Stand Out Online

Feeling lost in a sea of profiles? Try these tips from online daters, who offered their opinions on what makes a profile come alive.

By Seth Wharton

nline dating has put millions of potential mates — or at least dates — at our fingertips. But it also brings its own set of unwritten social rules, which can be as tricky to navigate as a packed-full bar during a playoff game.

Tony Gamino met Ryan McKinney three and a half years ago online.
Every picture tells a story, and it’s not just about appearance.
Tony, 38, emailed Ryan, 34, after reading his profile, starting what became a two-month correspondence before they met in person.

“It was his picture,” Gamino says of staying in touch with McKinney even as they continued to date other people. “Not even the way he looked — he was cute — but his smile. There was something warm there.”

Pictures are important. We want to date people we’re attracted to, and we want people to find us attractive. Every picture tells a story, though, and it’s not just about appearance.

Kim Daly, 29, of New York, has been on more than a dozen dates with guys she met online. The pictures that spark her interest are about more than looks. “One that illustrates a hobby shows that you’re active, that you get out there,” she says.

Travis Kinsey, 35, of Dallas, has dated online for several years. He says the more pictures, the better, provided the photos aren’t too staged. “The best photos are the ones that show people in a casual setting, doing what they like to do,” he says. But steer clear of a photo-chronology of relationships past, he cautions. “There are too many pictures of women standing next to other guys. If you’re trying to portray yourself as single and available, it’s off-putting to potential dates to see you next to another guy.”

Men can be just as careless with their choice of photos. Jennifer Hoche, 33, first tried online dating after she moved across the country to Los Angeles. She met the guy she’s currently seeing online. “Some guys take a picture of themselves without a shirt on, in front of the mirror, with a cell phone,” she says. “Is that really going to get you a girl?”

A few great pictures — even if you’re blessed with amazingly good looks — won’t make up for a cookie-cutter profile that trades in clichés, like, say, enjoying long walks on the beach. “Of course you do,” says Joseph Cavalieri, “but you’re not going to
“Be yourself, and the person who’s meant for you will come around.”
actually do that because you have a life and you have to work.”

Cavalieri, who’s 48 and from New York, says the real benefit of online dating is that you get to avoid much of the early-date fact-finding of yore. “You learn a lot about a person before you meet, so you can cut out the people who are not interesting,” he says. And the people who don’t rely on preset notions of romance are the ones who stand out the most to him. “The fact that they write the essay themselves means you can tell how literate they are. More casual and funny works for me.”

It’s the same for Daly. She finds herself intrigued by profiles that are creative and forthcoming: “less about ‘I want a girl who can be this and this,’” she says, “and more about what the guy can bring to the relationship.”

Try to convey who you are rather than what you think people are looking for. After all, nobody’s perfect, in person or online. “There were a lot of [profiles] that were so polished, it was almost like an advertising campaign,” says McKinney.

Kinsey suggests keeping profiles light and amiable. “Think about meeting somebody for the first time at a party,” he says. “You don’t want to hit them with any info that’s too heavy up front.” That means no dark family secrets or horrors of relationships past.

Haiyen Chin, 32, from New York, was single for a year after her relationship of four years ended. “All my friends were meeting these guys online,” she says, so she gave it a shot. “A lot of people want to meet for drinks right away,” she says, but cautions, “you kind of have to like their email voice.”

Prolonged email exchanges might seem to take the allure out of getting acquainted, but it beats wasting time with incompatible dates. You might learn before you meet someone that his favorite movie is, for instance, anything with Jean Claude Van Damme.

“I didn’t have to go on four dates to find that out,” Chin says.

Of course, email can’t tell you everything. Hoche had a good exchange with the first guy she met online. One phone conversation later, though, “I just knew it wasn’t going to work,” she says. “I think it’s good to take your time with this.”

As Kinsey says, “Be yourself, and the person who’s meant for you will come around.”

Seth Wharton is a writer who lives in New York City with his wife of seven years and their two cats. In addition to doling out invaluable relationship guidance, he writes fiction.
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