Most Online Dating Advice is Terrible

Online Dating

In my guide to OkCupid, I included the following:

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.

There is plenty of advice out there that advises the opposite. The first offender is Amy Webb. Webb created multiple fake profiles and crunched the numbers on 72 different data points. She took all of her data and created the most appealing profile she could. She offers ten pieces of advice. Some are ok, but most are terrible, and will virtually guarantee you bad matches. Webb got lucky and met a guy she actually likes, but I guarantee you, unless you have no personality, these suggestions will not help you meet the right people:

Amy Webb's TED talk

Amy Webb’s TED talk

5. Don’t use specifics. Avoid mentioning specific comedians, shows, books, musicians or movies unless those are top-tier attributes on your list. It’s possible to be generic about what you like while still being specific enough to sound interesting. Just because you like Louis C.K. or Kid Cudi doesn’t mean that a potential suitor does. Unless that comedian is one of your deal-breakers, leave him or her off your profile.

No. Seriously no. Remember in high school, when you would ask someone want bands they like, and they would say “I don’t know… what bands do you like?” Don’t be that person. Say what you like. That sort of thing really matters to some people, so it’s better to tell them sooner rather than later.

6. Avoid taboo topics. If there’s something in your life or personality that may be controversial or taboo, leave it off your profile. Perhaps you are an avid NRA member, are passionately Pro-Choice, or a strong advocate for medical marijuana—you may want to leave out things that someone could potentially interpret that information in a way that disadvantages you. Odds are you may turn off more people than you attract.

This is the single worst piece of advice I’ve ever seen. This is basically advising you to hide what you care about until you’ve already “caught” your mark. If you’re passionately pro-choice, why on Earth would you want to date someone who has a problem with that? Ideological compatibility is important! And OkCupid is one of the best tools for figuring it out! This advice will not help you meet people who like you. It will help you meet people who don’t like you, but just don’t know it yet.

7. Save your accomplishments for later. If you’ve won a Pulitzer or climbed Mount Everest or for some reason own a jet, this is wonderful news—just don’t share it online. These are the types of details to work into a conversation on your first or second date. If someone introduced himself to you at a party, would the next thing out of your mouth be items off your resume? Of course not, so don’t act that way online. Let your personality win someone’s interest, not your bragging rights.

This… offends me. This advice seems obviously gendered. Webb’s experience is as a hetero woman, so her advice is most relevant to hetero women. Men are notoriously threatened by women who accomplish more than them. Webb’s advice? Just downplay your accomplishments! Then you can land yourself a nice, patriarchal, head-of-household to father your children! Barf.

9. Use the 20 hour rule. If someone instant messages you while you’re online, go ahead and IM back if you want. Otherwise, wait 20 to 23 hours between e-mail contacts for the first few messages. Webb found that successful daters waited that amount of time and as a result still seemed eager without coming off as desperate.

Don't be this guy

Don’t be this guy

I’m gonna let Urban Dictionary take this one: “a rule used by douchebag guys who think that waiting three days after a date to call means that the girl will want them more, when really it just pisses them off.” But hey, now it’s for women too! Don’t play these games. If you want to message someone, message them.

Offender number two is Chris McKinlay. McKinlay was having trouble meeting women online, so, being a mathematician, he decided statistically calculate (with the help of several sockpuppets and bots) how to appeal to women. He focused on match percentage. To his credit, he answered all questions honestly, but he manipulated the importance ratings to boost his match percentage with the right demographics. He ended up with over 10,000 90+ percent matches in L.A.

Bad dating advice, now with math!

Bad dating advice, now with math!

Next, he wrote a script which would cause his profile to visit 1,000 profiles per day. Users can see who visits their profile, so this got him a lot of attention. He started getting hundreds of visitors per day and tons of messages.

Here is where you can tell that McKinlay’s strategy is hare-brained: he started going on dates. Bad dates. He started cramming in 2-3 dates per day, and still had no luck. Ultimately, he went on 88 first dates. Out of 88 dates, he had four second dates, two third dates, and one person who he was still dating a year later.

That… is not a good track record. Out of 88 dates, he had 4 second dates. That’s a success rate of 4.5%. That’s terrible! And it’s exactly the kind of thing that happens when you try to appeal to large amount of people instead of only to the right people. I’ve been on OkCupid for about four years, and I think I’ve only been on about 50 first dates. That’s about one first date per month. If I’d needed 88 to meet a good match, I still wouldn’t have made it! However, almost none of my dates have been unpleasant, over 50% of those have led to second dates, and a substantial amount of them are people that I’m either still dating or are friends with. The reason is that my profile only appeals to people who have a good chance of actually liking me (and vice versa).

McKinlay wasted huge amounts of time on bad matches because his profile wasn’t designed to scare away people that don’t like him. So what happened was neither he nor his date were able to tell that they weren’t into each other until actually going on the date. For a guy who is all about efficiency, that seem terribly inefficient. Unless you’re really into going on bad dates, it’s much better to let those people sort themselves out before they even write to you.

The actual effective part of McKinlay’s strategy was that his profile visited 1,000 women’s profiles per day. Anyone could do that and end up with a lot of interest. If he’d only designed his profile better, his matches probably would have been much better, and we wouldn’t have needed to invest so much time in bad matches before meeting the right one.

If you want some good advice, read Erica Jagger. Jagger wanted casual sex. So she made a profile that hinted at her desire for casual sex, until some dickhead wrote to her about how “unseemly” it was for a 50-year-old woman to openly have an interest in sex. Not one to be bullied, she added a section to her profile making her interest in sex absolutely explicit.

Adding this clause did exactly what it was designed to do. It has given men who are really just looking for sex permission to contact me and say just that. It has attracted men who have a sense of humor and who respect a woman who owns her sexuality. It has prompted conversations about the wasted time and hurt feelings caused by the lack of sexual transparency. And, I’m happy to report, it has not elicited a single outraged response from a man who thinks he has the right to regulate my sexuality.

Owning my sexuality, both on OkCupid, and in real life, has been profoundly empowering. It’s a gift that has come with age. I was so crippled by social conventions when I was young that I compartmentalized my sexual persona — a move that killed the chance for true intimacy with any man.

The only regret I have about coming out of the “good girl” closet is that it took me until I turned 50 to do so.

If you’re reading online dating advice, go with the person telling you to be yourself, not the person telling you to pretend to be someone else. You’ll meet better matches, you’ll waste less time, and you’ll have an overall better experience.

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6 responses to “Most Online Dating Advice is Terrible

  1. Thank you so much for the shout-out! I totally agree with your premise that you should ONLY be designing your profile to attract the people best-suited to you. Why worry about the rest?

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