The Dating Game: Three Things to Never Put in an Online Dating Profile

I have, as mentioned, a rather personally fraught relationship with online dating. Catching too many of my supposedly monogamous partners using personal ads to cheat on me left me pretty thoroughly unable to commit to the process. And, when it comes down to it, you have to commit to the process: you are saying, in effect, that you wish to meet potential partners through a service we've all paid for in order to meet other potential partners. You have to accept that it's a perfectly acceptable way to meet  someone, and to set down and just let go of your hang-ups about it. 

But between (obviously) looking at my then-partners' dating profiles, and trying to see if I could just get over my issues by reading other people's, I've read a lot of online dating profiles over the years. And, although I normally avoid writing about my friends, I'll admit that I spent the last few months helping one of my best friends sort through women's profiles on In fact, I read the profile of his now-girlfriend and gave her two hearty thumbs-up before they went out because she was the first woman who I read about and thought, "This is a woman I would hang out with even if you weren't dating her."

But why was I so down on potential online matches, or some of the women my friend considered dating? There were at least one of the following three warning signs in each profile that screamed, to me, "Don't Date This Person!" And they're summarized below.

1. Don't Bother If...

There are the obvious warning signs—"No Fatties!" for instance—included in this category. But this category also encompasses the people who include in a profile, "Don't bother if you have a cat!" or "Don't bother if you live [in this "uncool" neighborhood]!" In once sense, I get it: You're advertising for The Perfect Person. And, in another sense... I mean, really? If Prince/ss Charming rode up with a cat carrier and offered to carry you off to a neighborhood you deemed uncool, that person should just fuck off? There's a huge difference between trying to explain to the world what works for you, and issuing a checklist for the type of person who should even look in your direction. It's a date, you know? You don't sign a contract before dinner.

2. My Ex Said/Did/Was...

Admittedly, I talk about my exes a lot (hello? I have a whole column about it!). Part of that is several of them are still involved in my life as friends; part of that is that the others often make for pretty funny stories. But there's a huge difference in bringing them up in conversation and laying your issues with them out in an online dating profile. Obviously, disclosing a divorce or children—though, personally, I think they shouldn't matter because a person is more than their history—is pretty standard, but there's a special class of people who want you to know that everyone else who rejected them was stupid. As a casual profile reader, I don't know either of you—but often, methinks someone doth protest too much.

3. The Checklist

Another side of the "Don't Bother If" coin is the profile that reads like a grocery list. It's one thing to want someone with a sense of humor and another thing to want someone between 5'11" and 6'1" who has a specific sense of humor to match his skinny jeans and Masters in history. Yes, dating profiles allow people to be very specific about what they want, but some people use that potential for specificity not to look critically at their dating choices to date and pick out qualities that are important, but to dream up the exact perfect person in their head for the role they want to have filled in that life. And, if you are the person who meets that checklist, great—but if you are 6'2" or have a Masters in philosophy instead, you're probably not going to respond.

There are tons of obvious no-nos (racism, sexism, typos and any half-naked photos are among my personal no-gos and pet peeves), but after reading through hundreds of men's and women's dating profiles over the years, these things strike me as the things dating sites subtly encourage people to indulge in that makes the window of potential partners smaller than it really needs to be.  

[Image via Martin Ringlein on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed]

by Megan Carpentier
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22 Comments Have Been Posted

For the most part I think

For the most part I think this is great. Focusing on who you are and engaging with other people as they are is the way to make meaningful connections. Waiting for unreal ideals is not.

But I also include a "don't bother if..." line at the end of my OKCupid profile. It says you should contact me if "you're not a cop nor a member of the military nor the justice system." It's there because I know I'll have major problems with what that person spends their time doing. Those are jobs that violate my sense of ethics, and I'm not going to make more than a casual connection with folks whose livelihoods are based on violence. So what about when "Don't bother" is about compatible ethics, not compatible neighborhoods?

RE: For the most part I think

Response to Megan's article: I agree, especially with the very last line: "these things strike me as the things dating sites subtly encourage people to indulge in that makes the window of potential partners smaller than it really needs to be". I think that listing categories of people means the potential date will put himself or herself into categories. You might meet, however, and realize they don't fit the category in the way you meant it.

Response to Gabe's response: I wonder how OK Cupid has worked for you. I met my boyfriend on OK Cupid, we've been together since April 2009.

It isn't perfect, but that is a normal relationship so meeting online didn't change anything. If you haven't done so, I recommend answering as many questions as possible. It helped us get a "match" score of about 75%. Nothing is 100%...

match scores

I met my boyfriend of almost a year on OKCupid as well. I agree that answering the questions helps immensely. Even if it's just a starting point for conversation. Re the percentages, my current lover was about as low as I would usually accept (slightly under 70%). However, I had given a lot of weight to the "no more kids" question, and he had a yes to kids. He really meant it more like kids are fine, not like that he wanted to have more. But I brought it up immediately because it would be a waste of time for me to go out with someone who wanted kids with me (I have 2 awesome ones already, thank you!).

I did have a few matches that were 95% and they were more strange than exciting to me. It was boring. It was like I was reading about my clone!

Hmm - Don't Bother with....ethics?

I can appreciate you not being compatible with someone's livelihoods associated with violence, but I wouldn't necessarily include that in a profile. To some it may seem that you are not patriotic.

I'm going to be the second

I'm going to be the second one to say there are times you have to put a "don't bother if" out there. I'm a single mama with two kids and if you don't like kids, then pass on by. That has to be part of my dating profile because I have the kids full time and working around them is part of my life. Plus whoever is with me long term will meet them at some point and become part of their life too.

Kids are important to disclose if they are important to you!

Ella, I agree! Megan writes, "Obviously, disclosing a divorce or children—though, personally, I think they shouldn't matter because a person is more than their history—is pretty standard" she seems to imply that children are in your past and don't need to be part of your profile. If they are a part of your life, I think that's important to say.

One thing that I find really

One thing that I find really creepy is when guys have a picture of their kids as their profile picture. That's nice that you have children and that you love them, but I don't want to date your kids. Not to mention there are plenty of creepers on these websites, probably not the type of people you want looking at pictures of your kids.

skinny jeans

I've spent an enormous amount of time browsing on these sites, too - and chatting. But I live in a small enough city so that it's a little AWKARD - ie, we've found more than a few friends of friends, a fact which is complicated by the rather isolated geography of my city, which is about eight hours to any comparable city centre. I think what put me off was filtering through all the invitations for SO LETS HAVE SEX from much older men with no profile picture, offers of money etc- even though I always want to respond back asking if that has EVER worked. Plus, there is my (pretty unrealistic) but ongoing fear of being murdered.

THAT SAID, I could go for a history MA wearing skinny jeans right about now (In fact, I think you might be describing me!)

I wish you wouldn't post

I wish you wouldn't post these tips. I rely on people showing their ass upfront like this in order to quickly identify that I probably never want to date them. Now it's going to take me longer to figure this out.

That's funny

I get what you mean by that. Really you don't know someone for sure for at least 6 mos. to a year.

I don't see what's so

I don't see what's so problematic about a "Don't Bother If..." section on a personal profile. There's a big difference about saying "Don't bother if you don't like Glee" or "Don't bother if you're X height." vs. "Don't bother if you live outside the [insert city] area. I don't drive so I'm not interested in a long-distance relationship." Why is it so bad to establish boundaries?

I don't know - I guess I see this as particularly surprising on Bitch, given that women are constantly told by the patriarchy that they need to be more willing to get into a relationship. I think some of the reason online dating sites work is they allow you to automatically screen people in a way you can't if you're chatting someone up at the bar. You can know if the profile you're browsing is of someone with problematic politics, for example. It'll take longer when you start with small talk and slowly work toward your values. I like that on those sites, you can make it a little easier for yourself by not wasting time with douchebags.

I think the point here more is that you need to get realistic about what are your absolute nos in dating, and what isn't such a high priority. I remember that in high school, I absolutely had to date a musician. I learned later that that actually playing an instrument wasn't as important as having someone with whom I could discuss my music, and people who were classical music neophytes but were still interested were not people I necessarily had to eliminate from my dating pool. But it's not like I don't have boundaries anymore. I've just replaced that one with more important ones.

RE: I don't see what's so, et al

"Don't bother" is icky. It's icky because it says to the reader "I am too important to turn you down after we make contact" and "I know what I like and you're not it". I think it's important to realize that it turns away a lot more people then just the ones it's intended to turn away.

Taking your example of people being too far away. Maybe some one thinks you're adorable, they live outside of town, but are in town often on business, shows, whatever. When that person gets to "Don't bother if you live out of town because I don't drive" they read that statement as "I'm judging you on where you live. I will not make exceptions based on circumstances. I will not make efforts to meet you half way."

Do you see how that's different from mentioning somewhere else in your profile that you don't drive? If you mention somewhere else that you don't drive, then the responsibility of getting to you is on them. And if they like you a lot or think that you are worth a good amount of effort they will make that effort. And that, to me, is an immensely better filter.

I totally agree. It's not

I totally agree. It's not that you don't want people to know your dealbreakers or you don't want to know other people's. It's just that phrasing them in a "Don't bother if..." checklist makes you look like an a-hole. You can say things in a way that conveys what is important and integral to you without insulting those who are different.

Date Profiles

Thank you for article, Ms Megan, that make Svutlana snort.

In Svutlana opinion, Three Things You Should Never Put in Date Profile should be Three Things You Should Always Put in Date Profile. If somebody be complete douche, Svutlana want for know about it immediate rather than go for date with clever marketer who know that if he say "My dick be like white supremacist" on his profile nobody come near him, even if he play guitar and sing.

That be said, Svutlana be marry and never prepare date profile, so no listen for me, but if ever do will be sure for say Svutlana be regular volunteer for sex research.

warm regard you,

Ah, the dick comment...

If only the media had read a personal ad before committing to John Mayer.

Having children is not just a person's "history"

As always, I really enjoyed this "Dating Game" post. However, there was one point that felt a bit out of place to me:

"Obviously, disclosing a divorce or children—though, personally, I think they shouldn't matter because a person is more than their history—is pretty standard"

Having children is not just a person's "history" - a child is as present as anything possibly can be, and I cannot imagine anything that "matters" much more, in terms of everyday life being influenced by, especially when a freshly developing relationship is concerned (I'm experiencing this myself at this very moment, actually). I think it is perfectly understandable if someone chooses not to live a kind of life in which children are substantially involved, so it's perfectly understandable if they will not be able or willing to commit themselves to a relationship with someone having children in the first place. On the other hand, someone living with children and wanting a relationship needs a partner who is open to embrace this person's whole life and self (as, of course, everybody else does, but not everybody carries such a "distinct feature" like having children). Certainly that doesn't have to mean that a couple must share every detail of each other's life. But as living with children is so fundamentally different from living without any, the issue of expectations (from each other and life in general) will be brought up sooner or later, and having clarified certain a priori basics will certainly help to prevent major disappointments on all sides. This said, there are certainly very good reasons for not mentioning one's kids in a personal ad.

The profiles containing the

The profiles containing the "no nos" you've outlined here are often from people who spend endless amounts of time wondering why they either a) don't get messages at all or b) get messaged by inappropriate or "undesirable" partners. I definitely agree with what you've have written here. Online dating doesn't have to be a horror show! Avoiding the pitfalls you've outlined here probably goes a long way to getting a shot at having a satisfying experience.

I really loathe that most online dating (if you're straight and cisgendered) can be reduced to this: (apologizes for the binary framing)

men: no fatties
women: no shorties

Time and time again, nearly all the profiles I read could be summed up that way. Too bad. They are missing out on some great folks by being so narrow about the physical traits in a mate that could make them all melty. Before folks start with the "preference" chow chow. Personally, I see it like this:

preference = a trait that could be true of anyone
prejudice = a trait that can be only true of some

It's fine to roll however you wish, but let's stop couching it in niceties like "preference". I mean folks can want whatever they want, but it doesn't mean they're entitled to it.

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I will say...

I do think that people get to ask for whatever they want. That's a given. They also have to accept whatever they get--whether that be nothing, a bunch of responses that don't measure up, or possibly the person who fits their profile. I will say that a while back I made a list of 10 must haves in a partner. The list was only for me--it didn't get posted on a dating website. It was mostly to keep me from continuing to date people I should've known weren't for me just to have someone to date. I tried to be really selective about the must haves. Truth be told, I've always hated cats. Well, my amazing boyfriend of two years has a freaking cat, and it's the only cat I've ever loved. Thank goodness I didn't put, "Must not have cats!" on my list! That said, what I find most interesting about conversations of this ilk is that there seems to be no discrimination between what should be deal breakers and what shouldn't. The argument appears to be that we either think there should be deal breakers or we think there shouldn't be any, and those who have deal breakers are being judgmental. I think it's perfectly reasonable to say that a person with kids doesn't want to date a person who doesn't like kids (and vice versa--I cannot do children, and I wouldn't date someone who had some, period, ever). Kids are a huge part of a parents' life. I figure that by not dating a parent, I free that parent up to go find someone who will enjoy having kids around. I also think it's perfectly reasonable for a super religious person to not want to date an atheist or vice versa. When I hear someone argue that by having deal breakers one is possibly passing up the love of one's life, I always wonder what love is in those "love conquers all" scenarios. If we don't get to look for compatibility--and compatibility no matter how shallow other people might think our personal views--then what are these relationships based on? I believe in being open-minded, but that's how I am. If someone's not, better they get that out there up front with a swift "no fatties" than stand me up when they see my big ass walk through the door at our first meeting. I find that it feels like there's an undercurrent in these arguments that the comments that get us the most riled up are really the ones about preference as it pertains to physical appearance. Some people are admittedly more open-minded about looks than others, and yes, it would be great if everyone only fell in love with who a person is on the inside and not their looks. But, again, people are free to ask for whatever they want. And they also have to accept that they might not ever get it.

I will say that a while back

<em>I will say that a while back I made a list of 10 must haves in a partner. The list was only for me--it didn't get posted on a dating website. It was mostly to keep me from continuing to date people I should've known weren't for me just to have someone to date. I tried to be really selective about the must haves. Truth be told, I've always hated cats. Well, my amazing boyfriend of two years has a freaking cat, and it's the only cat I've ever loved. Thank goodness I didn't put, "Must not have cats!" on my list! That said, what I find most interesting about conversations of this ilk is that there seems to be no discrimination between what should be deal breakers and what shouldn't.</em>

Yes! This is embarrassing to admit, but I made a list of 101 traits my partner should have, but the catch was they could only be traits ANY PERSON could have. Like, "likes argyle socks." or "thinks doing nothing on gorgeous sunny day is perfectly acceptable". It was hard, because cultural instructions seem to dictate I should have this list of demands and then find someone who meets a list of preordained stuffs that for the most part probably wasn't all that important to me if I was honest with myself.

My current partner has 98 out of 101 traits. I think there were two silly ones like, "Must be the love child of Grace Jones and James Gandolfini" and "Should be able to help me construct a death star" that weren't really ever going to happen. A girl can still dream though.

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the checklists

I'll walk through a lot of don't bothers and checklist items, but I find that a long string of them will scare me off even if I pass them all. Why, because I'm not sure that I want to date someone that rigid in their outlook who's that sure about what superficial qualities will make them happy.
I'm also always a little curious about obvious things like "Must not cheat on me." I can't help wondering if spelling out what I assume to be a given is indicative of some trust issues.
The vast number of profiles with minimum heights, usually between 5'8" and 6', have totally wrecked my empathy for those who complain that guys are too superficial. At 5'10" I scrape past 70% of them, but if I were the perfect guy for someone, would they really let an inch of height change their mind. I respect "I prefer guys over...", but having strict limits makes me wonder if the posters think that people are pretty interchangeable commodities.
I think that it's intelligent on OKcupid's part that marking something mandatory weights it heavily, but doesn't actually make it mandatory, since they don't trust you to be absolutely sure of what you want.
Nice article.

OKCupid: A Wild Ride

I wholeheartedly agree on x-naying the "Don't bother if..." statement people. It's like you're being judged already. Dating's a horrible experience to have to go through anyways, why spend it under an asshole's microscope?


lol stay anonymous give enough info so that they know that your male or female lol and your location and then let them find you or you find them :)

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