Stop Lying in Your Personal Ads

Consider this your personal memo: it’s time to be honest about yourself and what you want, starting with your personal ad.

This might not be about you. Maybe you don’t even have a personal ad. You’re not even looking, you swear: not for love, or an LTR, or a no-strings encounter. But maybe this is for you. Maybe you are looking, and you’ve got an ad, and you are bracingly honest in it, in every single way, down to the live webcam feed of you in your work cubicle proving that you are who you say you are. (I’ll be writing another article for you, TMI guy.)

But! There’s a chance that you are already lying in your personal ad and that you don’t even know it yet. If someone has sent you the link to this article, maybe this is your memo:

Date: Today
From: Me
To: You
Subject: Your Personal Ad

You are lying in your personal ad, and it’s time to stop.


These are the top four ways I see you lying in your personal ad, and how to be more forthcoming. Far from scaring off the right person, the one who is right for you will accept you for who you are right now, even if you don’t look as good as you think you used to.

1. You don’t look like that.

How old is that picture? Only a few years old? From some people’s perspectives, you’re only “a few years” old, buddy. Life is short and “a few” is a relative measure. If the picture you’re using is “from the summer you were fit,” and you can finish that sentence with something like, “before I got hurt, quit that sport, and my wardrobe narrowed to pants with elastic waistbands,” you’re living in the past, and that picture is of a ghost. That’s not you, any more, and if I can’t tell from discrepancies in your ad* that your picture is a lie, I will find out when we meet.

*And we know what your age is, unless you’re lying about that, too: if you look 24 in the picture and OKCupid says you’re 31, I can tell the difference. You’re not a young-looking 31: you’re a 31-year old who’s afraid to update the image of himself from his mid twenties. Take a new picture.

2. You don’t do those things.

Stop lying about all of the sports you play, and activities you regularly participate in. You selected some check boxes: that’s the only activity I can be sure you have partaken of lately. You sound like an energy drink ad. There’s no way you earn a living, do all that, and have time to write your own personal ad, much less date me. (And if you don’t earn a living, then what is it, do your parents support you? Did you invent silent velcro for NASA? How you keep body and soul together reveals character traits.)

3. You do do those things.

Quit being coy about your daily habits. If you wake up, smoke a cigarette, roll out of bed, go to the bathroom, inject some heroin, and start the coffee grinder, you should not leave “Drugs” unchecked in your personal profile, as if it’s not a relevant question. It’s how you start your day: it’s relevant. Come out about being a druggie. Maybe you’ll meet another druggie and you can shoot up together: at least you’ve got something in common.

I’m just saying, if you’re good with your scary lifestyle, be up front about it or change it. Don’t front like you’re straight edge. If you’re doing it to change yourself, that’s wrong because people are not your tools, to be used without asking their permission to use them that way. If you’re doing it because you’re ashamed of what you do, well, at least you know why you’re lying. Now stop lying. Please.

While we’re talking with radical honesty, include those other things that you consider just part of a day’s living. Maybe your life is boring, but it’s specific to you and it pleases you. Describe it so I understand why it matters that you use exactly thirteen books to prop up your microwaved Swanson dinner in front of you while you game. How many hours a day do you play that game? Your future prospective partner wants to know. If your idea of the consummation of a successful first date includes knives and watersports, you owe it to yourself to tell prospective dates this, or it’s going to be a long string of disappointing first dates, in which you edge closer to telling your secret until you really like this person and are afraid of losing their interest. When the stakes are that high, it’s hard to do this calmly and well. So do it now, while you’re alone at your computer screen. What are the things you do every day? What is it you always hope you’ll get to do with someone you’re attracted to? What do you hope to do every day with someone you’re in a relationship with? You can save your ideas of special occasions** for later; this is about finding compatibility at the 24-hour level.

**If it’s “candlelit dinners and long walks on the beach,” it’s time to update your game.

4. You neglect to state the obvious.

This is a lie of omission, and it’s more of a pain in the ass than the kind of thing that may suddenly truncate a first date, but it will help you write a better ad if you avoid leaving out the very important, possibly obvious facts.

Consider the typical user of the site you’re placing a personal ad on. Are all of the ads clumped together, or can you filter them? If they’re all listed together, you should specify the most basic info in the subject line, so the right readers will know that clicking your ad will give them someone who is at least in the right categories. Are you a man or a woman, or is some other gender category more relevant for your ad? Are you looking for a man or a woman, etc.? Only you know. The point is to think about basic categories that your intended will use to look for you. If the site lets you filter for facts like age and location, concentrate your subject on the next tier of important things to know about you and what you’re looking for. “Looking for love” might not be enough info to convince someone to click, no matter how much the search results are filtered, whereas a more specific subject line like “Contra dancing Manhattan man seeks woman 40-55 for Thai food, geocaching, LTR” is compelling to exactly your target audience, while allowing others to scroll on.


Remember, the point isn’t to make lots of first dates that never go anywhere because you disappoint upon meeting. It’s to create the most appealing truth in advertising, that draws the small audience of people who think you are great, right now.


Read more: Boys in the Friend Zone

Image credit: Matt Erasmus/Flickr

About Justin Cascio

Justin Cascio is a writer, trans man, and biome. His most recent publication is a short memoir, "Heartbreak and Detox," available on Kindle.
You can follow him on Twitter, Google, and Facebook.


  1. Being a woman, I just have to say that sometimes it’s actually NICE to not have everything 100% truthful when coming across an ad. There’s a fine line between being honest and being brutally honest. Don’t do yourself injustice by laying too much on the line – let some things slide so that you can fill in the details later 🙂

  2. He clearly isn’t serious about this. He’s just trolling his own column. He knew what kind of reaction would get, and that’s why he’s all over the place talking about a false dichotomy between ‘honesty’ and ‘brutal (actual) honesty’.

    Either you think people should state what they do, or you don’t. There are few things in life that are black and white, but honesty is one of them. You are either fully honest, or you’re not being honest. Because that’s what the word ‘honesty’ means. Honesty is not a spectrum. Any attempt to add a modifier or qualifier to that word nullifies it.

    Also, if we’re going to be like this, women shouldn’t be allowed to wear make-up in their pictures. It only takes about three minutes googling ‘make-up tutorial’ on the internet to figure out that make-up lies like a MoFo. If a man can’t pretend to be more awesome than he is, then a woman shouldn’t be allowed to pretend to be prettier than she is. Fair is fair.

    (Note: that last part is mostly a joke. Because this guy has clearly been sleeping under a rock for all of mammalian existence. “OMG, you mean the males put on a front to win female affection! That simply cannot be!”)

  3. Icelander says:

    Men lie about their height women lie about their weight.

  4. I just wish people would put what they’re looking for in their ad beyond “a nice guy” or a “nice girl” or the ever popular “loyal” when really typically people (men and women) do have a myriad of other things they’re judging their potential mates on. If you want a tall, leggy blond and won’t accept anything different say it so those of us who aren’t that tall leggy blond don’t waste our time. If you have wiggle room don’t say it but if that’s a deal break for you put it out there. The best ads I’ve seen from men detail what they are looking for in both a relationship and the partner including physical traits women must have or must not have.

    • Anonymousdog says:

      People use vague or cliche terms to describe what it is that they’re looking for because
      1They’re not really sure what it is they are looking for;
      2 They feel that if they are more specific, they will get fewer, or no responses at all.

      Online ‘dating’ is about getting responses. If you get NO responses at all, your honesty is beside the point.

      • The ones who don’t know what they want I get but I am talking of those people (men and women) who have a list of absolutes already in their mind. Yeah you’re going to get less responses to put that in the ad but really you’re also saving your own time and others. If you absolutely will not accept anyone else than a leggy busty blond then say it. If you’re not sure hten don’t say anything. If you are religious and absolutely will not tolerate anyone non-religious say it. If you are a fit person and absolutely will not accept someone over weight say it.

        Less responses but lets be real, if you have these absolutes that you will not bend on anyways the people who do not fit your absolutes are wasting your time anyways.

        • As Dave Barry suggested, personal ads should always very specific about what you are seeking, as in

          “SEEKING a 5’8” 23-year-old blonde Capricorn woman of Croatian ancestry weighing 109 pounds and having a degree in cultural anthropology from Duke University.”

  5. Justin, you’re a great guy but I can’t agree with you here. “Be honest” is up there with “be yourself” on the list of bad dating advice… the kind of stuff guys get from their moms, guaranteed to result in failure.

    NEVER take dating advice from your mom; she already likes you. Listen to your male relatives instead; they’ll tell you that what matters is “be interesting, be confident, be aggressive and take charge of the situation.” That’s what works.

    “Be yourself and be honest” only works if the girl is already attracted to you for other reasons. That’s why your mom says it; she’s not lying, she’s just describing what she likes about someone she already knows and loves!

    • Since I wrote the article already, do I have to tell you I disagree with you? I know what has worked for me and what I look for in others. If you find honesty is a wood-killer, then seek out liars to date. I like to have sex missionary style, and am looking for someone who isn’t going to use the opportunity to put a knife in my back. So when I’m looking for someone to have sex with, I look for people who give me every indication that they’re decent and kind as well as fun and sexy. Good people apply their values wherever they are, even on Craigslist.

      A final note on my attitude about honesty, while I’m being so completely honest with you: Moms vary widely, of course, as does their advice. This one didn’t bother to lie to his kid about Santa Claus. My mother called that brutal. She’s the reason I’m in therapy. Who’s brutal?

      • So, you’re seriously saying that anything less than total, 100% all-cards-on-the-table-from-day-one honesty is a sign that someone’s going to stab you in the back? Sheesh. A bit of hyperbole going on here, no?

        I’m not saying honesty is bad–I’m saying it’s not USEFUL. It’s not the most important element to include in a dating profile, because it doesn’t help make your case. Saying “be honest is the #1 rule” is like saying that a good font choice is the #1 rule for writing a resume. Sure, it matters… but that’s not what the reader’s looking for.

      • Justin: Without getting into to personal things, aren’t you gay and in fact date MEN, if this is true, have you considered that perhaps MEN look for different things than women do when ‘scoping out’ a mate / hook up etc.

        Since you are writing on a men site a fair number of men are looking to date women (though not all). Your advice to men about dating women might not be the same as advice to men about dating other men. Just a thought

  6. @ Jules- You aren’t missing much online except a waste of your time. I also find meeting and talking to
    women in person much easier and more natural. Online, you run smack into someone’s list of expectations before anything else which leads to all the lying and misrepresentation in the first place.

    @ Joan- Some men are lazy, but more men have realized that what you write and how you write has
    very little to do with how successful you’ll be in meeting someone. I’ve spent many hours writing thoughtful relevant profiles and messages, but many of us haven’t seen any return on that investment. This doesn’t mean we should stop trying, but realize that it gets old quickly.

    @ Justin- I will admit that I’ve lied a bit (choosing words carefully sounds better) and I’ve been very honest. In my experience, lying can get you in the door, and honesty lands you on your ass (inside and out). The most effective strategy I’ve seen with people:

    Bend the truth until someone is emotionally invested, then slowly peel away the deception.

    This is what I’ve seen work more often than not. It’s not my choice, and it’s morally questionable, but it’s
    effective. I guess for many people being able to participate beats waiting it out for “special”.

    • Trip – in all fairness, I don’t care for e-dating either, but some people find success. I signed up for a month out of curiosity about a year ago and that satisfied my curiosity.

  7. Many profiles read the same. ‘I’m nice guy, looking for a nice girl’ and include a list sports or hobbies, but don’t say much about him. It’s nice to allude to those things, but I like the profiles with something unique about the man behind the profile. I can get a better flavor of who he is, if he takes a stand on something or says something about his character. I suspect, men would probably have more e-dating success if they add personal qualites.

    The profiles that stand out include qualities about what he is normally complimented on his life. Such as, he’s always called ‘adorable’, because of his Winnie the Pooh waistline or he’s always complimented for being ‘dependable’, because he’s never been late to work. If people are complimented on things routinely in their life, that’s part of their character and it’ll show up eventually when dating somebody.

    The fun profiles are ones with too much emphasis on his last relationship disaster. I can read through the hostility or heartbreak and I can tell when a man is not ready to start dating yet.

    • That’s great advice, Joan. I’m going to take note of these for that article on TMI in your profile. Bitterness about your ex? Check.

      • Yes, some men have some fresh wounds and heartbreak and 6 paragraphs later, it’s pretty clear he’s still dealing with things.
        Getting back on the horse right away is not always the best course of action.

    • @Joan….

      I have never done online dating. But, I hear it is a nasty world, indeed.

      I don’t know why someone would say they are 6’0″ tall when in fact they are 5’6″. Like she is not going to notice? Give me a break!

      I just do not find it hard to meet women and talk to them. Some women are hesitant. Hey, just move on to the next one!

      But, I guess it is my disarming nature. I grew up in the Deep South and no one is a stranger in my world. I met a local police woman last week coming out of a local Wawa market. I complimented her on her hair. I was recently done and very pretty. We chatted for a 15 mins. I communicated my interest with body language. She is not dating anyone. We exchanged numbers and email address. Our first date is tomorrow. Now, I think most men are intimidated by a female cop. Many guys think they are lesbians…..

      Now to me, talking to a woman is not hard at all. I make them feel comfortable. I asked them questions about themselves. I have not found many women who do not like the focus of attention NOT to be on them. It’s like the Socratic method. Let them do MOST of the talking. But, you have to be stimulating too. Bring humor and jokes. Tell some good stories. Be playful like you have known them for a year. That how I do it!

      • Jules – That’s perfect advice and good luck on your cop-date. 🙂
        (I was in the Army Reserves several years ago and I know some men are intimated with a military or law enforcement background).

        E-dating is slightly different on the approach and it’s not as scary as people think…for liablity sake these companies use disclaimers about being safe and it has like a built-in fear-factor. If people get beyond that fear and be safe and honest, it’s like any other date.

  8. AnonymousDog says:

    Not to condone lying, but no one would lie in a personal ad if honesty worked better than dishonesty. What are the incentives to be honest? Are there any? You’ll never get a first date at all if your ad doesn’t persuade someone to answer it..

    Whether we like it or not, civil society does not run on complete, brutal honesty. Half truths, white lies and omissions are part and parcel of social relations of any kind. Perhaps I’m too cynical, but I have to wonder just how attractive complete honesty really is.

    • I should mention, there was one man’s profile that was almost too honest. He uploaded 2-3 photos to reveal a long surgery scar on his torso and talked about it in his profile. He was a nice looking man and could have put on a shirt and simply mentioned a scar in his profile if necessary, but he appeared to be very sensitive about his scar.

      • while you have read his profile, so you are better positioned to comment on his particular case. another reason could be that he was deliberately upfront to filter out women that couldnt handle the scar. by revealing, it saves him alot of time

        • thats what i would do if i was in his position

        • I suspect that’s what he was trying to communicate and he may have had a bad experience in the past and didn’t want a repeat. That’s why honesty is good especially about things that are deal-breakers or deal-makers for you. Like he said above, if you smoke mention it, so it’s not a surprise later. Now your heroin habit, on the other hand?? Jury’s out on the one, thanks Justin.:)

          I talked to one guy and he said 2 women he met covered up the fact they had children. I’m sure most women don’t disguise motherhood, but some might hide that fact for various reasons.

    • If you’re not condoning lying ,what are you doing, AnonymousDog? It sounds like you’re justifying lying, and saying telling the truth is counterproductive. I disagree that it’s the best policy, or most effective in finding a compatible mate. Do you have experience to the contrary? What I mean is, have you been in a successful relationship that you got into under false pretenses, and that was definitely the way to go, in retrospect? I’d be curious to read that story.

      • AnonymousDog says:

        I was calling into question your rather extreme advocacy for complete honesty. Omission is necessarily lying? Are you really asserting that complete, brutal honesty is always attractive?

        • Not “brutal” honesty: that’s TMI. But it’s the opposite of brutal honesty to describe your daily habits, IMO, because they are relevant to the person reading it, who is deciding whether they should bother to take the time they would spend watching TiVo’d programming to instead meet you for a coffee. Another way to be brutal is to subtly determine, at such a meeting, whether you think they’d be receptive to hearing what it is that you couldn’t come out with in your ad, but which is such an unavoidable truth about you that it must be told if there is to be a second date (or fourth, or marriage, or wherever you’re hoping this is going); deciding that they’re not going to be able to take this obscene knowledge, and just not making another date. Making it about them, or letting the silence speak for itself.

Speak Your Mind