Dating apps are a part of our lives now, and there’s an art – and a science – to making sure you sound like a normal, interesting person and not a psychopath. We asked the experts how to help three lonely hearts find love
When Liam moved to Manchester from south Wales in 2017, he thought he was doing it for lasting love. Dating his girlfriend long distance for over a year, he found a job as a prison officer and moved north to be with her. But after a year he found himself single again and hasn’t managed to date anyone seriously since. He desperately wants a committed, long-term relationship, but is struggling to make it past consistent hook-ups.
When Holly’s relationship fell apart a few months ago, she left London after 13 years of living there, moving with her brand-new dachshund puppy to her hometown of Hastings. But trying to date other women in Hastings has proved less than fruitful.
Dan’s life in London has been pretty good. A graphic designer, just finishing his masters at UCL, he’s got most of it figured out. But at 29, he’s realised that the gay clubbing scene is making it more difficult to meet romantic partners with whom he really connects and is struggling to find someone to date for more than a couple months.
While all three of these people are in vastly situations, one thing unites them: they all absolutely despise their online dating profiles. From Tinder to Bumble to Her to Hinge, they feel cringed-out, awkward and unfulfilled by how they present themselves and feel their dating profile is holding them back.
This is a major problem for online daters. You can be charming, funny and genuinely interesting, but when it comes to writing a bio your mind can go blank. It’s hard to make profiles read the same (see: “I love gin!”, “My pet peeve is slow walkers”) and it’s hard to make your real self stand out. In the US, dating profile styling agencies are even starting to pop up, where people can pay to have this increasingly common dating problem professionally solved. But for those who don’t have hundreds to shell out on professional advice, the question still persists: what do you need to do to make your dating profile better?
Liam, Dan and Holly have gotten this question answered. Working with three romantic professionals – a relationships therapist, a dating expert and a professional advertising creative – they have willingly handed over their profiles, histories, and insecurities to be molded into a more authentic version of themselves and get desperately needed advice on how to make their dating profile dateable.
The basics: 28 years old, Welsh, straight, prison officer. Describes himself as a regular guy, interested in sport, going out with his friends, spending time with his family and looking after his dog, Jasper.
Dating history: Has had three serious relationships and says that all of them petered out at the same time – around the two-year mark.
Dating profile description: Mostly selfies, mostly taken in dark rooms, one topless, mostly bordering on scary faces. Bio reads, “I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing / Beards make the world go round / Never watched Game Of Thrones, which is apparently a huge deal? / Welsh boy trespassing in the North, tryna not get kicked out after Brexit...”
Dating problems: Liam’s problem is two-fold. Although his job as a prisoner officer is interesting, it’s not something that defines him – however, it’s the only thing on dating apps that women seem to be interested in talking about. His second problem is that, when he does meet people, there’s miscommunication about what each other wants and he ends up thinking it’s becoming serious when all she wants is something casual.
Looking for: A serious relationship. “What’s the point in having fun if there’s nobody there when you have a rubbish day at work? Who’s there to share your good and bad days, your achievements? Who’s there to help pick you up when you’re down? And, ideally, that’s what I’m after. Something real. Something proper.”
The basics: 31 years old, English, bisexual, working-from-home office manager, dachshund dog mum. Describes herself as multifaceted – funny, smart, well-read and interested in everything from politics to the Kardashians.
Dating history: Has had two serious relationships, one with a man and one with a woman, but is looking to just date women for the time being.
Dating profile description: Mostly close-up selfies, one picture with her dog. Bio reads, “Office manager by day, mum to a mini sausage all the time / Love long conversations, walks with the pup, binge watching Netflix, exploring bars and restaurants, blogging / Looking to meet someone to enjoy my next thing with!”
Dating problems: Holly has paralysis when it comes to talking about herself in a positive way and is terrified of coming off as boastful, cringey or cocky. “I’m down to earth, have a great personality, and I'm quite an all-rounded person. But explaining that to somebody in a few short sentences, to catch somebody's interest and not come off like an absolute knob, is really hard!”
Looking for: Nothing too serious, but someone to actually connect with.
The basics: 29 years old, half-English, half-Paraguayan, gay, graphic designer, master's student in urban studies. Describes himself as outgoing and adventurous and knows his own self-worth, but he’s growing increasingly tired of dating via the club scene.
Dating history: Has had three boyfriends, none lasting longer than nine months, and has only been on five or six “real dates” in his whole life.
Dating profile description: Mostly semi-ironic bad selfies, two topless, one picture of himself out cycling, one picture with a friend. Bio reads, “Happy, creative, driven, calm and introspective / Once had a full-blown 20-minute argument with Boris Johnson whilst cycling to work / I’m a student with a research interest in queer space, cycling and community-led projects / I’m also a graphic designer on the side. Sometimes an art school tutor. Sometimes a van man / Half-English, half-Paraguayan, born in Hastings / 5’10”.”
Dating problems: Dan is afraid that his profile isn’t drawing in the right person. He thinks he’s more interesting than his profile indicates and doesn’t convey his personality and, therefore, isn’t matching with guys he will actually connect with. He wants help with getting his profile to make him appear like someone dateable, not just someone to sleep with.
Looking for: Dating people who he might genuinely get on with, with the possibility for something more serious. “I would like to find guys who are suited to me. And by communicating what I am or who I am in a better way on my dating profile, I might attract the right kind of guys.”
Sally Baker is a relationships therapist who has appeared on the BBC, in the Observer and in New York Magazine. She says almost all daters do their dating profiles wrong: setting their own personal pitch to low.
“Online dating can be particularly challenging if the person writing their profile isn’t sure what they want for themselves,” Sally says. “Their ambivalence can make their profile read as wishy-washy or uninspiring. Profiles that are written without clarity usually mean you attract the kind of people that aren’t right for you either on a casual basis or for something more serious and long term.
“Of course, it's not about being egotistical or showing off either, as that’s just another kind of knob-head behaviour,” she adds. “It is, however, about describing yourself and what you want in a real, approachable way that would resonate with the right people for you.”
Sally takes all three daters through an exercise she does with all her clients, called “Perfect Day”, getting them to describe what their perfect day would look like, from the location to the activities to with whom that perfect day would ideally be spent. Sally encourages her clients to forget about realistic boundaries and to “dream big” about what their day would look like. “This is so if you only achieve half of what you want in your perfect day it will still be amazing,” she says.
Liam’s perfect day is actually pretty simple: nice meals, walking his dog, spending time with his family and skydiving for the first time. But despite his intense interest in being in a serious, romantic relationship, his day doesn’t mention a partner at all. Instead, it mentions dating as happening the night before and meeting potential prospects at random points between other activities.
“In reality, he seems very much of the casual dating mindset,” Sally says. “He is intrigued by seeing who catches his eye. For sure his day was bookended with the afterglow of a great date and included possibilities with a new woman he met. However, the women mentioned were peripheral to his main story.”
Sally believes that Liam needs to change up his dating profile and whole dating approach; to be less focused on finding a long-term commitment and shifting his profile to encourage something less intense. “I feel that the more comfortable he is taking his time and meeting a variety of partners without putting himself under any commitment pressures, the sooner he will gain clarity about what he needs for himself and bring his life into greater balance,” Sally argues. “When he has greater clarity, he'll find the right woman for him.”
Holly’s day, while similarly simple – nice meals, drinks and dinner with friends, trips to the beach, playing with the dog – lays out huge signposts for something more serious: a long-standing, committed relationship, emotional and physical intimacy and even mentions exploring parenthood at the end of the day.
“Holly is ready for the next stage of her life more than her profile alludes to,” Sally says. “She is ready to meet her significant other and embrace all the possibilities that could bring for her and her partner, including starting their own family.”
Sally believes that Holly’s profile could shout more about herself. “Her profile should show more about how she feels successful in many areas of her life and she can also rightly say how proud she is with the life she’s made for herself. From this place of feeling grounded and content in who she is, she recognises what's missing for her now is the love of her life and that’s who she’s looking for.”
Dan’s perfect day is the most elaborate: living in an apartment in Barcelona, cycling to a lake and going freshwater swimming, drinks with friends, a spontaneous trip out to a warehouse party and staying out until 8am. Sally believes that this excitement, colour and adventurousness should be relayed in Dan’s profile, which, at the moment, reads more like a CV.
“Specifying Latin heritage, or how much he enjoys the way of life in places like Barcelona, could be added to his profile,” Sally says. “I don’t know how Dan would feel about niching down his profile to say exactly what he wants – I think he should. Other people aren’t psychic so sometimes you need to put what you want out there in a straightforward way and see what happens.”
Dami Olonisakin, better known as Oloni, is a dating expert and sex blogger who has been consulting on relationships for the past ten years. She is known for her viral Twitter threads, in which she anonymously shares her readers’ wildest sex stories, as well as her podcast, Laid Bare, which has a listernership reaching the six-figure mark. She also has a dating show coming out with BBC Three at the end of this year called My Mates Are Bad Dates, in which she will consult terrible daters on how to do dating better.
“Whew, people are really bad at taking photos,” she tells me after looking at the three daters’ profiles. Liam, specifically, she thinks needs a major change-up. “There's been research that shows that dating profiles that usually do well are those who basically show off that they're either athletic or that they're into the gym or that they like to keep fit. So if he loves his sport, he needs photos of himself where he's at a match or something, to show that side of him... rather than the dark, gory photos that he's got and sharing that he's a prison officer.”
Oloni agrees that many of Liam’s dating app problems stem from him revealing his job title. “He needs to tone down what he does,” she says, “and when it comes to a job like that, it's not really something you should be screaming about on the internet anyway. Dating profiles are supposed to be fun and quirky, so he needs to show that he’s an outgoing person. It's not supposed to be taken too seriously and he needs to remember that.”
Alongside better pictures – “they all need better photos” – Oloni thinks that Holly is being way too vague in her profile. “She needs to show us a bit more of her personality,” she says. “If she’s well-rounded, if she’s multifaceted, she needs to show that.”
Oloni notes Holly’s apprehension about coming off arrogant or boastful and says that, while it’s entirely normal to hype yourself on your profile, there are some easy ways to signpost features of your personality without blatantly bragging about your best traits.
“If she wants to show us that she's smart, she can probably share that she's a ‘booklover’,” Oloni argues. “No different from someone who's sharing their love for the arts saying that they love going to the movies or that they watched 300 films. I think she just needs to find ways to get it across without saying, ‘I am funny ha ha ha.’ If you're funny, say something that you find hilarious. It can be one-liners, for example, that she feels comfortable expressing. Simply sharing a joke that's not OTT.”
When it comes to Dan’s profile issues, Oloni summarises quite succinctly: “This isn’t your Instagram bio, this is a dating profile.” Dan’s problem she argues, is that he simply lists basic biographical information about himself rather than revealing things about himself that show why he could be a good date – or even an interesting person to get to know.
“He needs to put a bit more effort into his dating profile and to switch things up,” she tells me. “Tell us something interesting about you. What's a fun fact about yourself? What are your interests? What are your hobbies? Put a bit more effort in and you can basically attract someone with the same hobbies or interests.”
“He needs to put more effort in with photos as well,” Oloni says. “He needs to take better photos, find photos of himself where he's gone on holiday. He needs to ask himself as well, if he saw his own dating profile, would he think that person is serious about dating? Not a commitment, but even just looking to date properly and seeing if it could go somewhere, or do they think that that person would just be down to fuck? What would he think? You know, you can tell when you look at a person's profile if they're quite serious or if they're looking to date or if they're just there for a hook-up. You can kind of get that. So he needs to ask himself what is this reflecting? And just give himself a total brand-new start.”
Charlie Palmer is a Planner at Uncommon – a creative agency in London that has worked with brands such as ITV, the World Wildlife Fund and YouTube. “A dating profile, like an advert, has a specific goal,” he tells me. “It has a specific behaviour it wants to promote. In this case, the goal is just to start a conversation. That’s the furthest the profile can get you – after that, your actual personality has to take over. The profile doesn’t get you a girlfriend, or even a date. There’s no point trying to say loads of different things in your Tinder bio.”
With that in mind, he says Liam has several major issues. “Liam needs to simplify that bio,” Charlie argues. “Communicating one thing well is better than communicating four things badly. People are looking through hundreds of profiles – they don’t care enough to read a list of stuff.
“The selfies are a problem on a few levels,” he also says. “Liam’s a very sociable guy, but his profile looks like he doesn’t have any mates to take photos of him. It looks like far too much effort has gone into taking selfies specifically to put on the profile, and, most importantly, a selfie taken in your bedroom is a conversational non-starter.”
Like the other professionals, Charlie argues that Holly needs to sell herself a bit more. “Holly’s profile feels a little like she’s trying to persuade people on the app that she’s good enough for them,” he says. “But she should try the opposite. You want people to be doubting whether they’re good enough for you.”
Charlie says that Holly needs to inject a bit more personality into her bio. “Her bio should be less like a shop window with a sale on and more like a club with a massive (but friendly) bouncer on the door. She should try baby steps to begin with, like, ‘If you don’t like dachshunds this isn’t going to work’ or ‘I have strong views on the Kardashians.’” He also thinks less staged, more candid pictures could go a long way. “Nobody likes an advert that feels like an advert. Everyone likes an advert that feels like an exclusive invitation.”
Dan’s profile, Charlie says, reads too much like a dispassionate list of his features. “Dan needs to show rather than tell,” he tells me. “On paper, it does the job, but he needs to think about his audience a bit more. The profile is designed to give an idea of what it’s like to hang out with you. It’s not a list of qualifications.”
He says that Dan’s pictures could do more to convey his personality too. “If he has photos of himself in context, he should use more of them,” Charlie argues. “He’s listed lots of attributes and interests in the bio that aren’t coming through in the pictures, and the vast majority of communication is visual. It’s particularly difficult to get an idea of what you’re like when you’ve got the same expression in every photo. Mix it up a bit for a more rounded profile.”
Finally, Charlie suggests Dan appeals to the emotional side of his personality to make his profile read less like a CV. “The best advertising is emotional not rational – focus on how you want your profile to feel, not just the things it describes. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re charming, be charming. What you say or show matters less than how you say it or show it.”
Dating cannot be mastered with just a good profile, and a good profile doesn’t mean you’ve mastered a dating app. Without a decent opening line, an ability to converse like a normal human being and the grace to ask to meet someone IRL without sounding like a serial killer, daters will struggle to get anywhere online. But in order to get to any of those points, a good profile is a necessity, and for Liam, Dan and Holly, theirs can be dramatically – and expertly – improved. And while it may not guarantee that they’ll find the person of their dreams, it is a good, and perhaps the only, place to start.