What’s up, Doc?
I’m (m/28) writing to you because I’ve been struggling with meeting women and I don’t know what I’m doing wrong here.
I’m coming off several years of being single after a bad break up (at least partly because of COVID). I’ve moved to a new, larger city and I’ve been ready to get back into the dating scene again. I thought that dating apps would be the most efficient way to meet women but it’s been nothing but frustration for me (and I imagine for others too).
I’m going to be blunt here: I’m a decent looking guy, I’m no gym rat but I’m pretty athletic and have a sports-oriented lifestyle (off-road bicycling, rock climbing, water sports, that sort of thing) and my ideal match would have a similarly active life. It’s pretty important to me, especially since I couldn’t do a lot of it during the quarantine.
I’ve paid for memberships on several sites so I could see who’s interested in me and, frankly, most of the women who’ve shown interest (swiped on me or messaged me first) are, bluntly, not my type. I’ve read what you said about leagues not existing, so I’ll just say that their lifestyles don’t seem like they’re compatible with mine. Meanwhile the women I’m most interested in never respond; occasionally we’ll match but either they unmatch with me after the first couple of messages or just quit writing me back.
This has been true across all the apps I’ve tried: Tinder, Match, Hinge, Bumble, OKCupid, you name it. Even the suggested matches are just off from my tastes. I’ve had friends look over my profile and they don’t see anything wrong, so I’m at a loss. Why do women who are clearly not a match for me seem to be the ones who are the most interested and the ones who ARE a match don’t want to talk to me? What do I need to do differently?
Right Place Wrong Person
OK RPWP, can we be honest here? I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, but you’re tying yourself into linguistinc knots trying to avoid saying what we all know you mean, and it’s not doing you any favors. You’re saying that the women who swipe right on you are fatter than you’d prefer and the more conventionally attractive women you want to date aren’t responding.
I suspect that’s part of the problem. You know that if you were to put out a “no fat chicks” notice somewhere in your profile then you’d end up getting roasted on subreddits or Twitter, but you also want to wave them off without being obvious that you’re doing so. The problem is that you’re getting the opposite effect; it’s incredibly clear that this is precisely what you’re doing and it comes off as almost a little insulting that you’re trying to disguise it.
Amongst other things, it betrays a belief that fat people couldn’t live or lead an active or sports-oriented lifestyle. I know plenty of people who range from “a little extra” to “nope, just plain fat” who are active athletes, running marathons, who surf, swim, climb, hike, etc. So framing it as being “not lifestyle compatible” or “takes care of themselves” carries implications of… well, that you think they’re lying in some way or that you think that they’re “not caring for themselves”. In some ways you’d be better off if you just said it out loud and took the roasting instead of trying to come up with a more… let’s say “plausibly deniable” way of saying things.
Now to be clear: I’m not saying this to ding you or dunk on you for not wanting to date big women. I believe folks should date people they’re attracted to, and folks are attracted to different builds and shapes. If fat women aren’t what rev your engine, then you do you; it’s the trying to play it off that makes it seem like you think people are stupid and can’t read your code.
But again: I’m not here to try to shame you into dating people you’re not into. I just want to point out that this is one of the things that’s going to work against you. So instead, let’s talk about some best practices that you – and other folks who have a hard time getting matches – should put into effect.
One of the frustrating things about dating apps in general is part of what’s frustrating about the current iteration of the Internet in general: the rise of algorithms that affect the content gets shown to us. Despite what conspiracy-minded folks might tell you, dating apps aren’t in the business of keeping you single and never actually meeting people. That’s the sort of thing that ends up causing people to abandon the apps in droves. In fact, most of them are actively trying to make sure that compatible people actually see one another; the problem is that the AI/algorithm/machine learning processes can’t actually meaningfully measure things like “compatibility”. Even OKCupid’s match percentage is more art than actual science. So instead, they handle matches the way that YouTube and Facebook handle what to show you next: they base your “for you” feed on who and what you interact with.
This isn’t exactly a secret. Hell, Tinder’s even talked about the calculations they use(d) to weight match likelihood. It’s equal parts who’s interacting with your profile, who’s profiles you are interacting with and so on. So if you’re clicking through on messages from folks who are – as you put it – not your type to see their profiles… well, part of what you’re doing is training the app to think that this is who you want to see. The combo of “they messaged you” and your clicking through to look at them sends the signal that this is the content you want to see more of, even if it isn’t.
Think of it like clicking on a YouTube video out of curiosity and then getting drowned in others just like it, even though you don’t care for that particular topic.
So as you swipe and/or respond, you want to be sure that you’re only swiping, messaging or interacting with folks you’re actually finding attractive. It’s not going to stop people from messaging you even if they’re not your type, nor is it going to guarantee that Hinge or Tinder or Bumble or what-have-you will only be showing you your perfect hotties, but it’ll have an influence on who you see and – importantly – who sees you. Because if you’re sending up the flare that says “I’m more compatible with this person” by clicking through, you’ll show up more often in their feed, while you may be in line behind a dozen other profiles on your dream match’s feed.
Of course, every app has its algorithm and they do their best to keep those opaque so that people don’t try to game the system, which is equally bad for business. So another critical aspect will be making sure that your profile actually speaks to who you want to meet. So part of getting the right matches means fine-tuning your profile to attract the attention of people who’d be right for you.
Part of this will be your pictures. As much as we discuss looks vs. personality, the swipe-based user interface that most dating apps have adopted means that people are making snap judgements on your pics, and people who look better in photos (or know how to take good pictures) will have an advantage. But photos aren’t just about showing off your sick abs, they’re also about conveying who you are. They tell a story about you and that story is “this is who I am, this is what’s important to me, this is what life would be like if you date me”. So you not only want to make sure that you use your tightest, best looking pictures, but you want the ones that illustrate the story of you.
So you want your best photo first – a solo picture that clearly shows your face, without too much going on that distracts from you. The other photos should be ones where not only do you look your best, but that reflect you and your personality. You love rock climbing or off-road biking? Show pictures of you looking awesome doing those; get a friend (or even a professional photographer) to help you out if needed. Make it clear: this is who you are, this is what you’re about, this is what you spend your time doing. Make sure that these are things you actually genuinely love, instead of trying to maximize your appeal to a notional audience; as you’ve discovered, it does you no good to match with folks who aren’t actually compatible with you just because you thought that you’d have more results with a misleading image.
Also, keep the algorithmic calculations in mind. If you’re putting things in your profile that’re important to you (like, say, you love dogs), having a picture that lines up with this (you holding your adorable corgi or playing with them on the beach) will help. I’m not entirely convinced that the apps are using image recognition software in their algos, but I’m not convinced they aren’t either.
Next consider how you write your profile. Most folks write profiles that are either uninformative at best, or that are ultimately about saying “choose me, please”. The sad-baby-animal-pressing-its-nose-on-the-glass-at-the-pet-shop approach that I see a lot of guys do is… unhelpful, at best. Even the less pity-bait ones aren’t helpful. Much like when folks take a “I must win your approval” attitude when meeting people in person, a “please notice me, choose me” attitude in your profile works against you. You want to display more confidence – not in the sense of “I’m the tits, you should seek my validation” but in the sense of “OK, I’m looking for someone who’s at my level, is that you? Let’s find out…”
Rather than listing your selling points – “I’m a guy who likes long watches on the beach,” etc. – talk about what you’re looking for in someone. So rather than “I like rock climbing and mountain biking”, say “I’m looking for someone who wants to come off-roading with me or who likes hitting the climbing gym”. Frame it as “I’m looking for a person who wants X, Y and Z” or “I want a partner who does A, B and F”. It’s the same information, but phrased in a way that comes off as more confident, more assertive and less in search of approval, and it’ll match the pictures you have on your profile. It can take time to find phrasing that doesn’t sound arrogant or dismissive, but fine-tuning your profile over time will keep you active on the site and thus give you a slight algorithmic boost.
Incidentally, this will also work to help filter for folks who are more your type. Rather than having some “if you do X, don’t bother” qualifier, listing specifically that you want a partner who’s going to go biking or swimming with you will help you find women who also want those things. And while this doesn’t guarantee that they’ll all be the size you prefer, it also won’t be as insulting to people’s intelligence as your phrasing is in your letter.
But the last thing to keep in mind is that dating is always a numbers game, and dating apps are doubly so. You’re going to get more false positives and more rejections in online dating because you’re putting yourself out there more often. So there will be matches that don’t go anywhere, first dates to nowhere and so on – not because you’re necessarily doing anything wrong, but because that’s just the nature of the beast, and it’s part of what you’re signing up for.
And hey, like I’ve been telling people: the best way to succeed on dating apps is to work on your offline life too. The better your life off the apps is, the better you tend to do on the apps.
I was hanging around with some friends, all of us in our mid 20s, and the topic of red flags came up among the women in the group – one of them being reaching the age we’re at without any dating experience. I can get what they were meaning, they said they’d wonder why no one else gave them a chance and if there was a deeper reason behind it. Another friend said she wouldn’t want to “teach” a guy how to be in a relationship.
Problem is, I’m that guy. At 24, I’ve never had someone accept when I ask them out or had someone ask me out. People seem to like me on a personal level, but even after experimenting with my own style and trying to find a look that fits with me I’ve never had anyone call me attractive or express attraction in me.
So, at what age is it that most women would consider it a red flag that a guy hasn’t dated and how, if at all, should I broach the topic with a potential partner, assuming I get that far? I do feel like I’m already lacking in experience romantically and would need some time to essentially play catch up and “learn” how to be in a relationship. I know that women obviously hold a multitude of different opinions and stances on any given topic, but when will it be generally harder to find someone who’d be more understanding in those early stages where I gotta figure things out?
My Rookie Season
I’m glad you sent me this question, MRS, because you bring up something I see guys worry about all the time. This scenario you’ve encountered – women talking about why they would or wouldn’t date a theoretical guy – comes up a lot and guys without a lot of social experience often take it both literally and personally.
Here’s what’s going on and – importantly – why you shouldn’t take this as a sign that you’re fucked by the fickle finger of fate: they’re talking about Generic Man, not My Rookie Season. When women talk about dudes in broad terms – like someone with no dating experience – they’re zeroed in on exactly one thing: a lack of dating experience. They aren’t describing a person, with a personality and agency, they’re describing a mannequin whose only features are “male” and “no dating experience”. Everything else – like questions of “why didn’t anyone else date them” – are based around their assumptions and expectations that come from this theoretical person having no other characteristics.
What they aren’t doing is saying “wow, I could never date My Rookie Season, he never had a girlfriend and that’s bad”. Why is that not what they’re saying? Because there’s more to you than just who you have or haven’t dated. You’re a whole-ass person, a complex mix of quirks, traits, history and interests; you’re not defined exclusively (or even at all) by how much you have or haven’t dated. People don’t date folks’ resumes, nor do they ask for references before going on a date with you. If you meet someone and you two hit it off, you make her laugh and you all have a great time hanging out together, do you honestly think that she’s going to weigh those good times against “well, he’s never had a long-term girlfriend before” and decide to pass?
More importantly: if she does, do you really think you’d want to date someone who’s going to be that shallow? Someone who would take all the good stuff you have to offer and decide that it means less than how many exes you have? All that’s happened there is that somebody saw one thing about you and told you everything about them.
The same thing applies to the idea of “I don’t want to have to ‘teach’ him how to be in a relationship”. Again: this isn’t about you having (or not having) the skills to date, this is about the Generic Man in their heads, who’s acting in a way that they have completely madeup. That imaginary Generic Man is very different from the holistic My Rookie Season, who, y’know, is a complex and multi-faceted individual. But just as crucually: you have relationship experience. It’s not romantic relationship experience, sure, but you have friends. You have coworkers, You have family. You, in short, have a whole host of people whom you have various relationships with and relationships that you have a hand in directing and maintaining. You may not be banging these people (or at least God I hope you’re not), but you’re still maintaining and managing a relationship with them.
Believe it or not, those skills absolutely transfer. There’re additional aspects to a romantic or sexual relationship that you’re still going to learn, sure, and complexities that you aren’t necessarily going to see in a platonic relationship, but it’s hardly as though you’re coming to dating with absolutely nothing.
And here’s a secret that a lot of folks don’t realize: relationship experience isn’t what you think it is. While having more experience in general means that you’ll have seen more situations and handled more scenarios, every relationship is unique, and part of dating is learning how to be in a relationship with that specific person. The relationship you had with Woman A is going to be different than the one you will have with Woman B. There may be some overlap, or you may encounter some similar situations, but it’s going to be entirely about that you and that individual. There is no universal Guide To Relationships that everyone is expected to follow. Every relationship is kitbashed together from scratch, and you ultimately make up the rules, regs and guidelines together.
So don’t let those overheard conversations throw you for a loop, MRS. They’re not talking about you, they’re talking about Generic Man. You, instead, should simply focus on building your awesomeness and confidence. Not having had a relationship isn’t something to apologize for, nor does it negate your good stuff. Being your best self is far, far more important.
Come to this from a position of “I haven’t dated because I haven’t met someone I felt was worth dating, yet”, instead of “I’ve never dated before I’M SORRYYYYYYYYYYY” and you’ll do far better.
This post was previously published on Doctornerdlove.com and is republished on Medium.
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