Friday, January 24, 2014

Online dating

TL;DR: if you want to improve your chances with online dating, go check the conclusion!

Some time ago, a friend of mine who's single started a conversation about online dating. Because he had information to share but was also eager to get the tips from other friends.

The essential points he made at first were:

  • Women are very solicited, to the point that men receive a reply to only 1 in 20 messages.
  • Photos are critical to success
  • Your introduction message is important to trigger the will for a woman to contact you or discuss with you
  • If a woman initiated the contact with you, the chances to meet her in real life are high.

Some of these considerations can be reflected upon, using common sense. And some considerations will be best addressed by science!

Image license: CC-BY-NC 2.5 xkcd

Personal considerations

Before addressing the true substance of the subject, I think it's useful to state a few things.

Most important of all: I think a relationship should be honest. What you're looking for should be clear to the other person, and what the other person is looking for should be clear to you. If you're rooting for true love, mindless sex, or if you want to enter a relationship with an open mind but without a clear idea of where it will take you, that should be understood between you and the other person.

This article will be written from my perspective: a straight man looking for true love. The points I'll discuss will probably be just as valid in the case of someone who wants non-committed relationships, but some concerns are gender-specific and women will need to do their own research.

I did have a relationship with a woman I met online, but that was back in the glorious days of ICQ so it was a bit different from the modern dating websites. And I'm not currently dating or using online dating sites, as I'm still recovering from a breakup. But I'll probably put what follows in motion when I'm ready to date again if I don't meet someone through usual everyday life.

If you have a lot of free time, that you're not overwhelmed by sport, family, friends, and dates, then consider opening your profile to meeting women for friendship! Having more friends doesn't hurt, and women have female friends who are single.

Common sense

So... if you get only 1 answer for 20 messages and if you have less chances of success when you initiate contact than when women initiate contact, statistically, you need to be ready to send a lot of messages. Realistically, it would be exhausting to craft a 100% individualized message every time for every woman who attracts your interest. So you'll need to keep standard contact messages that you'll simply copy-paste and tweak here or there according to each woman's profile. Unless you're absolutely starving for a relationship, you're probably searching for women who live in the same area as you. So maybe there's something interesting to say in your standard message about the area you live in, and which could find an echo with women. Or maybe you're a sport addict and you're intent on finding a like-minded person. Then that's gotta go in your standard message. And when you think your message is ready, don't just check if it's ok! Try and put yourself in the shoes of a woman receiving this message, who knows nothing of you and who's looking for a man. Is your message the standard nonsense saying she's beautiful and that she's received 200 times? Your message needs to look like you're a real human person whom she'll like to know and whom she'll like talking to.

Your introduction message needs to stand out from the crowd. It can stand out because of style, because of mystery or because of humor. Your message needs to make women want to know more about you. Ideally, you could (should) ask a female friend to review your introduction. If she says it's bad, then swallow your pride and get back to work! It's like cooking: your female friend won't do it for you but after you've cooked, she can tell you if it's good.

If you get the chance of a response or if a woman initiates contact, then you have a shot sooner or later at meeting her in real life. For obvious reasons, women feel less secure than men when meeting, so the place where you meet needs to be a neutral ground or someplace that she can feel safe. So it must not be very near your place nor very near hers. And it needs to be a somewhat public place like a pub's terrace, restaurant or café, and ideally one of the well-lit places, not the dark pubs with their oppressive atmosphere. And it must not be too noisy, because you it would make it difficult to talk and get to know each other. The place needs to have an easy access to public transport and/or taxis or parking space. With this in mind, you could plan in advance the best place(s) so that you have a ready-made answer when the question comes up. And she might bring a friend for safety's sake.


Science works! When your intuition disagrees with science, just set your intuition aside and stick with what data tells you! For this article, science matters on the subject of photos.

First and quickest source of science is this ScienceDaily article according to which red shirts make you more attractive.

The effect is consistent across cultures, which means it's valid regardless of which country you're from. If you have a scientific mind, just knowing this fact is not good enough and you should be wondering: how big is the effect? Because, if the gain of attractiveness is very small, then we don't really care. From the study itself (PDF file, 184 KB), we see 3 effects measured on scales of 1 to 9, and the amplitude of the benefit for each of these effects is:

  • Perceived attractiveness: +1.5 point
  • Desired sexual behavior: +1.8 point
  • Perceived (social) status: +1.3 point
That's a significant effect!

That study also tells us that being muscular makes you look more attractive, but you certainly knew that already, and it will take longer to improve than your online profile.

Second source of scientific data, we go to OkCupid's article about profile pictures.

The first meaningful thing we learn there is about facial expression on your photo. This can come as a surprise (and therefore we need to thank science again), but the more photos that will get you the more positive response among women require that you:

  • Don't make eye contact with the camera
  • Don't smile
  • Don't make flirty faces

The second thing we learn is about the context of the photo. The best results will be obtained:

  • with an animal
  • or doing something interesting

The "showing off muscles" is reserved for really muscular guys (not me) and could totally ruin things for you.

What does it mean to "do something interesting"? That's up to you. If you're a musician, your "something interesting" is obvious. For others... well... figure it out! Reading? Cooking? Soldering? There's got to be something you do which elicits the reaction "Oh! this guy is doing this stuff which will save me from doing it myself or which I want to share with him".


Publishing this article may ruin my chances when I finally start dating and that the potential woman finds my blog and this article... or on the contrary, it could totally boost my chances by making me appear like a smart Alec with a plan.

Hopefully, this article can be helpful to people who do their research to set the odds in their favor.

Don't feel bad about copy-pasting a standard message with quick tweaks and sending it to many women, because women have the upper hand and if you don't do that, then you'll just waste your time and you'll give up after getting no response at all.

Get a female friend to review your introduction message.

Short recap of what your photo should look like:

  • wearing a red shirt/jersey
  • no eye contact with the camera
  • not smiling
  • with an animal
  • doing something interesting

Science rocks!

Extra science tidbits: the average age for getting married is 3 years younger for women than it is for men. So when you set the minimum and maximum ages in your search, you could try and center the age range around an age 3 years younger than you.

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