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.

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


bobbyboy said...

Wow, this is some great information, no, this is a lot of great information!

It reads like an "Elsie's how to succeed with online dating." lol

I may ask you if I can post this article to my blog when I have more time!


Anonymous said...

Those Tips were really great!! It is indeed helpful..thanks for sharing it...

Clever Elsie said...

Bobby: Thanks! Glad it was useful! And you're 100% welcome to link to the article from your blog.

Dondon: I always appreciate it when someone lets me know that one of my posts gave them some good ideas. :) Thanks for reading, and please stop by again!