June 24, 2018

Write What You Want — Online Dating Profiles and the Relationship Checklist

OnlineDatingRelationshipRequirementsA colleague recently mentioned his experience with online dating checklists—you know, where you have to convey your dating requirements or “must haves.” We agreed that some of the lists people are making on dating sites are—pardon me—ridiculous. Mostly because they are naïve, careless, or shallow. We’ve seen it all, from blatant stereotypes—such as blanket claims that “only children are always spoiled” or “all academics hate sports”—to lists of superficial “requirements” like how many texts are expected in a given day, or shoe-size. Seriously? Shoe size? Proof positive that an online dating profile can guarantee bad results. If it is not done well, that is.

The part of the profile that focuses on what you are looking for is as difficult to write as the part that focuses on explaining how awesome you are without seeming to brag. But if you do not write from a place of complete honesty, your profile will come back to haunt you. Whether you are looking for a long term relationship or dating for fun, be clear, realistic, and open-minded.

There are two kinds of lists. The “must have” list and the “preferred-but-not-demanded” list. An example of a “must-have” list is the relationship requirements list. Relationship requirements are just that—requirements. For example, they are:

  • about the circumstances of, behaviors in, and criteria surrounding a relationship, such as shared core values, life vision, balance of giving and receiving, mutual respect, shared financial responsibility—that kind of thing.
  • NOT characteristics of a potential partner. (That comes later.) 
  • not debatable, not negotiable, not to be ignored.
  • the things that will truly stand the test of time, unlike physical attributes, or other “preferred” items.
  • vital to the survival of the relationship, which would fail without them.
  • easily tested, such that you can write off a potential partner or proceed depending on results.

Why is knowing your requirements so important?
You may be thinking, “There’s time to figure out this stuff. No problem. If we aren’t compatible, we can move on at some point. I don’t want to limit my options….”

I’d like to say that I disagree with that approach, although not limiting options is a good point. But you can have clear relationship requirements without locking yourself in a concrete box. Having requirements firmly in your mind ensures you won’t settle. Also, do you really have time to date ten or twelve people, and potentially end ten or twelve incipient relationships (awkward and embarrassing at the least; painful at worst), before you figure out what you will or will not accept, can or cannot live with?

Imagine what it would be like to go into a relationship with your requirements (wants and needs) clearly identified and on the table:

→ You’ll know them when you see them.
→ You won’t settle for something that can’t fulfill you.
→ Your self-esteem will not be at risk depending on the relationship or the partner.

Once you have your requirements clearly outlined, you can think about the characteristics you seek in a potential partner. These fall into three categories: character attributes, personality, and physical qualities. These distinctions are important and knowing the difference is essential.

A former client of mine, Sutter, was very interested in Pam. Her profile showed that she was an empathetic woman who spent a lot of time doing honorable work, such as volunteering at a local animal shelter. Sutter admired that. He liked animals too, and was eager to meet Pam. Though a lovely person, she was painfully shy and turned out to be, essentially, a loner. She had no interest in going out to restaurants or parties, things that Sutter loved. Pam’s profile was not well-rounded, and Sutter did not have the whole picture until they dated a few times. The next woman he met online was the life of the party. She had many friends and could make him laugh. But it turned out she was shallow and untrustworthy—personal traits Sutter had to find out about the hard way.

How could this scenario have been avoided? There’s no easy answer. Sutter did not do anything wrong, and the women probably did not realize their profiles were incomplete or misleading. But one thing Sutter learned from the experience was the clear distinctions between personality and character. With my help, he went back to rewrite his profile. He focused on clearly describing himself, and, just as important, his requirements and preferences in a relationship and partner.

Let’s look at the three characteristics that, for good or ill, are how we must categorize what we are looking for in another human being, aka potential partner.

√ Character. Character traits are based on core values and beliefs such as honesty, fidelity, fairness, kindness, empathy, ambition, and determination. Not all of these traits will be equally important to everyone. It is not easy to tell if someone whose profile you are reading has these qualities, but it is important that your profile makes it clear that you are looking for certain things.
√ Personality. It is easier to discern a potential date’s personality from a profile than it is to know his or her character. Personality traits are fairly easy to read as it is personality that is projected to the world. Such things as confidence, humor, energy, negativity, shyness, intensity are part of personality. Be clear as you write about what you are looking for. Keep your list short, but be honest. If you are shy and introverted and feel overwhelmed by big crowds and loud parties, be explicit that you like quiet homebodies whose idea of a perfect date is cheese and wine in front of the fireplace.
√ Physical. What you see (on the surface) is not necessarily what you get (on the inside) but physical qualities add to desirability and chemistry. Though you know they are fleeting, you and only you get what turns you on. As this part of the profile is in the category of “preferred-but-not-demanded,” try to limit your checklist to very general categories. If you are tall, and want a tall partner, say so. If you prefer a certain body type, mention it. But if you start listing measurements, shoe size, hair and eye color of the “ideal” partner, you will put people off and narrow your options. “Tall, dark, and handsome” might rule out a gorgeous guy who is 5’11” and has gray at the temples. “Statuesque brunette” might eliminate the woman of your dreams who happens to have blonde hair and stands 5’5”.

If a long term relationship is your goal, consider what you need now… and also what you’ll want and need in 5 years, 10 years, and down the road. Describe what you are looking for in a partner with enough specifics to be grounded and honest, but avoid coming across as exclusionary.

Deal breakers are very clear must-haves. These can fall into any of the above categories, or be just “housekeeping” matters, such as smoking, drinking, religion, pets, children etc. Most dating sites have explicit questions about such things. Tell the truth. Being “open” does not mean lying about something as important as your allergy to dogs or the fact that you don’t want kids, yours or anyone’s.

There you have it. Before you click check boxes or write a description about what you are looking for in a partner or relationship, take time to consider carefully. Limit your list to 6 or fewer items. As always, edit carefully for spelling and grammar (get someone to be your back-up reader). For my blog about how to market yourself in your profile, click here: Marketing You: How to Write a Great Dating Profile.

The point of any online profile is to create a beneficial environment in which you will find love and partnership with another. What you find must suit you. Being with “just anyone” for the sake of being “with someone” is just not worth it. Moral of the story: take care of you!


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