The secret to online dating: Just don’t be yourself

Manisha Krishnan on the dates behind the story

Photo illustration by Sarah Mackinnon

Recently, I wrote a story about the wealth of expert advice available to help singles up their online dating game.

There are professionals who will scrutinize your photos and select the best ones (bathroom selfies need not apply), write your profile and even message prospects on your behalf. If it sounds bizarre, it is. I can vouch, because I tested it out.

Save for a very brief stint, I had never online dated prior to this experiment, so I was curious and clueless — a perfect candidate.

The company I hired, A Million Matches, claims to be Canada’s first online dating assistance company. Their prices range from $99 for a basic profile to a staggering $1249/month for the “executive package,” which includes pre- and post-date feedback and criminal record checks. (If you’ve got $1,200 to spare a month there are probably better ways to land a date.)

Anyway, soon after contacting owner Amelia Phillips and telling her that Maclean’s was interested in writing about her business, I came across my first red flag, when she advised women to avoid being “braggy.” Tone it down when talking about career-related achievements, places travelled to, and so on, she said.

“If a guy thinks there’s no way he’s going to measure up, he might not message you.”

A little too Mad Men for my liking, but Phillips, a former corporate lawyer, was insistent.

My other hesitation was authenticity. Using this service means trusting a complete stranger to present you in what they see as the best possible light — which may or may not be accurate. Beyond that, A Million Matches actually messages singles on behalf of their clients in an attempt to break the ice.

“For our male clients, we do find ourselves complimenting women and crafting a message that will get a response from a woman that we know is getting a dozen messages a day,” said Phillips. Ladies, imagine being wooed by one of your suitors, only to later find out it was actually his female dating assistant doing the talking. Somehow it’s less charming.

So, how did I fare?

Well, less than two weeks after joining Match.com, my assistants had already emailed 115 men in the Greater Toronto Area, and “winked” at another 35.

My profile was full of disarming lines like “Send me a funny message and I may be yours, lol” and “Arrested Development has got to be the bestest TV show ever.” Bestest. It’s not even a word. But more troubling than what was in the profile was what it was lacking: personality and wit. Being upbeat but generic, if I understood correctly, was the golden rule of online attraction.

The messages “I” was sending out ranged from fine (“What kind of music do you like?”) to downright atrocious (“How much money do you make? Lol, kidding”).

And I couldn’t always keep track of whom the company had emailed for me, so I ended up contacting the same person twice in some cases — stalker much? Occasionally, a guy would send me an out-of-context note that made no sense. A great example: “Hey, I’m not sure when you messaged me. I had no idea my niece vomited. Makes it seem more natural.” I was as confused as you are.

In a month, I went on a handful of dates. Some were pretty bad (awkward racial jokes), most were unremarkable. Probably anyone who has tried online dating can relate.

But I noticed that the profiles I found most appealing were anything but generic. They were a little bit sarcastic and pithy; frankly, I didn’t feel my own profile measured up.

On the flip side, A Million Matches definitely plays the numbers game, sending out messages to far more people than most of their clients would probably ever contact themselves. And that can work out — it did for Yolande, the executive I interviewed.

But I’d have to disagree with the experts on their approach.

It seems to me, the point of putting yourself out there online is to skip the BS, and present your truest self. If you have bad grammar, the person you’re dating should know that. If you think shirtless selfies are cool, ditto.

In the end, I’d rather keep it real and attract fewer, but more compatible guys. The alternative, being overlooked by a good match because of a misguided attempt to fit the mold — that would be the worstest.




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The secret to online dating: Just don’t be yourself

  1. Yeah, meeting someone in a bar is always better.

    • The Single Bands.com

      Like the personal ads on your wrist.

      Wear your band meet someone.

      Get your package for the instructions.

      Cathie Hill

  2. I’m a former ad writer who now crafts dating profiles using marketing techniques. One technique is “targeting” the right matches and weeding out the wrong ones. To do that, you need to “make your offer clear”. Simply put, be true to yourself so that you attract a match that wants “you”. If you’re a woman who loves her career then lucky you! The right match will be happy for you. Finally, please don’t lump all “profile” services into one pot. I work hard to customize profiles so that they truly represent my clients. I do this by asking countless questions and using their words, expressions and anecdotes (in lieu of generic adjectives). I also do my best to give clients an understanding of the techniques so that they’ll be empowered to carry on without me. Thanks for addressing this and giving me the opportunity to address it too. Sorry this is so long!

  3. Online dating IS a numbers game, unfortunately it’s sometimes more about quantity than quality. Great that you gave it a chance. It works for some people and not others, it’s the luck of the draw really. But you’re right, you should never misrepresent yourself, I always tell people to “be true to you”. You want to find an ideal partner who likes everything you have to offer, no need to pretend to be someone else.

  4. These people seem to be operating on a very old fashioned understanding of gender roles, and I think that both men and women (I mean…. “How much money do you make?” ON WHAT PLANET is that ok??) are pretty glad those days are over.

  5. After you look at 2000 profiles all of that personal stuff goes out the window. People are operating on animal impulses at that point at these services are capitalizing on that. You should know just how different real is from online dating. It is a numbers game but these numbers are staggering and wash out all the “you” that we find charming about ourselves. People glance over those details and are onto the next one.

  6. I agree with the ad agency. I never message the people who claim to travel everywhere and want to travel and hike all the time. Most of the time I’m aware that it’s exageration and hiking means once a year, but I don’t bother responding because if thats the case them I’m not really interested.

    But I also tend not to messege the ones where it says they reply selectively. That means they are either fishing for compliments or have incredibly high standards. Which is fine, but it is just a waste of time for me.

    • That’s totally fair, and perhaps to the point of what the author wrote: she isn’t interested in being generic and dealing with folks who won’t relatel and celebrate her successes. So neither of you would be interested, so she might as well not waste your time to even read her bio. And the ad agency was also right, but gave the wrong advice in this case, and perhaps the author should have insisted on representing herself the way she prefers, and have fewer, but more genuinely interested, respondents.

    • On the other hand, I do travel a lot and don’t lie on the beach all day, so I just wouldn’t fit with someone who hikes once a year or wants to just ‘veg’ on vacation.. While I don’t mind paying for someone or helping them if it’s a long term relationship, I hate it when a guy gawks and says his idea of travel is Florida or an all -inclusive once a year. I thought I was just being honest…

      • How often do you travel though. The problem they are saying is most profiles make it look like you travel professionally, and that all your free time is being dedicated to planning travel or travelling. And the reality is most people have jobs and friends and family. So saying you travel all the time makes it sound like a trust fund baby who lives at home and spends years travelling Europe. Most people don’t have a problem travelling. But when your profile says all you do is travel then that sends a wrong message. If you saw a profile of someone talking nothing about food, you’d assume that eventually they’ll be obese or or has a grocery budget the size of a mortgage. When the reality is they couldn’t think of better things to write. Everyone eats and likes eating. Everyone will travel now and then and likes travelling (usually) But if all you talk about is that you are lying about yourself or at least sending the wrong message.

        • Guess I haven’t (fortunately) seen those that imply they travel “professionally” (wouldn’t that mean they get paid if for it, if they do it professionally, in which case often not that easy to take a partner along), or who only write about traveling (yuk, boring!).
          I do travel quite a lot, and am at that stage where I can do this financially and time wise. I just wouldn’t get on with someone who could not come along at all, or who would say it’s cheaper to go to an all-inclusive than do a more adventurous trip, or who only hikes a couple of times a year.

          • But that is what they are saying. It’s your priorities. If you are on the site you obviously want to meet someone. And you narrow your chances if you say I don’t want anyone unless they have wanderlust like me. Because that becomes a less viable option once a family is in the mix which ultimately is where most people are headed when they are trying to meet someone. So if all you want is travel for the rest of your life, then by all means put it on your profile. But if you travel because you’re single and you want a family. Then maybe ease up on the travel part. That is what they are saying. And when I said travel professionally I mean the people who quit their jobs and live on the road for a year because they are in their twenties and can always go home to their parents (Because that’s what I end up reading especially when they decide to not indulge us of any sort of occupation or career with the (I’d rather not say option.)). Not a journalist or something like that.

            They are asking you to ask yourself. What is your ultimate goal. What do you want from the site. A travel companion with benefits. Or a life partner. And then gear your profile to that. Because that is what the people reading your profile are asking themselves.

            Traveling is what you do. Not who you are.

          • For sure, last line. However, you first said, “Most of the time I’m aware that it’s exageration and hiking means once a year, ” – I don’t exaggerate. However, some might think it’s an ‘exaggeration’, but as said, I just want to be honest, and not find someone who is a home body and really does only hike ‘twice a year’ and is unable to go on an adventurous vacation. I guess there’s a huge fine line between ‘exaggeration’ and the truth. I think I’m just truthful, but who knows, maybe others ‘presume’ I’m not!

  7. Plain and simple, it’s all about the photo. No one really cares what you write if you look like 5 miles of bad road in your photo. If you look hot in your photo, it still doesn’t matter what you wrote since you are hot in the photo…

  8. Do not worry about the lines – put up the right pic and you will be inunndated with signals – initially no one cares about you – hell even after they meet you they are not interested in you – they just want your body LOL Men only care about your looks – the world is shallow today. Just the way it is – doubt me – dress up fine and go to a bar – then reverse it – see who buys you a drink.

  9. I don’t have time for online dating or to go out I used MatchSecrets,com to find my gf.

  10. dating some one is not about only you is about bot of you the good time ,the warm gesture the beautiful moments which you both share with each other

  11. You can and should be yourself. Now you can aso prove that it’s you with an official identity check from matecheck. ca. You can request that your potential date get one too so you can avoid being duped.. If you really want to play it safe, you can also get criminal, bankruptcy and divorce checks.

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