By Samantha Pillsbury
Samantha Pillsbury is an NYC-based dating and self-worth coach. She has a degree in Humanities from Yale University.
Dating app profiles are the modern personal ad. Our digital first impression to potential partners. It’s no wonder we put enormous pressure on that tiny piece of digital real estate. We meticulously select photos and captions that present us as clever but down-to-earth or creative and a little mysterious. “Is that answer too sarcastic? I don’t want to come off as mean.” “Does that dress make me look like I’m trying too hard?”
But somebody’s reaction to our profile has more to do with their desires, history, and mood than any truth about us. For example, a photo of you out dancing with friends, to someone who really wants to integrate friend groups with their partner might make them think, “It’d be fun to be a part of that group!” But someone who’s been cheated on in the past by a girlfriend while out at a club might see the same photo and think, “I can’t go out with her. She’s exactly the type that would cheat on me.”
Trying to predict someone’s reaction is mostly speculation. When we step away from trying to get the perfect reaction from someone viewing our profile, we acknowledge that we’re trying to control of a situation that’s impossible to fully control.
Why the perfect profile is getting in our way.
As a dating coach, I work with type-A, motivated millennials–the people who grew up getting praise for grades, good behavior or athletic performance–in short, pursuing “perfect.” For these folks, facing the potential for rejection, even in the form of the lack of matches on the dating apps, can be really scary because it puts their self-worth at risk.
Let’s face it: dating is vulnerable. When we are putting ourselves out there, there’s an opportunity for rejection and failure. (And if you feel like you can date without risk of rejection, you’re probably not putting yourself out there emotionally!) So, we try to predict exactly how we’ll be perceived and adjust our profiles accordingly in hopes of reducing our number of rejections. But we’re missing the point. While it feels good in the moment, having more matches doesn’t necessarily mean we find our person, especially if they’re only saying yes to the curated, “perfect” profile version of us.
Stories of finding love while changing how we’re perceived are all over pop culture–Cinderella, Mulan, She’s the Man, John Tucker Must Die, Younger, and so many more–so it’s no wonder we think this tactic works. But when we try to craft the profile that we think others will like by exaggerating how much we like football or adjusting our height, we’re both hinting to ourselves that who we are authentically isn’t fully acceptable and, through our subtle masquerading, making us harder to spot by the people who would like the authentic us.
The great news: if we show up authentically (on the apps and in real life) and someone likes us, we know up front they like us for who we actually are. No charades required.
What to actually include in your profile.
Once we let ourselves off the hook for the perfect profile, what should we be doing instead? The three things I recommend my clients add to their dating profile (and you should too!) that you might not expect:
A strong opinion.
Great relationships start with great sleep.*
Strong opinions are great conversation starters. We should be focusing on answers to prompts that resonate intensely with the right person, not generally with most people. None of us are truly “down for anything” in all parts of life, so we might as well use our opinions to trigger flirty banter! Consider opinions you believe strongly but might put you in the minority. Bonus points if it’s a trait that having in common would make a relationship more successful.
A few examples:
If loving this is wrong, I don’t want to be right…Winter. Definitely the best season.
We’re the same type of weird if… you can’t stand mayo.
Note: this isn’t the place to strike up political debates. Save that for a date once you’re in person and have developed rapport. If certain beliefs are a dealbreaker for you, see No. 2 below for how to share that.
Your deepest boundaries or beliefs.
People hesitate to include beliefs that might “scare people off.” But if there is a trait that’s important to you in a future partner, don’t be afraid to state it. Yes, it might mean you get fewer matches, but if it saves you from finding out this mismatch exists on the second date, it’s a win overall.
Stating a strong belief doesn’t mean you have to be negative. Use prompts like “Looking for” or “Let’s get on the same page about” to phrase things in the positive. You can flip “if you’re only looking for a hookup, swipe left” into “looking for a real deal relationship.” “No cat lovers please” can become “Let’s get on the same page about our love of dogs (and unfortunately, my allergy to cats!)” You can set a clear boundary, without being a downer or combative.
This is especially important when it’s something you’d be committing to together. For example, if you’re a Christian and want a partner who also goes to church, you might add “Let’s get on the same page about… the importance of church on Sundays.” Or if you know kids are not in the cards for you, adding “you should leave a comment if… you’re excited to be the best uncle ever but don’t plan on becoming a dad.”
That goofy, embarrassing or unfiltered photo (or video!).
People want to have a good time. When we see the “perfect” profile, full of beautifully edited, solo photos, we actually get very little idea of someone’s personality (it’s no wonder the apps added prompts!). Adding in a photo or, even better, a video that captures your personality IRL offers potential matches a taste of your spirit.
Known to break it down on the dance floor? Throw a reasonably well lit video from your macarena at that wedding last month. Master bartender? The next time you’re behind the bar, ask a friend to grab a candid clip of you holding court.
To be clear: this is not an opportunity to stage a scenario or act like something that you’re not. If I haven’t nailed it home enough already, the most important part of your profile is that it accurately represents who you are. But if you’re hilarious, goofy, or a great dancer, let it rip!
The bottom line.
Your imperfect profile should be perfectly you. It gives you the best chance to meet somebody who is a real fit for you as a person and helps you weed out people you probably would have ended up eliminating on a second or third date anyway. While making these changes can sometimes lead to an adjustment period (some people experience a dip in the number of matches, others start hearing from a very different type of person, some notice no change!), your vulnerability will be rewarded.
It is a powerful step to start showing up as yourself, rather than a curated version of you created for other people, and I promise there are more aligned, natural matches for you on the other side!