A few weeks ago I received a message from a man asking me to send a message back. Five hours later I received another message from him berating me for not replying to the first. Was this my boss wanting work done? A boyfriend wondering where I was? My bank manager getting in a tizzy? No. This was my welcome to the crazy world of online dating.
The message was from a 47 year-old man in Cornwall. I briefly checked his profile. It looked OK-ish until I got to a section entitled ‘You should message me if…’ His answer was along the lines of ‘Women, what do they want? They won’t communicate properly, they never say what they mean’. At that point I had to go to work but from time to time during the day I wondered whether or not to send Cornish Bloke a brief thanks-but-no-thanks missive. I wasn’t quite sure if there was a polite way to say ‘piss off you misogynist cockwombling piss weasel’ but thought I might give it a go. Then I realised he had sent a second message saying ‘why ask men to send you messages and then don’t bother replying, eh?’
It seemed to me, given his behaviour, that I had three basic options. He might have been a manipulative pillock. He might have been clinically insane. Or he might have been a clinically insane manipulative pillock. So I blocked him from viewing my profile and gave thanks for the existence of the Tamar.
It’s depressing to realise that there are people out there who think that because you have a profile on a dating website, you are somehow beholden to reply to any and all messages within about five hours. For the record, my profile did not say ‘Hey, send me a message, any message, as rude as you like, doesn’t matter how unmitigatedly shite your profile is, I will reply within 45 minutes because I am hooked up to this site 24/7 and have no job, nor indeed a life.’ Even more depressing to me is the fact that I’m betting sometimes Cornish Bloke’s tactic actually works. There will be someone out there whose self esteem is low enough that she will send him a message back saying ‘Oh I’m so sorry, I should have replied sooner’. For all profiles are written so that they will both attract and repel – the trick is to write yours so that it attracts people you might find half-way interesting. Oh heck, let’s go mad. You might want to attract someone who is all-the-way interesting.
The profile was one of the most difficult pieces of writing I’ve had to do. (Well word for word it was, the PhD was more difficult, but there was a lot of it and it took 4 years). I’m not good at selling myself, it doesn’t come naturally, and internet dating is about nothing if not selling yourself. You have two choices, a bland and potentially boring but rather safe profile, and a more interesting but potentially more divisive and offensive profile. No, I’m not giving you a prize for guessing which I chose. By going for the more dangerous option I did risk putting off potentially good matches but I figured that if they were intimidated by my profile, they really wouldn’t cope with me in the flesh.
Dating profiles have codes and in the end, almost anything you write is open to interpretation and you might, unwittingly, pick the wrong code. Most sites use drop down menus for some things. The site I was on offered me various options for describing my body type. Well now, I’m neither ‘thin’ nor ‘skinny’. I would describe myself as slim, or possibly willowy, but those weren’t available. They offered ‘fit’, ‘athletic’ and ‘average’ as well. Of those, the first two are possible but not ideal if you’re trying to attract a heterosexual male. I don’t consider my body to be ‘average’. There was also ‘curvy’. Now I have 36 inch hips and a 26 inch waist, there isn’t a part of me that doesn’t curve. But ‘curvy’ is internet speak for ‘overweight’ and I’m not overweight. I considered reclaiming the word but it seemed too much effort, and put the wrong emphasis on appearance. I plumped for ‘fit’ and put photos up instead.
I still have no idea how to write a good profile. I have to confess now that I took the profile down after a couple of months. During this time very few people even viewed it (you’re given lists of who did), so essentially I wasn’t showing up in people’s preferred searches. Of those who did look, the majority did not send messages. Of those who sent messages, most were spam of the ‘High sexi u look gr8, I want to get 2 no u better’ variety. I don’t respond to the barely literate (though I do make allowances for anyone with dyslexia). This may make me snobbish, but that’s my choice. I managed the sum total of zero dates because no-one asked me out and no-one I asked out responded. So, from a position of not knowing what the hell works if you are a straight female, here are a few of the things that did not work for me, from profiles written by men searching for women. Note, these didn’t work for me – somebody else might find them divine and adorable. Or, you know, not.
I appreciate the irony of someone who can’t sell themselves commenting on how others sell themselves. But I will say this—this was not to do with people viewing my profile and thinking ‘nah, don’t think so’. This was to do with people not even viewing, and personally I think there’s another reason that happened.
I’m looking for someone honest and caring.
Really? I’m looking for a dishonest bastard myself. Or not. The problem I had with statements like this was that so many people said them that they became pretty much meaningless. We all, unless we’re masochists or have very low self esteem, want someone honest and caring. And I’m unlikely to think ‘Well I lie and don’t give a shit, so I won’t contact you’.
I am critical and very demanding
Good for you. So am I. And I demand someone who isn’t critical. More seriously, I can’t see who this would attract, however honest it might seem. Being critical isn’t something most people generally look for in a partner, and it may be something you want to a A. Lie about or B. try to tone down a bit, generally.
Regarding photos, do not include a photo of yourself with someone who is obviously your ex, or quite possibly current, lover. And don’t just photoshop them out or cut the photo so that we can see your face and a bit of her arm. We all know that most people on there will have had relationships in the past but really, just get another photo.
When picking a name, anything along the lines of DevonBloke, or, as I like to think of it, ‘I Just Looked Out The Window And I Have No Imagination’ were a bit off putting. I’d rather get a sense that someone has put some effort into a profile. ‘JustANormalGuy’ and co didn’t score many points with me either. I don’t want a normal guy, I want someone a bit different.
I hate filling in these boxes
It’s a dating site. Everyone hates filling in these boxes. Some of us have the brains not to say so. (Don’t worry if you have said this. You may be the millionth person to say so, but someone kinder than me will just think ‘aw, I hated filling them out too’).
I am tall, with brown hair, blue eyes
Yes dear. So are about 25% of the male population. Put a photo up. Use the words to a bit more purpose. I don’t choose my partners based on height, hair or eye colouring. They’re very superficial qualities.
I am a bit difficult, that’s why I’m still single.
Well that and the fact that you make a negative feature of it rather than trying to do something about it or using it as a selling point. In what way difficult? If you have an odd sense of humour, just write your profile in a way that showcases that oddity—there will be someone out there who shares that humour and doesn’t find it difficult. If you mean you expect your partner to do 200 sit ups before breakfast, stop it. If you mean you need therapy, have the therapy and then come back.
Good for you. And what do you mean, incidentally?
I’m quite boring really
Now in places I have paraphrased what people said so you get a feel for the meaning, without me breaking any kind of confidentiality. But I did come across a profile that started with these very words. I didn’t read to the end. OK, that’s a lie, I did read to the end, out of morbid curiosity and to see if he really was boring. The end was this:
Remember one thing, I won’t put up with any nonsense or lying, any of that and I’m out of here pronto
Frankly, if you’re going to say stuff like this, you might as well hold up a flashing neon sign saying ‘my ex screwed me over and I can’t get past that’. It’s a warning sign that you’ve got Trust Ishoos. It’s also counterproductive. Anyone likely to lie to you won’t be put off by it, because they won’t be self aware enough. Anyone decent and honest will in all probability be put off by your ishoos and your making odd demands of them.
Here is my shopping list of qualities you should have
That’s not even funny. Ok, it would be funny, if you hadn’t actually followed it with an impossibly demanding and quite serious list. It’s better to showcase how funny, lovely and intelligent you are than to demand those qualities in other people, without giving them a single clue about what you’re like.
You must be full-figured
Well now I’m not going to chop a leg off to achieve some sort of 7/8 figure, am I? What does this mean? What? What? Oh I give up.
About you: You will be aged 25-38 and will have had either no relationships or one relationship, because you’re serious about finding the right guy.
This was written by someone in his 40s and provoked a definite ‘eh, you what?’ from me. Personally I would argue that if you’re serious about finding the right guy, you might well have had 4 billion relationships because you know, unless you’ve tried every guy on the planet, how would you know you’ve got the right one?
I am 40 and looking for women aged 25-35.
Oh cock off, you ageist twat. I’m younger than you and yet you still think I’m too old. Can you not see the problem there? And realistically, when you have a comb-over, grey hair, a paunch and look every one of your alleged 40 years, what do you think a 25 year-old woman will see in you? Or do you hope your wallet will be enough. In which case good luck, but don’t come whinging to me about gold diggers.
I am 45 and looking for women aged 18-40.
Now I do actually fall into the category 18-40. Still, why would I be interested in someone who has just declared that he cannot cope with women his own age?
And in the end, it was those age-limiting demands that prompted me to leave the site. I was left with the impression that women below the age of 35 were perceived as OK. Those over 45 were perceived as OK by some, generally older men. Those aged 35-44 might as well have been encased in a sandwich board yelling ‘I have left it too late. I want babies. I want babies now. Babies. Give me babies. My empty, gurgling womb is yearning for them. I will steal your sperm. Your sperm I must have. Give me babies now or I will nick one from the nearest maternity ward’.
Now I can well appreciate that many men on dating websites want to start a family and would rather go out with someone a bit younger because they have a greater chance of being fertile. Fair enough and good luck to them. They should probably bear in mind that some 25 year olds don’t want children or might actually be infertile whereas some 40 year olds might be both fertile and want children, but age is a handy filter if you go by statistical probabilities alone. However, what really struck me was how many men demanded that the women they date be younger than them, whether or not those men wanted to have children.
Let’s be clear about this – I’m not making a statement about female behaviour. This is not to do with younger women selecting older men. It is older men quite clearly stating that whilst they will consider a woman 10 years younger than them, they will not look at one even a year or two older. It is a common and well-known phenomenon on dating sites. It’s not about a dislike of age gaps, since 10 years is an age gap, it’s about only wanting someone younger. Unless that man wants children, and arguably even then, I’ve yet to hear a good reason for it. ‘I have a youthful attitude’ won’t wash, since if you can be youthful in outlook at 45 or whatever, it would help if you realised that other people your age could have a similar outlook. ‘But young women are interested in me’ doesn’t work either. If you set your age parameters to include only those younger than you, it’s not that surprising that you get messages from people younger than you. ‘Why should I bother with older women when younger women will send me messages’ is just ageist and offensive.
I’ve dated men older than me and I’ve dated men younger than me—their age and their maturity did not correlate and their age and their attractiveness certainly didn’t. Set your age parameters too narrowly either side and, in my opinion, you risk missing out on someone wonderful and perfect for you. I considered lying about my age to see if that attracted more interest and it was at that point that I deleted my profile. I won’t lie, or pander to prejudice, as this merely serves to reinforce it.
But then I was faced with a conundrum. Away from the internet, men are attracted to me regardless of my age, probably because they can’t work out how old I am beyond ’30-something’. So, am I better off meeting men in real life, when they don’t know how old I am and therefore judge me for who I am, or am I better off meeting them on the internet, where their ageism is declared and I can avoid them and it? In the end, I decided real life was better. I had tied myself up in knots trying to avoid the judgemental, and in the end had become rather judgmental myself. It was not a pleasant place to be.