Online dating: what (not) to put on your profile

Online dating is a minefield, and if you’ve using dating apps, you’ll know that writing a profile for yourself can be a daunting task. In this extract from Digital Etiquette, tech-journalist Victoria Turk schools us on the art of romance in the modern world and tells us what to absolutely (not) put on your dating profile.


The dating profile

Writing a dating profile is hard. Perhaps that’s why so many people don’t bother, leaving the text box either entirely blank or dashing off a few clichés that really say nothing at all. On the positive side, this means that it’s really not difficult to be better than most other people.

Start with the basics. Think of your profile as a CV for romance: the aim is to make enough of an impression on paper that you get invited to an interview (or, in this case, on a date). You’ll usually be asked to give your first name or a nickname. Don’t add your surname; you don’t want to make it too easy for any old internet stalker to find out your real identity. You’ll also need to give some basic information such as your age, sex/gender and location – ‘a/s/l’ as it was called in the olden days, when people still used chat rooms. Do not lie about your age. It’s deceitful, it’s sleazy, and it’s hardly an auspicious start to a relationship if you’re lying to someone before you’ve even met.

Some sites will ask for more specific information – Are you religious? Are you a smoker? Do you like to be tied up in bed? – and then there’s usually a spot to write a brief personal bio. Keep it concise and upbeat. You’re trying to make yourself look approachable; this is not the place for philosophical monologues, deep and meaningful chats, or your in-depth opinions on Brexit.

Here’s a simple four-part template to get you started:

1. A catchy opener

This is your ice-breaker. Keep it short and sweet.

2. A description of yourself

This is basically your Sleepless in Seattle moment. You want to summarise who you are in just a few words – like ‘Fulltime barista, part-time bass-player’ or ‘Shy Northerner, new in town’.

Choose something that speaks specifically to the kind of person you are. Avoid listing generic positive traits; people will assume you’re decent, kind and friendly unless you show them otherwise.

You don’t really need to describe your personality – that’s more easily done through actions than words – but if you want to give it a shot, stick to a maximum of two or three adjectives. A long list of character traits can easily be construed as just one: self-obsessed.

3. Your hobbies and interests

How you spend your time says a lot more about you than any self-description could. There’s also another reason this section is important to include: it gives people something to latch on to when they first message you. As much as you’re trying to give a sense of who you are, you’re also offering up a ready-made ice-breaker, giving people the opportunity to say ‘I like horror films too,’ or ‘What’s the last sci-fi book you read?’

Again, make it specific. Literally everyone likes ‘food, fun and travel’ and you’re helping no one with the classic ‘I like going out and staying in.’ It’s more remarkable if you don’t like coffee and pizza than if you do, and I refuse to believe that anyone feels that passionately about the Oxford comma.

A few examples will do; you’re just trying to give a sense of your taste, not an encyclopaedic breakdown of your cultural psyche. Relationships are not made or broken on the back of the exact ranking of your top 10 punk records (as long as The Clash are in there somewhere).

On mobile apps, emoji are often used as shorthand for hobbies. If you’re wondering why so many Tinder users seem to be keen gardeners, know that the leaf emoji usually implies an interest in marijuana, not rhododendrons.

4. What you’re looking for

You don’t want to present a list of demands, but you do want to indicate what sort of person you’re hoping to meet and what sort of relationship you’re after. Whether you’re hoping to start an LTR (‘long-term relationship’) or are just DTF (‘down to f*ck’) is totally fine – so long as the people you talk to are after the same thing. Things get a bit awkward when you’re looking for a smutty hookup and they want someone to take home to their mother.

Keep it light; you don’t want to scare people off. Something like, ‘Looking to meet laid-back people for Netflix and chill,’ or ‘Hoping to find a like-minded person to share my life with’ should adequately convey your intentions.

test 2

Dating profile donts

Perhaps more important than what to put on your dating profile is what to avoid. There’s nothing more disheartening than swiping through profile after profile and coming across the same cringeworthy bios again and again.

Maddie Holden, a lawyer and writer from New Zealand (and also the creator of the hilarious – and very NSFW – ‘Critique my D*ck Pic’ Tumblr), was so disillusioned with the bios she saw while online dating that she started a side-hustle offering advice on people’s profiles for $25 a pop. It all started when she was writing a guide to dating app Bumble for a men’s lifestyle site and her editor asked her to take screenshots of some of the best examples of profiles she came across. ‘I really struggled,’ she says.

One of the most grievous mistakes, Holden adds, is what she calls the ‘wish list’ – when people rattle off a shopping list of traits their prospective match should or shouldn’t have. Negative wish lists are the worst. ‘Some women do this too,’ she says, ‘but it does seem to be more of a male trend, where they say, “I don’t like girls who do duck face,” or, “I don’t like girls who use the Snapchat dog filter,” or, “I’m not into women who wear too much make-up.”’ Entitled much? You’re supposed to be selling yourself, not putting in an order at Dates ‘R’ Us.

Avoid the following faux pas and you’re well on your way toa profile worthy of a swipe right.


‘Work hard, play harder.’

‘It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.’

‘Insert witty profile here.’

Cringe. Not forgetting the worst: ‘Looking for a partner in crime.’ Excuse me while I wipe the vomit off my phone screen.

Unoriginal jokes

The thing about jokes is they’re supposed to be funny. Anyone who’s spent more than ten minutes scrolling through a list of Tinder hopefuls will know that sinking feeling when you swipe right on someone you think has a great sense of humour – only to then see the same jokes repeated again and again in other people’s profiles. You know the ones:

‘Looking to leave the single market before the UK does.’

‘I’ve got plenty of suits so I make a great +1 for weddings.’

‘“Five stars!” – my mum.’

You might think you’re coming across as a great wit, but really all you’re saying is ‘I’m so boring I had to google what to put in my dating app bio.’

Excuses about online dating

‘Can’t believe I’m on here.’

It’s nearly 2020, love, we’re all on here. How else do you expect to meet someone – in real life? Pervert.

Your height

The obsession with people featuring their height on their dating profiles truly baffles me. For many, it’s the first attribute they list. Surely the fact you can reach the top shelf in Sainsbury’s isn’t your number one selling point? And if it is, perhaps you should get a hobby.

I’ve heard various justifications for including height, with straight men often complaining that they feel obliged to include theirs because women are only interested in men taller than them, and women complaining that they feel pressured to list theirs because men are only interested in women smaller than them. At this point, it seems that everyone is simply including it because everyone else does. While it’s fine to have preferences, measuring someone’s potential in feet and inches seems rather reductive to say the least (and no, putting something snarky like ‘6' 2" seeing as everyone seems to care’ doesn’t make you any better than the rest).

In any case, judging by all the men on dating sites who seem convinced that they’re well over six foot, the numbers count for little. According to the Office for National Statistics, the average height for a man in the UK is five foot nine – so unless tall men are somehow more predisposed to use dating apps than the rest of the population, a lot of people are being rather liberal with the tape measure. In the US, OKCupid compared people’s heights on their profiles to height distribution across the country, and concluded that both men and women exaggerate by about two inches.

You definitely don’t need to give any other anatomical descriptions or, ahem, measurements. At least save it until you know each other well enough to private message.

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