Monthly Archives: June 2014

Beware The Kirkeslahger Effect

The Kirkeslahger (KER-kuh-slah-ger) Effect: the situation wherein a bad experience with a dating partner lowers our standards such that a subsequent dating partner seems extraordinary by comparison, even though the new partner is doing only the bare minimum.

The contrast principle is a psychological phenomenon whereby we tend not to make absolute judgments, but instead judge based on comparison with something similar:

When we make judgments, evaluating how good a dress or person is, we don’t make absolute judgments. The way we judge pretty much anything is in comparison with something else. When we say someone is smart or talkative, we actually mean they are smarter or more talkative than other people. (Note the ‘-er’ at the end of the adjective and the ‘more’ — these are sure signs of contrastive words).

The squares are all actually the same color! Contrast makes fools of us all.

This happens in a dating context all of the time. The Kirkeslahger Effect is named after one of Gina’s former partners who had terrible communication skills. He wouldn’t answer texts for days. he would make plans, then disappear and be unable to confirm with, only to cancel at the last minute (or just not show up). He so lowered Gina’s expectations for new partners that she was blown away when her next partner was able to display basic communication skills.

The Kirkeslahger Effect can be cute, but it can also be dangerous. That partner of Gina’s who benefitted from it (the one who seemed really impressive) ended up being abusive. It’s important to understand that the Kirkeslahger Effect gives us a skewed interpretation of our dating partners. When it’s paired with NRE, it’s almost impossible to make an objective evaluation of new partners. We should do all we can to correct for it (or at least be aware of it).

Helpful strategies may or may not include (depending on your preferences, resources, and situation):

  • enlisting the help of other partners or friends who may be able to take a more objective look. Even the process of trying to articulate what you like about your new partner may be helpful in maintaining some objectivity.
  • instituting a waiting period before making any long-term plans with a new partner (like NRE, the Kirkeslahger Effect weakens with time).
  • making a list of what you actually consider important about a person and comparing it to what you know about your new partner (I actually find this incredibly helpful).
  • asking for reinforcement (from other partners, friends, family, etc.) that your former partner’s behavior was unacceptable and not normal.
  • as is almost always helpful, developing a strong sense of self-worth.
  • pretty much all of this advice for dealing with NRE.

Let’s Not Gel

Since the concepts were created in 2004, there has been a lot of debate over the relative merits of Ask Culture and Guess Culture. From the original Metafilter comment that introduced the concept:

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you’re a Guess Culture person — and you obviously are — then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you’re likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

If you’re an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.

On first glance, it seems as though Ask Culture is clearly the superior of the two. When everyone asks for what they want, everyone has more information from which to make informed decisions. When people only send subtle hints, misunderstandings abound. The only obvious disadvantage of Ask Culture is that it makes it difficult to interact with people who subscribe to Guess Culture. However, that’s not really an argument in favor of Guess Culture, just an argument that we should understand that not everyone behaves as we do.

The most reasonable argument for Guess Culture is… um… well… there aren’t really any reasonable arguments for Guess Culture. The first glace was correct. Guess Culture is terrible for anyone who values communication. As Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert state in More Than Two:

Passive communication is the norm in many families, and indeed in many cultures. Every now and then some pop-psych article will surface that compares passive with direct communication and says that neither is inherently “better,” and all you need to do is learn which style someone is using and adapt to it.

In polyamorous relationships, though, passive communication will fuck you right up.

Perhaps Guess Culture can work in a hermetically sealed environment where everyone is committed to reading subtle social cues and anticipating the unstated needs of others. I have my doubts, but it’s possible. However, in poly relationships, where communication is so important, Guess Culture spells disaster.

BrienneStrohl of Less Wrong proposed an even stronger form of Ask Culture called Tell Culture:

The two basic rules of Tell Culture: 1) Tell the other person what’s going on in your own mind whenever you suspect you’d both benefit from them knowing. (Do NOT assume others will accurately model your mind without your help, or that it will even occur to them to ask you questions to eliminate their ignorance.) 2) Interpret things people tell you as attempts to create common knowledge for shared benefit, rather than as requests or as presumptions of compliance.

Tell Culture seems like a good addition, but substantially similar enough to Ask Culture that the real debate seems to be between Guess on the one side and Ask/Tell on the other. The latest attempt to harmonize the two sides comes from Benjamin Ross Hoffman, advocating something he calls “Gel Culture.” Hoffman points out the obvious issues with Guess Culture, but adds this about Ask Culture:

ask/tell culture sounds exhausting. I’ve explicitly asked for feedback, in certain contexts, but I do not like the prospect of telling & being told always, all the time, forever. Sometimes talking takes a lot of energy – and if people aren’t expected to anticipate others’ needs, that means it’s perfectly acceptable for people to do things that overload me, and take up my time, space, and attention, when I just don’t have the energy to say “please not now.” After all, if I had wanted something different, I should have asked.

This is, as the logicians call it, a reductio ad absurdum argument. Hoffman says “I do not like the prospect of telling & being told always, all the time, forever” as if this is somehow being proposed by advocates of Ask/Tell Culture. It isn’t.

Taken to its extremes, any social heuristic can be made to look ridiculous. Of course extreme, inflexible Ask Culture sounds overbearing. Extreme, inflexible ANYTHING would be horrible.

Eat more kale!

Eat more kale!

When people say “Ask Culture is good; Guess culture is bad,” it’s like saying “kale is good for you; sugar is bad for you.” It’s a useful general rule, but taken to it’s extremes, it’s ridiculous and harmful. Very large quantities of kale can cause hypothyroidism. Your brain literally cannot function without sugar. However, this doesn’t change the fact that, for almost everyone, reducing sugar intake and increasing kale intake would be beneficial.

The same goes for Ask and Guess Culture. While extreme, inflexible Ask Culture sounds like a nightmare, and a complete lack of regard for people’s unstated needs isn’t healthy, the fact remains that almost every society would benefit from moving toward Ask Culture and away from Guess Culture. Hoffman’s “Gel Culture” presents a false equivalence.

Hoffman proposes a plea of understanding:

Guess culture sounds stifling to me, and ask culture sounds much to talky. But one thing both seem to have in common is the assumption that if someone doesn’t follow the correct forms, they’re doing something terribly wrong. People who identify with guess culture think that ask culture people are abrasive, intrusive, and offensive. People who identify with ask culture thing that guess culture people are passive-aggressive and set unfair standards. But me? I’m used to people messing up. People make social mistakes all the time. I make social mistakes even more often than that. I don’t think that people are bad or silly or socially incompetent for having a communication style that differs from mine.

That’s fine, as far as it goes. As I said before, it’s good to understand that other people have different communication styles. However, the fact remains that Guess Culture people are passive-aggressive and set unfair standards. Passive-aggression is a cornerstone of Guess Culture. Hoffman’s plea that we forgive each other for “social mistakes” is fine, but let’s not gloss over the fact that these actions were actually mistakes, and work on correcting them in the future. Otherwise, we just end up making the same mistakes over and over.

Hoffman’s article is just the latest in a series of articles seeking to harmonize Ask and Guess Culture with the rhetorical equivalent of “can’t we all just get along.” This sort of analysis seems to presuppose that we have no influence on our culture. It takes the standpoint that the culture is what it is, and we must find the best way to navigate it. That’s true to a point, but the debates over Ask and Guess Culture are relevant to me as a question of where we should be taking our culture. Should we strive toward Ask Culture or Guess Culture? How should we conduct our own social circles? Should we favor social connections with people who ask for what they want or people who count on us to anticipate their needs? These are important questions.

It seems undeniable that Ask/Tell Culture is superior to Guess Culture. Let’s all try to implement that as best we can. As Hoffman says, we should be gracious in the face of mistakes, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that spreading Ask Culture means making the world a better place.

How to OkCupid Step 6: Date!

This is step 6 of my patented 6-step series on How to OkCupid. This is the last step! It’s focused on getting away from the computer and meeting face to face.
Step 1: Get Out There
Step 2: Be Good-Looking!
Step 3: Be Interesting!
Step 4: Find Other Good-Looking, Interesting People!
Step 5: Make Contact!
Step 6: Date!


Step 5 focused on sending an opening message. I don’t have much advice on sending followup messages beyond that, except that you should do it as little as possible. Because you’ve given as much information about yourself as possible in your profile, sending a few messages back and forth isn’t going to really let someone get to know you much better. If the other party’s profile is a little less informative, go ahead and see if you can get some more information, but if you know that you want to meet up with someone, go ahead and ask. You get a lot more information from a face-to-face meeting than you ever will from sending messages back and forth.

There’s always an exception for taste, however. Some people enjoy the messaging process, or are intimidated by the idea of meeting someone in person. Other times, you don’t live close enough to meet right away. If that applies to you, go ahead and message for as long as you want before meeting. But if your goal is to get to find people to date, then you should meet up as quickly as you can.

Once you’ve set up a date, then CONGRATULATIONS! You’re no longer dating online! The rest works just like irl dating, so I don’t have too much more advice for you. However, here are a few general tips:

  • Meet somewhere public. You shouldn’t trust each other yet, and meeting in a public place lets you get a feel for each other people putting yourself in a vulnerable position.
  • Keep it low pressure. Try to plan your date so that either party can leave whenever they want. Keep things flexible and open-ended. Don’t request a large time commitment.
  • Be on time, and don’t flake at the last minute. Show the other party that you respect their time.
  • Don’t force things. If it turns out you’re not as compatible as you thought, don’t sweat it. There are plenty of other people on the site.
  • Don’t hold back. If you really like someone, tell them so. If you want to kiss, say so. Don’t be afraid to show some vulnerability.
  • Practice consent culture. Notice I said to tell your date that you want to kiss, not to just lean in and do it. Make sure that whatever you’re doing, your date enthusiastically consents.
  • Take rejection well. If it doesn’t work out, don’t be a dick stump!

So that’s it! Good luck out there, and remember that everyone is right for somebody, and often, several somebodies. Hopefully this will help you in identifying the people that match up best with you.

How to OkCupid Step 5: Make Contact!

This is step 5 of my patented 6-step series on How to OkCupid. This step focuses on sending messages.
Step 1: Get Out There
Step 2: Be Good-Looking!
Step 3: Be Interesting!
Step 4: Find Other Good-Looking, Interesting People
Step 5: Make Contact!
Step 6: Date!


Now that you’ve found some excellent people to message, it’s time to initiate contact. This is one of those areas where your experience is going to be vastly different depending on whether you’re searching for men or for women.

Guys, don't do this

Guys, don’t do this

If you’re searching for men

Men send a lot of unsolicited messages. Your inbox will likely fill up with tons of messages. Most will be 1-2 sentences, and many will be sexually explicit or disrespectful. If you ignore them or reject them (even in the nicest way possible), they may dick stump you. I will reiterate my advice from Step 1 that you should adjust your settings to filter out messages from matches below 85%. If you’ve answered your questions properly, this will filter out most of the awful messages.

You may be tempted to primarily search for partners by reading through your inbox and selecting the best matches from there. I advise against this. It’s a passive way to find partners. The better way is to go out, do your own search, find the people that appeal most to you, and proactively message them. Don’t wait for them to message you.

The good news is that if you’re messaging men, the bar is pretty low. Men get far fewer messages than women, so our standards tend to be lower. As long as you clearly express your interest and have moderate social skills, one message is probably as effective as another. If you’re a woman seeking men, your response rate averages around 35%. Men seeking men’s response rates are even higher.

Guys, don't do this

Guys, don’t do this

If you’re searching for women

If you want to meet women, you’ll probably have to proactively initiate contact yourself. As noted above, women get a lot of unsolicited messages, and so most of them don’t send a lot of first messages. The response rate for men seeking women is 27%. The response rate for women seeking women is higher as well.

Your response rate will probably be lower than average. Most people aren’t all that honest and transparent in their profiles, so even if you follow all of the advice in Step 4, you’re still going to end up messaging plenty of people who aren’t actually good matches for you, but didn’t give you the information you needed to see that. If you’ve followed the advice in Steps 2 and 3, the majority of these people aren’t going to write you back because they will be able to tell that you’re not right for them. This is a good thing! It means you’re not wasting time messaging back and forth, or going on dates with bad matches. It does mean, however, that you should send a lot of messages, and try not to get discouraged when people don’t respond. It just means that the system is working.

  • The longer your message, the more likely you are to get a response. Don’t overdo it, but in general, longer messages are better (note: this only applies to women; men do not respond more often to longer messages).
  • Make sure that your message is unique and personalized. NO CUT AND PASTE! It’s really easy to spot a cut & pasted message. Your message should be made up on the spot and should be personal to the person you’re messaging.
  • Mention something (or multiple things) from her profile. This demonstrates that you actually read her profile, and that you’re interested in her for some actual reason, not because you just think she’s cute.
  • Speak an actual language. You don’t have to speak English, but whatever language you speak, make sure you speak it well. Pay attention to spelling and grammar. Proofread!
  • Don’t mention her appearance. Women get messages all day about their looks. If you want your message to be effective, talk about her interests, personality, or pretty much anything but how she looks. If you’re messaging her for a date, she knows you’re attracted.
  • Use an effective greeting. The 3 most effective are “how’s it going?” “what’s up?” and “howdy.” Messages beginning with those have much better response rates than “hi” and “hello.”
  • Don’t be a dick stump! If she ignores you or sends a polite rejection, accept it and move on.
Guys, don't do this

Guys, don’t do this

PROTIP: if sending unsolicited messages seems daunting to you, there’s another option. If someone rates you 4 or 5 stars, you will get an email that they like you (though this is unreliable. You only get it sometimes). A friend had some success putting the following in her profile:

Ratings Hack

As I said, this method isn’t the most reliable, but it can be a good way to establish some mutual interest before jumping right into messaging.

Guys, seriously don't do this!

Guys, seriously don’t do this!

Next up: Date!

How to OkCupid Step 4: Find Other Good-Looking, Interesting People!

This is step 4 of my patented 6-step series on How to OkCupid. This step focuses on searching for matches.
Step 1: Get Out There
Step 2: Be Good-Looking!
Step 3: Be Interesting!
Step 4: Find Other Good-Looking, Interesting People!
Step 5: Make Contact!
Step 6: Date!

STEP 4: Find Other Good-Looking, Interesting People

global-search-iconNow that you’ve made an excellent profile, it’s time to find some other people with excellent profiles. This is primarily done by using the search feature. There are a lot of variables you can use to search, but here are the ones I recommend:

  • Gender and gender preference. Make sure you’re looking for the gender you prefer, and make sure that they are looking for you.
  • Age. If you have age preferences, use them.
  • Distance. Unless you’re specifically looking for LDR’s, look for people in your area.
  • Online in the Last Week. You don’t want to waste you time messaging people who never use the site. They won’t write you back.
  • Non-Monogamy. OkCupid has finally added the option to specifically look for non-monogamous people! This is a powerful feature for the polyamorous, and you should make liberal use of it. Remember, though, it’s a new feature, and lots of people haven’t marked their monogamy preferences, so don’t rely too heavily on this one.
  • Keywords. Try searching for “poly” or “polyamorous.” It’s an easy way to find people who are openly and proudly poly. It’s also a good reason to make sure you use those words in your profile.

Additionally, you should order your results by match percentage. Once you click on a profile, here’s what you’re looking for:

High Matches. If you’ve followed the advice from Step 3, a high match percentage will be a good indicator of how close someone is to what you’re looking for.

Polyamory. You’re looking for people who are poly, and proudly so. It should be mentioned prominently in their profile. Otherwise, they’re probably not really poly, or else they’re ashamed. Either way, it’s not what you’re looking for.

Consistency. Trust no one! Just because you’re being honest in your profile doesn’t mean other people are. Look for inconsistencies. They are a clue that the person may be less than honest.

Face Pics! Like I said in Step 2, if you don’t show your face, it means you’re either hiding or ashamed. That goes for other people too. If they don’t show their faces, stay away.

Attractiveness. You probably didn’t need to be told this, but remember to look for people that actually attract you.

Dealbreakers. You’re going to have your own dealbreakers. Make sure you know what they are, and make sure you’re looking for them.

Match Questions

You should always check a potential date’s match questions before sending a message. These questions give you an incredible about of information about a person. It’s one of the reasons why I love OkCupid so much. The ability to learn that much about someone before even meeting them is an amazing ability, and you should make sure you use it well.

Okcupid gives you the option to tell it which questions you want to see. Start with questions that are important to you. Those are the important ones, so you can get the most relevant information there.

Next, check the questions that are important to your match. You’ll get to see which questions they’ve marked as most important, which lets you know the type of things that are important to them. If you’ve marked a lot of the same questions as important, that’s a good sign.

Next, if you want, you can check “unacceptable answers.” I’m generally ambivalent about this, but if you do choose to check them, make sure you check them AFTER you’ve checked the important questions. The issue with checking unacceptable answers is that it gives you a list of what’s wrong with a person, which is fine, but the trouble is that seeing everything wrong with someone before seeing what’s right with them can give you a bad first impression, and that’s tough to change later.

As you’re reviewing profiles, remember to TRUST NO ONE! People lie in their profiles. Common lies include:

  • Height. People average 2 inches shorter than reported
  • Income. People generally exaggerate their income by 20%
  • Photos. The more attractive a photo is, the older it generally is. The best photos are out of date.

It’s not exactly a lie, but there is a misleading match question that lots of people have answered: “Would you consider having an open relationship (i.e., one where you can see other people)?” The only options are “yes” and “no.” People tend to interpret a “yes” as meaning that the person is cool with poly. It doesn’t mean that. Lots of people answer this question “yes” that still are not interested in poly. They just might “consider” and “open relationship.” Don’t put too much stock in this question.

Put some time and effort into this search. Read the whole profile. Read a good sampling of the match questions. Get a good sense of who the person is, and if they’d actually be a good match.

Next step: making contact.

How to OkCupid Step 3: Be Interesting!

This is step 3 of my patented 6-step series on How to OkCupid. This step focuses on creating your profile and match questions.
Step 1: Get Out There!
Step 2: Be Good-Looking!
Step 3: Be Interesting!
Step 4: Find Other Interesting, Good-Looking People
Step 5: Make Contact!
Step 6: Date!


So now that we’ve signed up for an account and selected good profile pics, it’s time to create our profile. If dating is like applying for a job (hint: it is), your profile is your resume. The difference is that while it might be ok to embellish a bit on your resume (*cough cough*), you want your profile (like your picture) to be as accurate as possible. You want to give as much information about yourself as you can without being boring. A good profile can allow someone to know more about you in 30 minutes than they can after 3 dates.

The primary effect of writing a good profile is that you’ll get fewer, but better, contacts. If people get an accurate picture of who you are, plenty of people are going to find something not to like, and they’re not going to message you. This is a good thing! It’s much better to figure that sort of thing out without committing the time and energy required to actually go out with someone. No bad date required. This way, the messages you get will be from people who might actually like you!

A good profile won’t guarantee that all of your dates will go well, but it should mean that your connections will be ideologically compatible with you. They still might be boring, smelly, or awkward, but they probably won’t hold many ideas that you find repugnant.

Some general tips:

  • Show, don’t tell! If you want people to think you’re funny, don’t say “I’m funny!” Tell a joke. If you want people to think you’re smart, say something smart! Describing yourself is fine, but make you sure back up everything you’re saying.
  • Make use of OkC’s formatting options and html tags. Paying attention to your profile’s formatting can make it a lot more readable.
  • Stay positive! The last thing you want to do in your profile is complain.
  • Proofread! Remember, this is your resume. Don’t have any mistakes.
  • Click here. If you see anything you recognize, change it immediately.
Don't be this guy

Don’t be this guy

Profile Sections

OkCupid profiles are broken up into several sections. They’re all useful, but you can skip any section you want. None of them are critical on their own.

The first section is “details.” It asks for basic demographic information that’s pretty straightforward. A recent update has added the option to designate yourself “non-monogamous.” I heavily recommend that you make use of this designation.

Self summary. This is your first impression, so think about the first thing(s) you want people to know about you, and put it here. Make sure you include polyamory in this section!

What I’m doing with my life. This, obviously, is asking about your job. You should tell people what your job is. You can also include any hobbies that you consider a big part of your life.

I’m really good at. This is your chance to brag. A lot of people put jokes here, but I recommend you take this one at face value. Tell people your strengths. Tell people what’s impressive about you.

The first things people usually notice about me. This question is aspirational. The first thing people actually notice about you is probably something boring like your hair or your jacket. Instead, say what you wish was the first thing people notice about you.

Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food. This section is pretty straightforward, but feel free to add your own categories. I list favorite video games, blogs, podcasts, and games. This is also a section where you should make use of formatting. Otherwise, it can just be unreadable walls of text

Six things I could never do without. Please don’t take this question literally. Just say what’s important to you. Listing oxygen isn’t funny. Also, you can list as many or as few things as you want.

I spend a lot of time thinking about. This is another place to list what matters to you, but this time, focus on intellectual topics.

On a typical Friday night, I am. This is another aspirational section. Really, what it’s asking is “where should we go on a date?”

The most private thing I’m willing to admit. This section is self-explanatory, but please come up with something. If you’re unwilling to reveal anything private, just skip it.

I’m looking for. These are just checkboxes. Make sure you answer honestly. The only exception is that if you’re looking for men, it’s ok to not list “casual sex” even if casual sex is something you’re looking for, because listing it gets you extra creepy messages.

You should message me if. This is where you describe your ideal match. You don’t want to be so specific that it sounds like you’re trying to box people in, but you should come up with a few qualities that you’re looking for in a person.

Match Questions

Match questions are, by far, the most important part of your profile. Match questions are what determine your match percentage with other users. Each question is multiple-choice. First, you say what your answer is. Then, you indicate which answers you find acceptable in a match. Pay attention! There’s nothing worse than seeing that someone’s marked your answer as unacceptable when they have the exact same answer!

The next step is to say how much each question matters to you. Your options are irrelevant, a little important, somewhat important, or very important. When your match percentage is calculated, the weighted value assigned to each question is determine by it’s importance level.

Irrelevent questions get a weight of 0.
A little important questions get a weight of 1.
Somewhat important questions get a weight of 10.
Very important questions get a weight of 50.

Match % matters

Match % matters

The key to your match percentage is the questions that you mark as “very important.” If you designate too many as very important, it will dilute your percentage so you can still have a high match with someone who’s answered wrong. The thing to do is come up with 2-4 areas that you need in a match and answer a lot of questions about those areas. For instance, it’s important to me that my matches are open to poly, skeptical, and egalitarian. So I find all of the questions I can that suggest anything on those three topics and mark them all “very important.” Now, when I have a high match percentage with someone, I can be pretty sure that they are poly, skeptical, and egalitarian. All less important questions I mark as “somewhat important” or “a little important.” They’ll still affect my match percentage, but only at the margins.

I recommend answering every question, even if it’s irrelevant to you. What you consider irrelevant might be of critical importance to someone else, and match questions are a great way to give people information without causing information overload. Also, each question gives you space to explain your answer, so make liberal use of this space.

UPDATE: a reader compiled a list of match questions that you should make sure that you’ve answered and marked very important:

  • Someone in an open relationship asks you out on a date. You:
  • Would you date someone who was already in a committed relationship with someone else?
  • Would you consider having an open relationship (i.e., one where you can see other people)?
  • Would you consider dating someone who is already involved in an open or polyamorous relationship?
  • Are you poly or poly friendly?
  • Do you believe that it is possible to experience romantic love for more than one person at a time without loving one less because of your love for the other?
  • Would you ever consider an open marriage? That means you can sleep with other people.
  • Would you consider having a relationship with someone who is married, but no longer has sex with their spouse?
  • If you were in a serious relationship, would you mind if your significant other maintained an active profile on OkCupid?
  • Have you ever had multiple romantic partners during the same time period?
  • Is it okay for a married person to play around with someone with the permission of their spouse?
  • Your significant other’s ex is coming into town and he/she wants to go out to dinner with them alone. How do you react?
  • Would you get upset if your girlfriend/boyfriend flirted in front of you?

Next up:Find other interesting, good-looking people!

How to OkCupid Step 2: Be Good-Looking!

This is step 2 of my patented 6-step series on How to OkCupid. This step focuses on taking and selecting good profile pictures.
Step 1: Get Out There!
Step 2: Be Good-Looking!
Step 3: Be Interesting!
Step 4: Find Other Interesting, Good-Looking People
Step 5: Make Contact!
Step 6: Date!


Attractiveness vs Messages 2According to OkTrends, the blog written by the creators of OkCupid, your profile pic is the single most important factor determining the amount of messages that you’ll receive. As I said earlier, you’re not trying to maximize the amount of messages you receive, BUT you also don’t want to fail to present an accurate picture of your appearance.

Some numbers to remember:

  • 80% of men are rated as worse-looking than “medium” (2.5 stars out of 5) by women seeking men. If you’re a man seeking women, understand that most of the women you encounter will not find you attractive, and that’s ok and normal.
  • 2/3 of the messages that men send to women go to the most attractively-rated 1/3 of women. This means that the most traditionally attractive women are getting flooded with messages. If you’re only messaging women who correspond to society’s view of what makes a person attractive, it’s going to be very difficult for you to find interested people.

Play Up Your Supposed Weaknesses

On OkCupid, you can rate how attractive you find someone on a scale of 1-to-5 stars. One of the counterintuitive pieces of data that OkTrends discovered was that “the more men disagree about a woman’s looks, the more they like her.” The regression equation they got was this:

Messages received = .4M1 -.5M2 +-0M3 -.1M4 + .9M5

M1 is the number of one-star ratings a woman received; M2 is the number of two-star ratings, etc. As you can see from the formula, the biggest indicator of how many messages a woman received was the number of 5-star ratings she got. No surprise there. However, the second-biggest indicator was the number of 1-star ratings that she received. The more 1-star ratings, the more messages she gets. 3-star ratings are irrelevant, 2-star ratings are detrimental, and 4-star ratings actually have a small negative impact. Their theory about why this happens is a little questionable, but their advice is spot-on:

Browsing OkCupid, I see so many photos that are clearly designed to minimize some supposedly unattractive trait—the close-cropped picture of a person who’s probably overweight is the classic example. We now have mathematical evidence that minimizing your “flaws” is the opposite of what you should do. If you’re a little chubby, play it up. If you have a big nose, play it up. If you have a weird snaggletooth, play it up: statistically, the guys who don’t like it can only help you, and the ones who do like it will be all the more excited.

I couldn’t agree more. Play up the things that some people might find ugly. It will give people an accurate picture of what you look like AND it will get you attention from the right kind of people.

Take a Good Picture

One of the keys to presenting an accurate picture of yourself is taking a representative photo. Again, OkTrends gives some good advice on what kind of photos tend to get the most interest. Some general tips:

  • Use a good camera. Pictures from an SLR tend to fare better than point & shoot, which does better than phone pictures
  • Use natural lighting, not a flash
  • Use a low f-stop. It keeps you in focus, but blurs the background
  • Don’t be afraid to show off your body. Shirtless pics get plenty of attention
  • Do something interesting in a few of your photos

I have a few suggestions of my own, too:

  • Have lots of photos. OkCupid lets you have up to 10 pictures. Use them to show a few different sides of yourself (literally and figureatively)
  • Show your face. Hiding your face suggests that you’re trying to hide the fact that you’re on the site. People like confidence. People who are ashamed of what they’re doing are unattractive. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
  • Show your body. If you don’t, first of all, that’s part of you that people just won’t know about you ahead of time. It’s not presenting an accurate picture of yourself. Secondly, it suggests that you’re ashamed of your body. See above re: shame and people’s time for that.
  • Hire a professional. Professional photographers know what they’re doing, and most have experience taking headshots. A professional can make sure you’re putting your best self on display. Just make sure you’re not minimizing any parts of yourself that you think are unattractive. Remember, above all, we’re going for accuracy. Let your photographer know that, and they will be able to help you out.

I also heavily recommend that you make use of My Best Face. It’s a site set up by OkCupid that allows you to upload several photos of yourself, then have them rated by other users to see which is most attractive. You’re not necessarily trying to use the photo that is the most broadly appealing, but it’s good information to have, and you may want to use the winning photo as your main profile pic, since it’s your first impression.

OkTrends also provides some interesting graphs regarding the effects of your facial attitude:

Effect of Mans Facial Attitude
Effect of Woman's Facial Attitude

And your photo context:

Male Photo Context
Female Photo Contexts

See also the chances that a message leads to an actual conversation:

Message leads to conversation

My takeaway is that women get more attention if they make eye contact and smile. Men get more attention if they look away and don’t smile. The “MySpace shot” gets a lot of messages, but those tend to fail to lead to an actual conversation. The better strategy seems to be to use a photo where you’re doing something interesting or with an animal.

Above all, make sure you choose a photo that accurately represents the way you actually look. You’re trying to give the most accurate impression of yourself possible, so make sure the you that shows up in person is the you that’s on your profile.

Next: Step 3: Be Interesting!

How to OkCupid Step 1: Get Out There!

This is step 1 in my patented 6-step series on How to OkCupid. This step focuses on actually making the choice to put yourself out there.
Step 1: Get Out There!
Step 2: Be Good-Looking!
Step 3: Be Interesting!
Step 4: Find Other Interesting, Good-Looking People
Step 5: Make Contact!
Step 6: Date!

One of the most common questions that I get asked about polyamory is where to meet partners. Franklin Veaux would tell you that meeting partners is easy if you’re out doing things you love and you’re open about polyamory. I find this prospect highly dubious, mostly because I do both of those things and hardly ever meet anyone I want to date AND because the numbers don’t really add up. I suspect he’s either been very lucky, or he meets in inordinately large amount of people during his daily life. I primarily meet partners on OkCupid. Aside from my wife, who I met 10 years ago in college (we were both monogamous at the time), I’ve meet all of my other long-term partners on OkCupid. It’s a fantastic resource for connecting with potential partners in a transparent, information-driven way. That is, if you do it right. What follows is a step-by-step guide to how to go about meeting quality partners on OkCupid.

You can't even see the pink area!

You can’t even see the pink area!

Setting up an online profile is important because it’s hard to find poly people. It’s difficult to find reliable estimates for how many polyamorous people there are in the country (the US, that is), but most estimate around 500,000. That’s .16% of the population. Now further reduce that number by the percentage of people in your age range, that you find attractive, that are attracted to you, that are in your area, who are mature enough for healthy relationships, etc. and you get a very, very small percentage of people who would be suitable dating partners. Thankfully, a small percentage of people doesn’t actually mean a small number of people. There are still probably thousands of people who could make good partners for you. You just need to find them. OkCupid lets you take the millions of people who are looking for partners, and whittle that giant dating pool down to a much smaller number who meet your basic criteria.

This guide is adapted from a presentation that I’ve given at several polyamory conferences around the country.

Disclaimer 1: this guide is intended to help you meet good partners for close, meaningful relationships. If that’s not what you’re looking for, a lot of these strategies won’t work.

Disclaimer 2: this guide, like OkCupid itself, is rather heteronormative. OkCupid forces you to use the gender binary and most of the data available is about the way things work in heterosexual connections. I’d love to see some data on other types of relationships, however, and I’d particularly love to compare how the strategies are similar or different.


Step 1 is easy. You just go to and create a profile. That’s it! Now you’re out there!

This is often the hardest step, because putting yourself out there can be scary. Also, it’s hard for people to admit when they actually want to meet partners. It’s important to remember that it’s ok to pursue the things we want. If you want relationships, you are encouraged to use all the tools available to create them.

A few warnings: starting now, the experience is going to be vastly different depending on whether you indicate you’re looking for men, or looking for women.

If you’re looking for men:

  • You’ll get tons of unsolicted messages, especially when you first join
  • Many of the messages you receive will be creepy or disrespectful. This increases by orders of magnitude if you indicate that you’re looking for casual sex
  • Most of the messages you get will be from bad matches

If you’re looking for women:

  • You will hardly get any unsolicted messages
  • Most messages you send will not get answered (as we’ll get to later, this is a good thing)
  • Just like in real life, women will be suspicious of you until they get to know you. And they should be. Expect it, and don’t be a dick about it

PROTIP 1: If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed by messages, you’re getting creepy/disrespectful messages, or you’re getting too many messages from bad matches, OkCupid has recently instituted an option where they allow you to filter your messages by match percentage. DO IT! Almost all terrible messages also come from people with low match percentages. As we’ll get to in Part 3, your match percentages are going to be an excellent indicator of how well you will get along with someone. If you’re looking for men, I suggest you only accept messages from 85% matches or higher.

PROTIP 2: DO NOT TRY TO MAXIMIZE THE AMOUNT OF MESSAGES OR DATES YOU GET! Most online dating advice will give you tips on how to broadly increase your appeal. Don’t fall into this trap. I’ll probably write a full post on this topic later, but for now, remember: you are a unique person, with strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and weirdness. Don’t try to make a profile that appeals to everyone. Instead, try to make a profile that appeals to only people who would actually be good partners for you. In other words: be honest about who you are. Instead of trying to make a good impression, try to make an accurate one. To the right people, that will be a good impression. You’ll also waste less time on bad matches, because they’ll all be scared off after finding out that you’re not what they’re looking for.

Next: Step 2: Be Good-Looking!

Atlanta Poly Weekend was Awesome, and you Should All Go Next Year


[UPDATE: I am no longer supporting Atlanta Poly Weekend because they support abusers and scapegoat their victims]

Atlanta Poly Weekend was this past weekend (June 6-8, 2014), and it was an awesome experience for the Living Within Reason crew. It was a 28-hour round trip drive, but totally worth it, and we’re definitely planning on going again next year.

We left from South Jersey on Thursday evening. Jessie, Gina, and I picked up our friend Miri (the amazing author of Brute Reason) after a few Bolt Bus-related difficulties, and started the 14-hour drive to Atlanta. Gina & I switched off driving, and managed to get there by 10am. Thankfully, our room was ready (check-in was supposed to be at 3pm) and we all went upstairs to take a nap.

Click to Preorder!

Click to Preorder!

I made sure to be up by 12:30pm for Franklin Veaux’s and Eve Rickert’s workshop on creating a culture of consent. It was a great workshop, mostly consisting of a guided discussion about what a culture of consent would look like, and how to create a culture of consent in our spaces. Franklin and Eve have a lot of credibility on this issue due to their well-established public advocacy, as well as their new book More Than Two, which was available at the conference. I picked up a copy, and I’m excited to see what’s in it. Highlights from the consent culture discussion:

ConsentCultre Storify

Next up was my workshop on skeptical monogamy: good reasons to be monogamous. The workshop was based on my linked blog post, but included a much more in-depth discussion on how to apply skepticism in our relationships, and how that fits with concepts like love, trust, and rational decision-making. I had a lively and enthusiastic audience, and I really enjoyed hosting the discussion. Miri tweeted a few highlights:


After my workshop, we decided it was dinner time, and had some delicious cheeseburgers at a place called Farm Burger. Good stuff. Then we came back, and got ready for our burlesque performance. Our troupe, Bust & Trunks Burlesque (joined by local performer Candi LeCouer) put on a 45-minute show doing a few of our Doctor Who numbers, as well as some Stepford Wives and Labyrinth. Candi did an amazing Maleficent number. The crowd was great. People were enthusiastic, but respectful, and everyone had a good time. The rest of the evening was spent socializing, playing Cards Against Humanity, and getting to know the other attendees.

Saturday morning, Gina led a burlesque 101 workshop. I caught the latter half, which was a fun time for everyone. People learned a few moves, and we discussed our philosophy about how to do burlesque in an empowering way, consistent with the idea of consent culture and sexpositivity. Sadly, it meant we had to miss a workshop by the always-excellent Sterling Bates on personality types and relationships, but we’d attended it last year and was able to interrogate him about it later.

The next workshop we attended was The Five Love Languages for Poly by Joreth Innkeeper. I absolutely loved this workshop. Joreth has clearly done this before, as her presentation was professional, well-organized, and informative. The Five Love Languages are usually a mixed bag. While the concept is great, the original author is coming from a conservative, Christian, monogamous perspective, and it shows in her work. Joreth was able to extract the key concepts and present them in a more skeptic-friendly and poly-friendly way. She also went a little deeper, and broke each love language down into separate dialects. I’m extremely glad I caught her presentation. Small sample of Twitter highlights below. See the full list on Storify:

Five Love Languages

Next up (after a quick Starbucks run with some excellent new friends) was the charity auction for Lost N Found Youth. Gina donated a number of her drawings, which all sold! One even went for $45! She’s officially an artist! She also bought a cool 3D abstract art piece which will be hanging on one of our walls soon.

Following the auction, I attended the Breaking Up Poly panel, hosted by Joreth Innkeeper and Sterling Bates. Joreth and Sterling are two of my favorite people (they’re going to hang out with us when we go to Disney! Woo!), so I knew I had to attend this one. The presentation was Joreth’s usual excellent quality, and it gave a lot of helpful suggestions. The idea was that bad breakups are bad for the community, and often people break up just because they aren’t compatible as lovers, not because either party is toxic or abusive (though they gave the caveat that their advice was not meant to be followed in abusive situations). They gave a lot of useful suggestions regarding how to break up with someone in a compassionate and respectful way, which lays the groundwork for continuing a relationship as friend, or at the very least, not enemies. Highlights (see Storify for more):

Breaking up Poly Tweets

After dinner at the local Mexican restaurant, it was time for my presentation on Relationship Anarchy and the Spectrum of Relationship Control. I was nervous about this one, because relationship anarchy can be a controversial position, and it’s sometimes difficult to talk about the negative implications of relationship rules without offending people. Also, my visual aides didn’t really work, so I’ll be preparing something else next time I do this workshop. The reactions was largely positive, however, and I think people got a lot out of it, especially for a concept that many people probably hadn’t encountered previously. Twitter highlights:

Relationship Anarchy Tweets

Afterward, Gina taught a workshop on Costuming for Burlesque (mostly pastie-making), then there was a dance party in the main panel room. Good stuff! Unfortunately, there was an incident where the same creepy male attendee approached both Jessie and Gina with crude, objectifying, sexual propositions (in Jessie’s case, it was before he even introduced himself). Jessie reported him to the conference organizers, who took appropriate action. While a warning probably would have been enough, unfortunately, the offender (and his partner), rather than express understanding and contrition, attempted to escalate the situation, resulting in a future attendance ban. Situations like this are always regrettable, but the APW staff handled it beautifully, and we all feel safe attending in the future. Aside from that incident, the dance party was a great time. I didn’t get to bed until after 3am!

Sunday morning, given the 14-hour drive ahead of us, we were anxious to get on the road. However, we couldn’t leave before Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert’s discussion on putting the ethics in ethical non-monogamy. The polyamory community lays claim to the title “ethical non monogamy.” If we’re going to do so, argue Franklin and Eve, we have a responsibility to create a community where ethics are defined an enforced. More Than Two (available in September) is primarily about ethics in the polyamory community, and Franklin and Eve led a discussion on how to create ethical communities, and what kind of ethics we need in our spaces. Twitter highlights:

Relationship Ethics tweets

Afterward, we said our goodbyes to all the new friends we made, and the old friends that we got to see for the second time, and made the brutal 14-hour drive home (complete with horrible traffic jam)! However, despite the drive, the experience was definitely worth it, and we are definitely planning to attend next year.