The Story of Us (Should Be Properly Punctuated)

[This is part of a simultaneous blogging journey with Emmy Kegler throughout November on the practice of dating. You can find her post here!]

So you’ve decided it’s time to pawn your Joshua Harris books, set aside those courtship guides, and kiss dating hello. If you’re anything like me, you’re coming out of a culture where dating and flirting and engaging with the opposite sex beyond friendship are verboten. So how do you get from Carpooling and Chaperoning to Riding in Cars With Boys (or Girls)? Where do you even start?

Hesitantly, you may decide to go low key – you’ll create a dating profile online. That allows you to check out and see the best side of a person without eying them in a coffee shop and willing them with your eyes to come over and give you their number. Dating online removes some of the potential misunderstanding and creepiness factors, right? Sure, we'll go with that.

So you start filling out your OkCupid profile, answering questions, and putting together your summary. You think, “Well, I should be honest here and talk about my life and where I come from and what I’m doing and my faith and the complex relationships I have and and and …”

Nope. Stop. You’re about to commit one of the first major problems of the online dating profile: the overshare. I don’t need your whole life story. I don’t need to know where you were born and every single place you’ve lived, what your mother was like, what sort of weird hang-ups you might have, and so on and so forth.

Edit yourself. The point of an online dating profile is to share enough so that we get an idea of you as a person, but not too much that we go, “Whoa honey.” It’s a delicate balance to strike, but here’s a rule of thumb: keep it to threes. Share three interesting facts about yourself in your summary. Do you like to travel? Don’t just say that – tell me that you’ve lived in Japan. Do you have a pet? Mention them – it lets people with allergies know right away. What do you do when you’re not online dating? Do you like camping? Mention a camping trip. Do you do interesting work? Mention that. Choose three interesting things and go from there.

But you also want to make yourself seem attractive, right? So you think, I’m a straight man. What do women say they want in a man? “Laidback, easygoing.” Okay, let’s do that.

Slow your roll, bros. You’ve just committed the second sin of online dating: the cliché

Please please please, avoid generics. If I had a dollar for every man I ran into on an online dating site that called themselves “laidback” – well, I wouldn’t have to solicit donations from all of you for help with my work. Things like “laidback,” “easy going,” “looking for my partner in crime” and “down to earth” are so common they have lost all meaning. When I read those words, I learn virtually nothing about you.

Be interesting. These clichés exist because people like to see themselves in a certain light – and I, like many people, have learned to filter that talk through a lens of “I’m easy going, until something happens that upsets me” talk. Maybe you really are easy going. If you are, tell me a story about it. Don’t just say it and expect me to believe it.

So now you’re wondering if you should say anything at all. Maybe just let my profile speak for itself? I’ll just put up a picture and go from there.

Honey, what you’re looking for is called Tinder. But if you choose to stick with something online, please actually give me something to go on. Be yourself. Give me something to comment on – I don’t need to know every book you’ve read since you were 15, but I do like to have some idea of what your tastes are. If you like Family Guy and My Little Pony, we’re probably not going to be a good match – and that’s okay, because there is someone out there who will be a good match. But you have to give us some information to go on.

Speaking of pictures: I know this is the part of dating online that scares a lot of people – you don’t want to look unattractive or weird, so you carefully choose a select few pictures that you think are good. But what constitutes good?

Make sure I can tell which one is you. A series of group pictures, often with the same people over and over, doesn’t help me know who you are. I don’t know what you look like, so if you must post group picture, tell me which one is you.

Make sure I can actually see your face. After all, if we go on a date, I’m going to see your face anyway. Maybe you have some high-minded idea about being judged on words and not attractiveness or looks – that’s all well and good, but if I’m looking for you in a busy coffee shop, I’m not going to behave like I’m looking for the kidnapper in a red cap in a ransom movie. I’m going to want to find you. There are people who will be attracted to you, but if you refuse to show your face, you won’t ever find out.

If you live in a small community, it can be weird to know that people will be able to spot you on an online dating profile. But having a photo where I can go, “Oh, it’s that guy from college” has prevented many an embarrassing moment for me – something neither party wants to go through.

It’s not hard once you get the hang of it. Your profile doesn’t have to be set in stone, either. You can adapt and change it as your life changes. I’ve had my OkCupid profile for about two and a half years now, and what I put on it now is very different from what I started with a couple years ago. And that’s okay too! Be a person, first and foremost, and other things will fall into place.