking a break from the subject of online dating to address an issue that's been at the forefront of my thoughts recently: What do you do when your friend's friends are no friends of yours?

Lest any of my own friends assume they inspired this post, let me state for the record that it's not addressed to anyone in particular. Rather, this topic has recently been prominent at message boards I read as well as in conversations with acquaintances of mine who've complained about it, and their collective distress, confusion, and disenchantment prodded me in the direction of my keyboard and ultimately Singletude.

Most of us can probably remember at least one episode of contact frienditis, the emotional equivalent of contact dermatitis, that itchy rash you get when you have sand in your bathing suit, a pebble in your shoe, or other prolonged contact with an irritant. Occasionally, a friend shows up with a new boyfriend, girlfriend, or an entire clique in tow, and the newbies just rub you the wrong way. It might be something concrete that bothers you, such as a drug habit, sticky fingers at the store, reckless driving, or other behavior that makes you uncomfortable, or it might be something less tangible, perhaps an arrogant attitude, a sharp tongue, or a pessimistic mindset. Maybe you can't even put your finger on it, but something doesn't sit right with you.

At first, you probably try to keep the peace. You figure it's not your place to tell your friend who he or she should hang out with. Perhaps you talk yourself into giving the new addition another chance...and another...and another. After all, your friend must see something special in him or her, right? But the more time you spend in your friend's broadening social circle and the more disconcerting stories your friend recounts about it, the more you're convinced that your friend has picked up an issue of the Bad News Times and the new stars of his or her social life are on the front page.

It's becoming clear that you have to take a stand, but how and for what and to whom? None of your options guarantees a peaceful resolution. If you confront your friend, you risk angering and alienating him or her. If you withdraw from your friend, you'll be labeled passive-aggressive, snobby, or flaky. However, if you swallow your discomfort and pretend everything is peachy, you may fool your friend for awhile, but you'll betray yourself.

Before you rock that boat, it would be wise to chart your course with the following road map:

1. Do you truly dislike your friend's new companion(s), or are you actually jealous that your friend has less time to spend with you?

A. If the former, see 2.

B. If the latter, this situation requires some compromise. Talk to your friend about how much you miss the things you used to do together and suggest reserving a regular time for the two of you to connect. Try to be nonconfrontational and emphasize how you want to resume your formerly close friendship rather than criticizing your friend's choice of companions or accusing him or her of deserting you. Much of the time, people get caught up in new relationships or friendships, and their neglect of older acquaintances is unintentional. Once they realize how much their absence is felt, they gladly return, often with apologies. However, to uphold your end of the bargain, you'll have to learn to share your friend, acknowledging that finding new friends and lovers is part of life. If there's a gap in your social circle now that your friend is busier, it may be time for you to embark on some new relationships, as well.

2. Though you may be accused of jealousy, there are times when that has nothing to do with your genuine, deep-seated, out and out dislike of that schmuck your friend is toting around calling a boyfriend/girlfriend/BFF. In order to plan your next step, you need to clarify what irks you about the intruder. Chances are the offending party falls under one of these categories:

A. He or she is probably an okay person but doesn't get along with you.
There are all kinds of reasons why this might be the case, including differences in personality, background, lifestyle, values, and beliefs. Sometimes it's just not comfortable to hang out with someone you never see eye to eye with, especially if he or she isn't tolerant of your differences. If this best describes your situation, see 3.

B. He or she is not an okay person, and you know why.
Maybe you've seen the bruises on your friend's arms after her boyfriend slapped her around. Maybe you saw his girlfriend making out with someone else last week. It could be the new addition has a serious problem like alcohol addiction, run-ins with the law, or a penchant for the kind of risk-taking that lands someone in the hospital, or maybe he or she is just a garden variety gossip, liar, bigot, poser, whiner, user, manipulator, snob, flake...Whatever it is, you've seen the evidence of an egregious personality flaw, and you've reached a verdict--you don't want this person in your life, and you wish your friend didn't, either. See 5.

C. He or she might not be okay, but you don't know why.
Something seems off about the inductee to the inner circle, but you don't know what. Maybe you've heard rumors, or perhaps you've witnessed some questionable comments or behavior but nothing you'd condemn per se. You feel unsettled in his or her presence and can't help thinking that he or she is not a great match for your friend. You just wish your friend would pick someone more...or less...well, more or less something. See 4.

3. If you chose A. in 2., you've admitted that your friend hasn't made a bad choice as much as one that you personally have trouble handling. Therefore, complaining to your friend should be a last resort.

Before you stage a confrontation you might regret, give the newbie(s) a chance. Try to look beyond surface differences, establish some common ground, and avoid hot-button topics. This won't be the last time you're thrown together with someone who gets on your nerves, so use this opportunity to work on your people skills and practice empathy, self-control, patience, and forgiveness. Eventually, you may warm to each other, and you'll broaden your social scope by getting to know someone you might otherwise have overlooked.

At the end of the day, though, if you can't agree to disagree, it's understandable that you'd rather be elsewhere on a Friday night. If you're not often invited out with the new addition, you can conveniently be "busy" on the few occasions that you are. However, if your friend expects you to embrace the newcomer, you'll eventually have to have a serious conversation, in which case see 5.

4. If your answer in 2. was C., just breathe because you may have a long wait ahead of you. Probably you're itching to bitch and moan to your friend, but as soon as you do, he or she will want to know why you have an issue with the new companion(s), and if you can't provide concrete reasons, you'll appear petty, paranoid, judgmental, or--you guessed it--j-j-j-jealous. Proceed as in 3., and you may be pleasantly surprised to discover that you were mistaken about the newbie, who was just shy, rough around the edges, or suffering from foot-in-mouth syndrome. On the other hand, if he or she is a closet jerk, sit back and wait for the jerkiness to come out of the closet. When it does, proceed to 5.

5. Few people like confrontation, and there are particular reasons to avoid it if at all possible in this situation. Specifically, people tend to identify themselves with their friends and lovers, so if you criticize either, there's a good chance your friend will take it as a personal affront. The stronger your friend's feelings for the new addition(s), the more delicate you'll have to be, so tread lightly, especially if the source of your frustration is a boyfriend or girlfriend. Remember that a romantic partner or even a new sidekick is likely to be in your friend's life for a long time, maybe even permanently, so any bone you pick now may be picked over for years to come, and since your friend cares about this individual, he or she may be highly motivated to deny even legitimate complaints, again, especially if your issue is with a romantic partner.

Unfortunately, certain behavior is so disquieting that you can't, well, keep quiet about it! If you've reached your breaking point, broach the subject when you and your friend have some time and privacy to discuss it thoroughly.

If you're having this conversation because you saw yourself in 2.A. and can't coexist with the newbie(s) no matter how hard you try, be especially careful not to insinuate that you disapprove of your friend's companions just because they aren't the companions you would choose for yourself. You can ease some of the sting by agreeing that the newcomers have been good to your friend, acknowledging their importance to him or her, and even pointing out some of their good qualities. Then you can transition to wishing that you got along with them better. At this point, your friend may want to intervene and play peacemaker, and if you feel comfortable with this, then fine. If not, gently but firmly repeat that you know he or she means well, but you've put a lot of effort into fitting in with the newbie(s), and it just isn't going to happen. Express your support for your friend's other relationships and stress that this is about your comfort level, not something that's wrong with your friend. Then finish by reminding him or her how much you value your friendship and want it to continue, even though you don't expect to form close ties to the new acquaintance(s).

In contrast, if your position more closely resembles 2.B., you may not think the newbie(s) have been good to your friend or possess discernible "good qualities," and it's probable you don't support your friend's new social ventures. In fact, you might be deeply worried about the effect they're having on your friend. Again, though, you want to sound concerned, not accusatory, so keep the focus on yourself and your own feelings to begin with. Start off by confessing that you've been anxious about how your friend would react to your revelation so that he or she will (hopefully) not take immediate offense, then explain that you've become uncomfortable around the newbie(s). Since you've come this far, be honest about why. If you don't like his trigger temper, say so. If her backbiting bothers you, come clean about it. Admit that his, her, or their behavior makes you feel hurt, angry, worried, afraid, offended, or whatever it is that you feel. If your friend isn't too defensive by this point and is open to hearing what you have to say, you can express your concern for how the newcomer(s) treat him or her as well. Conclude by stating that you respect your friend's right to choose his or her associates but that you felt obligated to voice your concern because you care about your friend's safety/happiness/future/wellbeing as well as your own, which is why you can't continue hanging out with the newbie(s).

In either case, don't be surprised if your friend is put off by your attitude toward the new star(s) of his or her social life, no matter how tactfully you present it. He or she may accuse you of being jealous, unsupportive, dramatic, manipulative, dishonest, judgmental, anything to avoid the issue at hand. He or she may question your friendship and even withdraw for a time. If this happens, try to imagine how you would react if someone had picked apart a relationship you hold dear and reach out to your friend to let him or her know you're still around. Quite likely, if the person or persons your friend is passing time with are as shady as you think, your friend will realize it sooner or later and need you more than ever.

It's a sticky situation when your friend adopts a social circle that makes you feel out of the loop or, worse, spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E that your friend can't seem to read. Sometimes you can adapt to the new addition(s), and other times, you may be forced to back off to protect yourself, whether or not you can protect your friend, too. At the end of the day, the most you can do is be true to yourself and faithful to your friend and hope that your good faith is rewarded. If your friend is insensitive enough to dismiss your feelings, maybe he or she wasn't worthy of your friendship, but if he or she can respect that you won't always see people through the same colored lenses, then yours is a friendship with a rosy future.

Have you ever disliked someone a friend dated or befriended? Why did you dislike him or her, and how did you handle the situation with your friend?

Fun Link of the Day

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tips for Online Dating Success, Part II

In Tips for Online Dating Success, Part I, Singletude explained how to kick-start your Internet dating profile with a user name, headline, and photos that show off your personal style and rocket you straight to level one. (Click on the link to "Part I" to read more about the levels of online dating communication.)

Today we'll jump right into the meat of your profile--the intro, multiple choice, and short answers. (And despite what I just wrote, we'll try to avoid flashbacks to SAT prep.) Before we get started, boys and girls :P, let's review the three components of an online dating profile. Most dating profiles have an intro, or essay section, in which the member is invited to extemporize on the subject of him- or herself and, often, what he or she would like in an ideal partner. In addition, there are multiple choice questions, more extensive at some sites than others, asking the member to volunteer vital stats and other basic info about him- or herself and, probably, about the aforementioned ideal partner. The results of these multiple choice questions are used to match participants at sites that have this capability. Finally, some profiles have added short answer questions to the mix. Depending on the site, short answers may be as routine as sound bites on the last good book read and the best local hangout or as edgy as confessionals of most embarrassing moments and favorite onscreen sex scenes. Either way, they're usually optional.

Any questions before we begin the test?


Good! That's what the second installment of "Tips for Online Dating Success" is for! :)


For the majority of singles, the most intimidating step of dating site registration is probably penning the introduction. Let's face it--many of us find writing more painful than the prospect of being stabbed to death by a million ballpoint pens. It sucked writing essays in high school, and it's no less sucky writing them now in the guise of "sharing who you are with your perfect partner." However, this is what your English teacher meant when she said you were learning a valuable skill to last a lifetime. ;) Luckily, this time you don't need a thesis, supporting paragraphs, or even a knockout conclusion. You just need some marketing sense.

Copywriters write ads (called "copy") for products. On the Internet dating scene, your product is yourself. (Yes, I know this exemplifies the shopping mall mentality of online dating, but frankly, whether you meet people online, at work, through friends, or at the supermarket, they judge your dateability on your presentation.) Since I've been a copywriter, I'll guide you through some principles of advertising that apply to your online presentation, which is your profile:

A. Deliver on your promise.

If a site member clicks on your profile, she expects to find out more about you. Now that you've caught her attention, follow through by describing who you are and what you have to offer.

You may have heard that the rule of thumb for dating profiles is "the briefer the better." That's not true. Good copywriters know if someone is interested in your "product," he'll read as much as necessary to determine whether he wants what you're offering. Of course, this doesn't mean you should say it in a thousand words if 500 will suffice. But if you need more space to express yourself, take it. The page is your stage! (Okay, that sounds corny, but it's relevant.)

Now if you had a stage to yourself and an audience in attendance just to hear you speak, would you stand there at the podium and mutter, "Well, I'm not really good at this, so just drop me a line if you want to know more"? No, you would not. Not only would no one write to you, but you'd be lucky if you didn't get splattered with the remains of a salad.

Granted, there's one caveat to this: If you're one of those lucky folks with supermodel looks, you'll probably get responses just because you're so "hot." But the rest of us have to demonstrate our other stellar qualities, and even if you are the second coming of Adonis or Helen, do you really want members to contact you based on your looks alone?

After you've hopefully decided that the answer is no, the question becomes : "Well, what do I write? I'm not Faulkner or Hemingway, you know."

That's okay. You don't have to be. Despite popular conception, glitzy, gimmicky ads hold no advantage over clear, straightforward copy. Like any knowledgeable copywriter, your foremost goal is to communicate, not wax poetic. If you can make your prose sparkle, that's icing on the cake (more on this later). So just tell your prospective dates what they want to know:

--What are your most notable personality traits?
--What do you do for a living?
--What do you do for recreation?
--What is your day-to-day life like?
--What are your short- and long-term goals?
--What are your values and beliefs?
--What in your life is important to you?

Now reverse these questions to apply to your ideal partner. What would his most notable personality traits be? What would she do for a living? Before you know it...presto! You have a summary of who you're looking for.

Although I can only speak from my experience on this, I promise that most of the profiles I've responded to didn't rely on cutesy ploys. Instead, they answered these seven questions, and the reason I replied was because I liked the answers. You see, those ads hit their target, and that was me. Which brings us to...

B. Know your market.

A fantastic product can languish on the shelves if advertisers don't know who to sell it to. Before you dive into your "copy," think about who you're writing it for.

Like attracts like. If you're funny and want someone who appreciates your sense of humor, don't just say that you like to laugh. Infuse your intro with one-liners, puns, sarcasm, whatever you do best. On the other hand, if you're intellectual and value book smarts in a partner, instead of merely noting that friends tell you you're intelligent, name your pet theories in astrophysics or the new translation of Voltaire you just finished reading. Are you the arty hipster type seeking an indie chick or beatnik boy? Give us the rundown of what's in your Shared Music folder or your top picks from the Tribeca Film Festival. Write in the language that you use every day with your friends, whether peppered with cyberpunk references, New Age buzzwords, or retro slang.

Some singles worry about appealing to the broadest audience possible, but counterintuitively, trying to please everyone is the biggest mistake you could make in online dating. That's because you don't want everyone. You want someone who's right for you. And the way to attract that person is by revealing as much of yourself as you can so that she will recognize you as the perfect fit. Others will shrug their shoulders and click on to the next profile, but that's okay; they're not your target market. Let them find others more compatible with them. When someone who can relate to your mindset reads your profile, it will hit home as though it were written in a secret code only he knows. This is closely related to the principle that every ad should...

C. Present a Unique Selling Point (USP).

Read through a handful of dating profiles, and you may conclude that they were written by a Borg cluster. If I had a dollar for every time I read "I'm as comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt as I am in a tux [or high heels]" or "I work hard and play harder," I could buy! Your objective is to prove to the reader that you're not like everybody else, that you can bring to the table something the next girl or guy can't. That's impossible if you stuff your profile with cliches and generalities. Not only will it be a snoozefest, but it won't provide an accurate picture of who you are.

For example, take the above mantra of the online dater, "I work hard and play harder." Now be specific. Add examples and illustrations. As your high school English teacher paced back and forth repeating till she wore her penny loafers into the ground, show, don't tell. Following these guidelines, you might transform the oversimplified statement above into this:

"I love my job as a teacher, but on Friday afternoon, the lights go out on the ruler and chalkboard. On the weekends, I'll challenge anyone to a game of pool or table tennis, and my friends have been known to call me 'The Karaoke King/Queen.'"

Or you might wind up with this:

"Three years ago, I started my own business, and it was the best decision I ever made. Sure, I have to put in a solid 60-70 hours a week, but working as a consultant also means that I get to travel a lot, and when I do, I turn every business trip into a mini-vacation. Last year, I went scuba diving off the coast of Fiji and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and this year I'm off to Machu Picchu!"

As you can see, these fleshed out versions of "work hard and play harder" expose two very different singles with different ideas of what work and play mean. Adding details allows both of them to distinguish themselves and better appeal to their separate markets, who are also probably quite different.

Establishing a USP is not only about differentiating yourself but doing so in categories that are important to other members. Take some time to think about qualities that past romantic partners have identified as most attractive in you. Maybe they gravitated to you because you were the life of the party. Maybe it was because you were so caring and understanding. Maybe they admired your talent as a singer or actor. Whatever those attraction factors are, you'll want to highlight them. Those qualities, in aggregate, are your USP, your hallmark, your brand, if you will. That's what you alone can give to the right taker.

Now sometimes, you can enhance your USP with an original approach if you have what it takes to...

D. Be memorable.

Earlier in this post, I said that sparkling prose wasn't necessary to an effective dating profile, but it is icing on the cake. That's because, unlike product ads, which promote utilitarian services, personal ads promote people, and people are valued for their eloquence and creativity. So if you've got it in the verbal department, flaunt it. And while a gimmicky ad that's all smoke and mirrors without substance won't sell you any more than it'll sell Pledge multisurface wipes, as long as you communicate the message defined in A., B., and C., a creative touch can only help you stand out from the crowd.

To inject personal flair into an otherwise dry profile, you'll need to depart from the traditional personal ad format and redesign it. Instead of just answering the seven questions in A. point blank, incorporate them into a unique construct, perhaps one that reflects your interests, hobbies, or professional life. The more unusual your profile, the more memorable you'll be, and that's important when your potential date is browsing through hundreds of matches. Yours should be the profile he or she remembers as "that cute one that looked like a menu" or "that funny American Idol takeoff" after 25 pages of search results.

For inspiration, here are some inventive profile themes I've seen. It's worth mentioning that I still remember some of them years later:

--The Office Memo
--The Auto/Real Estate/Help Wanted Ad
--The Film/Restaurant Review
--The Oscar Acceptance Speech
--The Closing Argument
--The User's Manual
--The Formal Invitation
--The Fairytale
--The Shakespearean Soliloquy
--The Captain's Log

Think of your own interests, and you'll likely discover a convention or two that you could parody in a dating profile.

This is part of branding yourself, to continue the advertising analogy, and branding works because it makes a product memorable. So, if you can, be unforgettable, but...

E. Don't brag.

This is where we depart from the copywriting analogy. You may want your prospective customers to know that Hefty garbage bags are the best thing since gravity, but humility isn't a trait anyone cares about in garbage bags. That said, there's nothing so off-putting as a profile authored by God incarnate. If we want an encounter with him, we'll go to church.

The single who thinks he's too sexy for his shirt isn't sexy. Whether she gives herself away by direct, tactless statements (eg., "I have to admit I have it all. I'm an awesome girl, and only awesome guys need apply!"), whether he uncovers himself by flashing his status symbols (eg., "I have three vacation homes, one on each coast of the States and one in Italy, and travel between them in my private jet, a nice perk of my job as CEO of a Fortune 500 company"), the result is the same: they attract shallow, materialistic types and repel everyone else.

Of course some of us are strikingly beautiful, talented, successful, wealthy, or in some other way blessed, and we rightly want potential dates to know it. Those traits are part of our USPs. However, there's a subtle, gracious way to hint at your desirable characteristics, and a crude, ostentatious way. The former includes posting a few pictures of you winning your Olympic gold, driving your Lamborghini, hanging with your celebrity friends, or what have you; selecting multiple choices answers that inform others you have a PhD, speak five languages, and earn over $500,000 a year; and stating some of these facts in your intro with a mildly self-deprecating and/or grateful attitude.

Undoubtedly, this will still rub some singles the wrong way, as there are those who would prefer you save any reference to your accomplishments for one of those solemn, sotto voce, in-person chats. But if you want to use your achievements as leverage to attract dates, this is probably the most tasteful way to do it. Remember that a little humility goes a long way and makes most singles that much more attractive. And on that note...

F. Accentuate the positive.

Anyone who's browsed an online matchmaking site invariably stumbles upon a few members who see the dating pool as half full. Cynical, bitter, and relentlessly depressing, they're easy to spot. Their profiles overflow with negatives--who they don't want to meet, dates they don't want to go on, problems they don't want to deal with. Chances are when you read these profiles, you were turned off.

We've all been bitten by our share of wolfish dates in sheep's clothing, and some of us have the scars to prove it. But an online dating site is not the place to show them off and compare them. Your profile is the first impression your future date will have of you. If you write a litany of complaints, you might as well walk up to a girl or guy in a bar and introduce yourself like this: "Hey, how are you tonight? Can I buy you a drink if you're not insecure, don't play head games, and don't have too much baggage? You know, I've tried this whole dating thing before, and to be honest, I don't think there's much chance it'll work this time around, either. There's pretty slim pickings out there. Most men/women are self-centered, whiny, ignorant fools." I'm willing to bet if someone like that approached you, you'd find a reason to be late for an appointment or married within five minutes.

So start off your profile on the right foot, and if you wouldn't want to date a downer, don't be one. If you do find yourself harboring resentment over past relationships or online dating experiences, take a break; don't take it out on everyone else. At the same time...

G. Be honest.

Not just because it's the decent thing to do but because if you're not, the truth will eventually out itself, and not only will it ruin your fledgling date, but it might even land you on a site like this or this, when your deceived date blows your cover. Sure, we all have flaws and aspects we'd like to change, but fabricating a flawless alter ego is the pathway to embarrassment, distrust, and rejection, not a fulfilling relationship.

How about this? If there's something you don't like about yourself that you can change, change it. If you can't change it, make peace with it as part of who you are. If someone else is going to love you, he or she will have to love you as you are, warts and all. Would you really want to be with someone who wouldn't love you unless you were ten years younger, earned twice your current income, or had naturally blond hair?

I know what you're probably thinking: "But I know he would love me if he could just get past the 'few extra pounds' thing" or "I know she would fall for me if she could see me and not my bald head." Well, let me disabuse you of that notion. People list their criteria on dating profiles for a reason. They want dates who meet that criteria.

That's not to say that you can't write to a member if you don't meet his or her qualifications. He or she may decide that your height or weight or hair color is trivial compared to your shared passions for spelunking, South Park, and zucchini bread. But if you don't give your would-be date the opportunity to make that choice, one of two things will happen when you meet and the game is up. Either your date will be upset and won't call you again, or your date will forgive you for lying.

If the latter occurs, you'll think you've succeeded. But really what you've done is found a weak-minded person with loose ethical standards who is willing to be lied to. Clearly, this person doesn't value honesty much, nor does he value himself. If she did, she would have a problem accepting a liar into a close relationship with her.

So if for no other reason than that you want a quality partner, do yourself a favor and be honest. And that doesn't just mean checking the correct multiple choice boxes about your relationship status and the number of kids you want. It also means representing yourself accurately in your intro and short answers. In other words, don't fill your profile with jokes you heard someone else tell if you're not that fast on your feet, don't portray yourself as a hopeless romantic if you gag at chick flicks, and don't sprinkle your bio with words you looked up in the dictionary. Although having a dictionary on hand can be useful to...

H. Mind your p's and q's.

It's been said many times before, but it bears repeating as many times as your first grade teacher made you repeat your vocabulary flash cards: proper use of the English language is paramount in a written medium like a dating profile. Again, the dating profile is your ambassador, your would-be date's first encounter with you, so put your best foot forward. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes give you an aura of ignorance and imply that you didn't care enough to cross your t's and dot your i's. So proofread!


And now we come to the multiple choice section of the profile. In contrast to the intro and short answers, this section is a walk in the park for most singles. After all, the answers are there in front you. All you have to do is pick the right one.

Which is fine until you realize that you're supposed to exercise "frequently" or "rarely" with no option for "sometimes" or that you've been asked to reveal private information about who you live with, how much you earn, or how many children you want.

Once more, honesty is the best policy, so start by removing your rose-colored glasses. Don't select "average" if you're overweight or gain a few inches on your height.

However, there's no easy answer (pardon the pun) when none of the options quite describes you. You can start by eliminating those that definitely don't, but then you have to make a judgment call. Returning to our above example about exercise, if you jog once every two weeks, is that "frequently" or "rarely"? It's not frequently compared to those who run every day, but it's a lot more often than those who only make it to the track a few times over the season. Similarly, if you check "country music" as an interest, does that mean you snap up every Garth Brooks or Keith Urban album the first day it's in stores or that you like to see what's on the country station when you're driving?

One rule of thumb is to err on the optimistic side. After all, if your only choices are to put a positive or a negative spin on yourself, why be a pessimist? You can also use your own acquaintances as a basis for comparison, recall the feedback you've received on your habits and hobbies, or even imagine a prototypical frequent jogger or country music fan and compare your expectations of that person to the reality of who you are.

At the end of the day, though, you should relax and realize that not everyone will share your definition of frequent versus rare, brown eyes versus hazel, or spiritual versus religious, and that's okay. All you can do is be as honest as possible, and if someone misinterprets you and is disappointed, so be it.

As for those invasive questions that you don't feel comfortable answering, leave them blank or choose "prefer not to answer" or "I'll tell you later." However, be selective when pleading the fifth. Too many blank questions can hinder your placement in search results as well as turn off readers who wonder what you're hiding.

When setting multiple choice parameters for your date, be cognizant of the region you live in. If you're in L.A. or Miami, you can afford to be pickier than someone who lives in a remote village in the Ozarks.

Assuming that you're swimming in a reasonably sized dating pool, know your market and be specific. Some singles worry about alienating other members or restricting their responses, but that's exactly what you want to do. The objective is to find someone who's compatible with you, not collect as many responses as possible from people you have no interest in. Accordingly, if you know you'll only date someone with a college degree, indicate that. If you're never attracted to redheads, don't include them. Now is not the time to be politically correct. If you're not into x, y, or z and date someone who's x anyway, eventually you won't be able to keep up the charade, and someone will get hurt. And if you don't know what turns you on or off, now is the time to give it some thought because it's hard to look for the right person if you don't know who you're looking for. (Also note that girls or guys who read your amazingly egalitarian profile may wonder why you haven't spent any time thinking about it, too, and conclude that you don't take this seriously.)

So be specific from the start. Down the road, there'll be plenty of time to broaden your horizons if you aren't getting enough responses. But why not aim high and increase your chances of finding the best match for you?

Whew! Were you taking notes, class? ;) Now that we've covered the mechanics of constructing a winning online dating profile, we can move on to the netiquette of dating site correspondence and, finally, that all-important first date! Stay tuned...

What tips and tricks can you recommend for composing the perfect online dating profile? Can you share what attracts or repels you in a profile?

Fun Link of the Day

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tips for Online Dating Success, Part I

So you've read the reviews, you've mulled over the pros and cons, and you've finally decided to take the plunge into online dating. A blank profile and blinking cursor loom before you. Now what?

You have approximately 500 words to reveal your personality, values, beliefs, goals, and dreams (while remaining mysterious), display your fine sense of humor (without offending), charm (without mugging), and be completely honest (without letting on that you've screwed up as much as the next hapless dater) before your potential mate's trigger-happy mouse clicks on its merry way.

What do you do to attract and hold his or her attention? More importantly, what do you say when that coveted response arrives in your inbox? When do you seize the moment to move the interaction offline?

Based on a general consensus of online experts and my own trial-and-error experiences, the next Singletude series offers tips for an unhumiliating, unfrightening, unfrustrating, and ultimately successful online dating experience. (I was going to say "a happy, healthy online dating experience," but that made me want to throw up in my mouth a little.)

Before we get started, let's be clear about what constitutes "successful" in the world of Internet dating. For Singletude's purposes, there are three levels of success. Level one is reciprocal communication, level two is real-world interaction (i.e. a date), and level three is an ongoing relationship. Some people only define success as reaching level two or three, but I think if you've constructed a profile enticing enough to draw a response, then that's a success in itself because it means you're on the right track to higher levels.

As someone who has tried online dating services twice and has reached level three both times, I'd like to suggest the following tips, starting with three today:


Many online dating sites won't let you have a redo, so choose wisely. Catchy or humorous names show off your personality and hook in potential dates where senseless strings of numbers or initials do not. Second best to an amusing moniker is one that's descriptive, identifying you with something you like to do, someplace you like to go, or a trait for which you're known.

Avoid names that would be meaningless to a stranger or, worse, have off-color or disturbing connotations. You may think it's cute to call yourself "HiJacker" if your name is Jack or "The420Girl" if your street number is 420, but a lot of people will be creeped out, not drawn in. Even seemingly innocuous handles like "FlirtyGerty" or "ItalianStallion" can leave others with unfavorable impressions of who you are and what you want out of online dating. The moral of the story: "Handle" with care.


I hate to say it, but the first thing your potential date will look at isn't your headline, and it isn't the stats on your age and residence squished at the bottom of your thumbnail. It's the photo. Yes, I despise this "shallowness" as much as you do. I wish we all could look beyond the surface and appreciate each other's inner beauty. Really. I'm not just pouring on the sarcasm till I get to the punchline. But the reality is that we're homo sapiens. And even though we share more DNA with bats than with dogs or cats, we're not blind. Visual signals are paramount to us, and physical attraction is grounded in them. In fact, dating profiles with pictures are eight to ten times more likely to get responses than those without.

Whether it's because pictures are the only way of assessing attraction on the Web or because they really are pickier, online daters seem to value a photogenic face above all else and are especially unforgiving toward those who don't pass the hot-or-not snapshot test. So make the most of what you have in the physical department, and take a few photos that highlight your best features. If possible, visit a professional photographer for your photo shoot. Some even specialize in dating site head shots. (Point your browser to LookBetterOnline or the aptly named Dating Headshots for starters.) Or if you're determined to take the do-it-yourself route, stick to the following tried and true techniques:

A. Pick a different outfit for every shot so your pictures have a candid feel. Clothing should reflect you at your best on an average day. Sound like a paradox? It's not. What this means is that you should look like you, not someone who just stepped out of a boardroom or a black tie affair (unless, that is, boardrooms and black tie affairs are part of your average day), but neither should you look like someone who just woke up in a pile of Pringles (even if Pringles are part of your average day). What you want to present is the washed, combed, shaved version of you in clothes that you'd wear out with friends in the daytime.
B. Pick a different location for every shot for the same reason as in A. The setting should be part of your usual milieu and not too busy or garish, such as your living room sofa, your back porch, or a park bench where you often spend time.
C. Use slightly soft focus and, if you have a digicam, increase the color saturation or opt for black and white.
D. Shoot in daylight if possible to avoid the orange tint of incandescent lighting unless you know how to adjust the white balance. Try to time the shoot for the early morning or late afternoon hours when the sun isn't directly overhead, or pose in the shade.
E. Get at least one close-up, one three-quarter length, and one full-body picture. Online daters are understandably suspicious if you obscure your face or body.
F. Try a variety of angles until you find one or two that flatter you most. Three-quarter shots are usually more flattering than head-ons or profiles. The camera lens should be held at eye level or slightly above to magnify the eyes and minimize the lower half of the face, which can be a problem spot. A three-quarter pose with the head inclined toward the camera is often a winner. To obscure a feature you don't like such as a high forehead or weak chin, prop a hand against your face.
G. Smile like you mean it! It makes you look friendly and inviting, and most people look better smiling anyway. If your pearly whites aren't so pearly, make it a close-lipped grin.
H. Photoshop, Photoshop, Photoshop! YES, it's OK to use photo imaging software. While you shouldn't abuse it to drop 20 years and 50 lbs. in the click of a mouse, erasing blemishes, dark under-eye circles, and flyaways is what it's all about.

If you're selecting old photos instead of taking new ones, incorporate the above rules and:

A. Choose photos taken within the last year or so, and if your appearance has changed dramatically after piercing your nose in five places or dying your hair purple, make sure your pictures reflect this. Posting outdated photos is misrepresenting yourself, and to say it's off-putting to meet someone with bald spots or fat rolls that were MIA in pictures is an understatement.
B. Screen out pictures with members of the opposite sex unless you can edit them without leaving behind phantom limbs. (Hint: Most people can't.) Even if the offending parties are just friends or relatives, on first glance dating site members may be put off, imagining that you're a player or that they'll have to compete for your attention.
C. If you're displaying group photos, make sure there are also several clear photos of you solo and that one of these is your main photo. Potential dates don't want to play guessing games to solve the riddle of your identity.
D. Be conscious of your image and what your chosen photographs convey about you. If most of your pictures were taken at parties or clubs, potential dates will assume that you're active in the nightlife scene. If you're scantily clad in your photos, you may give off the vibe that you're more interested in a physical relationship than a serious commitment. If you're scaling mountains and waving from hang gliders in your photos, you're portraying yourself as active and adventurous, whereas if you're contorting your face into maniacal expressions, wrestling your friends, and squirting passersby with water guns, you're liable to be seen as a goofball or practical joker. Think of your photos as your ambassadors, and select those that best represent who you are.
E. Limit your exotic safari memorabilia. Some experts will advise you to eliminate such photos entirely, but I disagree. I'm always interested to see that someone has been ice fishing in Siberia or wind surfing in the Caribbean; it tells me a lot about what makes them tick. But some people find these photos pretentious, distracting, or just plain annoying, and the point, after all, is to find a date, not a travel agent. So with this in mind, my advice is to always tip the head shot to landscape ratio in favor of head shots and never to post more than three or four landscapes total. This is, of course, assuming that the landscapes don't show clear images of you. If the breathtaking vistas are just background for head shots, then post as many as your heart desires.
F. Aim to include between three and seven or eight pictures. Don't upload your whole photo album. Few dating site members will wade through 10 or 15 pictures to find the best angles of you and, worse, exhibiting a collection like this may give the impression that you're vain or had a lot of time on your hands to turn your profile into an online gallery. On the other hand, less than three pictures may leave people wondering if you just got one or two lucky shots.


Although it's a distant second to your photo, your headline is the next "unique selling point," in advertising speak, that your "target market" will see, so follow the formula of any print ad and make it brief and cute. The goal is to charm your would-be date and stir curiosity.

Now I'll be honest here. If I like what I see in a photo, I'm going to click on the profile unless the headline is so offensive (i.e. "Back that ass up over here!") or so bluntly solicitous of someone I clearly am not (i.e. "Seeking Tattooed, Bearded BBW") that there's no point in investigating further. But the headline can drop me a clue to someone's personality and affects my overall impression of whether or not he'd be a good match. I react most favorably to dry, witty headlines, and I suspect many others do, as well. My second choice would be the straightforward "last nice guy seeks down-to-earth girl" kind of headline, although such an intro would also suggest to me that the guy wasn't blessed with a heaping dose of creativity. However, what really turns me off is a regurgitation of the most popular headline of the month. (Yes, I'm talking to you if you ever kicked off your profile with "You had me at hello" or "You've got mail!") Only slightly less perturbing are the bland "Prince Charming Seeks Cinderella" or "Superman needs his Lois Lane" variety of headline.

Bottom line: Take some time to invent a clever, attention-grabbing headline that communicates something about who you are. For example, if you're a concert pianist, you might say, "Piano soloist ready for duet." Or if you're in the medical profession, your headline might read, "I promise this won't hurt a bit..." If you must use a quote, either make it a rare one that means something to you or modify it with an original twist. And unless you're on a physical encounters site, please spare us the double entendres.

More tips for online dating success are on the way, so stop in again soon!

In the meantime, please tell us what your tips are for dating profile names, photos, and headlines. What kinds of names, photos, and headlines encourage you to click on someone's profile? If you've had success in the past and are willing to share, what name or headline did you use, and what kinds of photos did you post?

Fun Link of the Day