I’ve been writing for a long time and, in discussing online dating with some female friends, I realized that many of the rules of writing, if applied—specifically by men—to online dating, could make the whole process, for everyone involved, far easier and more pleasant.
Here’re just a few rules of writing that I believe can and should be applied by men to online dating.
Read a lot, write a lot
If you’re gonna be a writer, you’re gonna have to read, a lot, and you’re gonna have to write, a lot. It’s absolutely unavoidable. Someone who doesn’t read and write by the bucket is simply never going to be a writer. Not a good one, anyway.
Now, you might be thinking the online dating equivalent to this writing rule is “Date a lot and . . . date even more a lot,” but no, the rule is “Read a lot and write a lot.”
See, you need to learn what’s already out there. You need to learn the good, you need to learn the bad; you need to learn what works, you need to learn what doesn’t.
So, how do you do that? I mean, in writing, you simply buy or borrow a buncha books and read till your eyes bleed. But you can’t exactly do that with online dating, right? What’re you gonna do, visit guy profiles?
Uh, in short: yup.
Now, you got two options. Okay, so, many guys complain about being friend-zoned by women, so that tells me you must have a ton of female friends. Right? So, grab one of these friendly women, open a bottle of wine and crowd around her phone as she reads through messages, looks through profiles, and scans through pics.
If she’s using OKCupid or the like, you get to read through those profiles, see firsthand how the competition stacks up, ask her what works for her and what doesn’t and why. Not only will you be able to use the good and avoid the bad, you’ll also see what’s overused (“I like to travel”) so as to come up with something more original.
If she’s using Tinder, you’ll see what pics grabs her attention, what text messages get her chatting and so on. Ask questions: “Why d’you swipe left on that one?” “Really? Right on that guy?”
Also, in my experience, female friends absolutely love doing this. No! I’m not saying she’ll fall in love with you or jump into your bed! She’ll simply love this friendly activity! Between friends!
The point is, you’ll learn a ton.
Now, what if you don’t have any female friends, or none you’d wanna share this particular activity with? Well, in that case, you’re gonna have to play spy and log on as a woman. Simply reset your profile settings to female looking for male and start browsing. This activity is best done while humming the Mission: Impossible theme.
Again, look through profiles, pay attention to pics. Now, granted, this is less valuable without a woman’s input, but you’ll still learn a lot. If nothing else, you’ll learn how to stand out as you begin to notice similarities between profiles and pic selection.
That said, Jesus, please, get a few female friends you trust! Having them explain why a particular profile or pic does or doesn’t work is absolute gold!
So, where does writing a lot come into play? Well, a common complaint I’ve heard among women is that so, so many guys are borderline illiterate when it comes to crafting a profile or even an opening message. Simply improving your writing skills will set you apart from the majority, guaranteed. But it goes beyond that . . .
Show, don’t tell
It’s such a key rule of writing that it has itself become a cliché, but so few people know exactly what it means. In writing, “Show, don’t tell” is about creating an image for the reader. For example, “She was angry because the guy was a creep,” is telling; “She frowned as the guy’s hand slipped from her waist to her ass,” is showing.
So, if using a profile-centric site like OKCupid, try creating an image, a series of brief scenes that describe your interests and, more importantly, your character. ’Cause, honestly, that’s all you are at this point: a character in a super short story that is your online dating profile.
Okay, so, how does it work? Well, for one, you don’t “Love to travel.” Everyone loves to travel. Seriously. The “love to travel” thing is a goddamn dating profile trope at this point (and that goes for women’s profiles, as well, believe me)! Instead, try being more specific. Where did you last travel to? What happened there? What was your favorite part? How did it compare to another trip? Whatever. We’re talking just a line or two, but, “I just got back from canyoning in the Azores,” will always be more interesting than, “I love to travel.”
You’re ambitious? You’re outgoing? You’re family-oriented? Cool story. Prove it. With words. Paint her a goddamn picture. Try, “I’m a clerk at Stop and Save but recently applied for a managerial position.” Maybe, “Last Friday I led my friends on an impromptu graffiti tour of the city.” How ’bout, “I never miss a family gathering.”
This doesn’t just tell her more about you and make you stand out, it also allows your writing style (i.e. your personality) to shine through—which is another reason to write a lot, by the way: it’s literally the only way to develop your own writing style.
Here’s another thing about showing instead of telling: it’ll keep you from telling her shit she simply doesn’t want to know. For example, you may be tempted to tell a woman you’re great at love making. Yeah, that doesn’t work. Here’s why: anyone can say that but it’s just about impossible to show it in a profile.
Want proof? Okay, let’s give it a shot. Let’s paint her a goddamn picture.
Try, “The last woman I was with came every time we had sex.” Nope, that just tells women your last “conquest” was really good at faking it.
Maybe, “When having sex, I always pay attention to what the woman likes and doesn’t like.” Nope, that’s like saying that when having a conversation with a woman you always listen to what she says; it should be a given not an asset.
How ’bout, “So many women have told me I’m the best lover they ever had.” Well, now you just sound like Donald Trump. Telling women what someone else has supposedly told you is still just telling.
Look, if it’s too hard to show without coming off as a creep, a liar or a braggart, you should probably leave it out. With any luck, you’ll get to show a woman your otherworldly love-making skills through action.
Okay, but what if you’re using Tinder? Well, with Tinder it’s that much easier to show and not tell. Remember that saying about photos being worth a thousand words? It’s true—mostly.
Again, you wanna craft an image, tell a story. That bathroom selfie? It tells no story, except that you occasionally go to the bathroom, which is not a good story. That selfie in downtown New York; that selfie at Machu Picchu; that selfie at the Eiffel Tower? Uh, that tells the story of having no friends to take pictures of you. Try keeping the selfies to, like, twenty percent (that’s one out of five, for the less mathematically inclined).
Instead, include pics of you doing stuff. You play the guitar? Great, make sure there’s a pic of you strumming that six-string. You love art? Excellent, include that pic of you at Le Louvre. You love to travel? Okay, put up a travel pic, but make it an unusual one (hint: Machu Picchu or the Eiffel Tower ain’t it).
Oh, and make sure you’re smiling in your featured pic. You may think you look sexy and mysterious in that unsmiling pic of yours, but even women looking for a casual relationship want someone fun and pleasant, and women looking for something more serious demand that shit. Sexy and mysterious is fine if you’re advertising cologne, but it gets old fast on a date.
Develop your platform
To be honest, online dating isn’t so much like writing as it is like trying to sell a novel. Selling a novel is hard. It’s hard because, these days, it seems everyone has written a novel and everyone believes it’s the next big thing.
Good stories are a dime a dozen. Great characters grow on trees. Awesome dialogue falls from the sky. Clichés are plentiful! So publishers look for something more. Specifically, they look for a platform, something that will set the writer—not the story—apart and guarantee a built-in readership.
For example, if a writer comes to a publisher with a novel and 400k Twitter followers, that writer’s got a good shot at that book deal, ’cause he’s got a platform that includes 400k potential readers.
A lawyer writing a legal thriller; a children’s entertainer with a kids’ book to sell; a former CIA agent who’s written an international spy thriller: all great platforms.
Well, in the context of online dating, you’re the writer and the woman’s the publisher (more on this in a bit), so you gotta set yourself apart, you gotta define your platform.
It’s about taking the first two lessons and applying them, putting them to work for you. You’ve looked through the profiles of other guys, preferably with a female friend, so you know what they’ve done right and know what they’ve done wrong, and you also know what many of them already do, over and over. Now you wanna show (not tell) women how you differ—in a good way—from all those other guys.
What makes you unusual? What makes you unique? What’re your strengths?
Are you a gamer? Awesome (seriously, there’re tons of female gamers out there), include some obscure gaming reference in your profile, something only another hardcore gamer would get. You love to cook? Excellent, mention the last recipe you experimented with. You travel a lot? Okay, look, we’ve been through this, just highlight the more unusual aspects of your travels (no, that pic of you with a goddamn tiger isn’t it).
You want to offer something no other guy can. And this can be your very personality—hell, it should be! And that brings us back to writing a lot. Seriously, become a good writer and your platform can actually be a well-written, clever and funny profile, or the perfect opening line.
On Tinder it’s even more important that you distinguish yourself. Make sure you’re doing stuff in as many of your pics as possible, stuff that tells the story of you, of what makes you unique. Try to show what you bring to the table, dating or relationship-wise.
And, uh, try to think beyond your six-pack. You wanna show off your brawny build? Okay, but most women I’ve spoken to find it a turn off—unless it’s functional. So, if you’re shirtless, make sure there’s a reason for it, that you’re doing something that requires it, such as swimming or diving or surfing or whatever. Hell, that can be your platform: “Check it out, ladies, I actually go shirtless for reasons beyond showing off!”
A key aspect of your platform is that it’s a work in progress. Keep working on yourself, outside of dating. Keep striving to learn and do new things that will set you apart. Meet new people, go new places, try new things, read new books. All of that serves to build and develop your platform.
Know your audience
Okay, this is probably the most important rule of all. Many guys think of online dating as an equal give and take. Men are selling themselves while women are also selling themselves. The fact is, like it or not, that’s simply not the case. In online dating, the men are selling and the women are buying. And, in most cases, it’s a buyer’s goddamn market.
Now, obviously, this may differ from place to place, depending on the female to male ratio in your city or town, but, generally speaking, women receive far more messages than men on OKCupid and match far more easily on Tinder.
Remember how I said that women are the publishers and men are the writers? Well, that’s true. And, like I also said, everyone wants to be a writer, meaning that publishers are absolutely swamped with manuscripts. It’s why that platform has become so important. Even good manuscripts (profiles and messages) aren’t enough anymore, the writer (you) has to offer more to grab a publisher’s (her) attention.
Now, this creates a lot of frustration on both sides. The writer thinks he’s got a pretty great manuscript, one that would sell quite well (and may even be right), and is frustrated because no publisher will give him the time of day. Meanwhile, the publisher is forced to wade through a deluge of terrible manuscripts (hopefully not yours), with just a few pretty good ones (probably yours), but she’s frustrated because she wants something truly special, something worth taking a risk on.
When sending a query letter to a publisher, writers are essentially looking for work. If publisher after publisher says no, it makes no sense for the writer to get mad at the publishers and flame them online (many writers do exactly that and they—guaranteed—remain without a publisher). Smart writers go back to that query letter and rework it, over and over, all while working on their platform, making of themselves, as a person, something more interesting and marketable.
Again, in the context of online dating, women are the publishers. So, if your profile or messages or pics aren’t working, don’t get mad at the women, just rework your profile, tweak your opening message, change up your pics. And keep working on your platform; meaning, keep working on yourself, on being a unique, interesting, multi-faceted individual.
So, now that you accept that women are the publishers (buyers) and men are the writers (sellers) in this scenario, the next step is to research your audience. Now, in writing, that would mean researching the publishers themselves but also their typical readership. Thankfully, it’s a lot simpler in online dating.
If using OKCupid, read her profile. The whole thing. Now, from that reading, ask yourself, is she looking for the same thing you are?
Who you contact is just as important as how you contact them. In fact, who you contact should dictate how you contact them—or if you contact them at all.
Say you love outdoor sports and camping, but her profile is all clubbing and fancy galas. Know what? Maybe don’t message that one. I mean, why waste your time and hers? If you’d written a horror novel you wouldn’t send a query to a publisher that handles only romance, would you?
That means no cut-and-paste form messages and no shotgun approach. Be selective, man! There’s no goddamn rush. Pick and choose. Be as certain as possible that you’d be at least a potentially good fit for each other.
Now you’ve done your research, or you’ve matched on Tinder, and you’re ready to send out that opening message. This is your query letter. Remember, you’re selling, and it’s a buyer’s market.
The women I’ve spoken to, they get upwards of a dozen messages a day on OKCupid, and they’re reaction to not matching on Tinder is, “Huh, that’s weird,” ’cause that’s how rare an occurrence it is.
Assume that your message is one of twelve—on that day. Assume you’re one match in as many goddamn matches as she wants, ’cause just about every dude out there has liked her.
So, don’t waste your one shot on “Hi.” Don’t waste both her time and yours if you aren’t looking for the same thing. Don’t be rude or sexually suggestive or—I can’t believe I still have to say this—send her a dick pic. Sadly enough, none of those things will set you apart.
Refer to her profile. Try to figure out her platform. Did she include some science reference you actually got? Go with that! She volunteers as an art therapist? That’s different! She mentions that she travels a lot? Yeah, skip her. She sounds boring.
Basically, put all the lessons above to use and craft a polite, clever message that makes reference to her profile (your audience) and highlights what sets you apart (your platform).
And if it doesn’t work, well, big deal. Move on. It never works? That’s okay. Keep your cool. Just rework your profile a bit, change up your pics.
And always remember: you can’t ever know your audience completely. Just as a writer may get his manuscript rejected because the publisher decided it simply wasn’t the right fit for them at that time, a woman may reject you for reasons that are similarly out of your control. You might remind her of an ex-boyfriend, or her dad, which would make replying to you profoundly creepy. Or maybe she just doesn’t like your writing style, or your sense of humor, in which case it would never work out between you anyway, so bullet dodged.
You’re not gonna please everyone, but put the required effort into it and you’ll eventually please somebody. Don’t get mad, don’t give up, just keep reworking and tweaking. And keep building that platform.