Since online dating began, many of my patients have shared dating profiles of potential relationship partners with me. Despite many connections, most are disappointed with the difference between whom they expect to meet and who shows up. They are confused as to why do so many online profiles don’t match up with who shows up, and why don’t their own profiles attract the kind of partners they want?
It is difficult to capture the myriad of personality characteristics, histories, personal attributes, likes and dislikes, and prior disappointments that describes everyone, in a few short paragraphs. How does one summarize a life of experiences in an interesting and attractive presentation when you have no idea who is on the other end? And how can anyone know who is behind the profiles of others?
The way most people deal with these understandable conundrums is to rely on the media to tell them how they should best present themselves online. That approach too often results in an artificially scripted profile that doesn’t accurately represent the true core of a person. It does, however, keep the risk factor down. Better to be safe than sorry, better to not say things that could be misconstrued, better to risk rejection of parts of the presenter that he or she can afford to lose.
Unfortunately, once a relationship gets going, those masks must eventually come off, and disappointments often follow. Though it may be more anxiety producing to be more authentic up front, I believe that it is far more successful in the long run.
I’ve pled with my patients for decades to risk writing honest profiles rather than media-driven sales pitches. Their common argument is that they will have the best chance of getting good responses if they follow those guidelines. They can mask things about themselves that they fear might be too easily misconstrued, expose vulnerabilities they don’t want shared, or resist uncovering something that another might find off-putting.
A few brave souls have allowed me to guide them into writing a very different kind of dating profile, one that is much more open and risky. These profiles are much more accurate descriptions of who they truly are and what they really want in a partner.
These more successful, authentic dating profiles contain more visuals, evoke more emotion, and share more profound experiences. They are, for want of a better phrase, more intimate.
Typical profiles describe more personal data. They carefully present superficial information about themselves, the people they hang out with, where they’ve been, what they’ve done, and what they want in a partner. When you read these profiles, you have learned what that person wants you to know about them, but little about who they are.
The following directions and examples will help you see the difference between a traditional online profile and an intimate, authentic one.
Constructing an Authentic Online Profile
Make two private lists for yourself. On the first, put everything you know about who you are. Include significant history, personality characteristics, any strong opinions, expectations of others and the world at large, people you admire, hopes and dreams. Add anything else you can think of that you feel is important that truly represents who you are. Physical, emotional, mental, sexual, philosophical, spiritual, and political thoughts and actions are all part of you.
The second list is what you imagine to be a perfect relationship. If you could create the kind of partnership that would fulfill your most profound expectations, what would it be like? Who would be that person that matches you perfectly?
Here’s an example, written by a woman:
"I come from a broken home where my parents constantly fought and put each other down. I’ve had several relationships that all started out well but ended in my partners leaving me. I’m terribly insecure and have difficulty believing that love exists. It might never come true for me. I’m reasonably attractive and very kind, but people take advantage of me on a regular basis because it’s hard for me to say no. I’m afraid that any opposition may alienate people. I don’t believe in God anymore, and I’m a little cynical about whether anyone out there who will ever love me for who I am. I love people who stand up for themselves and not scared. I do like sex, but I have a hard time showing that side of me because I’m afraid I’ll be rejected so I just wait for someone to want me. I read a lot, but mostly romantic novels. I guess that’s where I pretend I’m desirable. I want desperately to love someone who loves me, too. I am a good friend. I’m shy until someone gets to know me and I feel safe. I’m trying hard not to feel defeated."
"I would like a partner who knows who he is and isn’t afraid to be up front about his thoughts and feelings. Even though I’m afraid of criticism, I’d rather know the truth if it’s said in a kind way. I’m afraid of anger because of my dad, but I don’t mind strong feelings if they are not blaming. I would prefer that he be taller than I am, but not fat because my mom always hated her overweight body and I stay thin because I don’t want to be like her. My perfect partner needs to earn a good living and hopefully is a professional, but it’s more important to me that he is honest, pays his bills, and has integrity. I like to be around people, so I would hope he’d have long-term friends who would want him to be in a relationship with a good person. We would share everything and be a team, especially when either one of us need support. I would like to have children, but I wouldn’t mind if he had already had some, if they were good kids and open to a new relationship. And I must have animals around me. They keep me from being lonely."
Was this woman, using her explorations of self, to write a typical, carefully scripted, online dating profile, it might sound something like this:
“I’m a fun-loving, affectionate woman who is looking for a long-term relationship. My past partners would say that I am “easy maintenance.” It takes me awhile to get to know someone, but I’m very open and friendly once I feel connected. I have a good job and would like to be with someone who also likes what he does. I’m open to do almost anything my partner enjoys because I am very adaptable. I know that finding the right person is not easy, but I am willing to do whatever I can to create a good relationship. I am idealistic and romantic at heart, but I also am very practical. I’m looking for a kind and sensitive person who is honest and keeps his promises. He would ideally be a social person who enjoys family and friends. He doesn’t have to be tremendously handsome, but does take care of himself and doesn’t let other people push him around. He likes being the head of a family and sees his partner as an equal.”
In this profile, she is doing everything she can to be as honest as she can, without revealing any of her deeper fears and insecurities, or making the game too hard for him. She dances around her pessimism and tries to sound more optimistic than she feels inside. She doesn’t want to sound as if she needs too much for fear of seeming anxious but hints at her fears of relationships not working out.
Here is what the same person could say if she were open, real, and unscripted. This profile contains all the important information she needs to get across but has her true essence within it. (I’ve purposely made it a little longer than it would normally be to help get the essence across.)
“I’m a different person on the outside than I am on the inside. I appear very adaptable, almost to a fault, but that’s because I’m a little scared to be real because it might sound too demanding. I know that I could truly love the right person with all my heart and that my insecurity and shyness would melt on the other end of that man. Most men like me a lot at the beginning of a relationship but then take advantage of my giving nature. I’m sure I start to show my disappointment in subtle ways that eventually push them away.
Inside I know that fantasy and reality are not the same and I probably live too much in unlikely expectations of romance, but I’m a good person and I believe that, with the right guy, those hopes would come true. I’m sure that I come across as a little reserved and wait for the guy to reach out emotionally and sexually, but I’m very receptive and responsive once he does. I guess that’s the way I avoid rejection, and it’s probably not fair. I often wish I were more courageous that way but I’m scared of getting hurt again. The only emotion that pushes me away me is intense anger. That’s from childhood stuff but I’m working on it. I tell most guys that kids aren’t as important as a relationship, but inside I ache to raise some, even if they aren’t mine.
I know that I’d be at my best if the man who wants me is strong, honest, and direct, even from the beginning of a relationship. I’d want him to always tell me the truth even if it might not be what I want to hear. I need to know that he trusts my goodness and that he would not carelessly hurt or take advantage of my vulnerability. His friends would need to see me as someone wonderful and good for him so that I would be welcomed. Oh, and he would need to love kids, and animals, too. If he had that love of taking care of people, I would safe with him. We would both like to look at each other and to share our deepest feelings without being afraid.”
In these simple contrasting examples, I hope that you can see and know the person better from the second profile more than you could from the first. Can you feel her emotions and thoughts as she is writing to you? Would she more likely to be the same person when you meet her as you thought she would be from her description?
The last step is for you to first write your own carefully scripted profile. Then write an intimate one that takes more chances and shows who you truly are behind your words. When you’re done, ask the people who love you how they would respond to each one, and which one they would most agree with. If they choose the second one, take the chance up front to risk the adventure.
Dr. Randi’s free advice e-newsletter, Heroic Love, shows you how to avoid the common pitfalls that keep people from finding and keeping romantic love. Based on over 100,000 face-to-face hours counseling singles and couples over her 40-year career, you’ll learn how to zero in on the right partner, avoid the dreaded “honeymoon is over” phenomenon, and make sure your relationship never gets boring. www.heroiclove.com