How to Decode Dating Profile Buzzwords: Which Ones Really Matter

“It will never work,” my friend told me after I asked her about a recent match. “He wrote that he likes athletic women.”

“But you’re athletic,” I protested. “You’re always hiking and taking spinning classes.”

“But I’m not super toned,” she replied. “That’s what athletic means.”

I thought “athletic” meant “active” – as in her match wanted an activity partner to share bike rides and kayaks-for-two. But my friend allowed the buzzword “athletic” to inflame her worst insecurities about her appearance. As a result, she shut down their communication before they’d even had a chance to chat about their favorite brand of coconut water.

Buzzwords can include religion, politics, sports, and nearly every aspect of a person’s lifestyle. They’re small but mighty concepts in a dating profile – both to the communicators who are trying to convey what’s really important to them, and the recipients who are trying to gauge whether they’re a good fit for them.

Here are some tips on how to know which buzzwords you should pay attention to and which ones have the chance to torpedo a promising romance:

1) Pay attention to language choices

Words matter. Does he describe himself as “fit” or “skinny”? Is she “successful” or “financially independent”? What about “conservative” versus “Republican”? “Stylish” or “well-dressed”? They might sounds similar but have different meanings.

2) Notice where they appear in your profile

People emphasize what’s important to them up top. For example, if the words “non-smoking vegan dog lover” are in the first sentence, they are core to the person’s identity. You probably won’t go out for Korean BBQ on a second date. And you better be cool with a little dog hair on the couch.

3) Ask your match

Be careful not to jump to conclusions without asking for more information. Does being vegan refer to making certain food choices or a broader lifestyle that your match wants to share with someone?

Also, don’t assume certain buzzwords aren’t a big deal. I remember a match who included the phrase “Bonus points if you’re Catholic.” After asking what religion meant for him, I learned that he was very active in his church: He attended mass several times a week, organized his travel schedule around church activities and spent several hours volunteering after Sunday services. It quickly became clear that his match’s religion wasn’t really a “bonus” item. He needed someone to understand his devotion, and he’d likely do best with someone who would join him.

4) Don’t forget visual cues

Is she posing in three photos with a glass of wine? It’s a safe bet that drinking and socializing are important to her. Does he wear a Chargers hat in every photo and include several images of himself at a tailgating or game-watching parties at a bar? You can guess where he spends his Sundays in the fall.

5) Look at character traits behind the buzzwords

Hate beer? You can still admire the passion and dedication displayed by the self-described “craft beer home brew guru.” You can respect the principles of the die-hard vegan or the responsible dog lover.

6) Decide whether they’ll enhance or restrict your life

You can interpret buzzwords as strict criteria designed to weed out those people who won’t embrace a person’s identity. Couch potatoes or cat-haters need not respond! (Alternatively, if you want a travel partner to bum around Asia for weeks at a time, the self-described “family man” is probably not your guy.) Or you can see them as interests you’d like to learn more about. You’ve always wanted to try trail running. You don’t mind a cat purring on your lap every once in a while.

Learning about what makes others tick is part of the fun of dating. It’s also a chance to learn more about what’s really important to you.

Which buzzwords do you think matter?

About the Author:

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate, and Salon.

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