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The Fatal Mistake Smart People Make on Their Online Dating Profiles

You’re a great catch, but nobody has reeled you in? Check the brag factor of your dating profile. Humble sells better.

by Janice Holly Booth

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Attracting someone terrific through your online profile isn’t easy, and research says you’ve got mere seconds to hook a potential suitor before he or she moves on. By midlife, you’ve accomplished a lot, and it’s tempting to dangle your accolades to catch some great dates. But heralding yourself too much and too quickly is not the lure you might think.

The rules for crafting a good online dating profile are maddeningly contradictory: Be warm and approachable, but not too much—you don’t want to send the wrong message. Talk about your interests—but don’t drone on or you’ll be boring. Highlight your strengths—but don’t brag. It turns out this last admonishment may be the most critical. Bragging, it seems, pretty much ensures your profile will get barely a nibble. Being humble and authentic aces out bragging every time.

That’s the conclusion of a new study that examines how specific content in online dating profiles affects a viewer’s impression of the profile owner and whether he/she wants to make contact.

Three hundred and sixteen online daters with a median age of 40.8 were asked what they thought of profiles supplied by a team of researchers led by Crystal D. Wotipka, Ph.D., and Andrew C. High, Ph.D., of the University of Iowa. Wotipka and High wanted to see whether emphasizing your best physical and personality traits, with corroborating evidence, would make your online profile more likely to attract dates.

Not surprisingly, people who were perceived as braggy were seen as less trustworthy and less socially attractive. Viewers of their profiles were unlikely to want to initiate contact. Some profiles included links to external sources of information—an article, say, or a professional biography—that helped viewers verify content. Viewers trusted these profiles more, but only when the subjects bragged less.

People who were perceived as braggy were seen as less trustworthy and less socially attractive. Viewers of their profiles were unlikely to want to initiate contact.

Lisa Copeland, a dating coach and expert, agrees that bragging is a turnoff. “It’s important to put information about you in your profile,” she tells Life Reimagined, “but bragging makes you sound narcissistic and arrogant.” Do talk about your achievements, she says, but in a way that helps the viewer understand who you are, not what you’ve done. “Say you’ve won awards in your business. Talk about it on a date, not in your profile. This isn’t a resume. This is about how to come across as warm and inviting. In your profile you want to share info about who you are and the parts of your personality that are appealing. Instead of saying ‘I’m an attorney, and I win every case,’ you can say, ‘I’m an attorney, and I love helping people.’” Copeland suggests not talking about your job at all. “I wouldn’t even get into it. People aren’t attracted to your job. What they’re attracted to is who you are, your personality traits and interests in life. People tend to put too much information into their profiles. The only purpose of a profile is to get someone to notice you and encourage them to contact you, not to tell your whole life story.”

Here’s why bragging is such a big mistake. When someone scans your profile, Copeland says, they engage in WIFM-thinking: What’s in it for me? They wonder how you’d be as a partner. What interests do you share? What’s most appealing about your personality? “Personality is huge,” she says. “You can certainly say ‘I’m an intelligent woman who loves good conversation,’” but you don’t want to go on and on about your IQ and your membership in Mensa.

As for documenting your achievements, Copeland points out, “Anybody can Google anybody. It’s more fun to leave surprises. You don’t have to spill it all in the profile.”

What about bragging through pictures? Should you post that photo of you beaming alongside Kevin Costner or shaking hands with a presidential nominee? “Absolutely,” says Copeland. “That kind of thing would be a great conversation opener, but it shouldn’t be the first picture you post. Your close-up should come first.”

When you write only about yourself, readers think you’re not ready to focus on anyone but you, adds Sam Yagan, former CEO of and co-founder of OKCupid. Stuffing your profile with brag-worthy accomplishments sends a message that you’re only thinking of yourself. Reading your profile, a prospective date will conclude there’ll never be room for him/her in your life. Still, you can include a lot of information without seeming self-centered. For example, asking a question—My favorite summer activity is kayaking. What’s yours?—provides space for someone to answer and engage. “The whole point of your profile is to get someone to write you a note or reply to a message you sent. This gives her a hook to start the conversation,” Yagan tells Life Reimagined.

See also: 3 Reasons To Look Up an Old Friend Today

All of this may seem obvious, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to toe that line between TMI and not enough. The researchers in Iowa discovered a good balance: avoid bragging but do offer supporting information for what you say about yourself. This made people “seem honest as well as humble and approachable.” Prospective daters who did this had the most success, while braggers got bubkes.

Not everyone in the online dating world can link potential suitors to a blog or a professional page, and that’s OK. High tells Life Reimagined that it’s possible to provide supporting evidence organically, within your profile, simply by spending more time on crafting it, and including more details. “Rather than just describing yourself as being of average build, you can say ‘I’m this tall, I weigh this much.’ Be specific and accurate in your language,” he says. It takes more effort to create a detailed profile, and that signals to the reader that you’re serious, that you care about finding the right match. “You want it to matter,” High continues. “If I’m very specific about the way I describe myself—where I go, what I like to do, this museum, that theater—it shows you’re connected to the neighborhood.” And it’s an invitation for someone to say, “Hey, I go there too!”

Because some people misrepresent themselves, creating a dating profile that builds trust is critical. Despite the occasional faker skulking around on dating sites, High believes that online dating represents a positive evolution. “It’s very effective and if I weren’t married, I’d do it myself,” he laughs. “It’s a good way to meet people. A lot of great relationships are initiated online. If you don’t want to go to the bars, online dating is a solution because literally everyone else on the site is looking for someone. If you’re shy or socially anxious, this is a great way to create a strong first impression.” Where else, he asks, can you create and edit and re-edit how the world first encounters you?

Whether you’re new to the online dating world or rethinking your strategy, remember that it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Opinions from experts may vary somewhat, but they all agree on this: Present yourself as humble, warm and real. That—not titles or awards—will make you a great catch.