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How honest are online dating profiles?

Posted on Monday, January 17, 2011 in Advice, dating, Honesty, Kat, Men, Relationships, Self image, Singles

“I need you,” Sara said with a certain sense of urgency on the cell phone.

“I just love when someone says that to me, but, you know, usually a guy.”

“Well, perhaps you just need to broaden your perspective, Kat.”

“Ha! What’s up?”

I’m ready to try online dating again. Help me come up with a profile.”

And that’s how I found myself on a recent weeknight at Sara’s house, each of us in front of our laptops, some hummus and a glass of wine looking at the profiles of other 46- to 52-year-old women to see what Sara was up against. No  problem with a SexyMama smackdown,  but Cook4U (she’s cute, too) could
be problematic.

“OK, so, what’s your philosophy on life?”

“You know it — every day’s a blessing.”

“Sara, you can’t say
that. I mean, you just can’t. What a cliche!”

“But, it’s the truth! You know that’s me.”

And it is Sara, 100 percent. So are these
energetic, bubbly, fun-loving, loves to travel, lives life to the fullest, good friend,
. Yet she just can’t say any of that on an online profile. Well, actually she could, but I would never tell her to do that. Because it wouldn’t work in her favor. At all. It’s a total turnoff and people read more into a simple statement — “loves to take off on spontaneous trips” could mean high maintenance.

And as we went though the rest of Sara’s dating profile — interests, movies, etc. — I realized that there was a lot of things she just couldn’t say. Or she could, but …


That’s the weird thing about online dating — you can’t be totally honest.

And coming from an online dating fan who couldn’t even care less about a guy’s cliche online dating username or header — let alone his income —  that’s saying a lot.

Most people think online profile dishonesty is about age or using old pictures. But even if you’re trying to describe yourself honestly, there are certain … buzzwords … that make someone sound inauthentic. If you truly are comfortable in jeans or jammie pants while watching a DVD on the couch and also happen to be totally comfortable in a LBD (that’s little black dress, for you guys) and f-me heels (self-explanatory?) at a social event — as I am — well, do you actually say that? No, of course not!

Even though it’s the truth.

Kinda weird.

Unless you look at creating an online profile as a challenge, which it really is. It forces you to say those things but in a more creative way. And, when you think about it, it forces you to think about yourself in a more creative way, too. That’s not so bad.

But for the people who aren’t able to do that, it’s all about the picture. Or is it all about the picture regardless?

  • What do you pay attention to in an online dating profile?
  • What words turn you off or on?
  • How do you describe yourself online?

Photo © Milan Stanic –

Bring on the comments

  1. jim
    Twitter: mobilene

    Yeah, the profile. I still haven’t figured out the right balance. I want it to be real enough to resonate with the right woman, but not so real that it inadvertently pushes her away. I’m not entirely satisfied with the one I’m using. I keep refining it.

    But the picture. I wear my hair to my shoulders. I’m lucky, especially at my age, to have good hair. Wearing it longish makes me feel good. But I’ve had some negative responses from women about it before they got to know me. I wonder how many see my photo and click away without ever reading my profile!

  2. The picture…the old cliche…it tells 1000 words. The worst offenders are the guys that take pictures of themselves in the mirror showing their bulbous muscles and physique. Or the ones that take pictures in the bathroom stall at work and then post them as their primary photo on their profile as has been the case with some of the matches that have electronically hit me up.

  3. Chopper Papa
    Twitter: chopperpapa

    I haven’t online dated in 3 years but there is a reason why when you ‘browse’ that the picture is the point of reference. The picture opens the door and maybe the profile will keep them hanging around.

    You can have the best written, honest profile on the web and if you look like a gorilla nobody will ever get that far.

  4. mac says:

    I think I could be totally honest at that point. No one knows me, why not let it all out?

    Honesty can be very freeing in that type of atmosphere. with honesty, we can get to know the person without all our bullshit being in the way. We get to know them for them…but if we lie, we don’t get to know anything.
    Sure, we may get our target, but will we keep them?

  5. terri says:

    I LOVED online dating. The creativeness required to create a profile caused me to stretch in ways that I hadn’t needed to before.

    I was always very honest, but tried to find the balance between cute self-deprecating humor (I am a terrific date – but a terrible cook)and coming off as someone with a low self esteem. I think I managed to appear quirky yet fun…at least that was the feedback I received.

    The picture was always a problem for me – the pictures I thought were least likely to catch attention did the opposite. But if I started CHOOSING pictures based on that criteria, there was no response at all. Gah. I never did figure that out.

    In others’ profiles, the buzzwords that caused me to skip them were “no drama” or “doesn’t play games” because that indicated to me prior baggage and a history of making bad choices.

    Words that attracted me were “grateful” and “high energy” – I responded especially well to “spontaneous” and “adventurous”.

    Online dating – what an incredible social experiment! Good luck and happy hunting to your friend. 🙂

  6. alley` says:

    I should note that I’ve decided to take a dating break after two years of being frustrated with it.

    I like online dating because it is easy and it is safe, and if you think about the money you would spend on going out to places where men might be, its cheap.

    What I don’t like is that nothing can be taken at face value and I am a face value kind of person.

    I tend to pay more attention to profiles that state the man has a 4 year degree or higher (I have two master’s degrees). I will not respond to a profile who’s author can’t be bothered with relatively simple conventions like capitialization, punctuation, and the spelling out of the word “you”.

    Profiles that tend to turn me off, aside from poor usage of english or mismatched values or interests, are those that are way too long or too clever.

    A profile should be a brief introduction. This is who I am, this is what is important to me, this is what I like to do, this is who I am looking to meet.

    If it reads like a short novel, lists every single book or movie the person has read ever, or works too hard at word play, I am not interested. Those profiles make it seem like it would be hard work to be around that person. If you have a sense of humor, that’s something that should come out in person, not on the page.

    Just my two cents.

  7. T
    Twitter: tsquest

    I agree, the picture usually gets the attention. It’s been a while for me but that’s what I thought was cool about Facebook. That’s how I reconnected with my guy. From there I could see his friends, pictures from his life, his status updates… Yes, it didn’t tell the whole story but the good parts looked REALLY good.

    Creating an online profile is like writing a cover letter or resume. Very challenging to get someone’s attention!

  8. Eh, I say be honest. The person that likes your profile will then like YOU. The people that don’t like it, are turned off by it, aren’t the right one for you. I say if your friend is energetic and bubbly and like to lie at home in her LBD, then she should write that.

  9. Linda Reed says:


    I had a profile picture of me golfing…I met a man who doesn’t golf and we are extremely compatible. Chemistry?


  10. KC says:

    I met my GF (using abbreviations, bad for profiles)on Yahoo. We knew each other in High School but she wasn’t my type… to straight! We also have mutual friends so that helped a lot as well… BUT,
    I kind of miss on-line dating… the chase, the connecting, the journey and then the conquest… (new SEX) I loved it!
    I always looked at the pic first. No picture, I wouldn’t even read the ad.
    I did an experiment when I lived in Sac. I posted a very sexy picture, Came up with a Hot straight forward headline and then basically said I had lots of money and just wanted SEX but in a tasteful way… I got more hits from more women! 1500 in one weekend and many were ready to meat… and I spelled it that way on purpose..LOL…
    I didn’t go out with any of them. They weren’t what I was looking for but I thought it humorous that all these women that had such nice pics and profiles were really only interested in the MONEY and if they had to have sex to get it… they were up for that too.

    My girlfriend and I are an exception to the rules… we have a great time and the sex is pretty incredible too!

    Tell Sara to be honest, post a nice picture and don’t sound like she wants to break the bank and a good guy will come along…
    BTW, my GF picked me out and contacted me… that was a big plus!


  11. @KatWilder debates #onlinedating profiles: what's YOUR hook?

  12. Steve says:

    The picture gets me to read the profile. I look for things in common we can have fun talking about in the profile. If that isn’t in the profile I move on. I try to show rather than tell about myself in my profile. Instead of typing a sterile, general sentence like “I like to cook” I might add paragraph about my opinions of a cookbook I am working with.

    I get (non-positive) amusement with how bad some people are about lying about their age. I heard that most people lie about their age on online sites, but I never thought of it until I got on as I look pretty decent “for my age” and I am looking for a GF about my age.

    All of the sudden I found myself frequently thinking

    “Wow! Does that woman look like **HELL** for 40”

    Then I remmembered

    “OH!! People lie about their age here, frequently. Maybe she is really 55 and has no sense about what she could really pass for”

  13. Steve says:


    I have a lot of higher education under my belt. I also have some Master’s work. I have never mentioned that online, nor have I ever mentioned my income. FYI

  14. brian says:

    you need to distinguish yourself from the pack
    i once said the relationship i most sought was less ozzie and harriet but more gomez and morticia adams

  15. Edgar says:

    Clever is always good, with a bit of wry humor thrown in. And enthusiasm – which it sounds like Sara has in spades. As for the trite phrases, I would suggest offering examples of things she likes or likes to do, rather than flatly stating that she’s comfortable in flip-flops (who isn’t?) and a LBD (she could say she likes Wagner or Puccini, which gives more information and requires a LBD, so it goes without saying.) And like your other readers, when I wrote my profile for online dating, it was a good opportunity to try to focus on why my friends and former lovers really liked me, rather than all those things I hadn’t done that I really yearned for. I hope that was why I got the responses I did, but it could have just been the photo with those cute mutts I used to have.

  16. alley` says:

    @steve I don’t really look at income, I have a decent job and support myself and my kids. Education may not be mentioned, but it shows in how people talk. “i juss a good old boy i like hunting and 4weeling and being outdoors” is a very common profile. And that’s all they write. They might through in “i work at (local dead end factory) i want a nice gilr to be with”.

    Its not the factory so much that is a turn off, its the fact that this person clearly didn’t even bother to use basic six grade writing skills.

    Of course, I’m still single, so what do I know?

  17. Steve says:


    Someone with a picture holding up a fish is an instant disqualifier for me too 🙂

  18. Kat Wilder says:

    Jim — I’ve always loved long hair on guys.

    Chopper Papa — You are right; we all tend to start — and stop — at the picture. So you’d think people would pay better attention to that!

    Mac — You know, it’s funny — our own perception of ourselves, our “honesty,” isn’t always exactly who we are. We’d be more honest if we asked our friends, so, what am I really like?

    Terri — I liked it, too! But, yes, finding that balance balance between cute and self-deprecating humor … now there’s the rub!

    Alley — Misspellings, even with spellcheck! Inexcusable. Funny that the clever ones turned you off; too slick?

    T — I am positive Facebook is gearing toward being the new online dating go-to place. In a way, it makes sense because you are really presenting yourself, and your friends are adding to that by their comments. Is that more genuine?

    lifebeginsat30ty — I wonder what “bubbly” will attract. Clowns? 😉

  19. M says:

    I did an extreme version experiment involving online dating profiles and what people are looking for a few years back:

    Here were the (rather unscientific) results

  20. Edgar says:

    M – thanks for the reference to that excellent experiment down under. The replies to “normal girl” notwithstanding, perhaps it shows that we males of the species are not all that far removed from the chimpanzees from which we descended. Of course, the primary mechanism that female chimpanzees use to maintain social harmony in the troupe is to mate with any willing male, so I suppose the chimpanzee part of us expects women to naturally be “naughty girl” and thus to respond early and often when women so much as suggest such behavior. Ah, the perils of biology…

  21. alley` says:

    I think that’s it, the ones that are overly slick turn me off. I tend to be a straightforward person. I don’t know if that’s the “plain spoken Midwesterner” in me or if its just me.