Dating Profile Tips: How To Write about Yourself

10/05/2012 11:46 am ET | Updated Mar 13, 2015

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By Lisa Kogan

O come all ye single! Our Cupid-like columnist rewrites online profiles to save her date-challenged friends from... themselves.

Something has happened to the prune. I don't know why, I don't know how, I only know that I was at the supermarket one fine morning, minding my own business, when suddenly I came face to face with "the sun-dried plum."

I will tell you right now that I'm a fan of the prune -- particularly when it's in Danish form -- but the prune was clearly not selling. For the prune to turn heads (not to mention meet a nice guy, move to the suburbs, and have a couple of baby prunes) it needed a fresh marketing strategy. Which brings us to today's subject: the online dating profile.

I've got a number of brilliant, beautiful, frank, funny friends, all capable of remarkable things, but writing an enticing online profile does not seem to be one of them. That's where I come in. Some people offer their services in soup kitchens, some volunteer to shampoo crude oil off of sad, gooey pelicans; I rewrite online dating profiles.

It all started when my pal Paula asked me to figure out why she wasn't getting a response to her JDate ad. I didn't have to read beyond her opening sentence -- "I like the library!" -- to know why. All the exclamation points in the world couldn't save that line. "But I was being honest," Paula groaned. "Why can't I find somebody who gets that?"

What I get is that we all want to be loved for exactly who we are. But surely there's a juicier way to bring up your literary fetish. "Dewey Decimal? You bet we do!"

It wasn't long before news that I'd taken Paula's profile from drab to fab spread far and wide (okay, a couple of people in Brooklyn heard). Soon I was averaging 3.5 profile punch-ups a week. I've seen the dumb, the dull, and the klutzy; the bitter, the brazen, and the too cute by half. I've studied strangers on the Web and friends at my kitchen table, and here's what I've learned:

  • False modesty is, well... false. Still, I urged my friend to follow her goddess-like self-description of "an award-winning microbiologist who is Nigella Lawson in the kitchen and Megan Fox in the bedroom" with "I'm absolutely tone-deaf, and I can't ski, but I'd be open to a lesson or two." Soon she was swooshing down a bunny slope with an ophthalmologist from St. Paul. You see, you're better off copping to a humanizing flaw than coming across as too good to be true. (Mother Teresa was too good to be true, and nobody ever saw her having sushi with James Franco on a Saturday night.)
  • My friend Carol, on the other hand, is not one to blow her own horn. "I'm divorced, with a grouchy teenager and an incontinent beagle," she writes, neglecting to mention that she's also a total babe and one of the top labor lawyers in the country. "I wanted to be funny," she explains. Funny is good, I like funny, and God knows I enjoy a bladder control reference as much as the next guy.... Wait a second, I just remembered something: Guys don't like that. Let's save the fact that little Snoopy is in diapers for the fourth date.

  • You see, the key to any good punch-up is to finesse our little quirks. Let's assume that in some sort of misguided effort to emulate Johnny Cash, I once "shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die." A clever tweak might suggest that I "support the Second Amendment, adore the desert, and consider myself a keen observer of the human condition."
  • I review my manicurist's profile as she soaks my cuticles. It says that she's looking for "complete and total happiness." Darling, I'm looking for LL Cool J to feed me fettuccine as we watch an endless loop of "Project Runway." But that's just not how the world works. Complete and total happiness comes in quick bursts of joy—it's the bite of banana cream pie, it's "Hey Jude" blasting from a car radio. Forget complete and total happiness; look for somebody who wants to meet you for a drink, and just see what happens.
  • Indeed, there's a lot to be said for keeping things simple. But please note, simple doesn't have to mean dull. The rules governing what's considered too slutty these days have come unraveled faster than Amy Winehouse on a six-pack of Red Bull. I have a coworker who swears she would not be the happily married woman she is today were it not for three magic words she tucked into her online profile: "horny and attentive." Now, would I tell a group of online strangers that I'm horny and attentive? No, but that's because I have a tendency to be "cranky and oblivious." The point is: Sex, like the sun-dried plum, continues to sell.
  • Cousin Arleen wants to start a family. How do I know this? She mentions it in three different places on her profile. Say it once if you feel you must, but wait for an actual dinner date before whipping out the iPhone app that chirps when you're ovulating.
  • Another coworker starts her very defensive profile with "Let's get this out of the way right now: I'm short, okay?!" Why not go with something like "I've sometimes been described as a 'pocket Venus.'" Actually, my teeny colleague's touchiness raises another point: When you choose to mention something is every bit as crucial as what you choose to mention. Lunch meat makes me wheeze uncontrollably and break into hives the size of Ping-Pong balls -- but I probably wouldn't lead with this information.
  • The sister of my babysitter lets people know right off the bat that "the cats I cohabit with know I live only to serve them." Oh, crazy, crazy cat lady, where do I begin? What your cats actually know is that mice are a tasty treat, that there's nothing better than a long nap on a squishy cushion, and that Katherine Heigl doesn't make very good movies. Of course, you can tell interested partners that you love animals, but unless you want to be stuck with a soul mate that hocks up fur balls, you've got to quit sabotaging yourself by announcing to any potential suitor that he will never take priority over Captain Fluffy Paws.

  • One of the women at my gym wants a nonsmoker with a sense of humor and a love of adventure. Fair enough. But she also wants a man who "is punctual, considerate, and into theater." All righty then. She insists he be "blond, highly successful, and able to play an instrument." Hmmmm. She feels strongly that he not "ride a motorcycle, be divorced, or own goldfish." I was a braless 22-year-old when I first began reading her profile. I am now 49; my gums are receding and it sounds like there's a dice game taking place in my left knee. Here's a good rule of thumb: If I have to check my watch twice as I study your never-ending list of needs, then the thing you need most is an editor.
  • There's stuff we know we don't want -- and that's certainly legitimate. But here's how my neighbor presents her requirements: "If you're a closet freak, if you think choking me during intimacy is hot, if you live with your parents, if you're a flat-out jerk, don't waste my time. I've got three kids and I don't need another. That said, I am not a bitch."
  • Well, you could've fooled me. Since when did autoerotic asphyxiation and jerky behavior get lumped in with living at your parents' place? Sometimes parents get old and need a bit of help and sometimes unemployment reaches an all-time high -- the world goes round, my friend. But by the sound of your profile, you already know that. You've obviously been burned (and possibly choked), so go lie down while I attempt a rewrite:
  • "I'm raising three great kids pretty much on my own, which means I've had to give serious thought to the kind of man I want to bring into my life. It's not that complicated, really -- I'm just looking for an enlightened grown-up who is interested in a solid relationship along with a good time. Major integrity and genuine kindness are essential."

Let's review -- the key to this whole online profile thing is really quite simple: Be direct while maintaining an air of mystery; be modest while flaunting what you've got; be flexible while explaining what you need, while keeping it brief and making it flirty and not getting cute; and be yourself, only more so, only not so much more so that you exaggerate, intimidate, or irritate. I know it sounds like a tall order, but if the prune can do it, so can you.

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