How to Represent Yourself Honestly Online
If you’re looking for love online, you face a difficult problem: how do you represent yourself honestly — but in a flattering light — online?
When deciding what to say about yourself, use the Cocktail Party Test.
Writing your online profile can feel like walking a tightrope. How much do you have to reveal to be honest and fair to potential dates? When you’re not sure about what to say about yourself, imagine what would happen if you met a group of friendly strangers at a cocktail party. How would you introduce yourself? What things do people tend to find most interesting about you, or ask the most questions about? What do they often comment about or compliment you on? These are attributes or facts that you might try to highlight in your profile. (Try it! It feels much less like bragging when approached this way).
This test is also a great indicator of what to reveal and what to keep to yourself. Would you be comfortable talking about a particularly revealing detail or fact if it came up in conversation with friendly strangers? If so, mention it in your profile. If not, save it for in-person conversations. (If you’re neurotic about heights or have been through an amicable divorce, it wouldn’t seem odd to mention that to people you’d just met, but you probably wouldn’t unload the details of your psychiatrist’s analysis of your OCD or your hellish, pathological relationship with your landlord on total strangers. Don’t do it in your profile, either).
Similarly, if it’s something about you that you might not mention out loud but that would become obvious in a social setting (like the fact that you smoke, for example, or that you walk with a cane), you should consider including it in your profile. If you would make a particular piece of information available to strangers at a party, you should make that information available to a romantic interest. It’s simply a sign of respect.
Post as many accurate, varied pictures as possible.
The tricks that pro photographers use to create different appearances are also the tricks that the camera can play on you (and your potential dates). Go ahead and post the hottest picture of you ever taken, but for every super-glam photo, post three pics of you from your everyday life. Tips:
- Stay away from the dreaded ‘myspace angle.’ You know those annoying 14-year-old girls who take all of their pictures from overhead looking up into the camera so that you can see both their cleavage and some approximation of what their face would look like if they had zero body fat? Don’t be one of them. If I have to explain why, you should probably stay away from the internet.
- Avoid overexposed or digitally altered pictures, especially those that soften features you don’t like. You might look hot in that Photoshopped four-frame, but she’s going to have dinner with you, not a Warhol of you. Give your date the courtesy of posting pictures that show you as a human being, not an art object.
- Include a recent, flattering (clothed!) full body shot. Remember, if you’re going to meet this person in meatspace, they’re going to have to be attracted to your body as well as your face and personality, and they’ll feel (rightly) lied to if they show up expecting a size 6 and you’re a size 16. If you’re making changes to your body and you feel it’s important for your potential dates to know this, you can address the fact by mentioning that you’re trimming down (or trying to gain weight, as the case may be) in your profile or caption, but don’t mislead or obscure by only posting face photos or images of what your bod looked like two years ago.
- Mix it up. Everyone has an angle that they find most flattering, but posting ten pictures of you with your face tilted exactly the same way isn’t informative. Post pictures of you taken from different angles with different expressions, different locations, and different clothing. Not only will this give potential dates a better idea of your personality and style, it’ll also give them a more comprehensive picture of what you actually look like.
If you have a “negative” physical feature that you think might scare off dates, don’t smoke-and-mirror it.
You don’t have to like everything about yourself, and your online profile should definitely highlight the things you feel best about, but misrepresenting your perceived flaws to people online is always a bad idea. Why? Well, because it’s going to become immediately apparent that you are quite short or have a big gap between your front teeth (or whatever) when you do finally meet your date face-to-face. Masking parts of your appearance not only sets the other person up to distrust you, but can also make for a very awkward first meeting if they don’t recognize you or are taken aback by your appearance. Why put either of you through that?
If you are defensive about your appearance, it can be tempting to be self-deprecating in your profile, but it’s actually very unattractive. It tells people browsing your profile that you judge yourself harshly, and that can make them feel that you’ll judge them just as harshly (turn-off!).
Have friends check your profile for inadvertent misrepresentations or typos.
I met my current boyfriend online, and we waited over a month to meet because we lived in different cities. He accidentally indicated in his OkCupid profile that he was several inches shorter than he was, and I spent the month leading up to our meeting wondering if I would be attracted to a guy who was only a shade taller than me. Don’t let this happen to you (or your dates)!
If you’re serious about looking for love online, you should consider letting your friends take a peek at your profile. It might seem embarrassing, but think about it. They know you well, and they want you to be happy. They probably have some sense for how you function in relationships, and they’ll be able to scan your profile for both accuracy and tone, and tell you whether or not your profile looks and sounds like the you they know and love.
Meet early, and meet often.
This is a key tactic in keeping everyone honest. When you meet people online, make it clear up front that you’d like to meet in person as soon as possible. You’ll find that this weeds out people who are looking for protracted e-mail dalliances or fantasy relationships, and you’ll end up dating people who are willing to put themselves out there, who are honest, and who are truly looking for love. It also keeps you honest, since you’re less likely to fudge when you know you’re going on a date with someone next week (not next month, after you’ve lost five pounds or grown your hair out). It’s also a good practical safeguard against developing strong feelings for someone who isn’t as you imagined them.
The bottom line on representing yourself online:
It’s crucial to remember that you are looking for someone who can fall in love with you, not some idealized version of yourself. If you have a nose the size of Montana, you can hate it with all your might, but you’re still going to have to find a partner who thinks big honkers are hot. And if you’re trying to make major changes (quit smoking, lose weight, whatever), you need a partner who will be supportive of your goals and your resolve, not someone who is impatient that you aren’t already perfect. (If you aren’t comfortable with the idea of someone loving you “as is,” you should probably rethink online dating, at least for right now.)
You deserve someone who can respect and understand you as you are, and being honest about who you are is the absolute best way to find them.
- Online Dating: Schedule to Meet in Person Sooner, not Later
- Shorter, Fatter, Balder: Men’s misleading online profiles
- Overcome your resistance to online dating
Comment below: How have your dates misrepresented themselves in their online dating profiles?