Five Rules for Happier Hunting in the World of Online Dating

They might not help you meet your soulmate, but these five rules certainly won’t make your online dating experience any worse.

I’ve been online dating and I have not met my one true love, my soul mate, my Prince Charming, my knight in shining armor, or my other half. You may consider this a failure, but by my metrics, it’s going just fine. I’ve met fascinating, attractive, intelligent, opinionated, funny people and enjoyed a ridiculous range of conversation over a delicious assortment of snacks and beverages.

I have a lot of male friends who are online dating as well, and I’ve learned that the rules are a little different for straight dudes. What follows are some suggestions for gentleman who want to meet some ladies from the safety of their living rooms. Caveat #1: I cannot speak for all ladies dating online, I can only speak for myself. That said, my advice is aimed at men who want to appeal to the set of women whose profile features more than a bikini pic. Caveat #2: This is not advice to get you laid.


1. Online dating is not fair. I am a girl and I receive a bajillion messages. You are a guy, and you send a bajillion messages. For every ten messages I get, I respond to one. For every ten messages you send, you get one response. I repeat, this is not fair. We (collectively) are sorry that we don’t respond to every single message we get. Please understand that it can be very overwhelming, and in the mix of presumably nice guys like you, there are a whole lot of crappy messages that include things like “I think we would have hot children,” and “bb u r fiiiiine.” Don’t be horribly crushed every time your notes go unanswered.

2. I can tell when you’re spamming. An inoffensive letter along the lines of “Hi, I’m Josh! You seem pretty awesome and I think we would click! Let me know if you want to chat or hang out!” is problematic because we don’t know that you didn’t copy and paste that into 40 different messages. If you did, smart move if you’re going for quantity over quality, but you can’t be pissed when we don’t find your generic approach swoon-worthy. I would recommend a brief note (a paragraph or so) that introduces yourself, proves you’re writing to me, specifically, and lets some of your sparkling personality through.

3. Be yourself, within reason. Everybody says that they are a “laid back, down to earth, fun-loving guy.” It may be true, but you need to find a more unique way to convey it. Like the old creative writing adage, better to show than to tell; how do you spend your time? What do you think about? Favorite places/people/books/music/movies and why. Here’s the thing about profile honesty; there’s a fine line between being yourself and being a caricature. Say you like Star Trek. Once she’s met you and likes you and knows 100 other things about you, a Klingon pun might not be a deal breaker. It’s just one goofy fact in the grand scheme of all you have to offer. But in an online profile made up of five brief questions and a few multiple-choice answers? That Trekkie joke starts to look like your one big defining feature. Do you really want to be “the Star Trek guy” when she describes you to her friends?

4. Cut down your list of deal-breakers. This goes for everybody. You’re online dating because you haven’t met someone through “traditional” channels. One might wonder if you actually know your own “type” as well as you think you do. Keep the pool as wide as you can, and be open-minded. Don’t draw hard lines unless you absolutely must (you are allergic to shellfish, she is secretly an oyster). Height, race, income, body type…. do your best to relax your “preferences” as much as you can. You just never know.

5. Oh, for the love of God, enough with the pictures! I will laugh at you (not with you) if you’re pictures fit the following categories:

  • They show you from a great distance away, and covered by a motocross helmet, mosquito netting, ski goggles or a snorkeling mask. Anything patently designed to obscure your face will suggest to me that you don’t like your face, and therefore I shouldn’t like your face either.
  • They show your abs, and only your abs. I’m glad that exercise has been so rewarding for you, that’s just wonderful. But you should know right now that if Matthew McConaughey himself posted a picture of his abs as his profile, I would not respond to him either.
  • There are five consecutive shots of you in front of your Mac making variations of kissy-face at Photobooth. I suspect this happens when there are no pictures of yourself you like. The solution is NOT to post half a dozen snapshots wearing the same plaid shirt with your Bieber bangs swept this way, then that way, then with your head tilted down, then tilted up…. enough already. Pick one.
  • They are you and a swarm of hot girls. I can’t decide if your point here is to make me jealous, or to deter unattractive girls from messaging you. Dude, we get it, you bang hot chicks. That might be great for bragging to your bros, but when you’re trying to land a new lady, it just makes us feel cheap and/or inadequate.
  • They feature a bicycle, cat, dog, motorcycle or flat screen TV instead of your face.

Choose a few pictures (say four or five) that show what you currently look like. Smile. Some women are into the intimidating bad boy thing, but unless you are actually a Hell’s Angel, just smile. If you can’t decide, ask friends of the opposite sex and they will be honest with you. Nobody is ever satisfied with his or her pictures. Choose the best ones, and I absolutely 100% guarantee you that there are some people in the world that will like what they see.

—Photo Flickr/Mike Licht,

About Emily Heist Moss

Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works at a tech start-up. She's a serious reader and a semi-pro TV buff. She writes about gender, media, and politics at her blog, Rosie Says. (Follow her: @rosiesaysblog, find Rosie Says on Facebook). 


  1. nO matter whether you’re not used to internet dating otherwise you are yet to given it a try ; properly the fact remains there’s one main problem with online dating and that we will discuss it …Online Dating

  2. Another thing I’ve noticed in photos is the prevalence in the midwest of men with dead animals and fish. My goodness, maybe if civilization had been destroyed and we were dependent on your hunting and fishing skills I would consider this a plus but generally a picture of you and your trophy catch will get you GUY friends, not GIRL friends.

    • Hi Bethany,

      Just want to say that I’m from Darwin, in the top end of Australia and I love a pic that shows guys with their hunting trophies! I even have a pic of me and my first keeper on my dating profile! I love to think I guy has the ability to catch a fresh meal – and it also generally means he has a boat, a big ass truck and likes to get outdoors on the weekend; gotta love a manly man!


  3. I personally agree with all of these comments, though our friends at Okcupid swear (despite the fact that it makes them retch in their mouths a little) that pictures of guys with their shirts off actually get more messages.

    One wonders if this is a quality vs. quantity thing however….

  4. Like Emily, I never understand profiles that have pictures of objects the man liked (bicycle, cat, dog, motorcycle…), minus the man that enjoys that thing or activity. And I agree with her on the pictures of guys that post pictures of them with a swarm of hot girls. But rather than it making me feel cheap or inadequate, it makes me think the man is insecure himself, so much that he needs to validate himself through the looks of women. I personally do like action shots of men doing things they like (motorcross, goggles, snorkeling, skying, surfing….), even if these shots obstruct a good view of the man. As long as there are other pictures that do let you see his eyes and face. If there are other shots of him in more normal everyday settings then these actions shots can be great clues into what he enjoys and the life style he leads. And like Emily, showing your abs isn’t that attractive even if a man has great ones. Unless it’s in an ab appropriate setting. Such as taking a relaxed shot on the beach that isn’t forced or planned. But if its a shot of a man in a dark room with his shirt off and muscles flexed or his shirt pulled up “The Situation” style, it is unattractive. I will add to Emily’s list and ask guys to cut out the self taken cell phone shots in the bathroom. And shots with a person’s face scratched out always freaked me out a little bit. You can just crop the other person out if a man really likes that picture. And the biggest thing for me is the whole smiling thing. I like to see a man smile! I think men like to see women smile too. I see too many pictures with guys trying to look serious and incharge and it’s a bit intimidating.

    Also, I have seen a lot of guys make a list of things about women that they don’t want. Such as saying something like. “Don’t contact me if your a *insert verb here*”… or “Don’t contact me if you think fat = curvey”…Anything negative like that right off the back is off putting. That doesn’t mean you have to like over weight girls. But anything with that negative tone off the bat, in a profile that should be light and fun to begin, projects a negative image. Even to the girls that aren’t like the verb a man is trying to avoid, they are going to want to avoid that person. Any comments about how a man’s ex did him wrong and now he is giving online dating a shot and he needs another woman to restore his faith in all women is also something I’ve seen a number of times and not a turn on.

    Just a few things I’ve seen and my own personal likes and dislikes.

    • Erin, don’t you mean “noun” instead of “verb?” I agree though, the negative statements are off-putting and I say NEXT! And if I see one more photo in the bathroom with your cellphone, gee! I read somewhere that if all your photos are obviously self-shot (like the bathroom photo, the “here’s me behind the wheel of my car” photo, etc.) it signals that you have never spent any time with anyone in a social setting and/or you can’t even find a friend who likes you enough to have them take a few photos of you.

  5. I’d add to the list:

    – Although this should seem simple, a penis picture is not a good ice breaker. For those who don’t: Good. You’d be surprised how many do. For those who do: Stop it. Srsly, guyz. There is a time for racy photos and it’s somewhere AFTER meeting. lol.

    – That zombie parade halloween costume is mighty cool… just not on a dating profile. Most costumes of any kind are probably not the best bet… unless they feature you looking DAMN HOT. But frightening ones, potentially embarassing ones… leave ’em be. So, so, so many guys have weird and off putting photos thinking it’s cool.

    – Write something on your profile. Empty profiles = empty inboxes.

  6. AnonymousDog says:

    “Don’t be horribly crushed every time your notes go unanswered”

    You’re right Emily, that’s not advice to get anyone laid. It also doesn’t make anyone’s online dating experience any worse, strictly speaking, but really, it’s a waste of my time to read such eyewash, and I have to think it was a waste of your time to write it.

  7. That bit about not being the “Star Trek guy” is so important. Not because there’s something wrong with Star Trek, but because those little cues that suggest someone is OCD about something (particularly when they come without evidence of interest in a wide number of other things) is almost always a yellow (if not a red) flag.

    • …like when he has six photos of his motorcycle. Cannot agree more on that one as well. I have a friend who has one of those filter apps on his cellphone and has posted at least a dozen photos of FLOWERS in all kind of filtered glory. GREAT, you like to take photos of flowers on your walk in the park (I know because I have accompanied him on one) but no one online dating cares.

  8. Fantastic article, Emily–thanks!

  9. Great article Emily. We men are very thankful to you and your employers at Ms. Magazine. Together, you provide so much important information on how men can be better men.

    Now go…


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