Let’s face it: dating is exhausting. And in a world where most online dating happens in apps based (nearly) entirely on looks, it’s hard to tell whether “swipe right” will become Mr. or Ms. Right, or even Mx. Right Now. Every date is a full night out with someone you know next to nothing about. Wouldn’t it make more sense to put in more effort before you meet?
But how do you tell if a random internet human is going to be worthwhile? Let’s look at some good and bad signs for screening your online dating matches.
Some of the more obvious nopes are easy to spot, but a review of bad signs is both cathartic and useful – especially if you’re new to dating.
- “Hey.” Nothing says “I didn’t bother to read your profile” like a single-word message. Similarly unhelpful are “Hi,” “your [sic] hot,” and “Want to fuck?” When this total lack of effort is on display, there’s no point even responding.
- The Dick Pic. Ah, the time-honored classic: the unsolicited porn shot. It’s unclear why so many people find this tactic so compelling, but it’s probably because they love sexual harassment. Some do this out of extreme horniness, others are bots, but whatever the cause, it’s not cool to make somebody look at your junk when you never asked for that. In fact, if you do that in person, you can get arrested.
- “But enough about me, let’s talk about…me!” Not only have some people not read your profile, but they’ve read their own again instead. If someone only talks about themselves, never asks you about you or always brings the subject around to what they want – you have a narcissist on your hands. They can be very charming and make you feel #blessed to be with them, but before long, you won’t be feeling so lucky, punk.
- “Bow before you SUPREME GODDESS.” I will never forget the person who contacted me with this subject line, when I was a dominatrix. Sadly, this sort of unasked-for adulation isn’t just for professionals anymore! If someone is throwing themselves at you in their first contact, BLOCK!
- Actual Nazis. The online world allows for extremes – and sometimes, extremists. Luckily the worst of them are also good at identifying themselves. Scan usernames, profile pics, and initial contacts for signs of cryptofascism. (And other sentences we for some reason must utter in this year of our good lord 2019.)
Online Dating Warning Signs
These folks probably aren’t serial killers, but it’s still useful to understand when someone is not for you. You might dig deeper and find that these aren’t red flags but rookie mistakes. Still, keep an eye out for these.
- Sincere but generic message. “Hello. I looked at your profile, and you seem to be the sort of person I’d love to get to know! I’m a [vague description of physical attributes] who likes [piña coladas and getting caught in the rain].” When an initial contact feels like a spam email, it probably is spam – that is, they’ve sent the same message to a bunch of people near them in hopes of a positive response. It may be inoffensive, but it’s also not personal and not a sign of an attentive partner.
- Too forward too soon. Sure, we’re here to find a sex partner, but it’s off-putting when someone goes straight to the point about it. Maybe they tell you what they want to do to you right away. Maybe they use flowery romantic language right out of the gate. If they ignore subtle cues that you aren’t comfortable, they’re likely to ignore overt cues, too.
- The barren profile. Is their only picture in skiing gear and posed with two other people? Or a shot with someone cropped out? Does their profile say very little? Is their username “SexySam4u” or “HotInLA” or something similarly generic or porny? The more you can get a sense of who someone is, the better the chances of a good date – or at least, a new friend.
- The emotional U-Haul. Sometimes, people connect very quickly. Other times, one person forklifts all of their baggage and delivers it to the other’s doorstep for no damn reason. Everybody has stories, issues and feelings, but look both ways when someone starts laying their trip on you right away. Unless you’re their therapist, you don’t need to hear about their ex, their mother, or their abuse history anywhere near your first date.
Probably worth a shot!
Some people actually do the bare minimum to connect with a real human person they’ve just chatted up on the Internet! This is not to say they deserve cookies, but as common decency is far from common, let’s study some of its qualities.
- Sincerely yours. Approaching a total stranger takes finesse, but not much more than the polite behaviors you should have learned in kindergarten. A good first contact is brief, polite and friendly (not desperate), shows appropriate enthusiasm for your profile (not worship), and expresses interest (not pressure). If a contact on an online dating site talks to you the way you’d talk to a person you’d just met and hoped to impress, that’s a good sign.
- The power of context. It’s lovely when someone reads your profile and responds to something in it that caught their eye. If a person shows they really “get” your obsession with Pokemon, or also loves bell hooks and tells you why, then take a look at their profile, and if they seem like a potential match, return the favor!
- Vulnerability. Showing yourself online is a sign of vulnerability, a quality you want in a partner. Being authentic doesn’t have to mean you show your face in pictures or leave other identifying information. But a thoughtful, filled-out profile, detailing things that are important to you and what you are looking for, goes a long way toward getting a response to a first message. If a person who contacts you seems sincere and open, and shares some interests, that’s a good reason to give them a try.
Online dating can be a minefield, but you don’t have to step on all of them. Use the guide above to rule out those who clearly can’t be bothered to know you in particular. And remember: you can use these tips for your own first contacts and profiles, too!
Ready to commit (to the first date, that is)? Get ideas with What to Do on a First Date That’s More Exciting Than Dinner and a Movie. And for inspiration in the long term, read Long Married Couples Spill Their Relationship Success Secrets.