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I recently had an unusual freelance writing gig. My job was to log into a guy’s online dating profile and send messages to girls I thought he would find attractive. I basically got paid to start conversations for him. I perused about a hundred female dating profiles each day for a month.
And it nearly put me into a boredom-induced coma.
Either women really are as homogeneous as their dating profiles make them look, or they’re all just really bad writers. Every profile I’ve seen is exactly alike, and they’re about as intriguing as the month-old chunk of ground beef growing mold behind my stove. If I were a guy, I’d want to start conversations with all of you about as badly as I want to listen to Gilbert Gottfried sing “Le Nozze di Figaro” eight times in a row while being water-boarded by Osama Bin Laden’s rotting zombie corpse.
It’s totally illogical, not to mention unfair, hypocritical and somewhere along the lines of a double standard, for you to expect guys to flood your in-boxes with “interesting conversation” when your profiles are excruciatingly boring. I know you think your amazingly cute selfies are going to do all the work for you, but guess what, there are about six billion cute selfies clogging up every dating site in existence. If the only bait you’re gonna give a guy is your looks, the only responses you’ll get will be things like, “Hi, you’re hot. Why don’t you sit on my face?” Only they won’t be punctuated that well.
If you want to attract guys with personalities and engage their hearts and minds, you have to demonstrate that you posses such things yourself.
None of you want to think you’re the typical, average woman. You all want to be liked for who you are. But first, you have to show who you are. Since the beginning of human history, people have used narrative to establish unique individual identities. I’m about to tell you how to make your dating profile significantly less boring by using a couple of very basic writing tricks to tell your story.
So here’s what I read 8,000 times during my month of torture:
“What to say… I’m smart, kind and successful. I’m confident and I know what I want in life. I like adventure and travel and learning new things. I’m funny and I like to laugh. I’m good at making people smile. I can’t live without my family, my friends, music, books, coffee or my phone, and I love to eat! Message me if you can say something interesting, don’t just say Hi or hit on me.”
Look, there are certain things that make us human. A love for your family and friends, a need to eat, a desire to laugh, a taste for adventure and music are pretty much universal. Unless you’re a serial killer, you probably share these traits with the rest of the human race. So start by assuming guys are looking to date non-serial-killers. Let them take for granted that you’re a decent, sane human being and move on to what makes you you.
Liking coffee does not make you you. It can be as easily taken for granted as your love for your family. Everybody likes coffee. And by the way, if you live in Portland, Oregon, and your dating profile says you like coffee, you should be deleted, not just from Plenty of Fish or OkCupid, but from the planet, because you are the least creative person in the universe. And being the least creative person in the universe while living in Portland is such a challenge that I can only assume you’re doing it on purpose. So stop it!
Online Dating Profile Trick #1: Add Specifics.
If you absolutely must talk about liking coffee, don’t just list the word “coffee” under “Things I Like.” Tell everyone why you like it and be specific. Specificity is writing trick #1. For example:
I was backpacking through Costa Rica and I met this really hot local guy at one of those grass-hut-style bars on the beach and he invited me to come see the coffee plantation where he worked. I helped him pick beans for six hours just because he looked really hot without a shirt, but these drug cartels raided the place with machine guns and we had to hide in the jungle while they destroyed everything. I’ve been addicted to coffee ever since because it gives me super intense flashbacks.
The same goes for everything else you like. Don’t just write “I like books.” Pick at least one author without whose words you would actually consider becoming a serial killer, and tell everyone why you like them so much. For example:
My entire existence dissolved in an agonizing mix of chills and tears the first time I read this: “We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave… So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
If that were on my profile, some guy would read it and know instantly that I love Hunter S. Thompson. And I assure you that if you love an author, someone else loves that author too. Books have profound effects on people. If a guy stops into your profile and sees a quote from an author who changed his life, he won’t glaze over and slip off to the next girl on the Quickmatch ticker. He’ll send you a message like this one:
“I know! I felt the same way when I first read, “Who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?”
You’ll connect! And it will be a much deeper connection than a shared affinity for books in general.
Specificity applies to travel too. Talk about particular places you want to go and why. Do you want someone to accompany you to Paris so you can have sex on Jim Morrison’s grave? Do you want to hike deep in to the Ecuadorian rainforest, until parts of your body you didn’t know existed are dripping sweat, and find a Shaman who will guide you on an Ayahuasca-fueled journey of self-discovery? Maybe not. Maybe you want to backpack across England and pretend you’re Arwen the elf. If so, some guy who loves Tolkien is going to message you and say, “I’ll be Aragorn and we can walk across England together.” The two of you would then go to a Middle Earth convention for your first date and share some of that good herb from the Shire and have awesome sex with simultaneous orgasms and BAM! Happily ever after!
Even the seemingly mundane, everyday things that you adore– the things you think no one else notices much less cares about– can be engaging and unique if you describe your relationships to them in detail. For example:
Summer is not summer without the smell of cut grass. I like the scent of fresh cut lawn so much that once, when I was seven, I grabbed a handful and threw it into the cake batter my mom was mixing and stirred it in. When she came back from the bathroom, she popped the cake in the oven and cooked it. During dessert, when my dad realized what he was chewing, he actually swallowed a mouthful, then he smiled and congratulated me on my creativity. Now I live in Arizona, where grass only exists during monsoon season, so if you can find me some fresh-cut-grass-scented perfume, you win!
Specific details are also way better than statements like this:
“I’m the manager of a retail store and I’m leading a team that has a goal of making this our best year yet!”
I actually read that on someone’s profile. That’s what I’d expect to hear from a low-budget employee training video if I’d just been hired as a Walmart greeter. You may as well have Xeroxed a few paragraphs from the Material Data Safety Sheets and pasted those into your online dating profile. If you really do love your job and you really are awesome at it, tell everyone why:
I work for Victoria’s Secret and I single-handedly increased the company’s profits by $40 million dollars the first year I worked there because I can tell in one glance exactly what size and style of miracle bra will make a woman look fantastic no matter what her body type. This year, I’m gonna teach everyone on my team to do it!”
Maybe you work someplace less sexy, like a convenience store:
One time, a guy jumped up on the counter and did a strip tease, then grabbed a strand of lottery tickets and wrapped them around himself like a loincloth and ran around the store for ten minutes, singing “MmmBop” and sweeping everything off the shelves with a broom. I managed to knock him out with a jar of pickles and call the cops before he could destroy the whole place.
Online Dating Profile Trick #2: Unpack Your “Abstracts.”
Now that you understand the value of details, here’s writing trick #2. This is something Chuck Palahniuk, author of “Fight Club,” likes to call “unpacking abstracts.”
You’re using abstracts when you write something like, “I’m loyal, reliable and honest.” Words like this make you sound like a politician on the campaign trail, or like Fox News claiming that their coverage is “fair and balanced.” Political slogans slip in one ear and out the other, and no one believes them anyway. You have to show guys you have good qualities, not tell them. For example:
I’m the kind of woman who would love you “til death do us part” even if, right after we got married, you had sex with my three best friends, lost your job and got in a motorcycle accident in which you lost both arms and a leg and went blind. That happened to my husband. He died six months ago.
That’s one way to unpack the abstract that is “loyal.”
“Awesomeness” is another abstract and annoyingly ubiquitous quality women apparently share. Different people have different ideas of what constitutes awesome. If you think it involves owning 200 pairs of shoes and a Mercedes and spending nine hours a night talking on the phone with your friends while watching old episodes of “Gossip Girl,” you should unpack that nonsense in detail, in advance, because the guy who thinks a woman who lives in a van and tours the country playing fiddle in an Irish punk band doesn’t want to waste time trying to get to know you only to find out he can’t stand you.
Online Dating Profile Trick #3: Avoid Cliches.
What’s even worse than being abstract is being a cliche. Avoiding cliches is writing trick #3.
If there’s a field on your profile that asks you what you’re doing with your life and you say, “I’m livin’ the dream,” the guy who reads is going to get so “excited” his blood is going to stop flowing and congeal into chewed bubble gum and he’s going to have a heart attack and die.
And no, if you tack a “Sorry it’s a cliche, but it’s true,” onto the end, it doesn’t make you less of a cliche. Knowing you’re a cliche and not making any effort to be original is way more boring than being boring and not knowing it.
Describe what you’re actually doing. And if you’re not actually doing anything, tell people what you’ve always wanted to do:
I’ve always wanted to learn the languages of West Africa so I can go on safari there and photograph baby pygmy hippos for a coffee table book… I’ve always wanted to build a raft out of garbage and sail it down the Mississippi river.
Your wildest dreams and fantasies, no matter what they are, are way more intriguing than “livin’ the dream.”
Also, I am unable to adequately express, using my keyboard and the English language, just how incredibly tired I am of the phrase “cuddling up on the couch watching Netflix.” I could express my intense distaste for that overused string of words much more clearly with a chainsaw. If that’s what you’re actually doing on Friday nights, at least make it specific to you:
Online Dating Profile Trick #4: Improve Your Profile Photos.
By now, hopefully you have a better idea of how to wield written words, so, just because I need to in order to preserve my own sanity, I’m now going to rail on about profile photos.
First of all, bathrooms are not attractive. When I see bathroom mirror selfies with duck-lips and doll-eyes and a bad glare that makes you look like you’re in the process of getting abducted by aliens, I don’t think, “Wow, this woman is classy, smart, adventurous and sexy!” I think– and keep in mind that I’m not even a guy– “Wow, this chick looks like a giant cock was removed from her mouth right before the shutter snapped! This should be really easy!” And I also think of hookers and stains and syringes and missing teeth and truck stops…
Here’s an idea! GO OUTSIDE! There’s light out there that won’t make you look like a jaundiced and half-suffocated rubber Martian. And there are flowers and trees and rivers. That’s the stuff that makes you look fresh and young and fun. If you really are adventurous and you really do like the outdoors, like you all say you do, post a picture of yourself snowboarding, hiking, canoeing or llama riding. If you have artistic or musical talent, show yourself using it. Guys like sexy bodies, but they also think it’s hot when a woman can play guitar, paint a mural, keep up with him on a black diamond run or even just grow some organic zucchini.
If you think all this narrating sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. But guess what, it’s my turn to bust out a cliche: In this life, you get nothing worth having for free. Especially not your soul mate.
If you want the stuff in your inbox to go from boring to intriguing, you yourself must go from boring to intriguing. Being cute is not enough. You have to have a personality. The only way to get your personality across in written words is to narrate it. Lists of cliches and political slogans and reasons why you’re just like the rest of the human race won’t work. Tell those guys in detail what you think, want, feel, love and hate. Tell them stories.
And remember, if you don’t have any stories, you have an imagination. And if you don’t have an imagination, you have dreams and desires. And if you don’t want it bad enough to do it right, don’t complain about the shoddy results you get from doing a half-assed job!