Guest blog by Judsen Culbreth
Author of The Boomer's Guide to Online Dating: Date with Dignity
The opening profile is your first and perhaps most important dating tool. Learn how to avoid the mistakes made by 90 percent of searchers and create a profile that captures your strong points and stands out from the crowd.
Every word counts in your opener, including your user name. Save Susan6134 for your office or home computer. Your dating "handle" should be anonymous yet descriptive. One study of perceptions in cyberspace demonstrated that selective nicknames or handles influence the impressions others develop of the person using them. These little words count!
What two or three words fit you to a tee?
You might want to zero in on an activity or interest, like I did with my online ID, GolfNut. Or consider HappyHiker, NauticalGal, OutdoorLover, WalkingWoman, LineDancer, HistoryBuff, BirderChick, BridgeBelle, or HookedonBooks.
You may have a fascinating profession to brag about, as did PaleoGal, ArtLady, and Novelist53. Or you may possess intriguing physical attributes, like NordicBlondeBuddy, Blondie, Green-eyedLady, OleBlueEyes, SunnySmiles, Dimpled&Adorable, PolishednPretty, CuteRedhead, and Brown-eyedGal.
Personality might be your strong suit: HeartofGold, Warm&Lively, ThoughfulLady, Friendly&Affectionate, GreatListener, Spirited&Sensitive, CozyCharmer, FunFran, HappyGal, SueIsNice, SweetnShy. Good, honest humor also gets noticed. I chuckled when I read the refreshing MiddleageOverweightSchoolmarm.
Banner Headline (Subject Line)
Most sites have a banner headline with the profile -- a six- to 12-word phrase that offers you a second chance to grab attention and sell yourself. Notice the emphasis on yourself. Don't use this important real estate to describe the person you're looking for. He will find you if you do your selling job.
Put modesty aside for 15 minutes and jot down your wonderful attributes. If you find that difficult to do, think about how good friends would describe you. What's it like to be with you? Don't guess; ask them. Friends can offer a fresh perspective and may be much more objective about you than you are.
In your collection of compliments, be sure that there are adjectives emphasizing your joy and vitality -- "love to laugh," "crazy about fishing." At this stage, what attracts is a happy, healthy person who's warm and open to men, and has enthusiasm about life. Here are some more examples:
PLAYFUL PETITE REDHEAD
LIVE WIRE SEEKS SPARKS
CUTE LADY WHO LOVES HOCKEY
GOOD COOK AND CUDDLER
HAVE YOU HAD YOUR GIGGLE TODAY?
LET'S HAVE FUN
ATTRACTIVE. ADVENTUROUS. ADORABLE.
TRAVEL GAL WANTS A PAL
You'll notice that good banner headlines are positive, interesting, and humorous. They keep things light. Donna Frank of Nashua, New Hampshire, attracted now-husband Eric's attention with her headline, "Modern-Day Elaine Seeking Her Seinfeld."
On the other hand, banner headlines that spook guys are heavy and hostile. Don't make these mistakes:
Asking too much too soon. Imagine writing a résumé in which you told your prospective employer that you were looking for lifetime employment with a guarantee of happiness. That would be an absurd request from someone you'd never met. Equally absurd are similar banner headlines, such as HUSBAND WANTED, SHARE MY SOUL, or SPEND THE NEXT 20 YEARS WITH ME. So are ones that ask a perfect stranger to be perpetually amusing: EXCITE ME or GIVE ME A LIFETIME OF LAUGHTER. These remind me of the Seinfeld episode in which New York Mets' first baseman Keith Hernandez asks Jerry to help him move. "I hardly know the guy," Jerry protests, and rightly so. Only someone you're very intimate with should be asked to do such heavy lifting.
Sounding too sexy. You don't want to come across as a cyber-tramp with headlines such as CHECK OUT ROOTY TOOTY BOOTY, LET'S MAKE MISCHIEF, PASSIONATE WOMAN, or 1SEXY LADY NEEDS NAUGHTY GUY. You may be flooded with e-mail, but not the kind you want.
Sounding too romantic. You'll seem naive and vulnerable if you opt for headlines such as SEARCHING FOR MY KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR. Also trite and overused: MR. RIGHT, MR.. WONDERFUL, THAT SPECIAL SOMEONE, ONE IN A MILLION, LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT, HEARTTHROB, PRINCE CHARMING.
Picking on men. Many women, perhaps inadvertently, allow male bashing to creep into their banner headlines. Okay, maybe in the past you were burned by men, but you need to decide now whether you want to date 'em or hate 'em. If you want a fresh start with an online romance, note that stereotyping men as dishonest and irresponsible is not an attraction magnet. The hostility repels the good guys as well as the bad. Men like women who like men. Check your banner headline for these kinds of subtle or outright hostile put-downs: ARE YOU ONE OF THE NICE GUYS?; BE HONEST; NO HEAD GAMES; NO JERKS ALLOWED; NO CRAZIES, PLEASE; R U NORMAL?; NO MORE B-S!
Short Personal Profile
It's less than 100 words -- sometimes as few as 25 -- but this descriptive paragraph needs to convey the experience of you. A good way to accomplish that is to divide the profile between your physical description and personality, keeping in mind the two questions you need to answer in this short space: What am I like? What is it like to be with me? Here are a few tips to get you started.
Tell the truth. Some sites require you to disclose height, weight, and age right up front. If you've been fudging for a while and can get away with shaving a few pounds or years, you might be okay. But any experienced online dater will warn you that you're risking wrath when you lie. Clever explanations and apologies will not earn you forgiveness if you've wasted someone's time by misrepresenting yourself. When the 50-SOMETHING TENNIS CHAMP I agreed to meet turned out to be 72, the sweet bouquet he brought didn't keep me from leaving soon after our handshake. He'd insulted me by lying.
There's no reason to lie about your age. Why compromise your credibility when so many online searchers will treasure the years you're trying to hide? Preview sites specifically for Boomers. The big sites, such as Match.com, Yahoo! Personals, or Matchmaker, also have millions of mature browsers and are experiencing double-digit growth in our demographic group.
Jim Fischer, who started his online search at 49, listed "someone my own age" as his number one criteria. "I was married for seven years to a Gen Xer who was 15 years younger than me," he says. "What a disaster! Her cultural references began with the movie Sixteen Candles and ended somewhere around Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I wanted someone on my level, someone without a tongue ring or tattoos and who could answer, 'Where were you when President Kennedy was assassinated?'"
There's also no reason to lie about your weight. Maybe you won't attract the guy who wants a perfect size six. Don't worry about him. You don't need to appeal to everyone. Set your sights on the person you really want to meet. Get his attention by describing yourself in flattering terms, such as BBW (big, beautiful woman), voluptuous, or sensuous size 16.
When Jim linked to Stephanie, now his wife, "we were both toting some extra pounds," he says. "That's called, 'you get older and you put on weight.' It's just life."
Use colorful language and humor. Instead of "tall," how about saying you're "long-legged"? The latter creates a more sensual mental picture, like Lauren Bacall showing off her great gams in To Have and Have Not. Instead of "brown hair with highlights," don't you think it would be more fun to meet a "nearly blonde dazzler"?
The Age Issue
Contrary to popular belief, most mature men don't want a younger woman. Statistically, they tend to marry women close to their own age. But women who age well or look young for their age seem to have the odds in their favor. In his study of marriage-minded men, author and image consultant John Molloy reports that a majority of men over 40 want a woman who is "going to stay in shape, keep her figure, and pay attention to her appearance." Molloy's survey, the subject of his book Why Men Marry Some Women and Not Others, also found that "half the men over 40 who have dated, lived with, or married much younger women would hesitate to do so again."
Share your interests. The way you spend your leisure time is one of the best indicators of your personality and values. (If you've been too busy for hobbies, you may want to consider rounding out your life.) Write down the activities that show both your playful and serious sides.
Notice the balance in these short profiles:
"My smile is contagious and so is my energy. I'm a gym rat, chess player, and volunteer community gardener, and I read all the historical fiction I can get my hands on. Let's laugh together . . ."
"I've built the kind of life where I can travel and have a good time. I try to walk every morning, and love trips where I trek around the countryside. I think that's the best way to really see things up close, and I can take time to enjoy a magnificent view, whether I just stumble across it or admire it during lunch at a roadside café."
Notice the lack of balance in this one:
"Sometimes I spend too much time at work and leave out the relaxing pleasures of mowing the lawn and weeding the garden."
Appeal to your target audience. One of the fundamental rules in sales and marketing is to know to whom you're selling. In this instance, your goal is to appeal to a member of the opposite sex. The key word here is opposite. My gorgeous friend Marion wondered why she wasn't getting e-mail. Here's the line from her opening profile that killed her chances: "My favorite activity is shopping!!! I love clothes." This would be a great hook if she were hoping to land a woman friend. But in my experience, if you give a man a choice between shopping and having a root canal, the latter has a better chance of winning. (The exception, of course, would be helping a woman pick out a bathing suit -- lots of male volunteers there.)
Too much domesticity can also turn off men. You're not applying for the job of cook, maid, or nanny. Clean out language that pigeonholes you as a housebound Heloise. Check, for example, that your list of activities includes more than cooking, gardening, needlepoint, crafts, and yard sales. You want to appear dynamic in a number of spheres.
This profile shows symmetry between domesticity and romance:
"I cook very well, especially if you'll share a good wine and talk with me while I'm marinating the steaks."
This one reaches domestic nirvana from a man's point of view:
"I am a very happy, low-maintenance person who enjoys simple pleasures like barbecuing on my deck as I watch the sun set over the golf course."
Offer specific, telling details. Most adults enjoy dinner, movies, music, and travel. It's the distinguishing detail that will catch the eye of your compatible partner. If nothing tastes better to you than a cold beer and a hot dog at the ballpark, say so. (Boy, will you get e-mail!) If you've seen every single Steven Spielberg movie, let the other Spielberg fans know. Tout your uniqueness and expertise with specifics:
"I was brought up on the Sound and know the waters south of Boston down to City Island pretty well."
Demonstrate what you're describing:
"Great sense of humor (think Robin Williams -- only calmer)."
Or, as Eric Frank had Donna giggling:
"My friends think I'm funny (I love my friends)."
One detail you don't want to disclose in the opening profile is information on your family. Keep the first impression focused on you. No distractions -- even lovable ones -- just yet. Save the introduction to your family for the questionnaire or first date. Here's how bringing up the family too early can backfire:
If you write: He'll Think:
I have two daughters who are the love of my life. I'll never come first.
Here's a photo of me with me sister in Paris. Every year we take a wonderful vacation together. This sister is going to hate me stepping in. I see trouble.
My favorite place to relax is at my family's home in Connecticut. Uh-oh. Wonder what they're like.
Avoid the negative. I believe honesty is the best policy -- but not the despairing, soul-baring kind of honesty evident below. Would you respond to these women or flee?
"I'm tired of sitting at home waiting for Mr. Right to knock at my door, and I hate those singles bars. All my friends are married, and I feel like the third wheel. I need a life."
"I haven't worked in a while because I was badly injured when I fell down a flight of stairs. While I was recovering, I had to cope with a divorce. But now I'm ready for someone who can make me smile again."
No man in his right mind would want to shoulder that kind of burden. Guys are not online to do a rescue mission.
Demands can backfire, too. They turn off all men because they make you seem hard to please and testy. Don't say what you don't want.
"Don't answer this if you're not a gentleman."
"Game players need not apply!"
"I only want to hear from someone who wants to make a commitment."
A more positive approach would be:
"I would like to meet a friend who also likes to walk for exercise."
Defensiveness is another form of negativity. There's no need to feel bashful or ashamed about going online. Millions of smart, attractive people -- including the men who'll be scanning your profile -- have made cyber-dating a socially acceptable option. Congratulate yourself that you're healthy, confident, and savvy enough to take control of finding a loving relationship. Don't waste time and valuable words on apologies like these from . . .
The virgin searcher: "Well, I've never done this before and I'm not very good at it, but here goes . . ."
The resigned searcher: "Nothing but sheer desperation has brought me here. I'm determined to meet that one guy in a million, the one who will fall in love with me at first sight."
The halfhearted searcher: "My sister talked me into this, and I have no idea what I'm doing."
Education And Success: The Hot New Ticket
There's a shift in the marriage market, according to University of Texas professor Kelly Raley, Ph.D. In her study of marital preferences, based on data from the National Survey of Families and Households, Dr. Raley was surprised to find that men are most willing to marry women with more education and earning power than they have themselves. "Attractiveness may still be important," she says, "but it looks as if men want women with greater economic resources."
Another study, from the University of Utah, also confounded researchers. Contrary to predictions, the woman who described herself in an ad as "financially independent, successful (and) ambitious" generated twice as many responses as the description "lovely . . . very attractive and slim."
Posting a photo on the opener is a must. Profiles with photos generate 80 percent more responses, according to site managers. Some women say they don't want to be judged by their photos. I would counter by saying that you won't be in the contest at all. "No pix, no picks" is how it's played. Not having a photo with your profile implies that you have something to hide. It's a caution flag. Think about it: Would you choose someone who didn't post a photo?
If the technical aspects bother you, note that sites now offer step-by-step instructions on how to get your picture online. If you have a digital camera, you're set. You can also get traditional photos inexpensively converted to digital at Wal-Mart, copy shops, or photo stores like Photomax. Some online sites, such as ThirdAgePersonals.com, will do all the work for you -- you e-mail or mail them your photo, and they'll do the posting and/or digital conversion for you.
Which photo to choose?
Select a shot that offers the clearest, most flattering view of you. A professional head shot (if not too stiff -- warmth is very important) works quite well. If you don't have one, consider having one made, and see if the photographer could recommend a hair-and-makeup person who can help you achieve a natural-but-gorgeous look. (This could be the best investment you ever make!)
A photo that shows a hint of location in the background also can be very engaging. But you -- not the mountains, the seashore, or the Eiffel Tower -- must be the star. In fact, your backyard on a sunny day may be all the location you need. Sit in a comfortable chair and ask the photographer to crop in on you from the waist up. Look relaxed and happy, and you've got the perfect pose.
You'll have a chance to include other pictures with your questionnaire. There you can show off how sexy you look in a ski outfit or what a knockout you are when dressed to the nines. But remember to keep the opening photo clear and simple. If a guy can't get a good look at you, he may skip to someone else. Other photo pointers:
Avoid old photos. Never post anything more than two years old.
Showing too much skin may send the wrong message about you. You don't want to attract a bad kind of guy.
Try to project warmth, one of the characteristics mature men want most. A big smile and cozy sweater signal that you're kind-hearted; sunglasses say cool, not warm. My friend Hildy didn't want her doctorate degree to seem intimidating, so she included a shot showing her holding mother and baby sloths. Half her e-mailers skipped over the Ph.D. part. They wanted to know what the heck she had around her neck.
Group photos are confusing. Maybe your hair did look fabulous on the night of your high school reunion, but the other folks in the photo are a distraction. Pick another good-hair moment.
Don't crop your former husband or boyfriend out of a photo unless he won't be missed, because a strange arm around your shoulder that's not attached to a body looks very weird. The trace of an ex also suggests that you haven't moved on from that relationship. Haven't you had a good time since you two parted?
Save photos of the kids for an in-person meeting.
After you've created a warm, interesting picture of yourself and posted an equally wonderful photo, it's time to clinch the click. The fifth step is a simple, very effective two-part sales strategy that will distinguish you from the crowd.
Offer what marketers call the value proposition. What's 'in it for the browser? What can you promise that will make him click on you and not the competition? Note how well this four-sentence summary sell-line states the value proposition and makes the case for a future relationship:
"I will be a good friend and ally. I will be tender, responsive, appreciative, agreeable. I will inspire you. I will listen to you."
Copyright © 2005 Judsen Culbreth