The third stage of the online dating process involves working out where and how you are going to present yourself online. This section covers these issues…
Many people find that they’re not making enough connections, getting enough responses, or finding the right kind of potential partners.
The way to get unstuck here is to choose the right website from all the many available. Next, you need a photo, profile and partner specification that genuinely reflects who you are and attracts the best kind of match for you. This takes self-awareness as well as some writing ability!
Your next stage is twofold. First, based on what you’ve discovered about your ideal partner, you need to find the right websites – ones which attract the sort of people you want to be with and who want the sort of relationship you want to be in.
Second, you need to create for yourself a profile, profile name and a photo that expresses who you are, and which in turn attracts the sort of people who want you.
Choosing the right website
People who aren’t having much success in online dating think that where they’ve being going wrong is by logging on to the wrong website. And yes, it’s pointless to log on to a ‘marriage’ website if what you’re after is a fling, or vice versa.
But there are no websites that deliver consistently or reliably successful results. A website is only a vehicle for partner profiles – and like any vehicle its effectiveness depends on the way you drive it!
That said, some sites are so specifically targeted at their market that they may suit you perfectly – or not. A site that attracts the under-20s will not usually attract the over-50s; one that specialises in bringing together vegetarians (or meat-eaters, or those into extreme sports) will not be suitable if you don’t share those values. So there will be some sites that are never going to deliver what you want, and others that are more likely to deliver. One way forward is to bear in mind the partner criteria that you identified in Stage 2, then log on to a number of websites and see if you can find a fit.
Look in particular for a fit in:
- Age group or life stage. Some sites have two levels, one for younger one for older users.
- Sexual preference: most sites cover the spectrum but some aim at particular preferences such as gay, or fetish.
- Background: religion, culture, education, nationality.
- Relationship aim: casual, long-term, living separately or together, marriage, affair.
- Particular interest groups; such as rambling, running, opera.
- Geographical area: some sites are for daters in, for example, large cities such as London.
If we coach you, we will suggest a list of possible websites for you to try; but you can also simply Google ‘online dating’ or ‘dating websites’ and work your way through the list. Judge on the feel of the site – whether the words and images used indicate whether the site has a particular target market. Do they tell you how many people use the site? (If they do, don’t necessarily think that more is better – sometimes a more limited choice will help you make wiser decisions.)
Many sites allow you to browse without payment and without registering your email address – if so, take advantage of that. Begin by searching for the basics of your choice: gender, age group and location; you should be given a minimum of 100 possibles. Skim down these, ignoring the photographs (trust us, at this stage they are irrelevant!) and looking instead at the first few words of the profile, viewing those which interest you – most sites allow you to access five detailed profiles a day without subscribing.
Do the profiles you’re reading seem like the kind of partner you’re looking for? You’re not, at this stage, trying to home in on one person, just trying to get a sense of whether this website attracts people who could be suitable. If not, move on to the next website.
If you do sense that a website could contain some possibles do this next. Log off, then log on again, this time searching for your own gender, age group and location. Here you’re checking that the website contains people like you – if so, it’s likely it will attract potential partners looking for people like you.
We advise searching quite a few websites to ‘get your eye in’, then choosing one or two which you feel could give you results, and maybe one other, as a gamble. You could then join all three for a month or so on the most basic membership to trial the possibilities. Or you could join one on full membership, but log on to the other two daily so that you get a sense of whether they have more potential than the one you’ve actively joined.
However, if all this seems over-the-top, just choose one site somebody you trust has recommended. We have both used Guardian Soulmates and like it.
You may wonder about ‘matching’ services. Many online dating sites nowadays offer such services, which claim to find compatible partners more accurately than you can. These services fall into two kinds. The first kind of service – screening out daters who have problems (such as alcohol abuse) that mean they may be poor relationship partners – is useful. The second kind of service – a personality quiz that actively pairs you with other people on the site – may well be useful, but we have no proof; so far no dating site has offered their approach for objective testing. Also, academic research into what makes love work is not yet at a stage where one can predict compatibility for two people who have not yet met. So although the matching services can be fun to use, it’s worthwhile making your own searches through a site rather than relying on matching alone. (Also, matching services can be rather expensive.)
A final note about recent publicity on sites that use non-genuine profiles; a 2013 BBC Panorama programme discovered that a very few sites do buy in profiles to boost the numbers of potential dates they offer, and also tempt you to sign up by sending a flurry of interest as you first log on, which then diminishes to nothing once you’ve handed over hard cash. Our attitude on this is that you shouldn’t get too panicked by all this – it only affects a few sites and there is every likelihood that following the Panorama programme, laws will be put in place to curb the practice. On the other hand, you should be alert for the signs that a site you consider joining is using underhand methods. Here are our ten guidelines for spotting these signs and so protecting yourself.
Look in particular for a fit in:
- What are the site values as revealed in its approach?
- Does the site have a reputation that would suffer if bad practice was exposed?
- Was the site named in the Panorama programme? (Cupid and Global Personals)
- Is the site so small that it probably couldn’t afford to pay for fake profiles or responses?
- Is the site so targeted that it probably couldn’t buy relevant profiles?
- When you first sign up, do you get a disproportionate quantity and quality of interested contacts?
- Do those contacts give consistent details, ask questions, genuinely interact – or are their emails pro forma and flirty?
- Are the images of those who contact you genuine? (Try dragging/dropping and comparing on Google Images.)
- If you contact others do they respond – and do they respond relevantly and genuinely?
- Do contacts dry up once you’ve signed up? (If you suspect a scam, sign up for the shortest possible period.)
Creating your personal profile
Your personal profile is all about you, right? Well no. Your personal profile shouldn’t just inform a potential partner who you are, but – much more importantly – should welcome them in, should create a strong and positive sense of the kind of relationship they would have if they paired up with you.
Your first step on most sites is to fill in the tick list part of your profile, the one where you give the basic facts about yourself – age, height, weight, colouring, location, interests.
One question we often get asked here is whether with some facts – particularly age and weight (for women) and height and income (for men) you do better if you ‘massage’ the figures a little to fit more with what society thinks is attractive. We advise against; you may initially attract more interest, but then lose it entirely when your potential partner finds out that you haven’t been entirely truthful. Remember that for most people, personal integrity is an important value in relationships.
Now, move on to the written, extended part of your profile. Here are some guidelines:
- Begin by getting your eye in on other peoples’ profiles. Look at enough profiles (both genders) that you are able to spot a really well written one. Look at it critically. What do you like about it? How is it structured? What writing style do they use? What elements can you incorporate in your writing? This will make you clearer on roughly what you’re aiming at.
- Write at least 200-300 words; less makes it seem as if you aren’t really trying!
- Don’t simply write a list of your characteristics; instead give examples of things you’ve done, what you like, activities you enjoy. Paint a picture of your life.
- Almost more importantly, concentrate on portraying a picture of what a relationship with you would be like. Would you be spending time with friends? Doing sports? Enjoying your work? Raising children? Travelling?
- Stand out; so many profiles are unmemorable because they fall back on cliches “I love moonlit walks and curling up by the fire with a glass of good wine”. Notice the most common things that most people say, and then write something different that is going to attract attention.
- Be true to yourself, present yourself as you are – if you don’t, you will attract partners who don’t want you, but who instead want the person you claim to be.
- Don’t make it all about you – research suggests that even in your own profile, concentrating too much on who you are and what you want is off-putting. Writing also about what you like about life and about other people will seem more attractive.
- Don’t be defensive “If you want slim and gorgeous you’ll be disappointed” or aggressive “I’m tired of women who want a man to do everything for them.” Neither approach is attractive.
- Above all be welcoming – the effect you want is that those who read your profile feel welcomed in to your world and want to be part of it.
If you find it hard to write your profile because you feel uncomfortable about ‘selling’ yourself, then take the emphasis off ‘sales’. Simply write about who you are without exaggeration or enhancement – it will sound far more genuine. If you still feel unhappy writing about yourself, word the profile in the third person, using your own Christian name rather than ‘I’ – but then when you’re satisfied with what you’ve written, replace that name with ‘I’, or it will seem very false and formal.
When you’ve written the first draft of your profile, wait a while. Think it over. Be prepared to edit and change. Get a friend’s opinion, then keep improving your text until you are fairly happy with it. But don’t panic if you can’t get it right first time; you can easily change it even after posting.
Creating your profile name and subtitle
All sites ask you to choose a name to head up your profile; many also ask you for a few words to form a subtitle or summary of your profile. Both of these will make a statement about you that may influence who contacts you and who doesn’t.
So avoid names and subheads that suggest off-putting concepts – oversexed, under-confident, too flippant, too arrogant, too pessimistic.
Conversely, do choose names that are attractive and will appeal to the partner you want. For example, “MusicLover” or “Hillwalker” clearly state the interests your ideal partner should be willing to share with you, while “Lady looking for Gentleman” or “Romantic Poet seeks Muse” will give a hint as to your personality or the sort of relationship you are looking for.
Avoid the usual and choose what which will stand out and attract attention – in the best way. It’s also good to finalise your profile name only when you’ve completely the profile itself and are happy with it – so you can then choose the title that reflects what you’ve written.
Writing your partner specification
Now go back to your original list of specifications, the ones you drew up to help you get clear about what you want – and which has now informed your choice of website and your own profile. Many of the hints we give about writing your own profile apply here too.
- Write at least 200-300 words’.
- Don’t just list what you want; give examples and anecdotes.
- Paint a picture of the relationship you want, what that would be like.
- Make your partner spec different from what others are writing.
- Be true to what you want, and be specific.
- Create a profile to attract who you want, deter who you don’t want.
- Be honest and genuine, rather than defensive or aggressive.
- Make the reader want to be your partner, to be with you.
As with your profile, once you’ve written the partner specification, set it aside for a bit, then come back to it and rewrite any bits that aren’t quite right. Get others’ opinions, and keep making improvements until you feel happy with what you’ve written.
Choosing your photo
It’s not essential to have photos taken professionally. It is essential to have photos that show you to best effect, which can mean having them taken professionally, or having a friend with a good eye take them for you.
Whichever you do, take lots of photos – 100 or more – and choose two or three of the best. Better still, get someone else to choose, as you may be too close to judge your best look.
As with your profile, your photo needs to attract and welcome a potential partner – and to attract you need to look attractive, to welcome you need to look welcoming. In reality, many profile photos – of men in particular – make the subject look as if they’ve just been arrested! Here are some hints about what image to aim for:
- Avoid positions that have you turned straight into the camera, which can seem confrontative and challenging. Instead, turn very slightly at an angle to the camera and lower your chin a fraction to present a softer look.
- Smile – but avoid the sort of over-stretched grin which can look as if you are baring your teeth nervously, and the half-hearted smile that never reaches your eyes. Instead, smile fully and genuinely, but then allow the smile to soften just very slightly so that it is more friendly.
- Avoid the ‘rabbit-in-the-headlights’ look which can result when you are nervous of having your photo taken. The answer here is to spend enough time being snapped that you lose your nervousness.
- One of the best ways of getting a good photo is to do whatever it takes to get into a really good emotional state – relaxed, amused, etc. Your favourite comedy video can help, as can remembering good times in your life, times when you were happy and relaxed. Get the photographer to prompt you to recall those memories, or get a friend to stand behind the camera and tell jokes while the photographer takes the shots.
From the photos you take, choose around three:
- One more formal. This is probably the one you will use as your main profile picture; if so, choose one where your turn is to your left, because this will lead the reader’s eye in, to the text of your profile. Also crop the picture so that the focus is on your face alone.
- One informal shot – laughing, smiling, hair blown across your face – to show that you’re a human being who lives a human life.
- One ‘in context’ to show you in a situation that reflects your interests: walking, sailing, with a background of books, records, the family cat. (Note that online dating sites don’t usually allow you to post photos with other people clearly in view; these shots need to show you alone.)
It could be that for some reason – professional or personal – you don’t want to post a photo on the website. That’s understandable – but you considerably reduce the chances of potential partners approaching you. The best strategy here is to include photos on the site but keep them private/hidden. You could then say in your profile “Photo available on request”. Or, you could write a profile which will attract potential partners even though you’re not showing a photo, or be proactive in approaching others.
Avoiding getting tracked
Most people know how to Google for information on other people, but many aren’t aware just how easy it is to track someone down via their online dating profile. If you want to avoid this, here’s what to do (courtesy of our friend Gez Smith, who kindly wrote the following for inclusion in the book.)
– First, there are the obvious elements. If you say something quite specific about your work or interests on your profile, then that makes you a lot easier to track down. How many traders in antique japanese netsuke art are there likely to be living in Sixpenny Handley?
– Less well known is what’s called ‘reverse image search’ on Google. This is a search option on Google that allows you to upload an image, then have Google present a list of all the other places on the web that image appears. So, if a photo you use of yourself on your profile also happens to appear on your work website, on a discussion forum you’ve joined or even just your Facebook profile, then all someone needs to do is download the image from your dating profile (right click on the image, select ‘save as’), upload it to Google’s reverse image search, then bingo, they’ll find who you are, or at least some more clues that can lead to further more successful Googling. The way to avoid this is to use on your dating profile only those images which have never been used anywhere else on the web – that is, never uploaded to Facebook, never added to Flickr, never put on the website of your work or any groups to which you belong. A tricky ask, but if anonymity is your bag, then one worth doing.
– You also, it’s worth saying, need to be ethical yourself – with great power comes great responsibility. Reverse image searching someone, whilst tempting, is in the same league as reading someone’s diary. You may find out a lot about them, but little good ever comes of it. Are you interested in the person as they are now, or the person they may have been years ago, or the person they may appear to be when taken out of context? Don’t go there.
PS: What you may have to cope with in potential partners
Most online daters will not have much skill in writing their profile or posting their photos. You need to take this into account, not judge a terrible photo or a badly-written profile too harshly. Look beyond what you see to the real person. The notes on Stage 4 gives more detail on how to do this.