How to Write a Kick-Ass Dating Profile

Here are the self-summaries of some men who have messaged me through Okcupid lately:

Guy 1: I don’t enjoy talking about myself but I’d say I am open minded, ambitious, and get along with almost everyone. I am not into clubbing scene so it is difficult to meet people hence the reason to have a profile here. I like to workout, read, watch movies and travel. I try to live a healthy lifestyle by exercising 3 – 4 times a week.

Guy 2: I am a man who is out to meet new people and make friends. I am an easy going person with a lot of smile and charm. Funny, competitive, hard working guy that likes to have a good time. Active, outgoing, smart and honest. Enjoying my kids, working out, working and having as much fun as possible. Hope we can connect.

Guy 3: I love people, cultures, traveling, and trying new things. I am very smart, confident, happy with my life, and always up for an adventure. I’ve had some amazing opportunities that have helped me be very successful and I’m excited for the possibilities of the future. I am honest and straightforward, but I’m not an open book. I’d be happy to tell you more, send me a message and we’ll take it from there.

Guy number 1 starts out by saying he doesn’t enjoy talking about himself, which immediately makes me think he would be uncomfortable on a first date. His interests, “workout, read, watch movies and travel,” are the same as 99% of guys on okc. Guy number 2 sounds social but shallow. His sentences make him sound like he’s not a native English speaker or he’s had too much to drink before writing this profile. Guy 3 gets plus marks for writing complete sentences and starting off in an upbeat way. But the “I’d be happy to tell you more” is cliché and somewhat egotistical. You haven’t proven that you’re interesting enough for me to message you, so to ask people to ask you about yourself in the first paragraph is a nonstarter.

If you are someone who is guilty of writing a self-summary like one of the above, the good news is lots of people do it so it doesn’t take much improvement to stand out. The bad news is your profile is all your potential matches have of you. They don’t have your resume, they can’t see your athletic prowess, taste your expertly grilled barbecue, or hear you tell funny stories in an animated voice. If your profile sounds boring or negative, they won’t be able to imagine you as anything else. Fortunately though, writing an outstanding profile is as easy as pie once you know what the questions are really asking. Here are some tips from a veteran online dater about what stands out and what stinks.

My Self-Summary

Every online dating site provides you with a text box in which to introduce yourself. This space is where your potential matches will first hear your voice and sense your personality beyond the photo. Your goal here is to immediately capture their attention so that it is impossible for them to stop reading after the first sentence. You want them to stay with you until the very end and feel like they got to know you as a person. The points to focus on in the self-summary are narrative, details, uniqueness, and confidence.

Narrative: Begin your self-summary with a sentence that launches into a story about yourself. Everyone loves a story. As soon as you start telling a story, everyone wants to know what happens next. This story should have attention grabbing details, unique references, and possibility for development. Here are some sample opening lines:

When I was six years old, my father who worked in the US Army moved my family from Japan to the United States, where I spent the rest of my childhood in Northern Virginia.

Five years ago I was laid off from my job as an IT professional. At the time I had always wanted to pursue a career in photography, so I seized on this opportunity to have a new career. Now I love what I do for a living.

As a single person who has lived in this city for a short time, I love the opportunity to meet cool people from many walks of life. At the last tropical themed potluck party that I hosted, I met someone who used to be personal secretary to the Prince of Dubai!

I grew up in a traditional Catholic family, but after my first Buddhist meditation retreat at age 25, I have been hooked by Eastern philosophy and spirituality ever since.

For a long time I wanted to be a doctor because I liked the idea of helping people, but as I learned more about pollution and environmental problems, I realized that I wanted to address health risks at the societal level. That got me into pursuing a masters in public health.

During the day I work as a government clerk, but the regular hours gives me freedom on the evenings and weekends to write songs and play music with my band, which is my real passion.

The story you choose to tell in your self-summary should reveal important personal journeys, values, and positive personality traits. Here are some questions to help you tell your story. You can answer one question in several paragraphs in your self-summary, or answer several questions with a paragraph each, or answer a bunch of these questions with one sentence each:

  • What was your childhood like and how has that influenced the person that you are today?
  • What was an important decision that you made in your life and why did you make that decision?
  • What was a difficult challenge that you faced and how did you overcome it?
  • How did you get into doing what you do for a living? If you don’t like what you do, what do you wish you could do instead?
  • Where would you like to see yourself in ten years?
  • Where is the most inspiring place to which you have traveled?
  • What person, book, or experience had a profound impact on you?
  • What is something you have done that you are very proud of?
  • What is your most prized possession?
  • What makes you feel creative or alive?
  • If you could volunteer for a cause what would that be and why?

If these questions sound like college admission personal statements, it’s because online dating is a lot like college admissions. The admissions officer has to make a decision as to whether or not you are a good match for their institution based on what you say about yourself. They want to know your background, your motivations, and your personality. These things are conveyed through stories that show your values, struggles, passions, and triumphs. Your story should bring out positive qualities that enable people to like you and trust you. The best stories are those with obstacles along the way that take your reader on a journey and leave them wanting an outcome. You should approach your dating profile the way you would approach a college admissions essay so that you present yourself as a match for the people you want to attract and stand out from the thousands of others that also want to be admitted.

Tell stories that appeal to type of person you want to attract: You are a multi-faceted person and no single story can convey everything about you. Therefore, the stories you choose to tell should reflect what you want others to know about you and appeal to the kind of person you want to attract and the relationship you want to have with them. For example, if you are looking for a marriage partner and eventually have children, talking about parties and working at Starbucks is not a good idea, instead, talk about the master’s degree you are earning and your love of children. If you are looking for someone creative to be inspired together, talk about your creative pursuits or the latest exhibit you attended. If you are looking for someone who is adventurous to explore new places with, a story about your travels is great. You get the idea.

Details: Details are what grab your reader and enable them to relate to your life. Instead of saying you like to travel, talk about a particularly meaningful trip that you have taken. Instead of saying you like to eat out, talk about your favorite cuisines and favorite venues. Instead of saying you love your children, describe what you love to do with them and what they add to your life. Talk about a specific memory that brings to life your interests and desires. Give us details of the location, names of people, the sights, the smells, your feelings in the moment. Tell us what happened before, during, and after. Here is an example of using details to tell a story from one of my essays:

Because I am an only child (a result of the one child policy in China), people sometimes ask me if I was lonely growing up. Truthfully I didn’t know what loneliness was until I moved to the United States. In China, my parents and I lived in an extended family household with my maternal grandmother, eight uncles and aunts, and five cousins (each of whom were only children). The “house” was a square shaped compound with units for each family on three sides, a courtyard in the middle, and a small garden in the front. There was always an adult at home and my cousins and I visited each other’s families like they were our own. All the adults cared for every child and we always had someone to play with.

Details are what brings your profile to life. By not focusing on yourself, but on your surroundings, experiences, and observations, a picture of who you are as a person emerges.

Uniqueness: What makes you different from others is what makes you memorable. Did you grow up in Montana or South Africa? Talk about it! Do you have a unique hobby like roller derby or building computers? Did you win a local pie eating contest? Did you go sky diving last summer? Do you have a metal rod where you broke your collarbone? Do you have a collection of model ships? Have you been on 100 blind dates? Whatever it is, something that is unique about you gives others a chance to be curious about you and ask for more information.

Confidence: Confidence is a key factor in making other people like you. Women love it in men. What conveys confidence? We’ve all heard of smile, make eye contact, and shake hands; what is the virtual equivalent of those things in a profile? A confident profile is one that presents a cohesive and compelling narrative. In less than 800 words you’ve conveyed your values, personality and warmth. Not only will your potential match feel like they relate to you but they like you and want to get to know you.  A confident profile shows that you know who you are and you are not afraid to show it. A profile that has details and unique hooks says that you don’t have anything to hide and you that you lead a rich and interesting life. A confident profile shows that you know where you are going in life and have a positive outlook. A profile that uses complete sentences and is devoid of grammatical errors shows you are intelligent, articulate, and cares about yourself and others. A profile that injects humor and personality shows that you are fun and engaging.

What not to do:

Adjectives: This is done all the time but please don’t start your profile with a list of adjectives describing yourself such as “I’m friendly, hard working, easy-going, ambitious, smart, honest, funny, etc.” Those words can be used to describe almost anybody and is totally overused. Instead, tell a story that shows a suite of characteristics that you want to highlight. In fact go through your current profile and nix any adjectives that pop up. See if you can say the same thing using specifics that show rather than tell.

List of interests: Also do not say anywhere in your profile “I like to travel, workout, read, be outdoors, and hang out with my friends.” First of all, almost every guy says that they like to travel, workout, read, be outdoors, and hang out with friends. Do you have some interest that is a little different from the norm? Maybe you enjoy pottery or kungfu, birdwatching or creating memes. Specificity also helps here. Instead of, “I like to travel,” say instead, “The most amazing place I’ve ever been to is Iceland.” Instead of “I like hiking,” say “I love backpacking in the canyonlands of Utah.” Instead of “I like hanging out with my friends,” say, “Whenever I get together with my guy friends we watch basketball and order nachos and buffalo wings.” Instead of “I like to read,” say, “I’m currently reading a book on how to be successful at online dating.”

Negative characteristics: Keep your profile positive and upbeat. Avoid complaining about your ex, complaining about your work, or complaining about online dating. Don’t say anything that might make you seem racist or sexist. Avoid anger or cynicism. Don’t say derogatory things about yourself unless they also highlight positive qualities. Don’t boast about your wealth or  material possessions. Don’t talk about your poverty or lack of direction in life. Also no-nos are bad jokes and sexual stories or innuendos.

Profiles that lack confidence are also turn offs. Don’t use sentences that start with, “I haven’t had much success dating so I thought I would try this…” or “I’m not very good at talking about myself…” or “I’m kind of a shy person so if there’s anything you want to know just ask…”

What you are looking for: Don’t talk about what you are looking for in a potential match, unless it’s a unique deal breaker. If you have too many requirements you will seem arrogant and judgemental. There are way more men in online dating than women so seeming picky won’t do you any favors. Also, don’t say things that people generally want in a partner, such as “I’m looking for an outgoing, intelligent woman to share the good things in life” or “I’m looking for someone who is honest and won’t lie to me.” Those are obviously desirable and mentioning them makes you sound cynical. If you do have a specific situation where something would be a deal breaker, it’s ok to mention those. For example, your potential match has to tolerate cats, or must be ok with you having multiple partners at the same time, or someone who doesn’t want children.

On OK Cupid, the dating profile allows you to fill out answers to the following questions. Other sites have other formats, but the responses can be used there as well.

What I’m doing with my life

If you didn’t use a story about your career in your self-summary, you can do that here. Be positive and specific. Instead of saying you are a teacher, say “I teach fourth grade English and Social Studies at a suburban private school.” If you love your job, say why. If you don’t love your job, say what benefits it give you and what you hope to do in the future or what you fantasize about doing if you could.

If you did talk about your work in your self-summary, use this space to tell us something else about your life, such as your hobbies, your social life, or your experiences.

I’m really good at

Here is an opportunity to promote what you would bring to a relationship, and tailor it to what you want out of a relationship. If you are looking for an emotionally intimate relationship, highlight your ability to listen, nurture, and cuddle. If you are looking for a domestic partner you might highlight your skills in cooking or fixing things. If you are looking for someone to have fun with you might mention your knack in finding good travel deals.

You might also use this space to reveal some qualities not revealed in the self-summary. So if your self-summary emphasizes your responsible, accomplished side, you might reveal a skill here that shows your playful, artistic side. If your self-summary emphasized your playful, exploratory nature, then use this space to show that you can be serious and persevering too. Skills that are unique to you are better than generic ones that lots of people possess.

The first things people usually notice about me

If there is something about your physical appearance that is unique and revealing, mention that. For example, “People often notice my funky t-shirts featuring my favorite bands and TV shows,” or “People often comment on the ‘tree of life’ tattoo on my lower arm.” Don’t say nondescript things like “my eyes,” or “my smile.”

If there is a personality trait that your friends would ascribe to you, you can talk about that too. For example, “I’ve been told that I can seem shy at first but am easy to talk to once I get to know someone.” or ““My friends would say that I am good at making people laugh.”

Favorite books, movies, shows, music and food

List a few favorites here that provide an insight into your tastes and personality, but don’t make it so many that people won’t read the whole thing. Lots of people also won’t recognize your specific favorites, so describe what you like in general, for example, “I like to read nonfiction books on psychology and human behavior” or “I like crime and action TV shows.”

The six things I could never do without

What material possessions or favorite things are unique to you? Things that other people might not need but are indispensable to you, that reveal your unique tastes and quirks? Explain each one a little bit. In my profile I put:

  • A journal (I have kept a journal since I was 11, never missed a week).
  • Long underwear (I am always cold!)
  • Vegetables (I think they are delicious)
  • Recycling bin (I can’t stand it when I want to recycle something and there is no bin nearby)
  • Tylenol (I get headaches a lot)
  • Library (I go at least once a month, check out a bunch of books, read one and return the rest)

Don’t put things that everybody can’t live without, such as air, water, food, family, friends, sex.

I spend a lot of time thinking about

Here you can put something serious, like “I think a lot about global warming and whether the human species will survive the changes to our planet” or something silly, like “when I see strangers on the train or in the city, I sometimes wonder when was the last time they had an orgasm.” Make it real and personal.

On a typical Friday night I am

Here is where you can convey what you like to do for fun. For example, “On a typical Friday I like to take my date out to see a live music performance and then get pizza or burger together.” Or, “I’m driving out of town to spend the weekend with my friends where we’ll go to a game or the beach.” Even if you don’t actually do those things (because you are single) put what you would love to do. Don’t say boring things like “watch TV,” or “browsing online profiles.”

You should message me if

Use this space to say more about yourself and the type of relationship you are looking for, for example, “You should message me if you are interested in a gentleman who enjoys stimulating conversations and cultural activities,” or “You should message me if you are interested in having a fun time but not necessarily settling down right away.” Avoid specifics of the type of person that you are looking for, such as “tall, blonde, caring, funny, smart, adventurous, etc.” As I said earlier, too many requirements make you seem arrogant and judgmental, but if you have a unique situation where there are deal breakers, then mention those.

Photo: Promotional image for War and Peace miniseries premiering in 2016 on Lifetime, A&E and History.