Illustrations: Katya Dorokhina

How to Write Anything

What 5 Serial Daters Can Teach You About Telling Your Story

This story is part of Forge’s How to Write Anything series, where we give you tips, tricks, and principles for writing all the things we write in our daily lives online, from tweets to articles to dating profiles.

Writing about yourself in any capacity can feel like an impossible task. Ever been asked to write a brief bio for a company website or a class reunion update and come up blank? As a former relationships editor — and, when I was single, a dating-app guinea pig for about every brand imaginable — I say this sincerely: No one is better at telling their own stories than seasoned daters.

Yes, when it comes to dating apps, the actual writing really does matter. Swiping left or right may feel like a gut reaction to someone’s photos, but trust me, even the most chiseled surfer gets at least 40% less hot when all the answers to their Hinge questions are just “whiskey.”

And the stakes are even higher now. With in-person meetups out of the question for most of us, writing our profiles and subsequent texting (and the occasional video “date”) are all we have. In a weird way, the nexus of dating apps and the pandemic offers us a unique opportunity to hone how we tell our stories with those old-fashioned tools called words.

You should use that opportunity. We all should. And here’s the thing: Even if you’ve never used a dating app, or never plan to, or are this close to swearing off Tinder forever, you’re going to have to tell your story at some point. It might be when you have three minutes of face time with someone influential in your field. It might be when you’re trying to make years of random jobs congeal into some sort of coherent “professional narrative.”

Whatever the case, having an empty space to fill with a super-condensed summary of your entire life and your best traits — without being too braggy, or too boring — and then inviting people to quickly judge you on it is justifiably scary. The good news is that knowing how to be authentic, yet compelling, is a skill like any other. And if you can master a dating app, you can master any kind of profile.

Between interviews with five serial daters (though some are now happily in a relationship) and a survey exclusively run for this story (online, six-question Survey Monkey survey of 34 people), this is a masterclass in honing your profile-writing voice.

Here’s what we discovered about how not to be Blake the Bland Whiskey-Lover:

You are your story

In a dating profile, as on a date, you have to act like you actually want to be there. “I’m not interested in people who can’t be bothered to write anything,” said Carley, 47, who dates both men and women. “I think it’s indicative of arrogance or laziness, which are completely uninteresting to me.”

Sure, it can be daunting to put more of yourself out there to total strangers, but there’s really no point in trying to meet a new partner online if you’re going to phone in your profile. “The length and quality of a bio suggests both how much effort they’re willing to put into dating,” said Cori, who is 35 and queer. “If you’re looking for a long-term partnership, you presumably have the motivation to be thoughtful about how you express yourself.”

Just like a person would take mental notes of your outfit or manners on a first date, they make assessments from what and how you write about yourself. “Typos and bad grammar make me think the guy is lazy—if he can’t be bothered to put his best foot forward on a dating profile, what else will he be lazy about?” said Kirti, 42, who after many years of internet dating is now married. Chris, a 47-year-old, straight, divorced dad with two kids, agreed: “If I can’t understand what you’ve written, my powers of deduction tell me I won’t be able to understand when we’re out.”

Of course, the only thing worse than showing you don’t care via sparse text is actually flat-out saying you don’t. “I swipe left when I see the ‘my friend made me try this’ or statements like that,” said Chris. “Fess up that you’re trying to find a partner. There’s no shame in it.” Admitting that you actually are looking for love can feel vulnerable, but guess what? That’s the whole entire point. And as with any kind of writing, the vulnerability of your answers will make them stand out.

Be efficient

“I don’t need a full biography, just a concise bio—four to six sentences—that includes some information about what he does and activities he enjoys, as well as some humor, so I can see if we will be compatible on that end,” said Kirti. Heather (not her real name), a straight 25-year-old woman, agreed that 3–4 sentences is the sweet spot between too much and not enough.

Oversharing is its own problem. It’s a red flag in any form of writing — just as it would be on a first date. “Maybe a couple of paragraphs, but let’s not go back to what happened in elementary school just yet,” said Chris. “Save that for date three.”

Bottom line: You want to give people a clear picture of who you are and how you like to live your life. Your bio really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

Don’t make love to the world

As Kurt Vonnegut once cautioned his writing students, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” His advice applies here, too — write to please your ideal date, and write from a place of authenticity. If you try to be all things to all people, well. Your profile will get pneumonia.

Sure, when you don’t get as many matches as you want, it can be tempting to make tweaks — and then to keep tweaking your profile into oblivion. The problem, of course, is that it can gradually start to sound less and less like you, especially if you rely on cliché phrasing or “safe” activities everyone loves, like eating pizza.

You may think this kind of writing is about appealing to the crowd. But really, this is about you, and about creating the most beautiful marketing copy for yourself that you can.

Don’t use clichés

“Part of the appeal of apps, for me, is to filter out people who have incompatible relationship goals and find people who are a good match for me,” said Cori. As part of that filtering, she ignores profiles that contain no distinguishing information: “Who doesn’t love to laugh or want to meet a ‘genuine’ person?”

Be specific and real, not a walking cliché. “‘Partner in crime’ must be killed,” said Carley, along with “‘I’m looking for my soulmate.’”

A good rule of thumb is: If you saw it on someone else’s profile and copied it, just delete it and write something else. “I don’t know why people mention their Uber rating on their profiles,” said Heather.

Another commonly spotted pet peeve: “I [also] hate when guys say they’re looking for the Pam to their Jim,” she said. “Pam and Jim get boring and annoying after they get married.” In general, avoid leaning on cultural cues in an attempt to borrow their coolness. It rarely sounds as cool as you think.

Though the worst offense, hands down, is using the word “sapiosexual” anywhere. “If I see one more guy with bad grammar in his profile saying he wants to date a sapiosexual, I will SCREAM,” said Kirti. Chris doubled down: “The claim of being sapiosexual and the extremely overused quote I think mostly attributed to Marilyn Monroe about ‘if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you don’t deserve me at my best’ make me want to throw my phone in a toilet.”

In this and all your writing, ban clichés. The advice your mom gave you before your first date still applies: Be yourself.

Start a conversation

Your profile should spark questions instead of offering all the answers. This takes a little bit of thought to pull off well: You may have a carefully selected photo showcasing your rock-climbing hobby, but it can also lead to a lull in the conversation before it even begins. “How long have you been bouldering?” can get boring if the person on the other end knows nothing about it (or is the 12th person to ask you that).

In the survey, when I asked about the most memorable profiles people had seen, quite a few participants brought up things that sparked conversations from the get-go. Examples include:

  • “‘I get along best with people who opt for subways and buses over Ubers and Lyfts’ got lots of passionate comments.”
  • “I said that I had been blocked on Insta by a Disney Channel star. That got a lot of questions.”
  • “I changed my Hinge hint to something science-y that requires thought but is worded in a fun way: ‘Pineapple eats you back.’ This is rooted in actual science but is much more interesting than saying ‘bromelain is an enzyme that eats protein.’ Anyway, it’s increased my profile traffic.”

Be just a little funny

Your profile should have the same energy you’d want in a first conversation, or a subsequent first date. Not everyone who reads your writing will share your sense of humor, but you want it to be yours.

One survey participant remembered seeing and loving this line: “For the prompt “On my bucket list:” the guy put ‘1. A bucket full of money 2. A small, compact bucket 3. A bucket with holes in it for draining pasta (similar to a colander).’” Another great one, from a survey respondent: “[He] said he was looking to be an eyebrow power couple.”

Both examples fit all the guidelines above: They’re funny and easygoing; they indicate that the person spent time to come up with something original and surprising; they’re specific enough to show people a bit more about them and their sense of humor; and they provide the people swiping with something to say in their first message. And more generally, they have a point of view and a strong voice.

In other words, a dating profile should pique the reader’s interest and leave them wanting more. Just like any great story.

freelance writer with work in VICE, BuzzFeed News, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Insider, and more.

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