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.

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:



1. GET YOUR NAME RIGHT THE FIRST TIME.

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.


2. YOU OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES.

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.


3. MAKE HEADLINE NEWS.

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

7 comments:

Hummie said...

Oh, I've been married 21 years! However, this looks like a great resource for singles.

Sogeshirtsguy said...

Great tips for the single. If i'm ever single again I would definitely do as you suggest.

margottobed said...

thanks for stopping by and voting on my blog! so nice!

Stanley said...

I remember when there was a real negative stigma around on-line dating. It is much more accepted now as many years and success stories have been made!

bobbyboy said...

Wow Elsie, you've covered all the bases here-fantastic!

As I've never had an online relationship, or geared my profiles towards romantic relationships, I can't really say more on it.

Great job!

Brad Brown said...

When choosing a picture for your profile, make sure you choose one that doesn't include your ex-boyfriend's head in it, or old wedding photos. When I was on Match.com, I was amazed at the unnecessary clutter that came with each photo.

Clever Elsie said...

Odd, I thought I left a comment on this thread before, but it seems to have disappeared!

Hummie and Sogeshirtguy: Thanks for stopping by, single or not! Everyone is welcome here regardless of marital status.

Margot: You're welcome, and I hope you'll keep us updated on the outcome of your experiment.

Stanley: It's true that OL dating has lost that loser-y luster. I, too, remember the days when people laughed behind your back if they stumbled across your picture online. Nowadays, people don't even bother to come up with a lie about where they bumped into each other.

Bobby: I'm glad you're getting something out of it, even if dating isn't your objective. I appreciate those links you posted on the last thread!

Brad: That's great advice, which I wish everyone would follow. As I mentioned in the post, a lot of people aren't savvy enough with Photoshopping to get rid of the phantom limbs. Others mistakenly think that those old shots will prove their desirability to the opposite sex, but I've never heard anyone say anything positive about cut-out heads and extra arms! My suggestion is to scrap the old pictures altogether and take some new ones.