Liskula Cohen and Matthew Rozsa look at how men succeed—and fail—with women in the world of online dating.
A few years ago, finding myself in a curious mood, I decided to create two dating profiles on the same site. They were mostly identical—both included information about my personality, likes and dislikes, ambitions, and the traits I hoped to find in a partner. The main difference is that one didn’t have any attached images, while the other included pictures and mentioned my career as a model.
Naturally I was intrigued by how each profile inspired very different replies—sometimes from the same person!—but I didn’t think much of it until I casually mentioned this anecdote to Matthew (my friend and frequent collaborator) during a recent brainstorming session. Soon we decided to reenact the social experiment, albeit with a twist:
Because Tinder is taking off as a popular matchmaking platform, and because it relies almost entirely on pictures to gauge appeal, we decided to base our analysis on how men respond to the “superficial” side of women off of the feedback I received on that specific site. It certainly helped that Tinder has already received notoriety for some of the horrific sexualized pick-up lines employed by many of its users … as well as some infamously juvenile responses to rejection (for one such story, see here). Even though Tinder is disproportionately used for hookups, the fact that Tinder is still considered a forum for dating—combined with the simplicity of its format—made it a great starting point for insights on what does and doesn’t work for men who use online dating sites.
As a way of balancing the positives with the negatives, the lessons have been listed in pairs.
Lesson #1: It’s a turn on when you pay attention to what the other person says.
Lesson #2: If you’re too demanding, you come across as needy and insecure.
We can start with Chris, a self-described “SMART ASS” (his caps, not mine) who introduced himself by calling me “hotlips” and sarcastically joking that he had just had “fun times” getting off a plane from New York City. As I was in the middle of putting my daughter to bed, I responded with “Lol” and proceeded to finish what I had been doing. When I returned, I saw this:
“You might be hot but you suck at conversation … take care.”
Chris’s first mistake was that he didn’t read my profile (where I clearly stated that I’m often too busy to respond right away); even if you aren’t interested in a serious relationship with a woman, it’s hard for her to take a suitor seriously as a man if he lacks the attention span and fortitude to read a few paragraphs of rudimentary information. Aside from just being rude, not reading a woman’s information sends the clear signal that you won’t be attuned to her needs, be they purely physical or anything more.
On the other end of the spectrum there was Michael, who began his message with this:
“I’m also a NY transplant (Long Island) and spent the last 10 years in southern California before moving back to Florida a year ago … The little girl in my profile is my daughter who I have 50-50 custody of. She’s the best!”
While these may seem like small details, Michael received my attention by noticing important parallels in our profiles (both moving to Florida from New York, both being single parents) and by broaching them with me in a friendly tone. As a result, when he later wrote that he was drawn to the self-description I provided in my profile, it felt genuine as opposed to simply a move. In other words: He was friendly. Had we continued the conversation further and he had continued to reinforce that positive first impression, I absolutely would have considered asking him out on a date.
This brings us back to Chris: While a man may think insulting a woman for not responding leaves him with the “alpha” status in that dynamic, it actually sends the message that he is (a) self-absorbed and (b) needy. In Chris’s case, he automatically assumed that the brevity of my initial response must have somehow been about him—or, at the very least, about my inability to keep up in a conversation with him. By responding to this with an insult, he made it clear that his feelings had been hurt, and considering that this psychic bruising had been caused by nothing more than a polite Internet acronym and a moderate delay, it left me with the impression that he would be very needy for my time and attention should things become serious.
From that moment I knew this was someone I never wanted to meet. He may have been tall and handsome, but it takes a whole lot more to get attention.
Lesson #3: Be light-hearted and patient in your demeanor. You will come across as confident … and it can even help your sense of humor!
Lesson #4: If you’re genuinely interested in a woman, don’t put pressure on her. Women are scared of being stalked, raped, and/or murdered by the men they meet online.
To illustrate Lesson #3, here is a letter from a man named Mike (not the same as Michael) that deserves to be quoted in full:
“We have so much in common! Water sports, dogs, etc … okay, sarcasm aside, you should put a little more effort into seducing men on social media sites. So what should I know about you? Criminal history? 11 fingers? (Although that could be interesting). Are you a billionaire daughter of a European nobility? (Again, that could be cool)”
What made this message so effective was that Mike didn’t simply show that he had memorized the details of my profile; although regurgitating that information makes it clear that you at least took the other person seriously, Mike went the extra step by being light-hearted and comical—even a little weird—in his response. Not only was the sense of humor a turn-on on its own, but it showed genuine confidence.
By contrast, we can look at Mark. Our conversation started out innocently enough—he asked me whether I have free time, how many kids I have—and then, out of nowhere, he posed this question:
“Would you like to come see me?” After I responded with a genuinely befuddled “Excuse me?” he clarified: “Can u come downtown?”
Once I made it clear I wasn’t going to drive 45 minutes to see a man I’d never met before, he rudely ended the conversation. The entire problem could have been avoided had he simply read the profile in front of him, where I had made a point of stating that I would not meet people right away. Although he defensively claimed that women normally drive out to see him, the fact that he asked in the first place showed that he hadn’t been interested in my profile—and that he was not interesting to me.
Another big part of Mark’s mistake was that he applied pressure almost right away. A woman will give you her phone number or email address when she is ready; if waiting for that is too much, then the odds are that she is not for you. I have “unmatched “ a few men based solely on this mistake. When the conversation is going well and then the pressure kicks in to meet in person or exchange personal contact information, it freaks me out. Indeed, the one time I did give out that information,, I immediately regretted it, as the man proceeded to contact me non-stop now that he knew he could reach me directly.
Of course, simply being annoyed is the least of a woman’s worries. When it comes to someone like Mark insisting that we meet right away, they also need to be careful about their physical safety! It is dangerous enough being a woman online, thanks to the epidemic of harassment, rape threats, and even death threats that women experience all the time from anonymous men. Without a reasonable sense of who the other person it, it is always a big risk to hook up with a complete stranger who—even if he doesn’t mean you harm—could still endanger you by carrying diseases, living in a bad neighborhood, or simply being psychologically unsound. Obviously many people use Tinder to hook up, but because the wrong kind of person is often attracted to these sites, always exercise caution.
Lesson #5: When creating your profile, think about expressing who you are—not external objects that are ultimately unrelated to yourself.
Lesson #6: If you don’t know how to attract the other person, it’s OK to just be honest.
I’ve always been puzzled by men who include things like sports logos on their profiles. If you are a sports fan, that is great; hobbies are fine, but when all of someone’s profile pictures are sports logos and jerseys, a woman’s natural response to to either think “What does this football fan look like?”, “Does he have any distinguishing personality traits other than his fandom?”… or both. My response is similar when I see profiles filled with pictures of the man’s car. Not only does your car say equally little about your deeper self, but the type of woman those profiles attract are (not surprisingly) women who are more interested in your car than anything more meaningful.
Imagine if the roles were reversed and a woman had five images of designer logos and handbags on her profile. Aside from deducing that she is really interested in shopping (and we know how that scares men), what will you have learned about her? Just like a woman’s material possessions tell you nothing about her personality, beliefs, and deeper personality, a Tinder user won’t learn anything meaningful about a man simply by virtue of his fandoms or status symbols.
And what if you don’t know how to express that deeper self? Believe it or not, it’s OK to be vulnerable:
“I’m very new to this so I’m sorry if I seem lame! Usually I carry on a conversation in person better whereas I’m sure I seem awkward via texts. Anyway, how are you? Anything happening on this drab overcast day?”
This Tinder user, Jeff, was smart not only because he disarmingly acknowledged from the get-go that he wasn’t going to be savvy, but then transitioned the conversation into the type of casual chat I would expect from someone I ran into at a grocery store or at the gym. Even though he didn’t reveal anything particularly insightful about himself, he didn’t need to – simply showing that he could be open and sincerely wanted to talk was enough.
This brings us to…
Lesson #7: If you wouldn’t do it in real life, don’t do it online.
As 7 is a lucky number in Judaism (and symbolizes love, among other things), this seems like the right note to end the article on. Besides, this isn’t a point that needs much elaboration, because it’s basically common sense, although many people forget it when they’re online—not only on dating sites, mind you, but when using the Internet in general. As the Internet becomes an increasingly powerful force in our lives, it’s easy to forget that there are flesh-and-blood human beings behind the text and images we see on our computer screens. When in doubt about how to strike up a conversation, just remember that the person you’re talking to is just another person. While it may not be easy to strike up a conversation with someone you’re interested in dating in real life either, there are basic rules of etiquette that everyone abides by. If you wouldn’t say it to the person’s face, don’t say it to them online.
In the end, just remember that there is never a good reason to feel intimidated. Rejection may hurt, but in the end women are just people like everyone else—no better, no worse. To paraphrase Mark Twain, that may be a great compliment or the worst insult imaginable, but it will help you quite a bit if you hope to find love online.
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Photo—torbakhopper HE DEAD/Flickr