“Computer dating? It's terrific if you're a computer” — Rita Mae Brown
Of the many challenges that accompany online dating, a particularly vexing one is how to make a positive first impression in a virtual environment. Devoid of the human spark, it can be difficult to present your best self within the constraints of an online dating platform. As a result, there are many who, despite their efforts, never end up meeting potential matches face-to-face.
Is there a more scientific approach online daters can adopt to increase their chances of converting electronic communication to actual offline dates?
Khalid Khan and Sameer Chaudhry of the London School of Medicine and the University of North Texas, respectively, pursued this question in a recently published study. They used an evidence-based approach to modern love, seeking which specific behaviors and actions would increase the chances of meeting a potential match in person.
(Their work had a personal motivation: Among their acknowledgements, the pair formally thanked the women who had repeatedly turned them down for dates, inspiring their research.)
The researchers combed several databases for relevant studies of online dating, turning up 3,938 initial citations, 86 of which they included in their review. Here's what they found:
Creating a Profile.
1. Create a desirable screen name. For example, Fun2bwith is more appealing than something like Bugg, which may have negative associations. More specifically, men are more drawn to screen names that signal physical attractiveness, while women are drawn to names that that signal intelligence.
2. Make sure your screen name that begins with a letter toward the top of the alphabet. Since search engine listings are typically sorted alphabetically, screen names that begin with a letter near the top of the alphabet appear first, while those toward the bottom may be skipped.
3. Use a primary photo that plays up your physical appearance. Also, be aware that a genuine smile in a photo makes a positive impression, and, for women, wearing red has been found to increase male attraction, and in turn generate more contacts.
4. Write a headline message using simple language. You will be seen as more intelligent because people like words that are easy to remember and pronounce.
5. In your photo gallery, display group photos that show other people enjoying your company. Also, a photo that features you in the middle creates an air of importance—the "center stage effect." For men, a photo in which other women are smiling at you makes you appear more desirable.
6. Use the 70:30 ratio when describing yourself and what you're looking for in a match, respectively. Profiles that refer solely to oneself garner less responses.
Browsing and First Contact
7. Be genuine. It generates positive feelings—and the desire to extend an invitation.
8. Keep your invitations short and personalized. They work best when you refer to a character trait or photo in the invitee's profile, as individuals tend to think of them as unique.
9. Don't be unrealistically positive. It arouses suspicion in the person receiving the compliment.
10. Get back to people right away. Contrary to popular belief, eagerness is not off-putting.
11. Have a sense of humor in your correspondence. It makes people feel more accepting and relaxed.
12. Reciprocate self-disclosure if you feel comfortable. It increases the feeling of familiarity—and disclosure is more likely to take place when individuals interact through e-communication than in person.
13. End chats on an upbeat note. We recall items at the end of an interaction much better than those that take place at the beginning or in the middle. It will leave your potential match with a positive feeling, as we tend to rate the overall pleasure of an experience in terms of how it concludes.
14. Don't wait to convert electronic communication into an actual date. A swifter shift from online to offline interactions is associated with better outcomes.
Vinita Mehta, Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist in Washington, D.C., and an expert on relationships, managing anxiety and stress, and building health and resilience. She provides speaking engagements for your organization and psychotherapy for adults. She has successfully worked with individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, and life transitions, with a growing specialization in recovery from trauma and abuse. She is also the author of a forthcoming book on dating, mating, and relationships.