How to seal the deal instead of staying on the hook for monthly fees: three new guides to online dating, five tactical tips for all womankind.
mo better you At 30, after a breakup that involved spotting her boyfriend draped around another woman, digital strategist Amy Webb decided to try meeting men online. And she did: On JDate, Match.com, and eHarmony, she met guys who were six inches shorter or 30 pounds heavier than advertised; who picked expensive restaurants and passed the check to her; and who told her, mid drink, that they were married.
One night, after another bad match and a solo bottle of wine, Webb rejoined JDate-this time posing as a man, to check out her competition. Then she took it further. Webb crafted 10 male profiles so perfect they had to be fake (sample code name: JewishDoc1000) to gather data: what the site's most popular women looked like, which keywords they used, how they timed their messages.
"It seemed strange now, that I'd just slap together my online dating profile, when I'd spent days agonizing over my résumé, tweaking and massaging it to land the perfect job," Webb writes in Data, A Love Story (Duffon), one of three new books about online dating out this month, in which she recounts how she cracked the online dating code to meet her now husband. "Yet here I was, husband hunting and armed with only a handful of half-assed bullet points."
Online dating is now the third most common way couples meet, with 30 to 40 percent of singletons logging in to some 1,500 services. In the marvelously titled Love in the Time of Algorithms (Current), writer Dan Slater tracks a phenomenon that started in 1965 with "computer dating"-essentially a digital compatibility test, dreamed up by two lovelorn Harvard undergrads desperate to meet Radcliffe girls-and mushroomed into an estimated $2 billion a year industry.
According to Slater, it's one of the few business models in which clients' failures are the company's win-the longer we seek, the more money they make. Aiming to short-circuit this cycle, "e-flirt expert" Laurie Davis' hyperprescriptive Love @ First Click (Atria) instructs us in a level of detail that is by turns grating and illuminating on how we should be "marketing our singledom." Here, the authors' best advice on joining-and enjoying-the mixer:
1. Play the Field
"It's important to be in more than one community," Davis says. "It's like being in more than one social circle." She suggests joining one mainstream site (say, eHarmony or Match.com) as well as one niche service, such as Cupidtino, which brings Apple-product obsessives together, or the unapologetically elitist Sparkology (the site's men-but not its women!-must have graduated from a "top institution"). "Changing sites from time to time, and then revisiting, is the best strategy," says Davis. That way, you're always the new girl.
2. Ace Your Profile
"Your user name is going to inspire them to click," says Davis, who suggests a terminology mash-up (e.g., SportySmile). "Never include your name or even initials." Keep your About Me section positive and fun, the way you'd ideally come across at a cocktail party. At first, Webb thought that women who used opening lines such as "I'm a fun-loving girl that enjoys…" and "I'm a laid-back girl who wants…" were dumbing down. But such lightweight openers are disarming, approachable. "If someone said to you 'I'm uncomplicated, generally in a happy mood, and I like to do stuff,' you'd want to hang out with him or her, right?" Webb found that the most successful profiles were purposefully casual, under 500 words, and just detailed enough-specific, but not to the point of alienating someone ("like" HBO dramas, but don't zero in on Game of Thrones). "Desperate women write too much," she observes. Davis cites psychological studies that say the mind can easily grasp groups of three: "So stick to three interests, three words to describe your ideal match, or three favorite movies." Webb advises against mentioning your job, using foreign words, or referring to yourself in the third person. And save the sarcasm: "Instead of seeming witty and clever, those women just sounded angry."
3. Get Photo-Ready
Dating service How About We found that users who uploaded at least three photos received twice as many messages as those who had just one. Upload seven, instructs Davis, who actually specifies the order: "(1) close-up, (2) full-length, (3) close-up, (4) action shot, (5) full-length, (6) close-up, (7) action shot." Webb praises one sought-after woman's photo because "her hair and makeup didn't look overdone, but she had definitely spent time on both." In a study by the University of Rochester, women wearing red were found to be more attractive-yes, that old chestnut-and OKCupid reports that women get the most messages when their expression is flirty and their gaze is directed at the camera. (Men do best when looking slightly off camera.) Webb and Davis advocate flashing a shoulder or a little cleavage-and both stress the importance of good lighting. To that end, Webb shot all of her pictures at the fabled predusk "golden hour."
4. Choose Your Targets
"It's impossible to message or date one person at a time," Davis writes. "At that rate, you'll be dating online for years." To determine which profiles are worth your time, make a list (offline) of what you're looking for-one that is so specific you'd probably be embarrassed if anyone actually read it. For her own search, Webb listed 72 qualities, ranging widely from "Likes cities, hates suburbs" to "Mac person > PC person." Davis suggests eliminating qualities common to "any successful relationship, like 'honesty' and 'trustworthiness'.... Instead, focus on attributes that would specifically appeal to you, such as 'thrill seeker'."
5. Beware of Red Flags
Psychologists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison found that online daters who used fewer first-person pronouns-presumably to avoid spelling out who they really are-were more likely to be lying. And, according to Davis, when a man says "I hate drama," he means he has plenty already; "ready to move on" implies that he's not; the words intimacy, massages, and pleasurable all roughly translate to creep alert!; and "I'm not sure exactly how to describe myself" is code for low self-esteem. And if a profile seems short-like a guy is hiding something-he probably is.
6. Make Contact
Webb suggests keeping messages brief-98 words each, ideally-and individualized to each recipient: Ask yourself, What do I like about him? Choose three new people to e-mail a day until you have a full roster of prospects, Davis advises, and take it off-line quickly-a date should be set up in six or fewer e-mails. "Stop wasting time debating whether you should wait until tomorrow or Tuesday to write back to your match," she counsels, "just hit Reply."