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What NOT to say in your “About Me” Profile

Posting a photo will get you more clicks on your profile, but the text that goes along with it is just as important. What you reveal about yourself on your profile in your About Me section is crucial for enticing or turning away potential mates. Are you saying the right thing?

It is widely accepted that there are two things you have to be ready to do if you are going to go online looking for your soul mate, or even just a date: Post a photo of yourself, and describe who you are. Each of these can be daunting, for many reasons. Primary among them, in my view, is that both tasks have multiple and competitive goals. On the one hand, you want to portray yourself in the most attractive manner possible. After all, by definition, you are trying to attract someone. You may be hoping that suitors will read your profile and reach out to you, or that when you send a message to someone you are interested in, he or she won’t read your profile and post it in a “can you believe this??!” blog or e-mail it to friends.

On the other hand, if you are like most people, you also want to represent yourself honestly. Although stories both true and mythical abound about the lack of honesty among dating profiles and online daters, I can personally attest, based on my own reading of some tens of thousands of profiles and my contact with several thousand married couples who have met using such profiles, that people are for the most part honest to a fault in their profiles. The problem is that many people honestly don’t know how to describe themselves.

Now, acquiring a photo of yourself that is both (a) the most attractive and (b) the most honest representation of what you look like goes far beyond the scope of mere science. The science of human attraction would suggest that you want to find a photo that gives you as young and symmetrical an appearance as possible if you are a woman (bilateral symmetry being an indicator of health and fertility that we are evolutionarily predisposed to seek in a mate), and as wealthy and symmetrical as possible (along with genotype dominant, i.e., brown eyes, dark hair and a strong jaw and brow, if you can manage) if you are a man. Sadly, I don’t know of any science that explains how to make such a photo an honest representation of yourself if you are 40-something, fair-skinned, somewhat lopsided and bald, like me. So we will leave you to your own devices (and conscience) with regards to your photos, and hope that things work out for the best.

Similarly, we cannot hope to tell you what it is that honestly makes you who you are (without seeing your answers to a couple hundred questions that we may have already asked you to answer). Also, it wouldn’t be helpful for us to tell you what concrete observations could be made to raise the chance that a profile will generate communication (we do want you to be honest). However, we can help you with something perhaps equally important: what types of things should you try NOT to say when describing yourself honestly and enticingly. Yes, science is ready to weigh in, if not heavily, at least helpfully, we hope, on the subject of what types of things seem to be dampers when it comes to eliciting communication via an online profile. The list is perhaps surprisingly brief.

Thing 1 Not to Say: Anything that you can’t Spell or Punctuate Correctly

This may seem a bit Miss Crabapplish, or Felix Ungerish, or whatever current entertainment icon represents OCD behavior, but the single most common complaint from women about men’s profiles is that they are misspelled and/or illiterate. I’m not sure if this represents an evolutionary bias against stupidity, but there is a notable gender bias here. So, gentlemen, if you want to make the least amount of effort that is most likely to increase your profile appeal, reread it for spelling. If you truly can’t spell, I recommend that you cut and paste your profile sections into a word processor or e-mail application with a spelling feature and then return the corrected results—although watch for synonyms if you do this. If you don’t know what a synonym is, you don’t need to worry about this.

Thing 2 Not to Say: Most of the Details

Your profile is your first impression. This means it represents you saying hello to a total stranger. You therefore don’t want it to say things about you that you would say only after three hours and three bottles of wine. Let’s use some more metaphors here. Your profile is the cover of your book. You want it to interest a potential reader without giving all the plot points away. Your profile is even a bit like a resume. You want it to make the reader think that you are capable and qualified without thinking that you are self-aggrandizing or reaching for straws. Where does the science come in here? Well, the second biggest complaint we hear about user profiles is about what we call “subjective incompatibilities.” These are things that are mostly too soft to quantitatively model. However, taken as a group, one thing becomes clear very quickly when reading these complaints: Things that would never cross the threshold for being “deal-breakers” once two people are dating are very often described as the reasons why a match is totally unsuitable.

Thing 3 Not to Say: What you Hate

Keeping with the big-picture theme we started in Thing 2, the emotional tone of your profile is very important. People are turned off by negativity and judgmental attitudes. Your profile isn’t your blog. If you like to rant about what you hate about politics, or people with pets, or cell phones in elevators, your profile is NOT the place to do it. Similarly, one of the reasons that we separated the “Must Haves and Can’t Stands” from the profiles in eHarmony is that saying what you don’t want in a potential partner in your profile can emotionally muddy the waters for someone who is trying to determine who you are at an emotional level. As a rule, leave the negatives out.

Thing 4 Not to Say: Too much about Family or Work

This may seem a bit redundant with Thing 2, but it is notable that too much discussion of your current family or job responsibilities may make it difficult for people who want to connect with you as an individual. There needs to be a clear space for something new to enter your life. Make sure that your profile doesn’t present an image of someone so busy and engaged with other responsibilities that a new relationship couldn’t possibly take center stage.

Thing 5 Not to Say: Something so Vague it might as well be Nothing

A close runner-up to the “he can’t spell” complaint is “he didn’t say anything.” This is elicited almost as much by strings of adjectives and verbs separated by commas as by blank space. If you want your profile to say, “I’m someone you’d enjoy communicating with,” you need to at least manage to express yourself in complete sentences. There’s nothing wrong with making fun of the process here: If you find it difficult to write sentences about yourself, you are in good company. If you’re really stuck, share some of your thoughts about how hard it is to provide a good picture of who you are and what you’re looking for.

One thing that is statistically clear from a simple analysis of the relationship between the number of words in someone’s profile and the number of people who ask that person to communicate: Anything is better than nothing. Although the number of words relates only a relatively small degree to how likely you are to be invited to communicate or have an invitation responded to (about 1% of the total variability in the number of invitations to communicate among eHarmony users), it is still the case that about twice as many people will invite others with around 100 words in their profiles as will communicate with those with only 10 words in their profiles.