Reading between the lines of internet dating profiles when you’re a “woman looking for a man”.
I’ve been on internet dating. A lot.
Internet dating is where I met my ex-husband (no regrets — we’ve had quite the ride); and where I’ve forged a few key long-term relationships. It’s where I’ve met some lovely men with whom I simply didn’t gel; where I’ve had my heart ripped out my chest and stamped on (not literally, thank goodness, and I was wholly complicit in the experience) — and where I’ve had some … singular encounters (a post or two, or three, for another day).
I’ve been on and off and on it again so much — conducting selfless extensive research, juste pour vous, dear reader — that, combined with a fair few years of studying human behaviour and the secret agendas of the psyche, I’ve come up with a fairly reliable list of Things To Notice* when you look at a profile and in the initial stages of an online chat. They’re not 100% reliable. What is? But as rules of thumb they have proven themselves time and again**.
So, without further delay, here are the first three of six (you’ll find the rest in Part II, coming next):
1. Profile names are never random. Ever.
Studies have shown that we humans are useless at coming up with random numbers. I believe the same is true for random anything, and this theory is borne out by those fields of psychotherapy that include a concept of the unconscious. We may think our conscious mind is in control. The truth, however, is that, if the unconscious is taken into account, then we are far from in control. (Luckily, our defences afford us the convincing illusion that we are, so we can go on pretending.)
This is very useful for those of us navigating internet dating, because we are equipped with a very useful piece of insight before we’ve even read a man’s profile description. That is:
Most profile names will tell you something specific, and true, about their owner.
This can be straightforward: it could be his real name, in one form or another. If that’s the case, then that tends to suggest that the man is happy about who he is, and/or happy that you know who he is. In a small, perhaps significant, way, he’s not hiding his identity.
Then again, it might not be his real name. As you can see: not an exact science! But you’ll probably find out his real name soon enough, and you can ask why he chose the particular name he did. And if he never tells you his real name? Well, then you’re either married to a spy, or you had a brief dalliance with someone who wasn’t being honest about the fact that he was committed to someone or something else. (Why else would someone lie about their name? Think about it.)
It can also be a descriptor that will tell you something about his attitude or state of mind. A case in point: I was favourited by a man who messaged me. For some reason, his message disappeared, only to show up a couple of weeks later — at which point I discovered that he had been having a one-way conversation with me, all through that time. Line after single line of messages to which I never responded — which didn’t seem to put him off. It was amusing for the first few lines; then I became surprised, then incredulous, and then I was thankful that I had never replied at all; then I blocked. The messages ranged from innocuous, to desperate, to goading, to plaintive; back to casual, with the suggestion that we meet in a public place so that I felt safe around him.
His profile name suffix? “666”. Enough said.
So pay attention to names. All names are not created equal, and they are an interesting inroad to the psyche of any prospective date. (And while we’re at it: are you happy with yours? Anything you’d change now? I’d be interested to hear!)
2. “Honest”, “No baggage”, “Easygoing”
I’m going to unpick a few of these, while I know that there are no definitives with any of them; just potentials.
Most obviously: without kids. How lovely to call kids “baggage”. It tells me everything I need to know about them and their attitude to love and responsibility. Pass.
“No baggage” also refers to being unencumbered by any psychological issues or hang-ups. Which, of course, is a load of hooey. No-one has “no baggage”, and the ones who say they don’t have baggage are either unaware of it, or lying about it. Either way, guess who’ll be doing the psychological and emotional heavy-lifting in the relationship?
Baggage is inevitable. Those who admit to it are already taking a certain amount of responsibility for it, which is a better place to start than a person who believes — or who wants you to believe — that they’re all sorted. From a psychological perspective, we all fall somewhere on the Sliding Scale of Loony.
Like its close buddy “loyalty”, “honesty” when it’s present doesn’t need to declare itself. If someone is honest, it tends not to occur to them to say they are, because it’s second-nature. Conversely, if someone feels moved to describe themselves as “honest”, I’m willing to put good money on the probability that, somewhere and somehow, honesty is an issue for them in one way or another. (Especially if their name is something along the lines of RomanticRomeo, FunLovinGuy, or, yep, Mr666.)
Such an interesting one, this! It’s like a convenient descriptive place-holder that masks something more complex, and perhaps more engaging. Easygoing is the internet dating equivalent of beige; it’s everywhere. I wonder how many men seeking out women on internet dating know that their “easygoing” descriptor is shared by close to 90% of their male rivals? I wonder if they’d describe themselves differently if they did know? Maybe they’re just too easygoing to care?
And what does it mean? Does it mean they’re passive? Or they’re happy-go-lucky? Are they never fazed? Or does it, like “honest”, mean they’re anything but? Admittedly, it doesn’t ring the same alarm bells for me as “honest”, though I’m intrigued about the truth that hides behind it. We’re all easygoing until we aren’t. What about how you deal with grief, or anger, or rage? Too edgy for an internet dating description? I’d suggest that this kind of ‘edgy’ is exactly what is missing in the vast majority of profiles, and they are the poorer for it.
3. Profile pictures — definitely worth a thousand words
Here are a few associations I have with various picture types (and if you’ve been on internet dating even for just a short time, you’ll be familiar with all of them).
Fishing — “I’m independent. I need my space (away from you). I also want what I do to be acknowledged (by you) as something important to me.”
Up-Nose Selfies — Not exactly sure what this is; but I know I don’t want it.
Bathroom Selfies — “I already live with someone.” (Not entirely joking here.)
Bed Selfies (esp bare-chested, arms linked behind the head) — “I may tell you that I’m looking to settle down with ‘the one’. Just not right now, and not with you. But I’d love to f**k you.”
Myriad pictures of anything but him — “I am being, and will be, evasive in some key way, because there’s something about me that I don’t want to show you.” (Note: it might not be sinister, but it may still become a deal-breaker.)
With his children — “This is a significant way that I choose to define myself, and they will come first.” And there’s nothing wrong with that, if you’re okay with either spending time alone because he’s with his family, or taking a role alongside them.
Beer — “Easygoing”
With a woman obviously cut out of the picture — “I’m not over her. I won’t admit this to you, or even to myself. But I’m not. Also: I don’t pay attention to detail.” (Which, in your case, is a blessing, because you now know something invaluable that he may not have volunteered himself.)
Winning photos for me: at least one that is unposed, looking directly at the camera (in a non-psychopath way); one laughing; one full-body shot; ALL current, or if not current then that is stated clearly.
But this is all moot: we’re all doomed to failure — as explained by the inimitable School of Life in their video, Why You’ll Never Find The Right Person. It’s really quite reassuring!
More next time.
*I’m using the word “Notice” rather than “Do”, because, to state the abso-bloody-lutely obvious, these are my opinions, and while they’ve served me well (the proof has come when I’ve ignored them!), they may not ring quite as true for you. Like any ‘advice’, it’s worth holding it lightly (so much easier to fling it back at me that way).
**Here’s the rub. I may be self-selecting specific profiles, which then only serve to prove my rules because my unconscious keeps choosing the same people. Ergo my rules may only be for me and for people with the same unconscious drivers as me. All narrators are unreliable to a greater or lesser degree. The whole thing is endlessly fascinating.